|From the TeachingtheWord Bible Knowledgebase|
A broadcast listener asks, "Can you summarize the key differences between Roman Catholic and Protestant teaching?"
Among a vast array of distinctions, these five are the most vital:
1. Doctrine: Tradition vs. Scripture
2. Authority: Church vs. Christ
3. Salvation: Works vs. Faith
4. Mediators: Many vs. One
5. The True Church: Visible vs. Invisible
In each of these critical areas, the distinctions between Roman Catholicism and authentic Biblical Christianity are not sliding-scale shades of difference. They mark an unbridgeable gulf between Christ and Antichrist, truth and error, Heaven and Hell.
Today we begin a series briefly exploring these five key distinctions. We shall compare approved Vatican sources (which bear its claim of infallibility) with the Word of God.
1. Doctrine: Tradition vs. Scripture
How Roman Catholicism Establishes Doctrine
Roman Catholicism makes man the primary authority in the establishment of doctrine. The Vatican teaches that the Roman Church itself, not God through His Word, is the infallible arbiter of truth. Thus, it relegates Scripture to secondary status at best. Over the centuries, Rome has built a complex web of man-made traditions and arbitrary, changeable regulations that are foreign to Scripture, which Catholics must observe in order to remain in good standing with the Church.
"The Council of Trent...forbids that, in 'matters of faith and morals belonging to the building-up of Christian doctrine', the Bible be explained against the sense held by the Church, or against the unanimous consent of the Fathers. The Tridentine Confession of Faith and the Vatican Council...enjoin in a positive form that in 'matters of faith and morals belonging to the building-up of Christian doctrine', the Scriptures be explained according to the teaching of the Church and the unanimous consent of the Fathers. In the article [on] Exegesis [in the Catholic Encyclopedia] the rules have been laid down which will ensure due conformity of Catholic exegesis with Catholic and patristic teaching..."1
"As the Divinely appointed teacher of revealed truth, the [Roman Catholic] Church is infallible."2
How Biblical Christianity Establishes Doctrine
In sharp contrast, Biblical Christianity recognizes that the Bible is the sole authority, and recognizes that the Bible contains the system of doctrine that is authoritative and unchanging. Authentic Christianity submits to the Bible's own teaching that Scripture alone can infallibly interpret Scripture, and therefore judges the validity of every word of man by the standard of conformity to Scripture. Scripture warns against basing doctrine on man's regulations, and warns against establishing doctrine by interpreting Scripture according to human philosophy or tradition.
...they have transgressed the laws, changed the ordinance, broken the everlasting covenant. (Isaiah 24:5) [For example, until the 1960s, the Vatican said that eating meat on Friday (even a slice of bologna) was a mortal sin, and the person who died without confessing such a sin to a priest would go straight to Hell. But today, Rome says it's alright to eat meat unless the church proclaims a meatless Friday. Even then, eating that piece of bologna is only a venial sin, which can be cleansed by performing penance now or by time spent in Purgatory after death. Such arbitrary, man-made regulation is foreign to the Law of God and utterly contrary to the Gospel. The doctrine of Purgatory has absolutely no basis in Scripture.]
Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written: "This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men." For laying aside the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men...All too well you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your tradition...making the word of God of no effect through your tradition which you have handed down. (Mark 7:6-13)
But this is what I commanded them, saying, "Obey My voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be My people. And walk in all the ways that I have commanded you, that it may be well with you." Yet they did not obey or incline their ear, but followed the counsels and the dictates of their evil hearts, and went backward and not forward. (Jeremiah 7:23-24)
...you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot. He indeed was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you who through Him believe in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God. Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit in sincere love of the brethren, love one another fervently with a pure heart, having been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever, because "All flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of the grass. The grass withers, and its flower falls away, but the Word of the Lord endures forever." Now this is the Word which by the Gospel was preached to you. (1 Peter 1:18-25)
But then, indeed, when you did not know God, you served those which by nature are not gods. But now after you have known God, or rather are known by God, how is it that you turn again to the weak and beggarly elements, to which you desire again to be in bondage? You observe days and months and seasons and years. I am afraid for you, lest I have labored for you in vain....Have I therefore become your enemy because I tell you the truth? They zealously court you, but for no good; yes, they want to exclude you, that you may be zealous for them." (Galatians 4:8-11, 16-17)
And I, brethren, when I came to you, did not come with excellence of speech or of wisdom declaring to you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. I was with you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God....Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God. These things we also speak, not in words which man's wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. But he who is spiritual judges all things, yet he himself is rightly judged by no one. For "who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct Him?" But we have the mind of Christ. (1 Corinthians 2)
Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ. (Colossians 2:8)
Knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation [in the original Greek, literally, "it never came by human origin"], for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit. (2 Peter 1:20-21)
But evil men and impostors will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived. But you must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:13-17)
[The Bereans] were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so. [They did not even take the word of an apostle of Jesus Christ without verifying that it agreed with Scripture.] (Acts 17:11)
To the law and to the testimony [i.e., the Scriptures]! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because there is no light in them. (Isaiah 8:20)
Forever, O Lord, Your Word is settled in Heaven. (Psalm 119:89)
1. The Catholic Encyclopedia, entry on "Hermeneutics" as viewed on December 10, 2009 at http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/07271a.htm
2. The Catholic Encyclopedia, entry on "The Church" as viewed on December 10, 2009 at http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/03744a.htm