Roman Catholic Church
The Roman Catholic Church was founded on the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, a Jewish
Carpenter from Galilee. His apostles helped spread the Gospel and provided structure for
the early Church (M). The Church was organized and presided over by the apostle Simon
Peter. According to Matthew 16:13-19 Jesus stated that he would found his Church upon
the rock of Simon Peter (M). Many believe that the Roman Catholic Church’s history
begins at this point, with Saint Peter as the first Pope. However, the Church as we know
it today did not develop until several centuries after Christ’s death.
The night before the Battle of Milvian Bridge in 312 AD, Emperor Constantine had a
vision that he would be victorious if he fought under the Symbol of Christ. Although he
was not a Christian before, his soldiers went to battle bearing a Christian Cross on their
shields and returned with a victory for Rome. The Roman Empire was declared neutral
towards religious views by the Edict of Milan just one year later, ending the wide spread
persecution of Christians (WIK). The Roman Empire declared Christianity the state’s
official religion after the baptism of Emperor Theodosius I in 380. Christianity quickly
spread throughout the land.
During the growth of the church over the centuries, “it has been subject to human
weakness and has experienced years and at times long periods of corruption” (BOOK).
Regardless, it remained almost virtually united until the reformation period of the
sixteenth century. The Protestants “aimed to restore primitive Christianity (as described
in the Bible), and they succeeded in weakening the hold of the church” The Reformation
period, lead by Martin Luther, divided the church in Europe and resulted in new
denominations of Christianity.
The nineteenth century brought the beginning of modern Catholicism. Catholic
theologians were beginning to take a closer look into the biblical nature of the church.
“Several forces of change, including biblical, theological, liturgical, and social
movements, prepared the Catholic church and its members for the updating of the
church” (BOOK). These beginnings laid the foundation for the worldwide church
council, Vatican II. The council “sought a renewal of the very idea of religious practice,
belief, and worship” (BOOK).
Today the Roman Catholic Church is the largest entity in the entire world (B). In the
United States alone there are over 65 million Catholics; around the world they number
According to the Catech, "To the apostles and their successors Christ has entrusted the
office of teaching, sanctifying and governing in his name and by his power. But the laity
are made to share in the priestly, prophetical, and kingly office of Christ." Only men are
able to serve as a priest, and they must be celibate. To train for this position, one must
attend at least “7 years of seminary” (FRYE).
The organizational structure of the Roman Catholic Church of today was adopted in
____. Its hierarchical structure mirrors that of the Ancient Roman Empire where diocese,
geographical provinces, are ruled by bishops. The diocese “are made up of parishes, each
of which has a church and a priest” (N). Many “important sees have archbishops, who
often supervise neighboring bishops” (N). The preeminent power, however, lies in the
hands of the Bishop of Rome, for he presides over the city in which “the apostles Peter
and Paul were believed to have been martyred” (K).
The Bishop of Rome, otherwise known as the Pope, “controls bishops mainly by general
legislation” (N). His government is run by the Cardinals that live in Rome (N). They
vote on theological issues, and the decisions “travel from Rome to the Catholic Churches
around the world” (BILL). “The laity of the Church are not able to make any theological
decisions” (FRYE). This serves as a “tie breaker” on sensitive theological issues. For
example, “if one part of the Church wants to go one way, and the other part of the church
wants to go another way, what the Pope says is final, and both sides agree with it”
(MARK). This prevents a split in the Roman Catholic Churches beliefs.
The Roman Catholic Church believes that the symbols used in the Christian liturgy have
been made more clear through the Old Testaments and more fully revealed through Jesus
Christ. Therefore, their worship style is very liturgical and formal. Some of the most
important parts of the liturgy are the sacraments, which Roman Catholics believe were
instituted by Christ. “In the Christian liturgy these signs are closely linked with words.
Though in a sense the signs speak for themselves, they need to be accompanied and
vivified by the spoken word. Taken together, word and action indicate what the rite
signifies and effects.”
Within the liturgy, there are many elements that cannot be altered because they are of
divine institution; other elements may be altered according to different cultures of people.
Some of the most sacred liturgical symbols are the “altar, the tabernacle, the place in
which chrism and other holy oils are kept ('ambry'), the seat of the bishop ('cathedra') or
priest, and the baptismal font” (WIK).
Sources of Authority
The Roman Catholic Church’s beliefs come from the scripture and “traditional teachings
of the Catholic Church which dates back to Peter and the apostles” (S). The Roman
Catholic Church accepts as factually true “the gospel of Jesus as handed down in tradition
and as interpreted by the bishops in union with the pope” (N). The Scripture and the
traditional teachings of the Church are “put on equal playing fields” (FRYE). They
believe that both are just as important as the other.
The word sacrament was frequently used to refer to the mysterious plan of God for the
first 11 centuries of Christian history. “Little by little specific aspects of this mysterious
plan-for example, eucharist, baptism, anointing of the sick-began to be singled out and
called sacraments.”. The list of seven rites that the Roman Catholic Church currently
upholds as sacraments began to develop around the 12th century of Christianity. This was
formally stated at the Council of Trent from 1545 to 1563, “The sacraments of the new
law are seven, no more and no less” (Session VII, Canon 1). The seven sacraments that
are being referenced are: Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist, Reconciliation, Anointing of
the Sick, Marriage and Holy Orders.
In the early 16th century Martin Luther, a priest and religious scholar, recognized a need
for reform within the Church. He became aware of the differences between the Bible and
the church practices “as well as corruption and abuses within the church” (A). He
famously posted an open invitation to debate his 95 Theses concerning the teachings and
practice of indulgences within the Church (A).
Originally, Martin Luther did not wish to start a whole new denomination; he only
wanted to reform the malice ways of the Roman Catholic Church. “He rejected such
traditions as the intermediary role of priests, priestly celibacy, the Latin Bible and liturgy,
purgatory, and transubstantiation, and advocated for the scriptures to be available to the
laity in their own language” (A). Luther also preached that salvation comes by grace of
God and faith in Christ alone, “and the many rituals and works prescribed by the church
were not only unnecessary, but a stumbling block to salvation” (A).
Luther’s beliefs quickly spread throughout Europe. Opponents to the new ideas of
Christianity named his followers “Lutherans,” and they accepted the name for themselves
(V). The Lutheran denomination traveled to America in the 17th century by boat as
explorers set out on voyages to find new land. (V). As they began to migrate to the
United States, they brought their language, culture and Lutheran faith with them” (A).
“Some of the earliest settlers in the Americas were Scandinavians, Dutch and German
The number of Lutherans throughout the United States steadily grew. People of the New
World continued to “speak and worship in their native languages and use resources from
their countries of origin” (V). As they settled throughout the country, they gathered in
near proximity with others of their own culture. “Europeans from a particular region
would migrate to a particular region in America and start their own churches” (V).
As the population of Lutherans in America grew, many congregations began joining
together and forming “synods,” or church bodies (A). “As the nation expanded so did the
number of Lutheran church bodies” (V). The Evangelical Lutheran Church of America
was formed on January 1, 1988 when the American Lutheran Church, the Association of
Evangelical Lutheran Churches and the Lutheran Church in America, merged (A).
Currently there are over 66 million Lutherans worldwide. Thirty-six million reside in
Europe while 8.4 reside in North America. It is the official state church of Norway,
Sweden, Denmark, and Iceland. In 2003, the ELCA had 5 million members.
To become a clergy for this denomination, one must attend 4 years of undergraduate
studies, 3 years of the seminary, and 1 year of field training. ELCA churches do ordain
woman, however not practicing homosexuals.
In the ELCA Lutheran Church the decisions travel from the Churches to the Bishop,
therefore the laity have the ability to make theological decisions for the Church (FRYE).
“The people of the individual churches are the main speakers for the Church as a whole”
(BILL). “The Lutheran Church is more of a democracy than the Roman Catholic
Church” (FRYE). The ELCA is broken into Synods, which represent the Churches in it’s
geographical location. Each Church has a Church Council, which is comprised of elected
officials that speak on behalf of their respective Church. This structure allows “the
people to be the main body of the Church” (BILL). However, because of this, “the
Bishop in the ELCA does not have any true authority over the theological beliefs of the
Church” and there is no “tie breaker” on sensitive theological issues. (FRYE).
The worship service of many ELCA Lutheran Churches highly mirror those of Roman
Catholic Church Services. Because Lutherans are the closest related protestant Christians
to the Roman Catholics, “Lutheran churches tend to have more of a Catholic "look and
feel" than their more austere Presbyterian counterparts” (A). Both the Roman Catholic
Church and the ELCA Church follow a formal pattern that dates back to the beginnings
of the church each time a worship service is conducted. They also follow a Church
liturgical calendar throughout the year (FRYE). “When a pastor of a Lutheran Church
gives a Sermon, he does not preach about whatever he wants.” Instead his sermon
follows that of the Liturgical year, for it is “designed to profess the gospel” (FRYE).
Sources of Authority
ELCA follow scripture alone; the Book of Concord serves as a guide to the Bible for the
ELCA. It is comprised of major theological documents that summarize and interpret the
teachings of the Bible (FRYE). However, the Book of Concord is not “put on an equal
playing field” as the Bible. “If you take the former (QUIA), and you agree with the
confession because they agree with scripture, your putting it not equal but just under”
(FRYE). The pastors of the ELCA take a vowel to uphold the Confessions, “so it is a
source of authority” (FRYE).
In his sermons and writings, Luther stressed the doctrine of justification by faith alone
and the authority of scripture alone (A).
The Evangelical Lutheran Church of America regards two of the seven rites as true
sacraments. Article XIII of the Augsburg Confession states that “concerning this number
of seven sacraments, the fact is that the Fathers have not been uniform in their
enumeration; thus also these seven ceremonies are not equally necessary.” According to
Article XIII, rites that are established by men will not be called Sacraments, for it is not
man’s authority to promise grace. It goes on to state, “Therefore Baptism, the Lord’s
Supper, and Absolution, which is the Sacrament of Repentance, are truly Sacraments.
For these rites have God’s command and the promise of grace which is peculiar to the
New Testament” (Article XIII).
Comparing and Contrasting
The Christian faith has always upheld that the first Eucharist was celebrated at the Last
Supper. The Roman Catholic Church believes that “at that moment, Christ changed the
bread that they ate and the wine that they drank into his body and blood respectively”
(R). According to the Roman Catholic Church, while celebrating the Eucharist the Priest
physically transforms the bread and wine into the body and blood of Jesus Christ. The
CCC states that “there takes place a change of the whole substance of the bread into the
substance of the body of Christ our Lord and of the whole substance of the wine into the
substance of his blood (CCC). The body and blood of Christ after consecration only
“retains the appearance of bread and wine” (C).
ELCA Lutherans, however believe that Christ is present “in with and under the bread and
wine” while celebrating the Eucharist. The phrase ‘in with and under” is widely used
throughout the Church, however they were not the original words of Martin Luther. He
preferred “in through and under” (FRYE). He disliked the word “with” while speaking
of the Eucharist because believed that it made it seem as if Christ was “alongside of the
elements, when in actuality you cannot distinguish between the two” (FRYE).
-- Theological decisions are made by the lei people of the Lutheran Church, and not for
the Catholic Church.
Lutherans believe in grace alone --- Catholics do not
Catholics believe in Purgatory, Lutherans do not