Thursday, May 10, 2007

Ten differences between Rome and the Reformation

1. The Roman Catholic Church believes that its traditions are as authoritative as Scripture. The Reformed value tradition, but accept the Bible alone as their authority.
2. The Roman Catholic Church believes that the pope, as 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 the Bible can be rightly understood by all believers through responsible exegesis and the witness of the Spirit.
4. The Roman Catholic Church teaches that we are justified at 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 the finished work of Christ, apart from works. We are justified by faith alone. Baptism does not effect justification, it is a symbol that a person has been forgiven and put right with God.
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 transubstantiate into the body and blood of the Saviour. The Reformed hold that that in Scripture, the Lord's Supper is a fellowship meal that reminds believers of the finished work of Christ. The bread and wine are symbols of Christ's body and blood. At the Lord's Supper, believers enjoy communion with the risen Christ, who is present at the Table by his Spirit.
6. The Roman Catholic Church regards its officers as priests. They re-offer the sacrifice of Christ at the Mass and act as mediators between God and the faithful. The Reformed teach that all Christians are priests, who offer a sacrifice of praise and worship to the Lord. Church officers, especially 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 go to purgatory to be purged from remaining sin prior to going to heaven. The living can affect how long the departed spend in purgatory by observing Mass and praying for the dead. The Reformed hold that purgatory is not taught in Scripture. The souls wicked dead are send to hell to be punished for their sins, awaiting the day of judgement and the resurrection of condemnation. 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 is co-mediatrix with Christ and that the faithful should pray to Mary and offer worship to her. Rome also teaches that believers should pray to the saints for themselves and for the dead. The Reformed honour Mary as the mother of our Lord and see her as an example of obedience and love to God. But there is only one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus. Prayer and worship is to be offered to God through Christ alone.
9. The Roman Catholic Church teaches that there are seven sacraments. These sacraments work ex opere operato. They effectively convey grace to those who receive them, so that baptism regenerates and justifies. The Reformed find only two sacraments or ordinances in Scripture; the Lord's Supper and baptism. These are means of grace that are only effective when received by faith.
10. The Roman Catholic Church regards herself as the 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. 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.


michael jensen said...

Why do you add Church discipline to the marks of the church?

Guy Davies said...

a) Because it's Biblical - Matt 18, 1 Cor 5,.

b) By discipline I don't simply mean excommunication, but that church members should live godly lives and submit to the pastoral oversight of the church.

c) Historically, Bucer added discipline to the marks of the Reformed Church. He challenged the idea that everyone living in a Reformed district should automatically be a member of the church. He expected that a profession of faith should be backed up by a godly life. Church discipline helps to ensure that this is the case. Calvin followed Bucer's lead in his Genevan reformation of the church.

d) My Puritan / Separatist roots teach me that the local church should be a gathering of "visible saints". The Puritans wanted to reform the Anglican system whereby everybody living in a given parish was a member of the local church. They expected church members to have a sound profession of faith and indications of new life. That is why, for the Puritans, discpline is one of the marks of the church.

Rachel said...

That was so helpful! Thanks for the post.

Guy Davies said...

Thanks for your comments, Rachel.

We The People said...

Thank you for your charitable compare-and-contrast. I have a couple of quibbles with your explanation of the Catholic view of these things, posted here. But, to sound lame and mushy, thank you for being nice. Catholic-Reformed discussions are not always that way, to say the least.