There are three major branches of Christianity. Two of these branches are Protestantism and Catholicism. Both religions believe in the Trinity, the Divinity of Jesus, the importance of Jesus death in the salvation of humanity, and the need we have for grace to save us from our sins. Protestantism formed from the split with the Roman Catholic Church during the Reformation in the 16th century.
The Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox churches all fall under the umbrella of Christianity. At the very centre of Christianity is the belief that there is a God. God is seen as an ever-present, omnipotent being who created the universe and mankind. God is the entity in which prayers are directed and it is believed that only God can vindicate a person and forgive their sins. Other significant figures in Christianity are Jesus, Mary the Mother of Jesus, The Apostle Paul, Abraham, and John the Baptist. It is written that Jesus was sent by God to be crucified on Calvary to pay the penalty for the sins of the whole world. Mary the Mother of Jesus was a virgin when she was carrying Jesus in her womb. The Bible, which is the main scripture in Christianity, says in Matthew 1:18, “This is how Jesus the Messiah was born. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. But before the marriage took place, while she was still a virgin, she became pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit.” Christians believe this is another sign of how powerful their God is. Morality for Christians is the application of God’s laws in their every day behaviour. When a Christian seeks to live a moral life, he or she tries to obey the laws set out for them by God in the Bible (the Ten Commandments found in the Bible, Exodus 20:1-17).
In 1517 Martin Luther wrote his Ninety-Five Theses on indulgences. This sparked a new religion, which went against some of the beliefs and practices that the Catholics held. This religion came to be known as Protestantism. Martin Luther is the most significant figure in the Protestant church and was the leading Protestant reformer. Although there is some diversity in Protestantism, there is a general Protestant agreement in the following five points: •Doctrine is “by scripture alone” as opposed to papal decree or council edict. •Justification is received "by faith alone" as opposed to works or sacraments. •Salvation comes "by grace alone."
•Atonement for sins is "by and through Christ alone.”
•All glory is to be given "to God alone.”
The Protestant church does not have a leader as significant as the Pope in the Catholic Church. Each individual Protestant church has a ‘senior pastor’ or a clergy member (called a pastor, minister, or reverend). This person has been ordained by the denomination and it’s formally recognised that he or she has been called by God to serve Him by ministering to others. Many Protestant churches elect elders to manage the Church in cooperation with the ministers. For some congregations, these elders are spiritual leaders and teachers; in other congregations they operate more as a board of directors, dealing with the secular affairs of their church.
The beginning of the Roman Catholic Church can be traced back to the original church, which was established at Pentecost in AD 30. Christianity was spreading through the Roman Empire until in 311 AD an emperor was converted. He (and other emperors after him) called councils of bishops to what correct Catholic Christian teaching was supposed to be. The Bishop of Rome eventually became the ‘Pope’ over other bishops and the Catholics came to believe that the Pope is a representation of God on Earth. Catholics believe that in order to be forgiven by God they must confess their sins to a Priest who is an intercessor between the person and God. In Catholic understanding, the clergy are those who have received the sacrament of Holy Orders, which includes deacons, priests, and bishops. Bishops stand at the highest level (under the Pope) since they have received the fullness of priestly orders. Despite their title, priests have received only partial priestly orders; they are designated as helpers to the bishops. Bishops are regarded as the successors to the Apostles (Caldecott 2008, p. 43). In practical terms, though, cardinals hold more importance than bishops. Cardinals are traditionally known as the Princes of the Church. Beyond the cardinals is, of course, the Pope, the Vicar of Christ on earth, the leader of the world's Catholics. Popes are elected by the College of Cardinals and hold their office for life.
Although both of these variants believe that God is the Almighty, and redemption and forgiveness can only come through him, they differ in beliefs when it comes to the roles of their leaders. The Catholics believe that the Pope is ‘God on Earth’. The New York Catechism quotes, “The Pope takes the place of Jesus Christ on earth... by divine right the Pope has supreme and full power in faith, in morals over each and every pastor and his flock. He is the true vicar, the head of the entire church, the father and teacher of all Christians. He is the infallible ruler, the founder of dogmas, the author of and the judge of councils; the universal ruler of truth, the arbiter of the world, the supreme judge of heaven and earth, the judge of all, being judged by no one, God himself on earth.” The Protestants disagree with this belief and say that the only Godly being is God himself. Their ministers and elders do not claim to be anything other than humans doing what they can to bring others to Christ.
One of the reasons Martin Luther protested against the Roman Catholic Church was because through his studies of scripture he came to believe that the Pope was not a Holy being, but simply an ordinary man. Thus, he wrote his 95 theses and began the reformation, which is where the Protestant church came into existence. Even though both these religions fall under the umbrella of Christianity, their beliefs are very diverse and aren’t always expressed in the same way. The Catholics express their loyalty to God through being loyal to the Pope. The Protestants on the other hand make it very clear that the only entity they worship is what they believe to be the one true God.
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