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“What is the difference between Catholic and Christian?” I’ve been asked this a lot. Especially since I converted to Catholicism (you can read about that here). However, the question itself is misleading since, to put it simply, a Catholic is a Christian.
In reality, there are many types of Christians. However, when some people think of “Christian” they usually think of Evangelical/Protestant Christians by default.
But Evangelical Christians are not the only ones who can claim the title of “Christian”. Catholics, as well as other Protestants, Orthodox, and Coptics, can all use the term “Christian” fairly.
So Catholicism is a form of Christianity. (But I’d also contend that Catholicism is true Christianity and the only 100% legit form!)
Furthermore, Catholics, Orthodox, Coptic, and older forms of Protestant Christians have been around longer than Evangelical Christians and so have actually been called “Christians” for a longer period of time.
What is usually meant by people when they ask, ”What is the difference between Catholic and Christian?” is, actually, ”What is the difference between Catholics and Evangelicals/Protestants?”
Despite the many similarities, there are also quite a lot of differences. Here are just 10 of these differences.
The Difference Between Catholics and Evangelicals
1. Sola Scriptura
Evangelicals usually hold to the Protestant idea of “Sola Scriptura” which, in English, means ”Scripture alone”.
What this belief practically means is that the Bible alone is the supreme, infallible authority for a Chrisitan. That means there is no singular Church or outside teaching authority that can hold claim to having equal authority in a Christian’s life than the Bible.
The Catholic Church, however, teaches that the Bible came from the Catholic Church itself and so, therefore, the Catholic Church, guided by the Holy Spirit, has the same level of authority as the Bible when it teaches dogma.
So, to put it simply, Catholics believe in the equal authority of the Bible and the Church, Evangelicals believe in the authority of the Bible alone.
Most Evangelicals do not believe in the role of the Sacraments to help bring about salvation.
Usually, for Evangelicals, a singular prayer of repentance is enough to assure salvation (though other Evangelicals will also add that it requires holy living afterward so you don’t lose that salvation gained from that repentance prayer, while other Evangelicals do not believe one can lose their salvation at all).
Catholics, on the other hand, think the Sacraments of Baptism, Confession, the Eucharist, etc. are all essential for salvation, and we believe the Bible also teaches this.
3. New Testament Priesthood
Evangelicals do not believe in a specific New Testament priesthood but think all believers are priests.
Catholics believe that all believers are priests in a general sense, but also believe in a specific priesthood that started with the 12 disciples of Jesus and was passed down to this day through the laying on of hands.
This is called the doctrine of Apostolic Succession (more on that here), which Evangelicals reject.
Like all Catholic beliefs, Catholics claim that Apostolic Succession is taught in the Bible as well as taught by the Catholic Church.
4. Invisible & Visible Church
Evangelicals usually think the Church, the body of Christ, is a purely invisible reality meaning that only God knows who is part of His Church and who isn’t.
Catholics, on the other hand, simultaneously believe that the Church is invisible and visible.
And so, although in one sense only God can know who is truly connected to the life of Christ, Catholics also believe one can simply look at this visible, institutional Church that administers the Sacraments in order to see who is a member of Christ’s Church.
5. Faith & Good Works
Evangelicals usually believe that salvation comes from faith in Christ alone, whereas Catholics believe that salvation comes from faith in Christ and good works inspired by that same faith.
6. View of Worship
Evangelicals usually consider the highest form of worship during a service to be musical praise.
Catholics, on the other hand, consider the highest form of worship to be the sacrifice of the Eucharist on the altar at every Mass.
7. Intercession of the Saints
Evangelicals do not ask deceased holy Christians to pray for them, Catholics do.
8. The Language of “Saint”
Some Evangelicals like to call all Christians “saints”.
Catholics, although recognizing this language is used in the Bible and is true in a sense for all baptized Christians, nonetheless are less prone to use that word because it has become an official title within the Catholic Church.
“Saint” (with the uppercase “S”), is a title that is normally only ascribed to canonized Catholic Saints that the Church has investigated and found their lives worthy of imitation.
Despite a few exceptions, Evangelicals do not believe in Purgatory.
Purgatory is the belief that there is an intermediary state between Heaven and Hell where one’s non-eternal/temporary punishments for sins are dealt with. And also where one is purified to be completely ready for Heaven.
Catholics believe in Purgatory.
Evangelicals usually see Mary as simply a woman chosen by God to give birth to Jesus, and nothing more.
Catholics hold Mary in very high esteem because of her large role in God’s plan for salvation and for what else Tradition teaches about her.
Please note that this was a very basic introduction to these differences. Anyone interested in this topic should study each difference more to gain a fuller understanding.
If someone else asked you, “What is the difference between Catholic and Christian?” What else would you add? Feel free to comment below!