What are the Differences Between Catholics and Christians?

Initially, 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 do not always agree with each other. There are various branches of Eastern Orthodoxy. 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 alone possesses (as a gift from Jesus Christ himself) the fullness of the truth Jesus came to reveal.

Even though 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 that the Bible is 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 the Catholic Church has for Catholics.

Because Catholics follow Tradition as well as Scripture, it may seem that Catholic Church does not value Scripture as much as Protestants do. On the contrary, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which sums up the beliefs of the Catholic Church, says (quoting a document from Vatican II),

The Church “forcefully and specifically exhorts all the Christian faithful… to learn ‘the surpassing knowledge of Jesus Christ,’ by frequent reading of the divine Scriptures. ‘Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.’” (CCC 133)

It is true that some Catholics do not know the Bible very well. The Church encourages all Catholics to read and learn more about the Bible. One way she does this is by presenting the Bible to Catholics at every liturgy.

The Bible and the Mass

The Bible is an important part of every Mass. First and foremost, the Scriptures are read at every Mass. Over the course of three years, a Catholic who goes to Roman Catholic Mass every Sunday will hear around 15% of the verses in the Bible, and over 40% of the verses in the New Testament. A Catholic who goes to Mass every day, including Sundays, will hear around one third of the verses in the Bible and almost three quarters of the verses in the New Testament.

Furthermore, the entire Mass has Scripture woven throughout. For example, when he elevates the Eucharist, the priest will say, “Behold the Lamb of God, behold him who takes away the sins of the world. Blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb.” This echoes John the Baptist’s words in the Gospel of John: “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn 1:29). In the book of Revelation, an angel says, “Blessed are those who have been called to the wedding feast of the Lamb” (Rev 19:9). The people’s response (“Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed”) is also Biblical: it is similar to what a centurion tells Jesus when asking Jesus to heal his servant (see Luke 7).

Faith and Works

Another important and significant difference between Catholics and many other Christians is their theology of faith and works. One of the central tenets of the Protestant Reformation was sola fide, meaning “by faith alone.” What this means is that we are saved, or justified, by faith alone and not by works. Catholics, on the other hand, believe that both faith and works are necessary for salvation.

Many people, even many Catholics, misunderstand the Catholic Church’s teaching and believe that according to the Catholic Church, we have to earn our way to heaven. This is not at all what the Church teaches. Our salvation is a work entirely of God’s grace, but God’s saving grace requires a response from us. Faith is essential to that response, but so are actions (works). Actions are not just evidence that we believe. They are a key element in working out our salvation (cf. Philippians 2:12). In fact, the only time the words “faith alone” appear together in the New Testament is in the book of James, which says, “See how a person is justified by works and not by faith alone” (2:24).

Conclusion

Sola Scriptura and Sola Fide are often sources of debate between Catholics and Protestant Christians. Of course, there is far more to these debates than a short essay can convey. Despite these debates, be assured that Catholics are Christians! Like our brothers and sisters who are Protestant, we love the Bible, and we worship Jesus Christ as our Lord and God and trust in his power to save us.

13 thoughts on “What are the Differences Between Catholics and Christians?”

  1. I do not see a difference in the religion only christian churches now are smaller because regular people who aren’t priests or cardinals start the churches.

    A lot of christian churches now are started by a community and a pastor, hence why they are small and sometimes do not have, stained glass windows, wooden seats, aisles.

    Baptist churches also have a minister or pastor rather than a priest or cardinal in a older church.

  2. Most Catholics are not Christian and I venture to say most have no idea how to get to heaven. This comment is not to anger anyone, just stating the facts.

    1. Chavala Elizabeth

      They Catholics put there trust in Mary instead of Christ they believe they have to pray to Mary instead of Christ witch is wrong
      Mary was just a woman like me if she didn’t believe in Christ Jesus she to would have went to hell she was a blessed vergin woman chosen of God to conceive the saivour of the world but she is just a woman….I’m a born again Christian woman i belong to no denomination for there was no denomination of the church in the book of acts, you can’t pray to a pope for frogivness of sins he’s just a man there’s no such thing of purgatory no we’re in scripture is this mentioned there’s only heaven and hell if you believe in Christ you go to heaven if you don’t believe in Christ you go to hell once your there your there for eternity, the Catholics are off doctrinely there is a lot of harrosies in that religion Martin Luther saw the same thing to And rebuked it….I just want everyone to come to know the truth and believe in Christ’s finished work on the cross….that he was good manifest in the flesh vergin born he died on the cross she’d his blood on the cross to wash away all are sins he was baried and good the father rose Christ from the dead on the third day according to scripture.

      1. Chavala Elizabeth

        Jesus Christ was god manifest in the flesh was vergin born he died on the cross for are sins shed his blood to wash away all are sins was baried and god the father rose Jesus Christ from the dead on the thrid day according to scripture who is now at the right hand of almighty God this very moment…..I believe this with all my heart

    2. hmm, wow Ron what an absolutely disgusting and pathetic comment. It’s clear you, yourself have no idea on how to reach heaven, and would instead attack people of the same faith (That attitude is why people leave the Christian Faith). Please before you make any other comments on any other threads about Christ’s teaching, you take a good hard look at yourself and really think before making yourself look so foolish and ignorant.

    3. Catholics are Christians
      Christian means we believe Jesus was the son of God. Yes Catholics believe we are Christians. You go to heaven through Jesus Christ. Yes we Catholic will follow God’s laws. And we will be judged just like you. You are not capable of judging us or speaking of such things.

  3. FSHS DISCIPLES (APA)

    2 Thessalonians 2:15 Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition (RSVCE)
    “So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter”.

    Tradition by written Letters or by mouth is same according to St. Paul. So, where is this concept of new sacred tradition which does not bind with written tradition(Apostle Letters). St. Paul says, hold to the tradition, the tradition which is in the New Testament Scripture.

    I meant, that Sacred tradition is already given in the scripture, so no need a tradition that comes away from the Scripture.

    Apostles gave the Apostolic traditions to people by mouth and written Letters. Now we don’t have oral tradition, but we have the written letters. So, we can follow the apostolic tradition from the scripture itself.

    The supporting letters of St.Paul that’s says about Apostolic tradition to be followed is mentioned in 1Corinthians 11:2; 2Thessalonians 3:6. Also Paul warns about man made traditions in Colossians 2:8.

    1 Corinthians 4:6 Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition (RSVCE)
    “…you may learn by us not to go beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up in favor of one against another”.

    St. Paul asking those people not to go beyond what they received in written letters , so that they won’t go against another in fight .

    Today different believes and faiths are already there among catholic denomination christians. They follow many belief systems, because they are satisfied with what they do. Apostolic traditions from the Scripture teaches something, denomination christians follows something. Apostolic traditions from their letters regulates us How to believe!?, What to believe? and explains about The Faith. But, in the name of some beliefs looking for a verse from the old Testament to suit their actions is no use. Its just same like prosperity gospel preachers who quotes from old testament to justify their speech.

    The wrong things in denomination church beliefs have grown up, its difficult to rectify everything since it has evolved because politics, and envy on other denomination churches.

    An Individual good Christian will welcome anyone, who puts His faith in Christ alone. He testifies about Christ for others salvation, since Jesus Christ gave it as commandment to whoever becomes His disciple.

    Faith alone gives Salvation. Good works can give only riches in Heaven. Faith should be in the first place and good works must be followed behind the Faith. Good works do not gives salavtion.

    Lord Jesus Christ said two things to the rich man
    1. Matt 19:17: “If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.”
    2. Matt 19:21: “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor..”

    Getting perfect is different from just entering the life in heaven. That rich man asked our Lord Jesus, is anything am still lacking apart from abiding the ten commandments. So, there are different levels of reward from God according to our works done in this earth.

    If we wants to be perfect we have to become like Apostles, who kept Lord’s words in their lives. like Peter say’s in Matt 19:27 : “Behold, we have left everything and followed You..”

    Acts 3:6 -Peter says, “I have no silver or gold, but what I have I give you; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, stand up and walk”.

    Apostle Barnabas in Acts 4:37 -“who owned a tract of land, sold it and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet”.

    In Luke 12:21, it says that whoever stores up riches for himself is not rich toward God.

    In Matt 6:19-20, Jesus says -“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth…, But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven..”

    Revelation 22:12
    “Behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be”.

    According to our works we will have our reward from God. So, The Salvation is free but that is not enough. Growing to be rich in heaven is also matters. We got the free ticket to heaven by FAITH in the Lord Jesus Christ, but the value of seat will be given only according to our works. Its in our hands to get rich in heaven or not.

    God bless you all.

  4. I appreciate this article, but, I have to go with Lee on the fullness of Christianity concept. Also believe that this was a pretty lightweight piecethat failed in summarizing our “split in beliefs”..kind of glossed over this important topic. No mention of huge differences, like Sola Scriptura, Sola Fide, y’know, things like that… It looks like a “PC” article carefully engineered not to step on anyone’s toes. Explain and defend the faith the best you can!

  5. Catholics ARE Christians. In fact, the Catholic Church contains the fullness of Christianity. All Christians were Catholic prior to the “reformation” just a mere 500 years ago. Please consider correcting your title & premise of this article. God bless.

    1. I agree that the author’s distinction between ‘Catholics’ and ‘Christians’ is unhelpful, but you’ve forgotten about the Eastern Orthodox churches in your reply.

  6. Timothy Mercaldo

    Please reconsider using “The Way International” as an example of a Christian nondenominational entity. They teach that “Jesus is not from God”and reject trinitarian teaching from the Scripture. They are well established as a cult, at least theologically, since their inception.

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