outline of the main issues which divide Roman Catholic and Protestant
on this page:
the heart of the differences.
The most important question
any individual faces is how they can be right with God.
How can you enter heaven?
The word used to describe
how someone can be 'right' with God is justification.
The differences regarding the doctrine of justification
have been described as the ‘formal
cause’ of the Reformation.
But, if we want to
know the answer to these questions, then this raises an even deeper
question on the nature of authority.
How can we be confident that a particular teaching about salvation
is true? On what authority does it rest. The matter of authority
has been described as the 'material
cause' of the Reformation.
these differences still relevant?
Roman Catholics and
Protestants have totally different understandings of these two
issues which impact not only on the heart of the faith but on
its practical outworkings. However, the picture is complicated
by the fact that especially amongst the protestant churches there
are many who no longer accept either the true protestant or the
Roman view of authority and therefore come to a wide diversity
of views about salvation and many other practical issues. The
collective name for this third approach is liberalism.
The irony of today is
that whilst Roman Catholics and Protestants can and do disagree
strongly about the nature of authority they at least believe in
the concept of a definite authority. Liberals, by contrast tend
to have a very elastic view of authority which is individualistic.
Thus in many of the practical issues facing people, particularly
concerning matters of morality, Roman Catholics and Protestants
have found themselves working together against secularism and
against the emasculated form of Christianity represented by liberalism
that now dominates many Protestant Churches and has a substantial
foothold in parts of the Roman Church. Examples of this can be
seen in the Evangelicals
and Catholics Together movement in North America and in the
way in which Anglo-Catholics and Evangelicals have found common
cause in then Anglican Churches against the liberal innovation
of the presbyteral ministry of women and the liberal endorsement
of sexually immoral behaviour such as homosexual practice.
The Reformed position
is that Scripture is the Word of God and therefore carries with
it all the authority of God its author. This means that our full
and final authority in all matters of faith and practice is Scripture.
Whilst reformed Christians have a strong respect for tradition
and are always willing to learn from the world around, which is
the handiwork of God, nothing else has an authority equal to what
God has declared.
The Roman Catholic Church
does not deny that the Bible is the Word of God, authoritative
and reliable. However, they also assert the authority of Tradition,
by which they mean a body of teaching handed down in the Church
and particularly safeguarded by the Roman See. Further they assert
that the Papacy has the authority on earth to make statements
which have full and binding authority.
Thus the Roman Church
has created for itself an authority structure which in its own
terms is unassailable – after all, if you the Papapcy can
make full and biding statements, who within can deny this power
without being cast out.
To Protestants the claims of the Roman Church are heresy, because
they have set up a human authority alongside the Word of God,
which in effect means over it. To Protestants it is all too apparent
that the authority structure of the Roman Church has been invented
in order to protect and defend teaching and practices which are
completely alien to the Word of God.
Authority of the Bible
the matter of how we can be right with God. To the outsider the
differences on this issue may appear to be trivial, concerning
semantics and the odd word but the differences are very deep and
it is the practical outworking which most clearly demonstrate
The Bible teaches that
all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3.23).
Because of this we are alienated from God and under His judgement.
God sent His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, into the world to die
on the cross. Now, by faith in Christ our sins can be forgiven
and we have the promise of eternal life. So the Apostle Paul could
write 'that I may be found in Christ not having my
own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which
is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God
by faith (Philippians chapter 3 verse 9)
Thus we assert that
we can stand righteous before God only through faith in Christ.
Hence the Reformation catchphrase ‘by faith alone’,
or in latin, ‘sola fide’. Moreover, our righteousness
is not our own, but His – what is called an ‘alien
righteousness’ – as the verse above shows.
The Roman Church accepts
that we are justified by faith but it argues that this initial
justification includes the sacrament of baptism and that it is
the Church which brings this about when it baptises. After baptism,
people still sin and these sins can destroy the life that begins
with initial justification. The Church teaches that people must
go on gradually changing until we can stand pure before God. Because
most people do not achieve this level in this life after death
they enter into an intermediate state – purgatory –
when through suffering they are cleansed. In this life good works,
indulgences, penance are all means by which people can make themselves
pure and remove the damages of sin. But Catholics also pray for
those in purgatory, say masses for them, make donations etc, in
order to speed their progress through purgatory.
Sacrifice of the Mass
Roman Catholic doctrine also teaches
transubstantiation. This teaches that when we take the Lord's
Supper (Roman Catholics call it the Mass), the bread
and wine actually became the real flesh and blood of Jesus and
this is what atones for our sins, rather than the bread and wine
being taken as a memorial for Jesus' sufficient and once only
sacrifice 2,000 years ago. This is a vitally important doctrine
and was at the very heart of the reformation in Europe where many
were burned to death for repudiating this unbiblical teaching.
(See also Cross†Way
Finished Work of Christ - Jerome and the roots of Catholic error'
which shows how a mistranslation in Jerome's translation (Vulgate)
of the Bible led to the teaching of Christ's sacrifice as continual
rather than a once for all sacrifice).
Over the centuries the
Church of Rome has developed a theology of the virgin Mary which
is totally unbiblical. They assert a number of erroneous teachings
such as that she was without sin and that she is also a mediator
between God and man, contributing in some way to our salvation.
For a detailed analysis of these Marion errors click here.
Thus the Roman Catholic
Church has invented a doctrine of salvation which goes far beyond
Scripture, which in fact destroys the simplicity of biblical teaching
about justification, and makes people entirely dependent upon
the Church itself. It is a system of spiritual slavery designed
to prop up a corrupt institution.
way of salvation
In 16th Century attempts
to reform the Catholic Church under the Word of God were bitterly
and forcefully resisted leading to the lasting division of the
Church. This was nothing new, there had been many attempts at
reform and mostly these had been ruthlessly suppressed. In England
the greatest movement for reform had been the Lollards and John
Wycliffe whose attempts to produce the Bible in English scandalised
a Church fearful that people might read the Word of God for themselves
and see how corrupt the Church had become. At the political level
there were centuries of dispute over the nature of the authority
of the Bishop of Rome in England.
Whilst the Reform movement
in England is inextricably linked to Henry VIII it was well under
way before he ascended to the throne and Henry's attitude to it
was extremely mixed. Until his death Henry remained firmly Catholic
in doctrine whilst at the same time exploiting the reformation
to further his personal and political aspirations. The chief step
taken by Henry was to renounce the authority of the Bishop of
Rome over the English Church. This was a natural development from
pressures that building for years, but in many other ways Henry
resisted attempts at reformation. Therefore it was not until his
death that lasting change occurred.
The reformation was first and foremost a spiritual revival and
as such never dependent upon politics or power. However in terms
of the outward appearance of the Church of England the reformation
took off under Henry’'s son King Edward IV, was sealed in
the blood of the martyrs during the reign of Henry’'s daughter
Queen Mary, and was both consolidated and to a certain extent
moderated during the reign of Henry’'s daughter Queen Elizabeth
section of issues
Church of England and Roman Catholicism
The Church of England
is a Reformed Catholic Church. It is the historic Church of the
English people dating back to long long before the Reformation
but it was reformed. The monarch of England is sworn to uphold
the protestant religion by law established. The doctrines of the
Church of England, which are safeguarded by Parliament, denounce
all the major errors of the Roman Church.
We affirm that salvation is to be found in Christ alone (Article
11). This teaching was anathematised by the Roman Catholic
Council of Trent which is still official Catholic teaching.
We denounce the doctrine
of Purgatory, and all that goes with it, as a gross deception
which leads people away for simple faith in Christ (Article
We affirm that the Church
of Rome has erred (Article
19). This is an important assertion not simply because it
is blatantly obvious, but because we affirm that Churches can
err, therefore their authority is necessarily secondary to the
Word of God written, that is the Bible.
We declare that the Bishop of Rome
has no jurisdiction in this realm of England (Article
37). The claims of the Roman See to an authority beyond their
own bounds are pernicious and have been the source of division
and conflict with the Orthodox Chuches and with Protestants. The
political aspirations of the Papacy are all part of this claim.
Church Society Articles
What do the Times Require? Church Association Tract by J. C. Ryle on the unscriptural and soul-ruining character of Romanism.
do we owe to the Reformation? Church Association Tract by J.C. Ryle.
Martyrdoms for Religion under Queen Elizabeth and Queen Mary. Church Association Tract 204.
The Anglican Position Towards Rome and the Papacy. Church Association Tract 429.
Purgatory and Penance: Differences That Remain - the Impasse Between Rome and Protestantism. George Curry
Cranmer's Doctrine of the Lord's Supper in its Gospel Context. Churchman article by Roger du Barry.
Prayers for the Dead. Extract from Homily XIX. Church Association Tract 126.
The Invocation of the Saints. Church Association Tract 422.
Prayers for the Dead. Church Association Tract 3.
What's wrong with praying for the dead? Cross†Way article by David Phillips, Autumn 2007.
Anglicans and Ritualism in Victorian England
Churchman article by
Nigel Scotland outlining the history of ritualism in the Church
of England and Evangelical Opposition to it, including the founding
of Church Association (One of the forebears of Church Society).
The Devotional Aspect of Confession. Church Association Tract from 1904 explaining from Scripture what true confession of sin is and how this differs from Auricular Confession (i.e. confession to a priest).
The Errors of Ritualism have their Source in the Unregenerate Human Heart. Church Association Tract from 1875 by C. J. Goodhart.
The Real Presence. C19th Church Association Tract 25 by W. F. Taylor, explaining how the doctrine of the Real Presence is contrary to Church of England teaching.
Bertram (aka Ratramnus) and the Reformers. The Reformers appeal to the 9th Century Monk Bertram in their opposition to the "Real Presence." Churchman article from 1880 by W. F. Taylor.
The Reformers' Doctrine of the Holy Communion. Churchman article by C. Sydney Carter.
What did our Reformers teach about the Lord's Supper? Church Association Tract 119.
The Sarum Mass Compared with the Communion Office of the First Prayer Book of Edward VI. Church Association Tract 113.
Confession and Forgiveness of Sins. Church Association Tract from C19th explaining from Scripture and Cof E teaching what true confession and forgiveness of sin is and how this differs from Auricular Confession (i.e. confession to a priest).
The Rev Canon Meyrick on Confession. Church Association Tract 312. Explanation of the origins of Auricular Confession, its detrimental effects on society, its abolition at the Reformation and lack of Scriptural warrant.
Voices of the Church of England on Auricular Confession. Church Association Tract 27.
The Christian Priesthood. Church Association Tract.
The Great Controversy: Which is the Channel of Salvation? Faith? or The Sacraments? Church Association Tract 163. By J. B. Waddington.
The Eastward Position. J. C. Ryle (Church Association Tract No. 30)
The Eastward Position. J. C. Ryle (Church Association Tract No. 136)
Twelve Reasons Against Distinctive Vestments. J. C. Ryle (Church Association Tract No. 137)
Distinctive Vestments. J. C. Ryle (Church Association Tract 33)
The Minister's Scarf, or the "Sacrificer's" Stole - which?
Church Association Tract 267.
Give me oil on my hands, make me Roman... Cross†Way article by David Wheaton (Autumn 2007) explaining how Roman Catholic practices have gradually permeated Church of England ordination services.
Gospel Freedom & Priestly Tyranny. C19th Church Association Tract outlining from the bible and official CofE teaching the nature of Christ's sacrificial death and how this contrasts to the errors of ritualism.
in Ante-Nicene Christianity. Churchman article by David Brattston
explaining how incense was not used or opposed for use in the
worship of the early church.
Candles, Crosses, Altars, Pictures: What do the Homilies Say? Church Association Tract 224.
Altar Lights: Their History and Meaning. J. T. Tomlinson (Church Association Tract No. 91)
A Word in Season about Lent. Church Association Tract 237
Church Association Declaration Regarding the Pope's Letter to the English People. C19th Church Association Tract 216.
Apostolical Succession. Church Association Tract 321.