Roman Catholics and Evangelicals

Agreements and Differences

Last updated Fri Mar 2 17:55:10 EST 2001

What is a Sacrament?

A sacrament is a means (or memorial) of grace instituted by Christ.

Rome: A sacrament is the normative means by which grace is given. It works "ex opere operato" (by the work that has been worked). The sacraments not only point externally to salvation; they contain and bestow the salvation they signify.
Reformers: A sacrament is the outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual reality. The spiritual reality does the work, not the sacrament itself, but the sacrament helps to effect the spiritual work it signifies.
Anabaptist: A sacrament is a visible memorial of a spiritual work that has already taken place.
Salvation Army: All the sacraments are entirely spiritual and require no visible memorial. Conversion is "baptism" and a Justice of the Peace suffices for marriage.

The first three views agree that both the spiritual (invisible) and visible parts of a sacrament are required. The disagreement is over which is the cart and which is the horse. The Salvation Army view is, in my view, heretical. But some Protestant teachers put them just barely within the pale of orthodoxy.


In the sacrament of baptism, the outward sign is immersion (or sprinkling) with water. The spiritual reality is regeneration. The command of the Lord is to "repent and be baptized".
Rome: The act of applying water in the name of the trinity effects regeneration in the recipient. This is called baptismal regeneration. In the case of an adult, the recipient must intend to receive the sacrament. Furthermore, the desire and intention of receiving baptism is sufficient to effect regeneration when circumstances make the actual application impossible.
Reformers: Saving faith on the part of a believer (including the intent to obey our Lord in baptism) is a sufficient condition to receive the gift of regeneration. The application of water is an outward sign of the inward change that takes place as the believer demonstrates his faith by carrying out our Lord's command.
Anabaptist: Saving faith on the part of a believer (including the intent to obey our Lord in baptism) is a sufficient condition to receive the gift of regeneration. The believer demonstrates the reality of this divine gift as he commemorates it by obeying our Lord's command of baptism.

The Eucharist

In the Lord's Supper, or Eucharist, or Mass, or Communion, the outward sign is the bread and wine, the spiritual reality is the body and blood of our Lord giving spiritual life to the believer. Our Lord's command is to "do this in remembrance of Me", and "unless you eat of My flesh and drink of My blood, you shall not have life within you".

Rome: the bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ, and thereby give spiritual nourishment to the believer.
Lutheran: the body and blood of Christ are received spiritually along with the bread and wine.
Reformers: the body and blood of Christ give spiritual nourishment to the believer. The bread and wine are an outward and visible sign of this inward reality, and help the believer to receive this spritual nourishment.
Anabaptist: Christ gave his body and blood on the cross to give us spiritual life. We partake of this spritual nourishment every day. We commemorate this divine gift with bread and wine in obedience to His command.

How many Sacraments are there?

Rome counts precisely seven sacraments. Protestants generally find only two directly instituted by Christ in Scripture - Baptism and the Lord's Supper. In addition, Protestants treat Scripture as a sacrament, including "ex opere operato" - "For my Word shall not return unto Me void."

There are good arguments for including, for instance, marriage as a sacrament since while Christ does not institute it, He confirms it. However, counting more than two is anathema for the Reformed tradition, and counting more or less than seven is anathema for Rome.


Last week, we looked at three different descriptions of the state of the believer after (initial) justification. In all three cases, the soul is finally purged of all sin after death. Rome calls this final purging of sin "Purgatory". For historical and political reasons, Protestants call it "Glorification" - or leave it unnamed.

Rome also teaches that souls in Purgatory "atone" for their sins. However, this is temporal atonement. Sin has temporal as well as eternal consequences, and an early death is not necessarily an early graduation.

However, Rome further teaches that the living can pray for the dead in Purgatory, and even offer atonement for the sins of the dead in Purgatory. This is the real conflict with Protestants. The conflict is lessened somewhat when we realize that this "atonement" is for the temporal punishment of sin, not atonement for the guilt of sin. Creative Commons License
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