Hi! I was just wondering, what is the difference between being catholic and protestant? Why exactly are there so many different denominations? Isn’t the simple point of Christianity to love Jesus? My little sister asked me this, and honestly, I was kinda stumped! I would love your thoughts on this! Thank you in advance! 🙂
I am thankful for every question that comes in to the blog, but I am thankful for this one for a special reason. I (which is to say my parents) spent good money on a history degree that I don’t exactly use on a daily basis. I mention that because the answer to your question is more historical than theological.
Up until 1517, there was only one denomination of Christianity in the western world, what we would now call Catholic. In the east (Greece and Russia for example) there was what was called the Orthodox church, that is a whole other conversation, so we will focus on the western world. The Catholic church had, and still has, a very rigid church government and structure. The Pope was at the top and appointed Cardinals and Bishops and the theology came from the top down.
In 1599, a monk named Martin Luther nailed a list of 95 thesis to the door of the church in a town called Wittenberg and, without knowing it, started the reformation and started Protestantism as we know it. Luther had some issues with the way the (Catholic) Church was doing things, mainly the sale of what was called indulgences. The people who would take up Luther’s theology called themselves “Lutherans”.
The Protestant Reformation spread to other countries and more divisions happened along national and, sometimes, theological lines. Henry VIII broke from the Catholic Church and started the Church of England, the American version of which would become known as Episcopalian. In the Act of Union, the Scottish government codified a way of church government known as Presbyterianism. Baptists, it is thought, came out of the English separatist movement. An Anglican priest named John Wesley started a movement known as Methodism.
All of these mainstream denominations do share the same core beliefs. Some extreme Protestants try to say that Catholics aren’t Christians, which is not accurate at all. There are some differences, Presbyterians are closely associated with Calvinism, for example. There are also differences within denominations. If you want to know what a specific church (or ministry) believes, you can ask for their statement of faith, which should outline it.
Mainstream denominations tend to be more about administration and style than theology. There are things that land outside that mainstream: Mormonism, Unitarianism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, etc where that is not the case, but that is a different thing. Some people get very caught up in details and get riled up about denominational differences. I personally am not going to spend too much time on semipelagianism as long as people are loving Jesus, believing in scripture, spreading Grace and serving people, and churches of all sorts of denominations do that well.
-Matt from The Bridge