4 Things Catholics Should Know About Protestants

Being in the unique position of having been married to a Protestant pastor while a practicing Catholic, I've gotten really comfortable with Protestant churches and theology. I am confident enough in my own beliefs to view their traditions and beliefs with appreciation and not need to constantly defend my church against theirs. I'm often surprised, though I shouldn't be because I knew very little about certain denominations too, that a lot of Catholics are really not sure what the whole Protestant thing is about. More specifically, I get the sense that many aren't sure how to approach Protestants in the context of their faith.

So here are a few things I think all Catholics should know about Protestants...

1. Not all Protestants are Evangelicals:

I often get the impression in conversations with other Catholics that they assume my husband, when Protestant, had certain beliefs. Things like: believer's baptisms, the sinner's prayer, no Sacraments, no Real Presence in Communion, prayers should be free form, etc.

The thing is, most of these are Evangelical Protestant beliefs. Evangelical Christians tend to be very outgoing and vocal in their beliefs, so I can see where the assumption comes from, but their beliefs are only representative of their own denominations, not other Protestant denominations.

For example, mainline Protestants have baptism and believe in its efficacy, many do regular Communion at church, and many also have First Communion and Confirmation and Marriage and Ordination ceremonies that they consider Sacraments or that they at least hold in form very similar to Catholics. This does not mean these are valid Sacraments for Catholics, but they are considered Sacraments and practiced faithfully in Protestant churches. Also, we're not the only ones to claim a Real Presence in Communion.....all Episcopals and most Lutherans claim the same, though in slightly different terminology.

I have many Evangelical friends and they're great and devout in their theology. But do not assume every Protestant you are talking to follows that same theology. Because, and here's another secret, Protestant denominations disagree with each other's theology at least as much as they disagree with Catholic theology! So if you're chatting with a Protestant Christian or a former-Protestant convert to the Catholic Church, do take the time to ask which denomination they grew up in or belonged to previously.

2. Some Protestants don't think Catholics are Christians:

This one shocked me several years ago when I first truly came across it. I first realized the depth of this assumption when a friend online casually mentioned something about "Christians or Catholics". I was all, "um, Christian OR Catholic? Huh?"

Here's the thing: she was not at all trying to be offensive! SHE didn't know that Catholics considered themselves Christians. She was not trying to make a point about our salvation, simply using the terms she thought were common. So, if you come across this, first, do not assume that ill intent is met, it might just be a lack of knowledge. Also, it can be a difference in terms. For some Protestants, Christian is a term that describes ones' status of salvation. Now, this is strange to us Catholics since we have more of a "I have been saved, I am being saved, I will be saved" theology....so of course nobody within your lifetime could make a definitive judgement on whether you're going to heaven or not. But this is consistent with some Protestant theology. So again you'll want to correct misconceptions, but also understand that they are using the term differently than the technical definition, which is simply "professing Christianity or its teachings."

3. Many Protestants have no problem with the Catholic Church:

Often my husband is approached about his coming into the Church with astonished exclamations of, "Wow, that must have been quite a leap!"

But the truth is, it was and it wasn't.

Socially and logistically, yes it was a huge leap because his entire career was dependent on his denomination! Theologically, though, it just wasn't that big a leap. Not many of my husband's beliefs have changed, they've more grown and refined. As a traditional, mainline Protestant who was a devout Christian and always had an appreciation for the mystical and the high-church stuff, Catholicism isn't so very strange after all.

This Spring, just before officially entering the Byzantine Catholic Church, my husband had to call up his bishop, who happens to also be a close friend, and let him know what was going on. The bishop wasn't in the dark about the fact that he'd been exploring more ancient faiths, but now it was time to officially withdraw from the clergy roster. His bishop, and friend, easily and happily congratulated him. This was in no way seen as a rejection of his former denomination or as a bad thing, simply another stop on the journey.

Protestants are usually people who were raised in their faith. They are not necessarily "protesting" against Catholicism anymore; they are simply living out the faith tradition that was given to them.

4. We have much more in common than you think:

Of course we all hold our beliefs strongly. Why else would we remain Catholic when to be so puts us at a disadvantage in this world that is pretty antagonistic towards even our everyday practices? The differences between Catholicism and other Christian denominations are important!

But equally important are the similarities.

We all profess God's hand in creating the world and us.

We all profess Christ's life, death, and resurrection.

We all acknowledge the Holy Spirit's role in the world, flitting about as He wills fanning the flames of faith and inspiring Christians the world over.

We all hold in esteem and make time to read the Holy Bible (whether some of us keep a few more books that others discard)

Those are some pretty big things. Not the only things, and I personally don't want a faith stripped down to the bare minimum, but the 'merest' parts of Christianity are anything but trivial and certainly worth our focus. We can spend a lot of time encouraging our Protestant brothers and sisters in these first things before discussing the enriching things Catholicism contains, which they may or may not agree with.

In a divided and often overwhelming world we can certainly come together as Christians, unique in our particular Christian beliefs, and worship the Lord, strive to follow Christ's example, grow in humility and virtue, and work for the benefit of the widow, the orphan, the imprisoned, and the poor. There is nothing exclusive to Catholicism or Protestantism in that and by working together we can hopefully achieve more in a practical sense, and maintain open dialogues and respect so that someday, hopefully all will be One.

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