The Protestant Reformation is a remarkable event in church history. What began as a 16th century protest against abuses of the Catholic Church actually gave rise to the birth of Protestantism — one of the major divisions of the Christian faith.
Today, there are many different denominations that fall under the umbrella of Protestant throughout the world. Some of these denominations include Lutheran, Methodist, and Baptist. In fact, it’s common for modern church goers to consider themselves to be Protestant only as a way to distinguish them from the Catholic faith.
Although there are several major differences between Protestantism and Catholicism concerning essential points of biblical doctrine, most of these differences are rooted in the Catholic claim of apostolic succession. This is a doctrine that teaches of an unbroken chain of authority that’s been passed down within the Roman Catholic Church all the way from the apostle Peter to the current pope. And because of this unbroken chain of authority, the Roman Catholic Church believes itself to be the only true church in the world, with the pope having supreme authority over all churches everywhere.
Protestants, on the other hand, reject apostolic succession and the infallibility of the pope, and claim that the Bible alone is the sole authority for all matters of truth, faith, and practice (Proverbs 30:5-6; Isaiah 8:20; 2 Timothy 3:16-17).
Another key difference between Protestants and Catholics has to do with faith, good works, and salvation. Protestants believe that faith alone is enough for salvation (Romans 4:5; 5:1; Galatians 2:16), whereas Catholics believe a person also needs good works to go along with God’s grace. For the Protestant, good works are a result of faith; for the Catholic, good works are necessary to erase sin and to limit one’s time in purgatory after death.
And then, of course, there’s Mary, the mother of Jesus. Both Protestants and Catholics hold Mary in high regard but that’s where the similarity ends. According to Catholic tradition, Mary was born without original sin and remained sinless throughout her lifetime, a belief Protestants strongly reject (Romans 3:23; 1 John 1:8).
Admittedly, throughout history, these differences have been a huge source of contention among both Protestants and Catholics. But there is a central belief in which virtually all Protestants and Catholics agree: There is one God, who sent his only Son, Jesus, into the world as Savior and Messiah to a lost and broken people. Through his sacrificial death on the cross and his triumphant resurrection, all who believe in the name of Jesus can receive eternal salvation and restore their broken relationship with God.
In light of this, we should all take to heart Titus 2:11, “For the free gift of eternal salvation is now being offered to everyone” — a truth that unites all people together whether we label ourselves as Protestant, Catholic, Baptist, or anything else.
So regardless of what we think or how the world views our different faiths, it’s our shared belief in Jesus Christ that has already brought us together in Christian unity (Psalm 133:1; Ephesians 4:1-6).
And as believers, that’s something we should think about.
Donna Hughey is an award-winning Christian author and columnist. She lives in Crescent City.