What is the difference between Catholicism and Christianity? What is wrong with the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church?
This is a large subject on which many books have been written. I will not be able to address this question in detail, but perhaps giving an overview will help.
Catholicism has its roots in Christianity, but it has long departed from its origins. Such a departure was predicted by the apostle Paul. "Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron, forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from foods which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth" (I Timothy 4:1-3). While Paul's prophecy is not limited to the Catholic church, it is true that the Roman Catholic church forbids its clergy from marrying and they have long practiced the abstaining from meat on Fridays during the Lental season.
The fundamental difference between Christianity and Catholicism is the view of the authority of the Scriptures. Catholics, at least in the hierarchy, believe that authority rests in the church. The Scriptures are seen as just one of many sources to be used, but the decision for any practice is decided by the Catholic church. This view then explains the gradual evolution of Catholic doctrine over the years. Below is a chart of when various doctrines were advocated as the church digressed from its origins.
|Having water blessed before usage
|early second century
|Separation of clergy (preachers and elders) from laity (members)
|Special days set aside for fasting, which eventually leads to the practice of Lent
|Special vestments for clergy
|Meeting of elders in a region
|Sprinkling accepted as an alternative for immersion in the case of sickness or special needs
|Infants are baptized
|late second century
|Making the sign of the cross when praying
|Belief in purgatory
|Prohibition of clergy to marry
|Head of regional eldership called a bishop
|Constantine calls for a council, marking the beginning of the joining of church and state
|Celebration of Easter
|Confessing sins to a priest
|Bishops from major cities called archbishops
|Fourth and fifth centuries
|The mass replaces the Lord's Supper
|Celebration of Christmas
|Theodosius declares Christianity to be the state religion
|Doctrine of inherited sins, salvation by faith only, and once saved always saved advocated
|Candles are used in worship as a sacred element
|Veneration of Mary as the mother of God
|Transubstantiation, the belief that the elements of the mass become the literal body and blood of Christ
|Veneration and bowing to images of saints
|Extreme Unction, the anointing of the dead or dying for spiritual forgiveness
|Gregory I becomes the archbishop of Rome and declared Rome to be the center of the universal church
|Boniface III accepts the title of Pope
|Organ music was introduced into the worship, but was removed when division was threatened
|The organ was reintroduced and remained.
|Pope Leo IX excommunicated Michael Cerularius, the archbishop of Constantinople, causing the formation of the Eastern Orthodox Church
|Rosary beads introduced
|Sprinkling is accepted as a form of baptism for all people.
|Laity does not partake of the cup during Mass
|Doctrine of the immaculate conception of Mary
|Infallibility of the Pope
[See "Why did Catholicism start and when did it happen?" for citations for the development of many of these beliefs.]
In contrast to the ever-changing beliefs of Catholicism, the Bible teaches that it already contains everything pertaining to life and godliness. "His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue" (II Peter 1:3). As such, the Bible is able to equip a man for every good work he must do. "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work" (II Timothy 3:16-17). Since it is complete, no man is allowed to alter the revealed word of God. "I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed. For do I now persuade men, or God? Or do I seek to please men? For if I still pleased men, I would not be a bondservant of Christ" (Galatians 1:6-10).
Understanding the origin, let us now look at just a few Catholic doctrines and compare them to the Scriptures.
Children inherit Adam's sin and are thus born sinful
This belief underlies the justification for baptizing infants, though the true appeal to infant baptism is that it creates a "captive" membership. People become Catholics as babies and grow up thinking of themselves as Catholics. Thus, they become Catholics by default and not by a conscious choice. In order to handle a population that was essentially born Catholics, the concept of a Catechism was introduced to teach children the ways of the Catholic Church. When the catechism is completed, the children are confirmed into the Catholic Church.
God tells us that sins are not inherited. "The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not bear the guilt of the father, nor the father bear the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself" (Ezekiel 18:20). The reason is simple. Sin is the breaking of God's law. "Whoever commits sin also commits lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness" (I John 3:4). A newborn child has no opportunity to break God's law and thus the child is without sin at birth. Eventually, everyone does sin at some point in their lives and at that point, they fall under the curse of Adam. "Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned -- For until the law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law. Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those who had not sinned according to the likeness of the transgression of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come" (Romans 5:12-14).
The need to teach someone about salvation after they supposedly have already been saved also contradicts the teachings of God. "None of them shall teach his neighbor, and none his brother, saying, 'Know the LORD,' for all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them" (Hebrews 8:11). The teachings about basic issues, such as who is God and why we need salvation is to come before a person becomes a child of God.
Forgiveness of sins comes by confessing those sins to a priest. The priest then assigns acts of penance, which when completed will remove the consequences of those sins.
The Bible teaches us to confess our sins before God. "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (I John 1:9). And, we must be willing to confess our faults to each other. "Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much" (James 5:16). But nowhere does the Bible teach that confession must be made to a select group of individuals before forgiveness is granted. In reality, forgiveness of sins can only be granted by God; man cannot grant forgiveness of sins. The best that fellow Christians can do is to plead to God on a brother's behalf that his sins might be blotted out.
This brings up another point as well. In Christianity, there is no separation of priests from laity as all Christians are priests. "But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy" (I Peter 2:9-10).
Past saints, especially Mary, are venerated. Catholics believe they serve as mediators between the living and God.
To focus the mind, Catholics make numerous images of those to whom they will be praying. All Catholics deny that these images are idols. They do not believe that the saint is physically there. Yet, it is really a matter of semantics. Idol worshipers also claim that their idols are merely representations and not the real thing. The fact is that many Catholics take their images and saints to a superstitious level. A statue of Mary or St. Joseph is supposed to keep your house in good order. Medallions of St. Christopher is supposed to prevent injuries. Other than terminology, how does the veneration of saints differ from idolatry?
The Bible clearly teaches that worship and prayers are only to be directed toward God. In Luke 9:32-35 the disciples wanted to offer worship to Moses, Elijah, and Jesus, but God told them that they were only to honor Jesus. "You shall worship the LORD your God, and Him only you shall serve" (Luke 4:8). Hence, Peter refused to have anyone bow before him. "As Peter was coming in, Cornelius met him and fell down at his feet and worshiped him. But Peter lifted him up, saying, "Stand up; I myself am also a man."" (Acts 10:25-26). Even angels refused worship. "And I fell at his feet to worship him. But he said to me, "See that you do not do that! I am your fellow servant, and of your brethren who have the testimony of Jesus. Worship God!"" (Revelation 19:10; see also Revelation 22:8-9).
The Change Continues
As I mentioned before, the departure of the Catholic Church from the teachings in the Bible leaves a large number of differences. Apologists for Catholicism do not attempt to explain away those differences. Instead, they will argue for the right of the Catholic Church to modify the doctrine of Christ to suit their purpose. It does not matter to them that they are not practicing the religion found in the Scriptures because they believe they have evolved Christianity into a new and better religion. And since change is accepted by the Catholic Church, you find continual disagreement over a wide variety of issues. Today there are Catholics calling for the acceptance of abortion, priest marrying, and women being allowed to enter the priesthood. When these issues are eventually accepted, others will take their place and the departure from the truth will continue.