What’s the difference between Protestants and Catholics?

What is the fundamental difference between Protestants and Catholics?

At the most fundamental level, Protestants differ from Catholics in how they view the scriptures as our authority.  Most protestant bodies acknowledge (at least with lip service) the scriptures only as the sole standard of authority for religious behavior.  On the other hand, the Catholic Church acknowledges the scriptures as authoritative, but not as the final authority.  Catholics believe that both scriptures and church tradition take an equal footing when it comes to establishing authority in religion.  The Catholic Church has a body of teaching known as The Living Magisterium.  These are church traditions that have been handed down over the centuries as a precedent for how the Catholic church behaves.

When the reformers, who eventually ended up creating the Protestant movement, withdrew from the Catholic church, they also renounced Catholic tradition as a source of authority for religious practices.  In its place, they demanded that things be settled “sola scriptura” with scripture only.  Unfortunately, the Protestant movement was not able to completely divorce themselves from tradition as many of the early denominational bodies that came out of the Protestant movement adopted creeds and confessions of faith which simply further reflected human tradition. Jesus didn’t want us passing along human tradition. This is what He rebuked the Pharisees for doing in Matthew 15:1-9.

The Bible teaches that only scripture is able to give us what we need to be fully pleasing to God.  In 2 Timothy 3:16,17, Paul wrote, “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 perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.”  God has given us the scriptures for a reason.  Paul tells us what that reason is.  It is that God’s people may be provided for with all spiritual things in order to live the kind of lives that God wants us to live.  Notice the list that Paul gives as to what the scriptures supply: doctrine, reproof, correction, instruction in righteousness, that we may be complete, and able to do all good works.  Now, if God has given us everything we need in the scriptures, then why do we need to get it from any other source?  We do not.

The Christian is going to accept God’s word as the final authority for all matters religious because God is the final authority in all things.  That means that the Christian cannot accept men’s traditions, his own feelings, what his mother or grandmother taught, what an alleged latter-day prophet taught, or what any other source of information may provide as authoritative for his religious practices.  He must accept scripture only.  This is the final authority and the bottom line for all matters religious. Paul wrote to the churches of Galatia in Galatians 1:6-9, “I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed.”