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Ten Differences Between the Reformation and Rome

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This article by Guy Davies appeared in the September/October issue of Protestant Truth. Guy is Joint-Pastor of Penknap Providence Church and Ebenezer Baptist Church in Wiltshire, England.


1. The Roman Catholic Church believes that its traditions and teaching are as authoritative as Scripture. The Reformed value tradition, but accept the Bible alone as their authority, and sole rule of faith and practice.


2. The Roman Catholic Church believes that the Pope, as successor of Peter and Bishop of Rome, is head of the visible Church. The Reformed believe that Christ alone is head of the Church and that no man may claim universal primacy over the people of God.


3. The Roman Catholic Church believes that the Bible cannot be properly understood apart from the official interpretation of Rome (the Magisterium). The Reformed believe that Christians have a responsibility to judge the truth of all teaching by the extent of its conformity to the teaching of the Bible as it has been commonly accepted with the help of responsible exegesis and the witness of the Spirit.


4. The Roman Catholic Church teaches that we are justified by baptism and that justification must be supplemented and improved by works. The Reformed hold that the Bible teaches that justification is God's declaration that a sinner is righteous in his sight, on the basis of faith in the finished work of Christ, apart from works. We are justified by faith alone. Baptism does not effect justification; it is the sign of it, as well as of the believer's cleansing from sin and reception of new life in Christ.


5. The Roman Catholic Church teaches that the Lord's Supper is a re-offering of the sacrifice of Christ and that the bread and wine are actually changed into the body and blood of the Saviour. The Reformed hold that that in Scripture the Lord's Supper is a fellowship meal that is to be kept by believers in remembrance of the finished work of Christ. The bread and wine are significant symbols to believers of Christ's body and blood. At the Lord's Supper, they enjoy communion with the risen Christ, who is present at the Table by his Spirit.


6. The Roman Catholic Church regards its ministers as priests. They re-offer the sacrifice of Christ at the Mass and act as mediators between God and the faithful, taking Christ's role. The Reformed teach that all Christians are priests, who offer a sacrifice of praise and worship to the Lord. Some, called to be teachers and pastors, are ministers of the Word. Their task is to give themselves to prayer, the preaching of the gospel, and to care for the flock.


7. The Roman Catholic Church teaches that after death the souls of departed believers who have not made sufficient satisfaction for their sins in their lifetime go to purgatory in order to do that prior to going to heaven. The living can affect how long the departed have to spend in purgatory by observing Mass, obtaining indulgences, and praying for them. The Reformed hold that purgatory is not taught in Scripture. They believe, in accord with Scripture, that at death the souls of believers will depart from the body to be with Christ in heaven, awaiting the resurrection to life, glory and immortality.


8. The Roman Catholic Church believes that Mary can be invoked as mediatrix with Christ and that the faithful should pray to her and show devotion to her. Rome also teaches that believers should pray for themselves and for the dead to the faithful departed whom the Pope has designated as saints. The Reformed honour Mary as the mother of our Lord and see her as an example of obedience and love to God. They maintain that there is only one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, and that, despite the protestations of Rome, its teaching takes away from the sole mediatorship of Christ. Prayer and worship is to be offered to God through him alone.


9. The Roman Catholic Church teaches that there are seven sacraments and that these sacraments work ex opere operato, effectively conveying grace to those who receive them. For example, baptism regenerates and justifies, and participants in the Mass actually feed on the body and drink the blood of Christ. The Reformed find only two sacraments or ordinances in Scripture, baptism and the Lord's Supper. These are means of grace that are only effective when received by faith.


10. The Roman Catholic Church regards herself as the one true Church through the apostolic succession of her bishops. Non-Roman Catholic Christians are regarded as 'separated brethren' who have schismatically divided the body of Christ. Reformed ministers are not truly ordained to the apostolic ministry. The Reformed define the Church not institutionally, but as a company of believing, godly people where the gospel is truly preached, baptism and the Lord's Supper rightly administered and Church discipline graciously applied. The true apostolic succession consists not in the physical laying on of hands as understood by Rome, but in believing and preaching the gospel proclaimed by the apostles and recorded in Scripture.

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Hi William.


I hope it is permitted to make some comments on this list.



1. The Roman Catholic Church believes that its traditions and teaching are as authoritative as Scripture. The Reformed value tradition, but accept the Bible alone as their authority, and sole rule of faith and practice.


One must be careful to clarify what one means by traditions and teaching, as this can lead to a great deal of confusion.


In the Catholic Church there are two types of traditions. There is Sacred Tradition which is the teaching of the Church, so Sacred Tradition and teachings/docrines/dogmas are one and the same thing. These never change. These are the Deposit of faith - the All Truth promised by Jesus to the Apostles that they would be led into by the Holy Spirit, which was deposited with the Church. These are the Traditions Paul refers to when he states in scripture:

2 Thessalonians 2

It was for this He called you through our gospel, that you may gain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.
So then, brethren, stand firm and
hold to the traditions
which you were taught, whether
by word of mouth
or by letter from us.






then there are Ecclesial traditions which are changeable and deal with practices, not teaching.


The reason the Catholic Church holds that Sacred Tradition, the Deposit of faith given the Church by the Apostles is authoritative along with scripture is because the Apostles taught this was so, as evidenced by Paul's words in scripture above.



There are other statements made about what the Catholic Church believes that put a slant on those beliefs that make them appear to be something other than they really are. I don't have time right now to go over those as well, but perhaps later I can.

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The reason the Catholic Church holds that Sacred Tradition, the Deposit of faith given the Church by the Apostles is authoritative along with scripture is because the Apostles taught this was so, as evidenced by Paul's words in scripture above.


2 Thessalonians 2:14-15 does not in the least support the unwritten traditions of the Papists.


The canon was not yet complete, and the Thessalonians were exhorted to continue in their Christian profession, to hold fast the traditions which they had been taught or the doctrine of the gospel, which had been delivered by the apostle by word of the epistle. Because the canon was not yet complete some things were delivered by the apostles in their preaching, under the guidance of the infallible Spirit, which Christians were bound to observe as coming from God. There is no argument for oral traditions in our days now that the canon of Scripture is complete, as of equal authority with the sacred writings. Such doctrines and duties as were taught by the inspired apostles we are to adhere, but we have no certain evidence of any thing delivered by them more than what we find contained in the holy scriptures. We are to stand fast in the doctrines taught by the apostles, and reject all additions, and vain traditions.


John Calvin writes of 2 Thessalonians 2:14-15:


14 To which he called us. He repeats the same thing, though in somewhat different terms. For the sons of God are not called otherwise than to the belief of the truth. Paul, however, meant to shew here how competent a witness he is for confirming that thing of which he was a minister. He accordingly puts himself forward as a surety, that the Thessalonians may not doubt that the gospel, in which they had been instructed by him, is the safety-bringing voice of God, by which they are aroused from death, and are delivered from the tyranny of Satan. He calls it his gospel, not as though it had originated with him, (690) but inasmuch as the preaching of it had been committed to him.


What he adds, to the acquisition or possession of the glory of Christ, may be taken either in an active or in a passive signification — either as meaning, that they are called in order that they may one day possess a glory in common with Christ, or that Christ acquired them with a view to his glory. And thus it will be a second means of confirmation that he will defend them, as being nothing less than his own inheritance, and, in maintaining their salvation, will stand forward in defense of his own glory; which latter meaning, in my opinion, suits better.


(690) “Non pas qu’il soit creu en son cerueau;” — “Not as though it had been contrived in his brain.”


He deduces this exhortation on good grounds from what goes before, inasmuch as our steadfastness and power of perseverance rest on nothing else than assurance of divine grace. When, however, God calls us to salvation, stretching forth, as it were, his hand to us; when Christ, by the doctrine of the gospel, presents himself to us to be enjoyed; when the Spirit is given us as a seal and earnest of eternal life, though the heaven should fall, we must, nevertheless, not become disheartened. Paul, accordingly, would have the Thessalonians stand, not merely when others continue to stand, but with a more settled stability; so that, on seeing almost all turning aside from the faith, and all things full of confusion, they will, nevertheless, retain their footing. And assuredly the calling of God ought to fortify us against all occasions of offense in such a manner, that not even the entire ruin of the world shall shake, much less overthrow, our stability.


15 Hold fast the institutions. Some restrict this to precepts of external polity; but this does not please me, for he points out the manner of standing firm. Now, to be furnished with invincible strength is a much higher thing than external discipline. Hence, in my opinion, he includes all doctrine under this term, as though he had said that they have ground on which they may stand firm, provided they persevere in sound doctrine, according as they had been instructed by him. I do not deny that the term παραδόσεις is fitly applied to the ordinances which are appointed by the Churches, with a view to the promoting of peace and the maintaining of order, and I admit that it is taken in this sense when human traditions are treated of, (Mat 15:6.) Paul, however, will be found in the next chapter making use of the term tradition, as meaning the rule that he had laid down, and the very signification of the term is general. The context, however, as I have said, requires that it be taken here to mean the whole of that doctrine in which they had been instructed. For the matter treated of is the most important of all — that their faith may remain secure in the midst of a dreadful agitation of the Church.


Papists, however, act a foolish part in gathering from this that their traditions ought to be observed. They reason, indeed, in this manner — that if it was allowable for Paul to enjoin traditions, it was allowable also for other teachers; and that, if it was a pious thing (691) to observe the former, the latter also ought not less to be observed. Granting them, however, that Paul speaks of precepts belonging to the external government of the Church, I say that they were, nevertheless, not contrived by him, but divinely communicated. For he declares elsewhere, (1 Co 7:35,) that it was not his intention to ensnare consciences, as it was not lawful, either for himself, or for all the Apostles together. They act a still more ridiculous part in making it their aim to pass off, under this, the abominable sink of their own superstitions, as though they were the traditions of Paul. But farewell to these trifles, when we are in possession of Paul’s true meaning. And we may judge in part from this Epistle what traditions he here recommends, for he says — whether by word, that is, discourse, or by epistle. Now, what do these Epistles contain but pure doctrine, which overturns to the very foundation the whole of the Papacy, and every invention that is at variance with the simplicity of the Gospel?


(691) “Une bonne chose et saincte;” — “A good thing and holy.”

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I understand this is your opinion based on your personal interpretation of the scriptures. I simply disagree with that interpretation. I disagree with John Calvin. I believe he erred greatly in some matters. I disagree because of what I discovered in going deep into history. The Catholic Church interprets this passage in this manner because that is the teaching handed down by the Apostles they are following, not the other way around.


The New Testament scriptures weren't written as a christianity 101, unlike the Old Testament Pentatuch which was a Judaism 101. Unlike the Old Testament instructions given in detail concerning Judaism, the New Testament provides no such detailed instruction template. Rather, the christians were taught verbally, had the foundations of the Christian faith laid down verbally, and the books of the New Testament were written to those who already believed, who had already been taught the fundamentals of the Christian faith. And so the purpose of these writings were not to lay the foundation of the christian faith, but to build upon them, to correct error, to exhort and encourage, to discipline. And that foundation was laid verbally, not in writing.


And so, logically speaking, to properly interpret the scriptures, one must have the same foundation laid as the Apostles VERBALLY laid with the first century christians. This is what Paul refers to when he commands us to hold fast to the traditions christians were taught, verbally as well as in writing. Since the scriptures do not lay the foundation of christianity, but build on the foundation already laid by the Apostles verbally, logically then that foundation must be found in addition to scripture and laid by means other than scripture.


This is all a matter of simple logic and God does not ask us to be illogical in our faith. Logically speaking this has nothing to do with whether or not the canon was complete. Nowhere do the scriptures claim to be the sum total of all the teachings of the Apostles both by writing and verbally. Nowhere do the scriptures claim to contain everything that the Apostles taught verbally. It is an assumption by protestants that they do, and an assumption the Catholic Church does not hold to.


It is to this same foundation the Catholic Church holds and teaches, as commanded by Paul - hold fast to the traditions taught by the Apostles, verbally and in writing.

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