How many denominations of Christianity are there

Evangelical and Catholic - differences despite common bases

They are roughly the same size in Germany (approx. 23 million members) and some of them take on state tasks in the health and education sectors: the Protestant and Roman Catholic Churches. Today the two large churches work well together in many areas, especially at the level of the local congregations.

The similarities

This work builds on the fact that Christians of both denominations fundamentally believe in the same thing:

  • They believe in God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit
  • They believe that the Bible is the word of God
  • They believe that baptism establishes membership in the Church as well as connection with all other Christians
  • They celebrate the sacrament and believe that Christ is present
  • They are praying the Apostles' Creed
  • They celebrate church services on Sundays and many festivals in the church year
  • They sing a number of hymns together
  • You are committed to social justice, peace and the integrity of creation

Nevertheless, ecumenically committed people notice that there are great differences between Protestant and Catholic at the level of church theology and dogmatics. The first reformers after Luther criticized a few points. Other “brake blocks” of ecumenism did not appear until later centuries.

The differences

THE POPE

One of the central problems from an evangelical point of view is the papacy. In the Catholic understanding of the church, the Pope is the legitimate successor of the Apostle Peter and, as such, is destined to be the supreme Shepherd of the Church, as "the visible sign and guarantor of unity" of Christianity. But from the beginning, the position of Pope was contested by Protestants. According to the reformers, neither its superiority over the Bible nor its reference to a divine right could justify its prominent position. To this day, the papacy remains an open question in the ecumenical discussion. “Fellowship with, but not under the Pope” (Reinhard Frieling) - this is how the position of the Protestant Church can be described. It is disputed that the Pope is infallible in matters of faith and that he should have the power to rule directly into every diocese. These two “papal dogmas” from the 19th century represent central problems of the papal office.

WHAT IS THE “CHURCH”?

For the Protestant churches, “church” is an event. The church is everywhere where the gospel is preached in word and sacrament. There, according to the biblical testimony, Christ is present. How the church is administered and organized is regulated according to functional criteria. This explains the Protestant openness to different church orders and the openness to other traditions. The definition of the Catholic Church is much more precise: no other religious community has the means of salvation in the fullness of the Catholic Church. Constituted by the consecrated office (deacon, priest, bishop), the church in the true sense of the word is only realized in the Roman Catholic Church. This office can be traced back to the first disciples of Jesus through the so-called “apostolic succession”. There is no church without ordained priests and this lineage.

DIFFERENT UNDERSTANDING OF THE OFFICE

According to the evangelical understanding, every baptized Christian is a “priest”. This means that everyone is charged with sharing their faith and taking care of people in need. In the case of Protestant pastors, the preaching office is tied to the ordination. In addition, lecturers and predicants are trained and appointed for the field service.

The Catholic Church also has a common priesthood for the baptized. However, it clearly emphasizes the difference from the consecrated clergy. According to Catholic belief, the clergy receive a special stamp in the consecration sacrament. At her inauguration, a bishop lays his hand on. This continues a tradition which, according to the Catholic view, was founded by the apostles chosen by Jesus ("apostolic succession"). Until now only men can be ordained - i.e. become priests. Women can take on responsibility in the Catholic community in other ways, but so far they are not allowed to lead a community. Numerous committed Christian women resist this practice, especially in Europe and North America.

THE SACRAMENTS

The Protestant Church only knows two sacraments: Baptism and the Lord's Supper. For only they are attested as such in the biblical traditions. The Catholic Church celebrates seven sacraments that have evolved throughout history. Confirmation, penance, the sacrament of ordination and the anointing of the sick are also sacraments. And marriage! Because a Catholic marriage is a sacred act, a divorce and a church remarriage have so far been ruled out. However, strong protests are directed against this practice, especially in Europe and the USA.

WHY IS NO MEAL SUPPER POSSIBLE?

The Lord's Supper is understood by almost all churches as a sacrament - as a holy act - through which the believers experience communion with one another and with God. For this reason it has always played a central role in modern ecumenical discussion: In no other place is the division and unity of Christians more evident than in the celebration of the Lord's Supper.

Evangelical Christians are usually excluded from the Catholic Lord's Supper, the Eucharist. And the Catholic Church does not recognize the Lord's Supper that evangelical clergymen distribute as valid. Because Protestant pastors are not consecrated. The late Pope John Paul II once again made it clear in 2003: Catholic Christians should stay away from the bread and wine of other denominations.

The question of the Lord's Supper was given a new twist by Pope Francis. On November 15, 2015, he said to Italian Lutherans: "One faith, one baptism, one Lord, so Paul tells us, and from that you draw the consequences [...] If we have the same baptism, we must go together." The denominational institute in Bensheim sees the fact that Pope Francis gives greater importance to personal conscience than the prevailing doctrine of the Catholic Church as a papal call for “denominational disobedience”.

According to the Protestant reading, it is not the church or its dignitaries who invite you to the Holy Supper, but Christ himself. That is why all Christians are allowed to take part in the Lord's Supper, including Catholics. In Protestant churches, the believers receive both bread and wine. In the Catholic Church, wine has mostly been reserved for priests since the late Middle Ages. Another difference: for many evangelicals, bread and wine are indeed the “body of Christ” during the Lord's Supper, but normal bread and wine again after the celebration. For Catholics, however, they remain mysteriously changed and must therefore be kept in the church, venerated and the sick brought into the apartment.

IS THERE PROGRESS IN CHURCH UNITY?

Interestingly, what separated Protestants and Catholics 500 years ago is no longer a problem today. 500 years ago, Luther directed his criticism neither against the understanding of ministry of the Roman Church nor against the Catholic view of the sacraments. Instead, his 95 theses were directed against the ecclesiastical indulgence trade. The fact that people could buy themselves out of punishment for their sins with money or services violated the grace of God "solely out of faith" in his eyes, as he read the New Testament. The Catholic Church today represents Luther's position on this question: “We are accepted by God solely out of grace, believing in the saving act of Christ, not on the basis of our merit”. This shows that through their ecumenical contacts and years of theological discussions, the churches are in a position to reformulate their positions - also together.