Catholicism and Protestantism: are they really that different?

Part two of The Apple Leaf’s multi-issue series on religion

In the eyes of the adherent

Wenatchee High School has a religiously diverse population, with the majority of religious kids being Christians. Two main branches are Catholicism and Protestantism, and The Apple Leaf asked a few students how they think the two religions differ.

Sophomore Emma Lukens is a member of the Wenatchee Free Methodist Church, a Protestant church. Lukens has been going to their youth group for about two and a half years, and began going to their services regularly about seven months ago. “[We chose it because] we really liked the pastor and how he taught,” Lukens said. “[I’m a Protestant because] I’ve been raised that way, I’ve chosen to believe that Jesus is the Son of God and he died on the cross for me.”

Lukens said she thought Protestantism was different from other sects of Christianity for multiple reasons, mainly that Protestants view their relationship with God differently than other religions do.

“We don’t think of it as a bunch of things you have to do to get to heaven, we think of it as a loving God who sent his son, Jesus, to die on the cross for us as a gift,” Lukens said. “A lot of [other religions] believe you have to accomplish things for forgiveness, and do acts to get to heaven.” Lukens also believes that even though Jesus died on the cross, people will still sin and God forgives them.

Junior Kyle Norland goes to Columbia Grove Covenant Church in East Wenatchee, another Protestant Church.

“[I like Columbia Grove because] they have a great kids program, they have a friendly, welcoming environment, really good music, and interesting sermons,” Norland said.

Norland thinks his church differs from other in several ways. “We just have the basic [holidays], Easter and Christmas. Lent is not a big focus and we don’t have confession, that’s Catholic,” Norland said. “Our main focus is serving the community and bringing people to Christ,” Norland said. “That makes our church really good and helpful in the community.”

Sophomore Joe Sells goes to St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, and will probably be a Catholic in the future. “I was born into [Catholicism],” Sells said. “How do you stop being a Catholic?”

“I think there’s different practices [in other religions],” Sells said. “There’s certain holidays that the Catholic Church celebrates differently, [but] I’ve never really understood that. Catholics and Christians have mostly the same beliefs.”

“In ways, yes [Christianity and Catholicism are different], but for the most part, no,” Sells said.

Senior Meghan Johnson belongs to Holy Apostles Catholic Church in East Wenatchee. “I was a cradle Catholic,” Johnson said, meaning that she was raised as a Catholic. “[Being a Catholic now] is about what I’ve chosen to believe. I’ve been a Catholic my whole life, it’s where I feel I can fit in.”

Johnson thinks that Catholicism is different from other religions in that Catholics are underneath the guidance of the Pope. “[Catholics] stick to traditional morals such as no abortion, no gay marriage, [and] no sex before marriage,” Johnson said. Catholics believe that God will forgive all your sins, according to Johnson. “As Catholics, we go to a priest to confess our sins, the priest is our connection with God,” she said. Priests are very important in Catholicism.

“[Protestants] have pastors, they can be married, have kids, and in my opinion the masses and services are more relaxed. Catholic mass is more traditional,” Johnson said. “[Catholic mass] is much easier to follow, it’s structured.”

“Distant cousins with a few differences”

With Catholics and Protestants both under the wing of Christianity as a whole, Catholics and Protestants alike tend to view one another as distant cousins with a few differences. However, there are sharp theological differences between these two religions. The main differences between Catholicism and Protestantism stem from their backgrounds.

Catholicism began with the Roman Catholic Church in the Roman Empire. Beginning as a persecuted religious community and deemed illegal, Catholicism became legal and the official religion of the Empire with the conversion of the Emperor Constantine. Catholic members congregate in a communion of churches headed by bishops, and over time these bishops spread out to form a “universal” church, located in Vatican City.

Thus birthed the Catholic chain of command, beginning with the Pope Vicar of Christ, Bishop of Rome, the head of the entire universal church; the cardinals, who elect the Pope; the bishops, who run churches in their geographical areas; priests, who run their individual churches; and finally monks and nuns, who devote their life to prayer and worship.

Catholicism reigned through the Dark Ages and into the Protestant Reformation. Protestantism formed through a split with the Catholic Church based on theological differences in the 16th century. Led by reformers such as Martin Luther, John Calvin and others, Protestants split to encompass various denominations over time, including Presbyterians, Baptists, Lutherans, Anglicans, Pentecostals, and the United Church of Christ, which maintain and reject varying degrees of Roman Catholic Church worship.

With Catholicism claiming some 1.1 billion members and Protestantism some 500 million, both religions spread worldwide to every continent, race and ethnicity. Both Protestants and Catholics believe in the doctrines of the Trinity, or the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, the divinity of Jesus Christ, the necessity of salvation to save humanity from the consequences of sin, and the death and sacrifice of Jesus for the sake of human salvation.

Yet Protestantism and Catholicism have very distinct differences.

The Virgin Mary plays a vital role in the Catholic Church. As the mother of God, Mary is seen as an intermediary between Catholics and God. Mary is often the object of many Catholic images, symbols, and representations. Prayers and petitions, such as the Hail Mary, or in Latin the Ave Maria, may be used to ask Mary to intercede with her son and bring prayers to Him. In Protestantism, the role of Mary as Jesus’ mother is recognized but not given such importance.

Catholics also practice the honoring of saints, or holy men and women who lived extraordinary lives of virtue whose prayers are believed to have particularly effective influence. Just as Catholics request Mary bring their prayers to God, Catholics have saints pray with them. Saints are chosen through canonization, the process the church uses to name a saint, by the Vatican, with over 10,000 saints from history and today. Likewise, saints are also depicted in many Catholic images and representations. Protestants acknowledge saints but don’t ask them to pray with them.

Both Protestants and Catholics accept the idea of Hell as a place of punishment for the damned, lasting for all eternity. Catholics also include purgatory. Purgatory remains as the final cleansing place after death and before entrance into Heaven of those who followed God, entirely different from the punishment of God but used simply to wipe clean human sin.

Baptism, common to both religions, symbolizes an acceptance of Jesus as savior in Protestantism but is viewed by Catholics as a ceremony that regenerates and justifies faith, typically done during infancy.