Evangelicals emerged around the 17th century as a direct result of the Reformation movement. The term evangelical is derived from the Greek word “euangelion” which is translated to mean Good news. Evangelicals place a lot of emphasis on sharing the good news with others (evangelism). While it is true that evangelicals and Catholics share some things in common, there are also some distinct differences between the two.
Catholics and evangelicals have some important differences. For instance, evangelicals practice only two sacraments (baptism and holy communion) while Catholics practice seven (baptism, confirmation, eucharist, confession, anointing the sick, reconciliation, holy orders, and matrimony). The two also differ in various doctrinal issues as well as their governance structures.
Let us look at the differences in more detail below:
The authority of the Bible
Evangelicals emphasize the authority of the Bible and they believe that the Bible, both old and new testament, is the inspired word of God. The Bible is therefore considered the highest authority in faith matters. Every evangelical is therefore encouraged to study and apply the teachings of the Bible on a daily basis.
Even though Catholics also agree that the Bible is God’s word, they do not view it as the sole source of God’s revelation. They believe that the church traditions that encompass teachings handed down from the early apostles are equally as important. Additionally, Catholics believe that Magisterium (which comprises the pope and the bishops that are in communion with him) has the authority to interpret scripture and guide on doctrinal issues in the church.
Salvation and justification
Evangelical doctrine places emphasis on salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. They believe that salvation is a free gift and can therefore not be earned through good works or any other means. Evangelicals also emphasize that individuals must have a personal relationship with Christ that starts by accepting Christ and then grows through personal devotion. Justification, in evangelical theology, is seen as a legal declaration of righteousness before God, imputed by Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.
The view of salvation among the Catholics is a bit different from that of the Evangelicals. For instance, Catholics believe that salvation is a cooperative process that begins with God’s grace but also calls for human effort. Even though they agree with evangelicals on the fact that grace is necessary for salvation, they also believe that salvation must be continuously natured through participating in the seven sacraments, adhering to the teachings of the church, as well as good deeds. As such, justification for Catholics comes not only as a result of God’s grace but also as a result of an individual’s cooperation with the teachings of the church.
Worship styles and practices
The styles of worship among evangelicals may differ but they have some commonalities that also differentiate them from Catholics. For the most part, evangelicals believe in heartfelt expressions of their devotion and they place a lot of premium on personal devotion. A typical evangelical service includes passionate singing of contemporary music, the preaching of the word, and prayer.
Catholic worship services are more structured in their liturgical approach. The catholic mass is the central focus of a catholic service and it follows a strict liturgy that specifies the prayers, hymns, scripture readings, as well as the celebration of the holy communion. The catholic liturgy also includes ritualized gestures e.g. the making of the sign of the cross during prayer as well as kneeling down. Traditional hymns and chants are also very common and they are meant to inspire a sense of solemnity and reverence during worship.
Evangleicals have two main sacraments:
Baptism is considered an important sacrament as it is an outward expression of their inner faith. Baptism is typically administered through water immersion and is done for adults who have professed their faith in Jesus Christ. As such, evangelicals do not baptize infants and children.
Holy Communion (also known as Eucharist or the Lord’s Supper) is observed with all evangelicals albeit with some differences in frequency and understanding of its relevance. For the most part, however, evangelicals observe the holy communion as a way of remembering the death and resurrection of Christ by eating the bread and wine which are symbols of the blood and body of Christ.
The sacraments in Catholicism
Unlike evangelicals who have only two sacraments, Catholics observe seven sacraments. These are:
Under Catholicism, baptism is believed to be the first sacrament through which one is initiated into the Christian faith. Through baptism, Catholics believe that one is cleansed of the original sin and is sanctified and made a member of the church. The baptism is done through pouring or immersion of water and it is then accompanied by specific prayers and blessings.
Catholics consider the Eucharist as the most important sacrament of their faith. Unlike evangelicals, Catholics believe in the doctrine of transubstantiation which teaches that the elements of the communion (bread and wine) are transformed knot the actual body and blood of Jesus Christ.
The sacrament of confirmation is the sacrament by which Catholics receive the Holy Spirit and are also strengthened in their faith. It is administered by the laying on of hands as well as the anointing with the sacred chrism.
This sacrament is also referred to as penance or confession. It allows Catholics to confess their sins and therefore receive absolution. Confession is the means by which Catholics reconcile with God and the church.
Anointing of the Sick:
This sacrament is administered to the seriously ill as well as those approaching death. Catholics believe that through the anointing of the sick, they get spiritual and physical healing as well as attain the forgiveness of sins.
This sacrament is for those who have the calling to sever as priests, deacons, or bishops. It is administered through the laying of hands by a Bishop who then consecrates them for ordained ministry.
Matrimony is a sacred sacrament of marriage and it is viewed as a covenant between a man and a woman. By this sacrament, a couple commits to a lifelong partnership in matrimony.
Church Structure and Hierarchy
Evangelical ecclesiology recognizes congregational autonomy as well as a decentralized structure. The individual local churches are self-governing entities and the members are also encouraged to participate in decision-making. The pastors and elders are typically elected by the members and they are tasked with the role of teaching, spiritual leadership as well as pastoral care.
Catholics have a more centralized leadership structure. The pope not only serves as the Bishop of Rome but also as the spiritual leader of the catholic church. Catholics believe the pope has delegated authority that was handed down from the apostles and is therefore the divine leader of the church. The pope (in conjunction with the Magisterium) is, therefore, the primary decision-maker for the church. However, there are archbishops and bishops over regions and provinces who also watch over and provide leadership over their areas of jurisdiction.
Evangelicals came to be as a result of the Reformation movement that sprung up from the catholic church. Even though they can trace their roots to the catholic church, evangelicals are very different in the form of liturgy, church leadership as well as sacraments. That said, evangelicals and Catholics still agree on the fundamentals of the Christain faith like the importance of the Bible, the virgin birth, salvation by faith, etc.