How do Protestant and Catholic Beliefs Differ?

Phil Johnson

The following is a transcribed Video Q&A, so the text may not read like an edited article would. Scroll to the bottom to view this video in its entirety. 

"I think if you break down the teaching of the Roman Catholic church, it suffers from some of the same errors Paul was confronting in Judaism. The idea the Judahites were teaching is that there is a right of initiation. They said, 'It's circumcision, a work you must do in order to be justified.' They were saying justification is not solely true faith, there's more you have to do other than just trust Christ in order to be perfectly just before God.

And so they said, 'Circumcision is the instrument of justification.' The Roman Catholic church says, 'Baptism is the instrument of justification,' and they teach a doctrine that's very similar to what Paul was confronting, that there is a blending of the finished work of Christ with the new works of the believer. And if you don't have both sides, if you don't see that baptism is the instrument of justification, then you're not really justified.

Also, like these false teachers Paul was confronting in Galatians, I think the Roman Catholic Church tends to turn justification into a process, where we're required to cooperate with God, whereas scripture teaches justification is a work God does ... it's actually declaration that God makes on our behalf.

So it's a one time, instantly complete, declaration. It's like the declaration the minister makes when he says 'I pronounce you husband and wife,' in a wedding, it's a declaration that changes everything suddenly.

Justification is exactly like that, God declares us just, and from the point he does that, our justification is a past tense completed reality, it's not something we're working for or trying to earn. And the problem Paul was dealing with in Galatians is that these false teachers were teaching that justification is something you need to work for, something you need to do something to acquire, and really, as I see it, Roman Catholic doctrine is an echo of that same error.

And one of the brilliant advances of the Protestant Reformation was to recover the doctrine of justification by faith alone. In fact, I would say that was really the heart of what was accomplished in the Protestant Reformation, a recovery of the simplicity of the gospel of grace.

And I think there are people in the Roman Catholic system who may be true believers. The thing is, they're not good Catholics, they don't follow the church's teaching, or else they wouldn't be believers in the biblical sense, they're not people ... If it's someone who's truly trusting Christ, someone who believes Christ alone is sufficient for salvation and therefore puts all their trust in him, and no trust in their own works or their own efforts, then they're not going to be solid Roman Catholics.

So I would say while there may be genuine believers in the Roman Catholic system, the more they grow spiritually, the more they understand scripture, the more alienated they'll become from the Roman Catholic system, the more that they'll see that it clashes with what scripture teaches. And I don't think an environment where you're constantly subjected to false teaching and extra biblical works, and extra biblical doctrines, and human authority rather than the authority of scripture, a system like that is not a good place for spiritual growth.

So my recommendation to believers who are in not only the Roman Catholic Church, but any system like that, a religion that so much stresses my work, rather than the work Christ has done for me, get out of that system, get into a church where scripture is taught, and you'll grow spiritually much better."