Ten Differences Between the Reformation and Rome

See also: What Is The Difference Between Protestantism And Catholicism?

This article by Guy Davies appeared in the September/October issue of Protestant Truth. Guy is Joint-Pastor of Penknap Providence Church and Ebenezer Baptist Church in Wiltshire, England.

1. The Roman Catholic Church believes that its traditions and teaching are as authoritative as Scripture. The Reformed value tradition, but accept the Bible alone as their authority, and sole rule of faith and practice.

2. The Roman Catholic Church believes that the Pope, as successor of Peter and 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 Christians have a responsibility to judge the truth of all teaching by the extent of its conformity to the teaching of the Bible as it has been commonly accepted with the help of responsible exegesis and the witness of the Spirit.

4. The Roman Catholic Church teaches that we are justified by 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 faith in the finished work of Christ, apart from works. We are justified by faith alone. Baptism does not effect justification; it is the sign of it, as well as of the believer’s cleansing from sin and reception of new life in Christ.

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 are actually changed into the body and blood of the Saviour. The Reformed hold that that in Scripture the Lord’s Supper is a fellowship meal that is to be kept by believers in remembrance of the finished work of Christ. The bread and wine are significant symbols to believers of Christ’s body and blood. At the Lord’s Supper, they enjoy communion with the risen Christ, who is present at the Table by his Spirit.

6. The Roman Catholic Church regards its ministers as priests. They re-offer the sacrifice of Christ at the Mass and act as mediators between God and the faithful, taking Christ’s role. The Reformed teach that all Christians are priests, who offer a sacrifice of praise and worship to the Lord. Some, called to be teachers and 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 who have not made sufficient satisfaction for their sins in their lifetime go to purgatory in order to do that prior to going to heaven. The living can affect how long the departed have to spend in purgatory by observing Mass, obtaining indulgences, and praying for them. The Reformed hold that purgatory is not taught in Scripture. They believe, in accord with Scripture, that 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 can be invoked as mediatrix with Christ and that the faithful should pray to her and show devotion to her. Rome also teaches that believers should pray for themselves and for the dead to the faithful departed whom the Pope has designated as saints. The Reformed honour Mary as the mother of our Lord and see her as an example of obedience and love to God. They maintain that there is only one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, and that, despite the protestations of Rome, its teaching takes away from the sole mediatorship of Christ. Prayer and worship is to be offered to God through him alone.

9. The Roman Catholic Church teaches that there are seven sacraments and that these sacraments work ex opere operato, effectively conveying grace to those who receive them. For example, baptism regenerates and justifies, and participants in the Mass actually feed on the body and drink the blood of Christ. The Reformed find only two sacraments or ordinances in Scripture, baptism and the Lord’s Supper. These are means of grace that are only effective when received by faith.

10. The Roman Catholic Church regards herself as the one 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. Reformed ministers are not truly ordained to the apostolic ministry. 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. The true apostolic succession consists not in the physical laying on of hands as understood by Rome, but in believing and preaching the gospel proclaimed by the apostles and recorded in Scripture.


Comment 1:

This might be better described as Reformed Baptist. #4 & #10 are not necessarily the beliefs of Reformed Presbyterians/Dutch etc. who believe baptism is more than a sign, and who do look to the institution of the church (the visible church) as a true definition of the church. (Jared Nelson)


Jared, I am not the author of this list but Reformed Presbyterians also believe that baptism is a sign and seal of the covenant of grace and has no saving efficacy in itself but that the Holy Spirit communicates a visible gospel in and through the sacrament.

Baptists, by contrast, believe in the Zwinglian or Memorial view — many of which would not see it as a sacrament. (John H)

Comment 2:

Greetings! Found your blog from someone’s blogroll and have been reading your posts. I noted an glaring error in this post.

>”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 are actually changed into the body and blood of the Saviour”

No, this is erroneous. Catholics believe Mass is the exact same sacrifice at Calvary. There is no re-offering. Because God is out of time and space, the Mass is Calvary. God experiences Calvary, the Resurrection , the Ascension, the Reformation and (/11 as the same moment. Since God is not constrained by time, then the Mass is Calvary and not a re-offering. That’s what catholics believe.

It is true that the Eucharist is the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus. The scriptural, historical, and scientific evidence supports the Catholic and Orthodox claims. It is also true that the Reformed Lord’s Supper “bread and wine are significant symbols”. Catholics and orthodox do not deny that the Reformed Lord’s Supper is merely symbolic.

6. “They re-offer the sacrifice of Christ at the Mass..”

No, Catholics don’t. Its the one, same sacrafice and not a re-offering, re-sacrifice, or repeat of anything. Catholics believe the Mass is Calvary, just as Orthodox Christians believe the Divine Liturgy is Calvary.

10. “The true apostolic succession consists not in the physical laying on of hands as understood by Rome, but in believing and preaching the gospel proclaimed by the apostles and recorded in Scripture.”

This is how and why Reformed ministers lost the Eucharist.

BTW, why the comparison with just Roman Catholics and not all Catholics in general? Melkite Catholics, Chaldean Catholics and the other Catholic Churches also have the same doctrines regarding the Eucharist and the Divine Liturgy, Mary, final purificatuion (purgatory), sacraments, priesthood, etc., as do the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox Churches.

God bless…



Dear Timothy,

There are some Roman Catholic writers today who deny that the Roman Catholic Church teaches that the mass is the re-sacrifice of Christ, but the words of the Council of Trent are quite clear in their meaning:

“And forasmuch as, in this divine sacrifice which is celebrated in the mass, that same Christ is contained and immolated in an unbloody manner who once offered himself in a bloody manner on the altar of the cross . . . For the victim is one and the same, the same now offering by the ministry of priests, who then offered himself on the cross, the manner alone of offering being different. . . If any one saith, that the sacrifice of the mass is only a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving; or, that it is a bare commemoration of the sacrifice consummated on the cross, but not a propitiatory sacrifice. . . and that it ought not to be offered for the living and the dead for sins, pains, satisfactions, and other necessities: let him be anathema.19

Trent teaches that just as Christ was the divine victim and was offered and immolated on the cross as a propitiatory sacrifice for sin, so in the mass, which is a distinct sacrifice in its own right, he is referred to as the divine victim who is again offered and immolated as a propitiatory sacrifice, just as he was immolated on the cross. The only difference, according to Trent, between the sacrifice of the mass and the sacrifice of the cross is that one is bloody and the other unbloody.

Another quote from the William Webster article:

….This presents the Roman Catholic Church with a dilemma. Scripture teaches that Christ’s body and his sacrifice were offered once. Rome teaches that his body and sacrifice are offered over and over again in transubstantiation and the repetition of each mass. The Church attempts to get around this problem by claiming that the sacrifice of the mass is not a different sacrifice from that of Calvary but the same sacrifice perpetuated through time. Because God is beyond time the sacrifice of the cross is always present with him, and therefore the sacrifice of the mass is the same sacrifice as that of Calvary. This logic is a semantic smoke-screen: the sacrifice of the cross was an historic space-time event which occurred once and can never be repeated. The application of the Lord’s sacrifice goes on through time in terms of the Holy Spirit bringing men to receive the benefits of his finished work, and the commemoration of his sacrifice goes on through time, but the sacrifice itself cannot be perpetuated. Indeed, the principal theme of the book of Hebrews is that there are no more sacrifices for sin of any kind whatsoever.

Scripture teaches that the Lord Jesus Christ has not only made a once-for-all-time atonement, but that his historical death on the cross is a complete atonement. He has completely satisfied God’s justice: the debt due to man’s sin has been fully paid and therefore all those who come to God through Jesus Christ are wholly free from condemnation. No further expiation for sin can ever be needed. The biblical view is that cleansing and forgiveness for sin are found in the blood of Jesus Christ alone, and never in the works or sufferings of man, for the law demands death as a penalty for sin. The significance of the reference to blood with respect to the work of Christ is that it signifies his life has been given over in death on our behalf and as a payment for our sin. It is because a full atonement has been made that a full forgiveness can be offered:

The blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin (1 John 1:7).

In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace (Eph. 1:7).

Scripture nowhere teaches that men must suffer temporal punishment for their own sins to render satisfaction to God, either in this life or in the life to come. All punishment for sin was borne by Christ. This is why the Word of God declares that ‘There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus’ (Rom. 8:1). God certainly disciplines believers for sin, but this has nothing to do with making atonement or expiation. In the discipline of his children God’s action is remedial, not punitive; it flows from love, not wrath (see Heb. 12:4-13).

(John Samson)