What Do Catholics and Protestants Have in Common?

The Pope with American President Ronald Reagan...

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It may be the most important in this analysis to recognize the similarities that Catholics and Protestants share.  After all, we come from the same beginnings, and the Protestant church was born out of the Catholic Church.  And we may have rubbed off on each other more than most are willing to admit!

Particularly, though potentially unaware of it, Catholics picked up on a lot of Protestant influence in the days following Vatican II.  For those Catholics who did continue regular practice (during the change to Vatican II), the experience of religion was changed and, in general, more intense and personal.  No longer passive observers, they were now active participants in the liturgy, singing hymns and reciting responses along with the priest.  Moreover, at any given Mass there were likely to be more lay people than priests taking official roles in the service, as readers, song leaders, distributors of communion, and even preachers.[1]  Could it be that Pope John Paul II had recognized the urgency of granting more individualism to Catholics and consequently adopted what looked like more of a Protestant expression of a Catholic faith?

At the root, Catholicism and Protestantism have much in common.  They share the same love for scripture.  From the beginning the Catholic Church has venerated the Bible as the supernatural word of God…and teaches the divine inspiration of scripture…and encourages lay people to read and study the scriptures.[2]

Evangelical Protestants have a great veneration for the scriptures, and believe they are the true word of God, and pastors of the evangelical persuasion certainly encourage lay people to read and study the scriptures.

And Catholics and Protestants share a love for Jesus.  (Catholics) don’t believe either the Scriptures or the church come first.  Instead Jesus comes first.  The primary revelation of God to mankind is in His Son Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh.[3]  I hope this would be one thing that Catholic and Protestant Christians would unite on!  It may be controversial to say it, but didn’t Jesus pray for those who would believe in Him through the message of the apostles?  That “all of them would be one, just as Jesus is in the Father and the Father is in Him? That we also may be in us so that the world may believe that the Father has sent Him?” (John 17:20-21)  Are we too afraid to apply this verse to Catholic/Protestant relationships when we agree on basic things of faith?

And something has been lost particularly in the 20th and 21st Century expression of evangelical Protestantism, that being the dedication to good works.  The false, lukewarm brand of incomplete Calvinism that is unfortunately prevalent in many modern evangelical churches leaves many well-meaning, seemingly faithful people in a malaise of “saved by faith” mentality.  Dwight Longanecker, the Catholic in a Catholic/Anglican debate book called “Challenging Catholics: A Catholic-Evangelical Dialogue”, brings up this point when he says, “Does even the most fervent Protestant really believe good works are totally irrelevant?  If they do they contradict the New Testament which says ‘Faith without works is dead’ (James 2:17).”[4]  Protestants need to recover a healthy fear of God that leads to an urgency for good works, born out of faith and not merely fear.

Catholic doctrine also contains a parallelism with Protestantism in regards to original sin.  Catholics believe in original sin.  Following St. Augustine, they believe original sin wounds God’s image in them.  In other words, they need to be healed.  Christ’s work on the cross restores them and enables them to co-operate with God’s grace in their lives.[5]  Though Catholics generally reject a doctrine of total depravity and believe a cooperation with God’s grace in their lives leads them to conquering of sin, they do hold this doctrine in common with Protestants.

Oddly enough my inquiry into Catholic opinion of other Catholics showed that even some Catholics admit that they have less general knowledge of the bible than other Christians!  Dwight in the book “Challenging Catholics” talked of this when he admitted,

“I have to confess that I really don’t think Catholics have the same level of Bible knowledge and love for the Scriptures that Evangelicals usually have.”[6]  I need to be fairly critical of the movement that I am aligned with and say that many evangelicals don’t know the Bible and view their faith as a simply social Sunday function.  But I thought it was stunning that a Catholic would admit the same.  I appreciate the fact that Dwight feels the need to challenge people within his own faith context.  This is something I suppose I wish that Catholics and Evangelicals had in common.  I wish we would challenge each other to know and follow the Word faithfully.

We as evangelicals often rely on a plethora of preachers to give us the Bible knowledge we desire in the medium that’s most appealing to us, and then we may turn around and criticize Catholics for relying on bishops in seeking their interpretive authority.  I think it’s safe to say that we all do this, and should be striving to understand the Word for ourselves instead of having to be spoon-fed and mesmerized by whom we deem to be a “Christian superstar”.  Dwight brings up this point when he says that,

“All Christians believe in some final interpretive authority- it’s just that we Catholics recognize this fact and glory in it while you guys aren’t aware that it exists.”[7]  Now we’ll certainly argue of the validity of many Catholic spokespeople for interpretation eventually, but I do think its safe to say that both evangelicals and Catholics put their leaders on pedestals while subverting their own responsibility to understand and live God’s Word far too often.

As far as the issue of power hungry Christian leaders I think Catholics and Protestants are in agreement.  Lo and behold, Catholics aren’t completely blind to the corruption of their institution in the past, and we would be presumptuous to think so.  Dwight admitted in the book in the midst of a debate that (he) agree(s) with (Protestants) one hundred percent that there have been wicked popes, and that their shocking example has done terrible harm to the body of Christ.[8]  The papacy did evolve into a power-hungry and corrupt institution.  There were some very dark times indeed for the church, when it looked like the gates of hell might prevail over her after all.[9]  This last statement is somewhat shocking because its amazing that someone could see this level of corruption in a religious institution and yet still subscribe themselves wholeheartedly to it.  However, a good point is brought up when we realize that we must also consider whether Protestant rulers ever looked to establish temporal power, whether they used that power to maim, murder and kill, and whether they too were ever corrupted by ambition, greed and lust.[10]  The fact is that many people have abused the name of Jesus for their own gain, and their punishment will be just on the other side of eternity for it.  This corruption doesn’t merely exist in the Catholic fold either, for Protestants have had their share of vying for power and burning people at the stake.  It can be said that with great power, prosperity and widening influence, a religious institution is very susceptible to becoming corrupt and working against the ways of Christ.

[1] Ibid., 55

[2] Longenecker, Dwight & Martin, John.  (Challenging Catholics: A Catholic                       Evangelical Dialogue  Paternoster 2001), 2

[3] Ibid., 11

[4] Ibid., 117

[5] Ibid., 119-120

[6] Ibid., 12

[7] Ibid., 16

[8] Ibid., 64

[9] Ibid., 53

[10] Ibid., 53


4 thoughts on “What Do Catholics and Protestants Have in Common?

  1. Pingback: One Unified Church??? Scattered Protestants and the Central Institution of Catholicism « benwhite29

  2. Pingback: Who Interprets Scripture? People or God? « benwhite29

  3. Pingback: Bishops Descended From Christ’s Apostles? « benwhite29

  4. Pingback: Get Ready For Controversy! Peter and the Popes… The Biggest Catholic/Protestant Disagreement in History « benwhite29

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