Presbyterian vs. Catholic Beliefs: Comparing The Core Beliefs
2019 Mar 31 By Saul Staples 0 comment

When comparing the Presbyterian vs Catholic beliefs, you will find many similarities. While these two faiths are not the same, they do have similar beliefs in some areas. For the sake of argument, I will focus on the Presbyterian Church in America, as there are several forms of this protestant religion across the globe.

The Presbyterian Church in America

Based on comments made by “Calvin” on the Catholic Answers Forum, there are four Presbyterian denominations in the United States:

  • Presbyterian Church in in the United States (PCUSA)
  • Presbyterian Church in America (PCA)
  • Evangelical Presbyterian Church
  • Orthodox Presbyterian Church

Out of these four denominations, the PCUSA is the most liberal and the PCA doesn’t ordain women.

I am not going to get into the differences between the Presbyterian denominations and only point this out to make it clear, I am looking at the broad spectrum of beliefs and not one specific denomination. The beliefs may vary a bit from one to another, but from what I have found, they are rather similar in most areas.

Comparing Presbyterian vs. Catholic Beliefs

While I could attack any protestant church, as many Catholics have done, I don’t believe Catholics and Protestant should be fighting against each other unless it’s on a sports field of some sort. Even then, it should be all in good fun.

We have plenty in common and we are all Christians, so you will hear me say it over and over again, we need to stop fighting each other and learn to have conversations without all the hate.

For this reason, I will be starting with the similarities of Presbyterian vs. Catholic beliefs.

Similarities of the Presbyterian Church and the Catholic Church

Presbyterian Church vs. Catholic Church

The Presbyterian and Catholic Churches actually have quite a bit in common. In fact, after doing my research, they may be closer to the Catholic Church than many other Protestant Churches in many ways. Of course, we are not without our differences, which I will cover later.

The Creeds

It was interesting to find out that the Presbyterians and Catholics share the Apostle’s Creed and the Nicene Creed. These are rather important in the Catholic faith and often featured within the Mass, as they are also very important to the Presbyterian faith.

In fact, just as Roman Catholics do, Presbyterian’s include the “holy catholic church” as a part of the Apostle’s Creed. Notice the lower case “c”, which doesn’t mean the Roman Catholic Church, but instead, means a universal church. Some Protestant denominations that do use this creed have changed this to “holy Christian church” instead of using the word “catholic”.

The wording might not be 100%, but the meaning is nearly the same and it does vary from source to source as some will use older language than others.

Adherence to Basic Tenants of Christianity

Both Catholics and Presbyterians are Christians. They are all followers of Christ and believe in the basic tenants of Christianity set forth in the bible including:

  • Belief in Christ’s redemptive death
  • Belief Jesus is both God and man
  • Belief in one true God
  • Belief in the Trinity

The basic tenants of Christianity are summed up very well in the two creeds above, which both faiths believe in and recite regularly.

Virgin Birth

Presbyterians believe that Jesus’ birth was miraculous, according to the First Presbyterian Church of Pasadena.  They also believe that Mary is honored as the mother of Jesus and a special person chosen to bear the Son of God. This belief is affirmed in both the Nicene and the Apostle’s Creed. It is also found in scripture in the Gospel of Luke Chapter 1.

This article here from the Presbyterian Mission goes into further detail on the Presbyterian beliefs when it comes to Mary. 

Catholics also believe in the Virgin birth and they honor Mary as the mother of God. While there are similarities between the Catholic Church and the Presbyterian Church when it comes to Mary, there are differences, which I will cover later.

Belief in Hell

Another belief the Catholic Church and the Presbyterian Church share is the belief in Hell. Both Catholics and Presbyterians believe there is the possibility of separation from God, which could continue forever in Hell.

Belief in Marriage

Not only do Catholics and Presbyterians believe in marriage, but they also take it rather seriously. Both faiths believe young people should seriously prepare for marriage and that marriage is sacred.

Belief in Baptism

Baptism is pretty universal in the Christian churches, but the way it’s performed and when it’s performed are not. Many Protestant faiths believe it’s a choice made by someone, while the Catholic and Presbyterian Churches believe in baby baptism. Both faiths practice both adult and infant baptism to show that God chose us.

Since both the Catholic Church and the Presbyterian Church use a Trinitarian formula for baptism, this sacrament is accepted by both churches. This means if you were to convert from a Presbyterian Church to the Catholic Church, you wouldn’t need to be rebaptized, and vice versa.

The Lord’s Prayer

Another prayer the Presbyterian and Catholic Churches share is the Lord’s Prayer. It’s hard to find a Christian church that doesn’t use the Lord’s Prayer, however.

Hierarchy Governing the Church

While the hierarchies are different, both the Catholic and Presbyterian Churches have a hierarchy governing the church. I will get into the differences between the two later.

Along with these similarities, the church service for Presbyterians and the Mass for Catholics feature some very similar hymns. Some are actually the same and used by both churches.

There are, of course, many other similarities, but these are the main ones I found when doing my research. While the Presbyterian Church and the Catholic Church are very similar in some ways, they are also very different in others. The key isn’t to allow the differences I am about to get into to split us in a way that we can never reconcile with each other.

Since both Presbyterians and Catholics believe in a Greater Body of Christ, it stands to reason that we should not only believe we are all Brothers and Sisters in Christ, but we should also believe that one day, we will see eye to eye as all things are possible through God.

Presbyterian vs. Catholic Beliefs: The Differences

Presbyterian vs. Catholic

I will try my hardest to be gentle here, but please understand, I am a passionate person and I have strong Catholic beliefs. I am also just a toddler in the Catholic church, even though I was raised Catholic, I left the church for a very long time and have only been back for a little over 5 years.

It’s also important for me to point out that I have don’t have any formal religious education and I am a layman. Anyway, let’s get into the differences between Presbyterian and Catholic beliefs.

The Cross/Crucifix

A very similar difference with any Protestant Faith compared to the Catholic Faith is the cross. Presbyterians have an empty cross, while Catholics have Jesus on the cross.

According to the First Presbyterian Church of Pasadena, the empty cross symbolizes the risen Christ who opened the Kingdom of Heaven.

For Catholics, it’s actually called a crucifix and the question, “Why do Catholics have a crucifix instead of a cross?” is a common one from Protestants.

The crucifix is a visible reminder of the sacrifice of Jesus on the altar of the cross, according to Fr. David J. Dohogne.  Chris Bray of All That Catholic Stuff did a great video on YouTube about this exact subject.

In short, the crucifix is a reminder of the victory Jesus won for us through his sacrifice. When we see the crucifix, we see Jesus’s welcoming arms of our Savior and a reminder of the incredible love Christ has for us.

According to Fr. David J. Dohogne, “While Christ’s Death is memorialized forever in the image of the crucifix; we believe that our Risen Lord is with us, especially in His Sacramental Presence in the Holy Eucharist reserved in the tabernacle. As we gaze upon the crucifix, we see what Mary saw when she stood at the foot of the cross. What thoughts go through your mind when you look at the image of the crucifix? We know what Christ was thinking about when He hung upon the cross. He was thinking about us!”

Church Government

For the Catholic Church, the government is set up as a hierarchy with the Pope at the top, Cardinals, Bishops, Priest, and Deacons rounding out the rest of the governing body. In addition, the church is split into Diocese based on location and a Bishop oversees the diocese, while a Priest or Priests will oversee each individual church.

The Presbyterian governing body is based on a system of elders. They have both ruling elders and teaching elders, also known as ministers, which are ordained. In addition, a group of deacons handle the practical side of things including the finances.

In addition, Presbyterians do quite a bit of voting. They have a majority rule structure, where the lay and clergy votes after prayer and talking. They believe the Holy Spirit lives in each individual and will work through the community and each vote is equal.

The Sacraments

While Presbyterians do recognize baptism and communion as sacraments, they don’t recognize the same sacraments as Catholics do. Catholics also recognize confession or reconciliation, confirmation, marriage, holy orders, and the anointing of the sick.

In addition, for Catholics it’s not simply communion or the Lord’s Supper. It’s the Holy Eucharist, which is defined as follows by EWTN.com:

The Holy Eucharist is a sacrament and a sacrifice. In the Holy Eucharist, under the appearances of bread and wine, the Lord Christ is contained, offered, and received.

(a) The whole Christ is really, truly, and substantially present in the Holy Eucharist. We use the words “really, truly, and substantially” to describe Christ’s presence in the Holy Eucharist in order to distinguish Our Lord’s teaching from that of mere men who falsely teach that the Holy Eucharist is only a sign or figure of Christ, or that He is present only by His power.

(b) All Christians, with but few minor exceptions, held the true doctrine of the Real Presence from the time of Christ until the Protestant Revolution in the sixteenth century.

(c) The word “Eucharist” means “Thanksgiving.”

With that said, really, Presbyterians and Catholics only share the similarity of baptism when it comes to the sacraments. However, Presbyterians do hold many of the same things we, as Catholics call sacraments, very sacred, such as marriage and communion.

There is also a difference with baptism where Catholics believe baptism is normatively necessary for salvation and Presbyterians don’t. However, both churches recognize the baptism of the other because it invokes the Holy Trinity.

Scripture and Tradition

Presbyterian vs. Catholic beliefs

The Presbyterian Church believes in Sola Scriptura, which is the belief that Christian scripture is the sole infallible rule of faith and practice. They also accept a bible with 66 books and believe it’s supernaturally inspired.

Basically, the Presbyterians, like many Protestants believe the bible is the only rule of faith and contains all the materials needed for theology and doesn’t require apostolic tradition or the teaching authority of the church to help understand it.

It is important to understand a couple of things Sola Scriptura isn’t. Russ Ramsey wrote an article I found very interesting on the subject found here.

When it comes to the Protestant view of scripture, they believe the entire Christian truth can be found within the bible. This is the belief of the Presbyterian Church and one area where Catholics and Presbyterians certainly differ.

Catholics believe in both scripture and tradition. According to Catholic.com, “Catholics recognize that the true “rule of faith”—as expressed in the Bible itself—is Scripture plus apostolic tradition, as manifested in the living teaching authority of the Catholic Church, to which were entrusted the oral teachings of Jesus and the apostles, along with the authority to interpret Scripture correctly.”

Typically, a couple of key verses are used to support the Presbyterian and Protestant view on the theory of sola scriptura, which comes from Martin Luther. The first verse is John 20:31, which says, “These are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name” and the second is 2 Timothy 3:16-17, which says, “All Scripture is Inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be equipped, prepared for every good work.”

One of the issues with citing one very or a few verses to support a belief is the lack of context. With context we can see the true meaning of John 20:31 and we don’t even have to go very far. Read it with John 20:30 and the context helps out quite a bit. The two verses read as follows:

“30 Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31 But these are written that you may believe[a] that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”

When read together, it becomes clear verse 31 was referring to things written specifically in this book. It doesn’t prove sola scriptura at all.

In addition, this verse from the Gospel of John doesn’t say the bible is all that’s necessary, but says it was written to help us to believe in Jesus as the Messiah. It’s also important to note that the earliest Christians didn’t have a New Testament to refer to, but they did have oral tradition and instruction. In fact, the bible was inaccessible to most people until more recent times and wasn’t even distributed much until the time of the printing press.

For centuries, Christians “learned from oral instruction, passed down, generation to generation, by the Church.” This was stated on Catholic.com here.

Again, in 2 Timothy 3:16-17, we see much of the same. It doesn’t state that ONLY inspired writing must be followed, it says all inspired writing “has its uses”. An essay from John Henry Newman from 1884 explains it even better, which can be found here

Understanding Tradition

For Catholics, Scripture and Tradition are both important, but we need to define tradition. According to Catholic.com, “The term does not refer to legends or mythological accounts, nor does it encompass transitory customs or practices which may change, as circumstances warrant, such as styles of priestly dress, particular forms of devotion to saints, or even liturgical rubrics. Sacred or apostolic tradition consists of the teachings that the apostles passed on orally through their preaching.”

This is, of course, found in the bible and can be found through the following bible passages:

In addition to these passages, Matthew 15:6-9 is often used by Protestants to defend their position of sola scriptura, but with close examination, it’s easy to see that not ALL traditions are condemned by Jesus. Instead, only the traditions that have made God’s word void. “In this case, it was a matter of the Pharisees feigning the dedication of their goods to the Temple so they could avoid using them to support their aged parents. By doing this, they dodged the commandment to “Honor your father and your mother” (Ex. 20:12),” according to Catholic.com.

Okay, it’s time to move on from this difference, but I want to point out that the Catholic Church also believes the bible contains 73 books, not just 66.

Ability to Lose Salvation

Presbyterians refer to the belief that one can or cannot lose salvation as severance of the saints. According to The Orthodox Presbyterian Church, “A person who has received eternal life does not lose it.”

Often, this belief is referred to as “once saved, always saved.” Basically, if you accept Jesus Christ as your savior, you are always saved, no matter what you do from that point on. Whether you live a Christ-like life or not, doesn’t matter as long as you have accepted Christ as your personal Savior.

Catholics, on the other hand, believe salvation can be lost. It is seen as a past-tense event, a present-tense event, and a future-tense event, which evidence for all three are found throughout the bible.

Often, the verse John 10:28 and Romans 8:39 are leaned on to support the theory of once saved, always saved. As John 10:28 states that no one can take us away from God and Romans 8:39 uses similar language, it would seem as though it’s a close case, right?

Not so fast, while these verses say no one can take us from God, neither say we cannot sever that relationship.

In addition, at the Las Supper in John’s Gospel, Christ tells the apostles to remain in HIs love. He even goes as far as to say those keeping His commandments will remain in his love. John 15:6 helps to better support the Catholic believe that we can lose our salvation, as well.

Distinction of Sin

I won’t get too deep into this one as it’s rather complicated. However, it’s an important difference. While Presbyterians and Catholics both believe in sin, Catholics believe in mortal and venial sin, while Presbyterians don’t. This is known as distinction of sin, which Catholics believe and Presbyterians, along with most Protestants don’t.

A common Protestant belief is that a sin is a sin, no matter the severity, while Catholics believe in both venial and mortal sins. A quick definition of both follows:

Mortal sin is serious enough that it kills the life of grace within us. It requires three conditions to be met, which are an act of grave matter, which is committed with full knowledge and deliberate consent, according to beginningCatholic.com.

Venial Sin – if one does something immoral but the matter is not serious enough to be gravely immoral, he commits only venial sin, according to Jim Blackburn of Catholic.com.

For a more in-depth look at mortal and venial sins, you can read this article from EWTN.com.

The beliefs of the Presbyterian Church are very similar to the beliefs of the Catholic Church in some areas. While both are Christian and we need to recognize we are ALL a part of the Body of Christ, Presbyterian vs. Catholic beliefs still remains as a hot topic. We don’t believe the same on many important issues, such as the Eucharist.

My hope is simple. By shedding light on the similarities and differences, we can find common ground and become a loving Christian community instead of one constantly fighting with each other. Christ didn’t call us to fight each other, but to love each other in spite of our differences. Let’s focus on the similarities and study each other’s faith as we grow as a community in Christ.

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