The Protestant movement originated during the Reformation period when, in 1517 AD, Martin Luther protested about serious errors in the Roman Catholic Church’s doctrine. Consequently new churches began forming outside the traditional Catholic control. Numerous streams of Protestantism have emerged since, with various denominations emphasizing different aspects of belief, but with adherence to the fundamental or core beliefs.

The major differences between Catholicism and Protestantism include the following:

1/. Protestants believe in the authority and sufficiency of Scripture, considering it is the standard by which all Christian beliefs, practices and behaviour must be measured. “All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim 3:16). Catholics believe both the Bible and the Roman Catholic traditions are equally binding. Many of the Roman Catholic doctrines have little or no basis in Scripture – these include purgatory, praying to the saints, worship of Mary, etc. 

2/. Catholics consider the Pope takes the place of Jesus as the visible head of the church, with his teachings infallible (without error) and binding. Protestants consider no human is infallible, and recognise Christ alone as the head of the Church and the Bible as the divine authority, with all born-again believers in-dwelt by the Holy Spirit who guides into all truth (Jn 14:16,17, 16:13).

3/. Protestants believe salvation is by (God’s) grace alone; our justification is achieved by the sacrifice of Christ, and that it can’t be earned (Eph 2:8-10). Meanwhile Catholics teach the righteousness of Christ imparted to them must be supplemented by human effort.

4/. Protestants view the one-time act of justification (being declared righteous by God because of Christ’s work on our behalf on the cross), as different to the process of sanctification (the growth in righteousness that continues throughout our earthly lives) and although good works are important they are only the fruit or result of salvation and not the means of it. Catholics meanwhile consider they must merit salvation by building on what Christ has done and so blend justification and sanctification into one ongoing process which contradicts the clear teaching of Scripture (Rom 4:1-12; Tit 3:3-7).

5/. Another area of difference is what happens when we die. While both believe unbelievers will spend eternity in hell, there is a major divergence of doctrine regarding believers. The Catholics teach there is purgatory – a place of temporary punishment – for those who have not fully paid for their sins. This implies that Christ’s atonement on the cross was insufficient payment for sin and a believer must pay for their own sins either through acts of penance or a time in purgatory. Protestants believe that, because of the full and complete penalty paid by Christ on our behalf and the righteousness imputed to us, we will go straight to heaven when we die, to be in the presence of the Lord (2 Cor 5:6-10; Phil 1:23). The Bible teaches Christ’s death alone satisfies God’s wrath against sinners – nothing we do can add to what Christ has already accomplished (Rom 3:24,25; Heb 2:17; 1 Jn 2:2, 4:10).

These are significant differences of doctrine. Catholics put the emphasis on tradition and works while Protestants put their emphasis on a relationship with Christ, His all-sufficient

Is my faith based on human traditions or relationship with Christ and the authority of the Bible?

salvation and the authority of the Bible. It is of highest and eternal importance to search the Scriptures to ensure our faith is built on the correct foundation and we are not deceived by the devil – for it is by God’s Word we will be judged (Jn 12:48).

See also: Bible, denominations, error, fundamental, good works, justification, Luther/Martin, penance, purgatory, reformation, relationship (with God), religion, Roman Catholicism, salvation, tradition.