Calivinism vs. Roman Catholicism

Question
What are the basic differences between Calvinism and Roman Catholicism?
Answer
There are quite a number of significant differences between Calvinism and Roman Catholicism. I'll try just to hit the highlights of some big ones:

Faith, Works and Justification: Calvinism teaches that we are justified by faith apart from works (Rom. 3:20-28; 4:1-5; 9:30-32; Gal. 2:16; 3:1-14), but that once we believe with true faith we necessarily do good works as a result (Eph. 2:8-10; Jam. 2:14,17). Catholicism teaches that we are justified by faith and by the good works that flow from that faith (Jam. 2:21-22). The Roman Catholic Counsel of Trent anathematized this Calvinistic view.

Definition of Justification: Part of the disagreement between the Calvinists and Roman Catholics on the issue of the relationship between faith, works and justification stems from a disagreement over the definition of "justify." Roman Catholics generally argue that to justify someone is to recognize that the person really is righteous. Thus, they read James 2:21-22 to teach that Abraham reached a point of actual righteousness when he passed the test of being willing to sacrifice his son Isaac in Genesis 22. Calvinists, on the other hand, recognize two definitions for "justify" (most words may have more than one meaning), seeing that it sometimes means "vindicate" or "validate," and sometimes it means "to count a person as if he were righteous, even though he really isn't." For example, when Abraham believed God, God counted Abraham as if he were actually righteousness (Gen. 15:6), even though Abraham had not yet done any good works since believing. Calvinists teach that the only one who is truly righteous enough to be saved is Christ himself (Rom. 3:9-20; 5:15-19), and that Christ shares his own status as "righteous" with those who are united to him by faith (Gal. 3:17-29). The first definition, "vindication," is the one Calvinists apply to James 2:21-22. Calvinists believe the context in James 2 is not contrasting, on the one hand, true faith plus good works, and, on the other hand, true faith without works. Rather, Calvinists argue that James is contrasting two kinds of faith, one that produces good works (true faith) and one that does not produce good works (false faith). "Vindication" seems the best definition in this passage, according to Calvinists, because Abraham was already reckoned as righteous when he believed God in Genesis 15 -- many years before God "tested" (Gen. 22:1) his faith. The test was to determine whether or not Abraham's faith was true (Gen. 22:12), not to cause Abraham to do enough good works to earn his justification.

Predestination: Calvinists hold to the view of predestination taught by St. Augustine. Roman Catholics hold to a modified version of St. Augustin's view. Specifically, Calvinists believe that God predestined whom he wanted to predestine, without consideration of the predestined people's merits. Roman Catholics teach that predestination was somewhat conditioned upon the merits of those predestined.

The Church and Apostolic Succession: Roman Catholics teach that the Roman Catholic Church is the only true church, and that the pope is the supreme authority over the church, having received his authority by direct apostolic succession from Peter. Calvinists teach that there is no such thing as apostolic succession which hands such authority down from person to person, and that there is no single visible entity or church which may be indentified as "the true church."

Infallibility: The Roman Catholic Church teaches that the pope when speaking ex cathedra, as well as the church when met in ecumenical council, can never err. Calvinists deny this claim as unfounded in Scripture.

Scripture and Tradition: The Roman Catholic Church teaches that church tradition is equally authoritative with the Bible. Calvinists reserve supreme authority to the Bible alone, observing that tradition has often strayed from the Bible.

Interpretation of Scripture: The Roman Catholic Church teaches that it has the final say regarding any interpretation of Scripture, such that no one may ever correct the church by suggesting that its official doctrines are not in accordance with Scripture. Any challenge to the Roman Catholic Church's doctrine can be refuted by its claim to authoritative interpretation. Calvinists believe there is no authoritative human interpretation, and that authority belongs to God. For Calvinists, interpretations are authoritative only insofar as they are true, and they believe that the Roman Catholic Church has frequently misinterpreted Scripture.

Freewill: The Roman Catholic Church teaches that the Fall did not remove from man the ability to respond in faith to the gospel. Calvinists believe that the Fall did remove this ability, and that any time a person comes to salvation it is because God has renewed that person's heart to respond positively in faith (John 6:44; Acts 16:14; Rom. 8:1-8).

Related Material:

Can Catholics be Saved?
Are all Protestants going to Hell (Catholic Dogma)?

Answer by Ra McLaughlin

Ra McLaughlin is Vice President of Creative Delivery Systems at Third Millennium Ministries.