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“What is the difference between Catholic and Christian, Chris?” 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.
Judging by how many people ask this sort of question, it would almost seem that the term “Christian” appears to belong exclusively to Evangelical Christians. And, although most Evangelical Christians will not naturally label themselves as “Evangelical Christian”, the majority of Christians who ask this question are, in fact, Evangelical Christians and, by even asking the question, demonstrate their ignorance. That isn’t said to be harsh or critical; it’s simply to point out a fact.
This is because 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” legally and fairly.
What is usually meant by Evangelicals when they ask, ”What is the difference between Catholic and Christian?” is, actually, ”What is the difference between Catholics and Evangelicals?” Well, despite our many similarities, there are also quite a lot of differences. Here are 10 of these differences (though there are more!)
The Difference Between Catholic and Christian
Evangelicals usually hold to the idea of “Sola Scriptura” which, in English, means ”Scripture alone”. What this means practically 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 compared with the Bible. The Catholic Church, however, teaches that the Bible came from the Catholic Church 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. These Sacraments are, of course, taken because of a faith in Christ, and we take these Sacraments because we believe the Bible and the Church tell us so (read ”Difference 1”).
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.
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.
Evangelicals usually believe that salvation comes from faith in Christ alone, whereas Catholics believe that salvation comes from faith in Christ and good works.
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.
Evangelicals do not ask deceased holy Christians to pray for them, Catholics do.
Some Evangelicals call all Christians “saints”. Catholics, although recognizing this is true in a sense because of Baptism and that this usage occurs in the Bible, are less prone to use that word because it has become a title—“Saint”, with the uppercase “S”—that is normally only ascribed to canonized Catholic Saints that the Church has investigated and found to be worthy of imitation.
Evangelicals do not usually believe in Purgatory, which is the belief that there is an intermediary state between Heaven and Hell where one’s temporal (note: not eternal) punishment for sins are dealt with. 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 high esteem because of her large role in God’s plan for salvation.
So, these are just my arbitrarily chosen 10 differences. If someone else asked you, “What is the difference between Catholic and Christian?” What would you say? Feel free to comment below.