For many people, it may be confusing to understand how Catholicism relates to Christianity. When you ask Protestants what religion they are, most of them will say, “Christian.” When you ask Catholics the same question, however, nearly all of them will identify as “Catholic.” Yet Catholics believe in Jesus and read the Bible. So how does Catholicism relate to Christianity?
In fact, there are many kinds of Christianity. There are several kinds of Protestants, and these different types of Protestants have disagreements about some of their teachings. There are various branches of Eastern Orthodoxy. These are Christians who are not Catholic, but they are very similar to Catholics in many of their beliefs. Generally speaking, Catholics and Orthodox have more in common than Catholics and Protestants do. Finally, there are Catholics. You are probably familiar with Roman Catholics but there are also Eastern Catholics. There are several types of Eastern Catholicism, and they are very similar to Eastern Orthodoxy but they are in communion with the Pope.
So the answer to the question, “What is the difference between Catholics and Christians?” in short is, “There are no differences. Catholics are Christians.” Indeed, Catholics believe that while other Christians are really and truly followers of Christ, the Catholic Church possesses (as a gift from Jesus Christ himself) the fullness of the truth Jesus came to reveal.
Even though we know that Catholics are Christians, Catholics may seem very different than other Christians. Let’s look at some of these differences. Because most of the non-Catholic Christians you will meet are probably Protestants, we’ll focus on how Catholic beliefs relate to Protestant beliefs. While there are many differences, we will look here at two of the major ones: the role of Scripture and the role of good works.
Scripture and Tradition
Catholics and Protestants both believe the Bible to be the word of God. Protestants believe that the Bible is the only source of revelation about faith and morals. This is called sola scriptura, meaning “Scripture alone.” Catholics, on the other hand, believe that God’s revelation comes to us in two ways: Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition. Therefore, Catholics believe that the Church has the authority to interpret Scripture and to decide when an interpretation of Scripture is false. For Protestants, on the other hand, what their pastors or Church leaders say is a valuable source of guidance and can be a lens through which to look at Scripture, but these sources do not have the same authority for Protestants that Catholics believe the Catholic Church has.
Because Catholics follow Tradition as well as Scripture, it may seem that Catholic Church does not value Scripture as much as Protestants do.
Papal Law Versus the Ten Commandments
The differences between Catholicism and the rest of Christianity can actually be traced all the way back to the death and resurrection of Christ. Catholics believe that Jesus spoke to the apostle Peter, and named him as the head of the church. This paved the way for Catholics to believe in Papal Law, the concept that Jesus speaks through the leader of the Catholic Church. Over the centuries, this has translated to the institution of a Pope, who leads the Catholic Church. Other Christians, however, believe that the only true law in God’s eye is the Ten Commandments, and that they do not need a translator to learn the meaning of Christianity. While the Pope’s are clearly not without sin, they do have papal infallibility under very precise circumstances. While those circumstances are not often used, most popes are also clearly very wise and important teachers for Catholics and the whole world. You can see this clearly by just looking at some pope quotes. You’ll see some powerful wisdom there.
Services and Mass
Almost all versions of Christianity and Catholicism involve attending a weekly service, at which the leader of the congregation will read a passage from the Bible and then discuss. However, the itinerary and flow of these services vary greatly between different denominations of the Protestant church. Protestant congregations can follow strict schedules that remain the same week after week, or have a more casual, celebratory feel in which there is singing, dancing and even a band. Catholicism, however, relies on a formal service that must include the Liturgy and the Eucharist.
Ticket to Heaven
While there is agreement across the board that God’s grace is his gift to humans, and that only through him can you achieve salvation, Christians and Catholics have slightly different interpretations of how that is done. One of the key steps to accepting God’s grace in either sect is through Baptism. Catholics baptize the members of their congregation very soon after birth. Other Christians believe that the baptism can happen at any time. In fact, many denominations wait until the congregant is old enough to understand the acceptance of salvation before going through with the sacrament. Both religions believe that through salvation, you will have eternal life in Heaven at God’s side.
Splits in Basic Beliefs
Christians believe that the many sects of Christianity have perfectly viable interpretations of the Bible. The nuances between the different interpretations may guide them to uphold slightly different values throughout their lives, but ultimately, they are all on the same team. They feel that as long as you devote yourself to God and admit your sins, the slight differences in opinion will not keep anyone out of Heaven. However, the Catholic Church maintains that salvation is only through Jesus and His Church, seen or unseen.
The Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church both lay claim to being the oldest form of Christianity, while the Protestant split paved the way for dozens of other Christian sects to appear. In today’s religious climate, many of the old stigmas remain of Orthodoxy and Catholicism being the most strict believers in Christ, without much room for interpretation. However, the modern Catholic Church has made a point to embrace contemporary lifestyles and has even jumped on the social media bandwagon.
Though their paths and interpretations may vary, Catholicism and Christianity are united in motive. Both churches reach out across the world to spread their message in hopes of helping people find what they believe is salvation and everlasting life. The numerous differences between these religions may seem complicated and confusing to believers and nonbelievers alike. While they may choose to travel different roads, they ultimately have the final destination.