Roman Catholicism and Lutheranism, part of the Protestant tradition, are two of the most prominent branches of the Christian religion. Many people find it interesting to compare and contrast Catholicism and Lutheranism, especially because of the storied history that the traditions have with each other.
Catholicism and Lutheranism disagree on the authority of the pope, the role of the Bible, and the importance of Mary in relation to salvation. The traditions generally agree that God is a Trinity, people are born sinful, and that Jesus Christ died on the cross for sin and was resurrected three days later.
Does the Catholic Church or Lutheran Church have more members? Is Lutheranism conservative or liberal? How do the traditions’ views on the Bible, Jesus Christ, the Lord’s Supper, and the Holy Spirit compare? Keep reading to learn the answers to these questions and others.
Also see Catholic vs Protestant vs Orthodox: What’s the Difference? to learn more.
Comparison: Roman Catholicism and Lutheran Christianity
The Protestant Reformation refers to the 16th-century movement, born in Germany, that confronted the abuses and excesses of the Catholic Church. Reformers like Martin Luther of Germany (1483-1546), John Calvin of France (1509-1564), and Ulrich Zwingli of Switzerland (1484-1531) argued that the Catholic Church had strayed from Scripture.
Luther didn’t want to start a new denomination or tradition; he wanted to reform the Catholic Church by returning to the Bible in the establishment of its doctrines and practices. To this end, important corrections were necessary.
The two major tenets of the reform movement included: (1) justification was by grace through faith in Christ alone based on Scripture alone; and (2) that the Bible alone is the ultimate authority for establishing doctrine and practice.
The five major principles of the Reformation are referred to as the “five solas” (“sola” meaning “alone”):
- Sola fidei: faith alone; salvation is based on faith alone, not faith and works
- Sola gratia: grace alone; salvation depends on God’s grace alone, and not on good works
- Sol scriptura: Scripture alone; tradition isn’t unimportant, but the Bible is most important
- Soli Deo: glory to God alone; neither the Church nor Mary shares in the glory for salvation
- Solus Christus: Christ alone; Jesus alone saves, as opposed to other biblical or church figures
|Name||The word “Roman” is derived from the city of Rome, Italy. The word “catholic,” in general use, means “universal.” In the phrase “Roman Catholic,” Catholic refers to the worldwide collection of local churches in the Catholic tradition.||The term “Lutheranism” is derived from the name “Martin Luther” (1483-1546), the monk who ignited the Protestant Reformation in Germany in the 16th century. The word “Protestant” comes from the Latin word protestari, meaning “to bear witness” and the English word “protest.”|
|Founding||Catholicism teaches that its origins are the origins of the church itself in the first century. The office of the pope, as Vicar of Christ, started with the Apostle Peter.||Lutheranism, like other Protestant traditions, also traces their roots to the New Testament church. Luther, as well as other Reformers, argued that the Catholic Church had strayed from its biblical foundation.|
|Early contributors||In addition to Peter, Paul, and the other Apostles, the first bishops of Rome, the early church fathers, including Ignatius of Antioch (died 108 AD, according to Eusebius) and Irenaeus (130-202 AD), are considered early influencers.||Philip Melanchthon (1497-1560) was an early contributor to Lutheranism. Augustine (354-430) informed Lutheran doctrine. Luther’s Shorter and Larger Catechism, The Book of Concord, and The Augsburg Confession are important doctrines in the Lutheran tradition.|
|Membership||The Catholic Church reports a global membership of over 1.3 billion people.||The Lutheran World Federation estimates that the global tradition includes 74 million people. Protestantism as a whole includes 900 million to one billion people.|
|Authority||Roman Catholicism locates its authority in Scripture and in the historic teachings of their tradition. Catholicism teaches that the pope is the Vicar of Christ on Earth.||Lutherans, like other Protestants, believe that Scripture alone is authoritative for establishing doctrine and proper Christian practice. The teachings of the Church are important, but not as important as Scripture itself.|
|Social worldview today||The Catholic Church is generally considered conservative in the context of the socio-political landscape of the 21st-century Western world.||It depends on the synod. The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS) is conservative. The Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCS) is moderate to liberal depending on the congregation.*|
*Lutheran denominations, especially in America, have split several times in recent decades. Often, the root of the division is over maintaining the historic teachings of Lutheranism and a high view of Scripture or adopting modern theological and social sensibilities. Decentralizing Scripture, the definition of marriage, and gender-related issues are at the center of many debates.
Also see Catholic vs Christian: What’s the Difference? to learn more.
Roman Catholic and Lutheran Beliefs: Similarities and Differences
The definitions of doctrines and practices in Catholicism are uniform because the Church articulates them for its members. For example, all orthodox Catholic churches believe the same things about the Trinity, the Eucharist, and Mary, because Church leadership has the authority to explain their meaning and importance.
Because Protestant traditions, including Lutheranism, are much more independent, one Lutheran denomination may not agree with another. Likewise, one Lutheran church may differ in its beliefs and practices from another. Nevertheless, they are both “Lutheran” because of the history they share.
Today, social issues and politics contribute to many of the differences between Lutheran denominations and churches.
For example, conservative synods affirm the truth of the Gospel and believe that Christ took the place of sinners and paid their penalty on the cross. Moderate and liberal synods see the death of Christ as an example of dying for something you believe in or something similar.
Conservatives have a high view of Scripture, and others decentralize Scripture to champion other causes.
|View of the Bible||The Catholic Church teaches that the Bible is the inspired Word of God. The Catholic Bible has the same books Protestant Bibles have, but also includes the deutero-canonical literature or Apocrypha.||In the Lutheran tradition, conservative synods affirm the authority, inspiration, and inerrancy of Scripture. Moderate and liberal synods view the Bible as a helpful guide to belief and practice, but an imperfect one at best. Lutheran Bibles don’t include the Apocrypha.|
|View of God||The Catholic Church teaches that God is Triune. The Father, Son, who is Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit, are each fully God.||Lutherans are Trinitarian, like all historic branches of the Christian faith are. There is one God who exists in three persons. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are each fully divine.|
|View of Christ||The Catholic Church believes that Jesus of Nazareth is the incarnated second person of the Trinity. He was virgin-born, sinless in life, and died for the sins of humanity. Jesus physically rose from the dead, and ascended into heaven.||Lutheranism teaches that Jesus is the second person of the Trinity. He is God in human flesh, 100% God and 100% man. Jesus was born of a virgin, lived a sinless life, died as an atonement for sin, physically resurrected on the third day, and ascended into heaven.|
|View of justification||In Catholic theology, justification includes forgiveness, regeneration, and sanctification. Sanctification refers to a person’s progressive growth in holiness and Christ-likeness.||In historic Lutheran theology, justification is a declaration, based on the work of Christ on the cross, that sinners are made righteous. Righteousness is transferred to people and isn’t the result of ongoing sanctification. Sanctification doesn’t result in justification; sanctification is the fruit that justification produces.|
|View of salvation||Catholicism teaches that God imparts grace to people through the sacraments. Catholic teaching reflects Arminian views, though Jacob Arminius (1560-1609) was Protestant, so the church doesn’t use the same terminology as other Arminians. The Catholic Church isn’t Calvinist or Lutheran.||Lutherans believe salvation is by grace through faith in Christ alone. Neither baptism, communion, nor church membership are necessary for salvation. Lutherans aren’t Calvinist or Arminian, but “Lutheran” (i.e., “Lutheran” isn’t just the name of the denomination, but also its belief system). Lutherans believe in election, but don’t define it the same way as Calvinists.|
|View of the Holy Spirit||The Holy Spirit is the third person of the Trinity. He is fully divine. The Spirit indwells Christians and gives them spiritual gifts for the edification of the Church. A very small percentage of Catholics speak in tongues.||Lutherans believe the Holy Spirit is the third person of the Trinity who indwells Christians. The vast majority of Lutherans subscribe to the historic teaching of the denomination that certain spiritual gifts, like speaking in tongues, were for the first-century church. A very small percentage, however, advocate for speaking in tongues.|
|The Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed||Accept||Accept|
|Ecumenical Councils||Accepts all 21||Accepts the first seven, but places more authority on the Bible’s teaching and not necessarily on different councils’ affirmations of it.|
|Human Leader||The Pope is the Vicar of Christ and the head of the Church on Earth, an office that church teaching traces to the Apostle Peter.||Lutheranism doesn’t have a single leader. It rejects the authority of the Catholic pope. Many synods have a president or similar leader. Churches have pastors or ministers.|
|View of the Ordinances or Sacraments||There are seven sacraments in Catholicism: (1) adult and infant baptism, (2) confirmation, (3) the Eucharist, (4) penance, (5) anointing, (6) ordination, and (7) marriage. These practices are channels of God’s grace, according to Catholic theology.||Lutherans believe there are only two ordinances: the Lord’s Supper and water baptism. There are only two because those are the only ones Christ taught. The others were established by the Catholic Church. In Lutheranism, faith is the channel of God’s grace.|
|View of the Lord’s Supper||According to the Catholic Church, the “Eucharist,” meaning “to thank,” is “the source and summit of the Christian life.” The Eucharist is a memorial in which the bread and cup become the body and blood of Christ. The change in the nature of the elements is called transubstantiation.||The real body and blood of Christ are believed to be “in, with, and under” the bread and cup. Lutherans interpret Jesus’ words “this is my body” (e.g. Luke 22:19) literally. The Lutheran view is called “consubstantiation” or “the sacramental union.”|
|View of the Baptism||Sometimes referred to as “paedobaptism” (paedo = “child”), according to Catholic teaching, children of Christian parents are baptized to cleanse them of original sin and regenerate them.||Pastors baptize infants who receive the gift of regeneration of the Holy Spirit. Unlike Catholicism, faith is necessary for grace to be conveyed.|
|View of the end times||The Catholic Church affirms the Second Coming of Christ. The church’s eschatology is amillennial.||Lutheranism is amillennial, meaning it interprets the 1,000-year period described in Revelation 20:1-6 figuratively and defines it as the time between Christ’s first and second coming (i.e. the Church Age).|
Also see Catholic vs Protestant: What’s the Difference? to learn more.
“Night and day I pondered until I saw the connection between the justice of God and the statement that ‘the just shall live by his faith.’ Then I grasped that the justice of God is that righteousness by which through grace and sheer mercy God justifies us through faith. Thereupon I felt myself to be reborn and to have gone through open doors into paradise.” (Martin Luther)(Video) 10 Differences between Catholics and Protestants
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Daniel Isaiah Joseph
Daniel's seminary degree is in Exegetical Theology. He was a pastor for 10 years. As a professor, he has taught Bible and theology courses at two Christian universities. Please see the About page for details.
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What are the main differences between Lutheranism and Catholicism? ›
Unlike the Roman Catholic Church, Lutherans do not believe the office of the papacy as such has any divine authority or that Christians need to submit to the Pope's authority to be "true" members of the visible church. Differences remain about both the number and the nature of the sacraments.What differences did Luther have with the Catholic Church? ›
Luther believed people were saved by faith alone and that this was the summary of all Christian doctrine, and that the Catholic Church of his day had got this wrong. It's often stated Catholics, by contrast to Protestants, believe a mixture of faith and works is necessary for salvation.What makes Roman Catholic different? ›
Broadly, Roman Catholicism differs from other Christian churches and denominations in its beliefs about the sacraments, the roles of the Bible and tradition, the importance of the Virgin Mary and the saints, and the papacy. Learn more about the importance of the saints in the Roman Catholic faith.What is the difference between Lutheran and Catholic communion? ›
A final important distinction is that while most Lutheran communities would welcome anyone to partake in Communion, Catholics hold that in order to receive Communion at Mass one must be fully in Communion with the Catholic Church and in a state of grace (have not committed any grave sins that break Communion with God ...Which three beliefs made Lutherans different from Catholics? ›
Which three beliefs made Lutherans different from Catholics? Lutherans believed that salvation can be attained through faith alone. Lutherans believed that the Bible contained the only truth, not the church. Lutherans allowed members of the clergy to marry.What was Luther main disagree with the Catholic Church? ›
He disagreed with the Church's policy on Indulgences (paying money to the Church to obtain forgiveness for sins). Only Catholic priests were allowed to read, interpret, and teach the Bible. The Pope established the only correct way to interpret the scriptures, and all Catholics were bound to follow it.Do Lutherans pray to Mary? ›
Modern Lutheran synods usually reject or at least do not actively recommend the practice of directly addressing Mary and other saints in prayers of admiration or petition as part of their religious worship of God.What are the 3 beliefs of the Lutheran Church? ›
Theologically, Lutheranism embraces the standard affirmations of classic Protestantism—the repudiation of papal and ecclesiastical authority in favour of the Bible (sola Scriptura), the rejection of five of the traditional seven sacraments affirmed by the Catholic church, and the insistence that human reconciliation ...What two sacraments do Lutherans practice? ›
As opposed to the seven sacraments of the medieval Catholic Church, the Lutheran reformers quickly settled on only two: baptism and the Lord's Supper (Eucharist).What do Roman Catholics believe? ›
the oneness of God and the Trinity. the incarnation of Jesus Christ as the Son of God. the meaning of the crucifixion, resurrection and ascension of Jesus. the person and work of the Holy Spirit.
Is Roman Catholic the same as just Catholic? ›
"Roman Catholic" and "Catholic"
"In popular usage, 'Catholic' usually means 'Roman Catholic'," a usage opposed by some, including some Protestants. "Catholic" usually refers to members of any of the 24 constituent Churches, the one Western and the 23 Eastern.
The name of the church is derived from its base in Rome and from a Greek term meaning “universal.” The word Catholic refers to the wholeness of the church, and for many centuries the Roman church claimed to be the only true Christian denomination.What is the biggest difference between Catholic and Lutheran? ›
Lutherans view Christ as the head of the church and have two formal holy sacraments. The Catholic church believes that good works must go hand in hand with faith in God to bring salvation. Whilst the Bible is still valued, Catholics also believe in the authority of the Pope, as head of the church, to create doctrine.Can a Lutheran take communion at a Catholic church? ›
Catholics believe these become the body and blood of Christ; some Protestants, notably Lutherans, say Christ is present in the sacrament. Protestants are currently allowed to receive Catholic communion only in extreme circumstances, such as when they are in danger of death.Do Lutherans go to confession? ›
The Lutheran Church practices "Confession and Absolution" [referred to as the Office of the Keys] with the emphasis on the absolution, which is God's word of forgiveness. Indeed, Lutherans highly regard Holy Absolution. They, like Roman Catholics, see James 5:16 and John 20:22–23 as biblical evidence for confession.Is there a difference between the Catholic and Lutheran Bible? ›
Catholics and Protestants have the same 27-book New Testament. Thus, the differences between their Bibles concerns the boundaries of the Old Testament canon. In short, Catholics have 46 books, while Protestants have 39.
Lutherans are Trinitarian. Lutherans reject the idea that the Father and God the Son are merely faces of the same person, stating that both the Old Testament and the New Testament show them to be two distinct persons. Lutherans believe the Holy Spirit proceeds from both the Father and the Son.Do Lutherans pray to saints? ›
"Scripture does not teach calling on the saints or pleading for help from them. For it sets before us Christ alone as mediator, atoning sacrifice, high priest, and intercessor."—Augsburg Confession (Lutheran), Article XXI.
In addition to indulgences, the 95 Theses pointed out other problems as well. These problems included priests not being well educated and some of the higher leaders in the Church being corrupt. In addition, Luther stated that the Pope himself had too much power over the Church and politics.What actions did Martin Luther take against the Catholic Church? ›
On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther posted his Ninety-five Theses against papal indulgences, or the atonement of sins through monetary payment, on the door of the church at Wittenberg, Germany.
Why was Luther mad at the Catholic Church? ›
Luther became increasingly angry about the clergy selling 'indulgences' - promised remission from punishments for sin, either for someone still living or for one who had died and was believed to be in purgatory. On 31 October 1517, he published his '95 Theses', attacking papal abuses and the sale of indulgences.How do Lutherans believe you get to heaven? ›
A Lutheran believes in “Grace Alone.” That is, a Lutheran believes that on the basis of God's Holy Word that a person is forgiven and enters heaven by God's grace alone.Do Lutherans say the Hail Mary? ›
The Hail Mary is the central part of the Angelus, a devotion generally recited thrice daily by many Catholics, as well as broad & high church Anglicans, and Lutherans who usually omit the second half.What is the main teachings of Lutheranism? ›
The teaching of Luther and the reformers can be summarized in three phrases: Grace alone, Faith alone, Scripture alone. God loves the people of the world, even though they are sinful, rebel against Him and do not deserve His love. He sent Jesus, His Son, to love the unlovable and save the ungodly.
The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod believes Jesus is exactly who He said He is. Along with the ancient Church, we confess that Jesus is true God and true man in one person. He is the Son of God who was crucified and raised from the dead for the salvation of all who trust in Him.What Do Lutherans believe in the Trinity? ›
Along with all other Christian churches, Lutherans believe in the Trinity: God the Father, God the Son, Jesus Christ, and God the Holy Spirit. We also confess that we are sinful beings, doing what God forbids and failing to do the good he commands, in all that we think, say and do.What saints do Lutherans recognize? ›
We think first of His apostles (each with his own day), who above all were the witnesses to His resurrection. We remember also His friends: His holy mother; St. John the Baptist; Mary, Martha, and Lazarus; Mary Magdalene, Joseph of Arimathea, and so many others.What is the Lutheran view of confession? ›
Martin Luther felt so strongly about the power of Confession and Forgiveness that it was named as the third sacrament in Article XIII of the Apology to the Augsburg Confession-“Absolution, which is the Sacrament of Repentance.” Beth-Eden Lutheran Church before its addition.Who is the head of the church in Lutheranism? ›
Dr. Matthew C. Harrison is the 13th man to serve as president of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) since its founding in 1847. In addition to President Harrison, six vice-presidents make up the LCMS Praesidium.What is the only unforgivable sin? ›
One eternal or unforgivable sin (blasphemy against the Holy Spirit), also known as the sin unto death, is specified in several passages of the Synoptic Gospels, including Mark 3:28–29, Matthew 12:31–32, and Luke 12:10, as well as other New Testament passages including Hebrews 6:4–6, Hebrews 10:26–31, and 1 John 5:16.
Why do Catholics pray to Mary? ›
Catholics do not pray to Mary as if she were God. Prayer to Mary is memory of the great mysteries of our faith (Incarnation, Redemption through Christ in the rosary), praise to God for the wonderful things he has done in and through one of his creatures (Hail Mary) and intercession (second half of the Hail Mary).Why do Roman Catholics believe in Jesus? ›
Catholics believe the birth of Jesus fulfils the Old Testament prophecy that Christ would come to Earth as a saviour . Christians believe that God sent Jesus to die on the cross as a sacrifice to make up for the sins of humanity.What religion is the same as Catholicism? ›
Catholics, especially white, non-Hispanic Catholics, name Protestantism as the faith that is most similar to Catholicism. Interestingly, Catholics see greater similarities between Catholicism and Protestantism than do Protestants. After Protestantism, Catholics see Judaism as most like their faith.Is the Catholic Church still called the Roman Catholic Church? ›
The term Roman Catholic is never used by the Church. To distinguish between the different Churches within the Catholic Church, the term the Roman Church is often used. This is meant to apply to those who use the Roman rite and are under the authority of bishops of that Church.How many types of Catholicism are there? ›
There are two major categories of the Catholic Church: Roman Catholic Church and Eastern Catholic Churches. Both are in union with one another, upholding the same set of doctrines and beliefs. The major differences are with respect to particular rites and rituals.Who is the founder of Roman Catholic? ›
According to Catholic tradition, the Catholic Church was founded by Jesus Christ. The New Testament records Jesus' activities and teaching, His appointment of the twelve Apostles, and His instructions to them to continue His work.What is a Catholic symbol? ›
The most common symbol of our faith is the crucifix – a cross with the figure of the body of Jesus Christ attached to it. The crucifix is a symbol of sacrifice and atonement, since, according to the Bible, Jesus died for the sins of the world. The crucifix is found wherever there is a Catholic presence.Can a Catholic and Lutheran marry? ›
Technically, marriages between a Catholic and a baptized Christian who is not in full communion with the Catholic Church (Orthodox, Lutheran, Methodist, Baptist, etc.) are called mixed marriages.Do Lutherans believe in the Eucharist? ›
Lutherans believe in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, affirming the doctrine of sacramental union, "in which the body and blood of Christ are truly and substantially (vere et substantialiter) present, offered, and received with the bread and wine."What are the two types of Lutherans? ›
There a large number of Lutheran denominations, with the two main bodies in America being the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA).
Can a Lutheran pastor become a Catholic priest? ›
His path to the priesthood was anything but traditional. A Lutheran pastor for 30 years, he is one of just a few hundred married ministers in the U.S. who have gone through the relatively brief process of becoming ordained as a Catholic priest.What Lutheran pastor converted to Catholicism? ›
Joseph Robert Jacobson (born 1940), known as Robert Jacobson, is a former Lutheran bishop who became a Roman Catholic priest upon his conversion from Lutheranism.What do Lutherans say when receiving communion? ›
Upon hearing the words, “Body of Christ, given for you,” and “Blood of Christ, shed for you,” it is appropriate to respond “Amen” or “Thanks be to God.” It is also perfectly appropriate to smile a joyful smile, as this bread and wine are amazing gifts.Do Lutherans believe in being born again? ›
Lutheranism. The Lutheran Church holds that "we are cleansed of our sins and born again and renewed in Holy Baptism by the Holy Ghost.How do Lutherans repent? ›
44). Being truly Lutheran—and truly Christian—is to live a life of repentance; to daily confess our sins and rejoice in the forgiveness of sins; and to plead for God's mercy, trusting that he is merciful. That's how, in the face of our sinful nature and the devil's attacks, we live in the confidence of God's grace.Do Lutherans take communion funerals? ›
The Lutheran Funeral Service
Holy Communion is also often celebrated at the funeral and is not limited to the participation of family and mourners but is extended to all communicants present at the service.
What was the clearest difference between Lutheranism and Catholicism? The belief in justification by faith.Do Lutherans believe in the Virgin Mary? ›
Lutheran Mariology developed out of the deep Christian Marian devotion on which Luther was reared, and it was subsequently clarified as part of his mature Christocentric theology and piety. Lutherans hold Mary in high esteem, universally teaching the dogmas of the Theotokos and the Virgin Birth.What are the biggest differences between Catholicism and Christianity? ›
Broadly, Roman Catholicism differs from other Christian churches and denominations in its beliefs about the sacraments, the roles of the Bible and tradition, the importance of the Virgin Mary and the saints, and the papacy.Did the Lutheran Church break away from the Catholic Church? ›
It was the year 1517 when the German monk Martin Luther pinned his 95 Theses to the door of his Catholic church, denouncing the Catholic sale of indulgences — pardons for sins — and questioning papal authority. That led to his excommunication and the start of the Protestant Reformation.
What are the main differences between Lutherans and Baptists? ›
Baptists and Lutherans agree on the verbal inspiration of Scripture (27), but Baptists follow John Calvin's preference of putting human reason alongside Scripture, rather than making reason captive to the Word of God (30). The doctrine of conversion also shows divergent beliefs between Lutherans and Baptists.Do Lutherans believe God and Jesus are the same person? ›
Lutherans believe Jesus is the Christ, the savior promised in the Old Testament. They believe he is both by nature God and by nature man in one person, as they confess in Luther's Small Catechism that he is "true God begotten of the Father from eternity and also true man born of the Virgin Mary".Do Lutherans believe in the Holy Spirit? ›
The Spirit in the Divine Service
This biblical Lutheran view of the Holy Spirit becomes beautifully clear for us each week in the Divine Service. In the Invocation, the Spirit reminds us of our Baptism and assures us that He has drowned our old sinful selves and raised us to new life in Christ.
Lutherans also believe that this Triune God loves all people and delights in personal relationships with them. Thus, Lutherans do not pray to Mary, the mother of Jesus, or to any of the Apostles or Saints.Can Lutherans pray the rosary? ›
Lutherans follow a similar format of the rosary as the Roman Catholics, but pray the rosary in a manner considered faithful to the Gospel as expressed by Lutherans. The Lutheran Rosary is not prayed to Mary, but does include prayers of praise regarding Mary that come from Scripture.