As a pastor with 15 years in ministry, the diversity in tradition and Faith of the various denominations still baffles me. During a luncheon with fellow pastors, I engaged a Catholic priest, a Methodist pastor, and a Baptist minister in a spirited conversation. We realized many believers wonder about the differences between Catholics, Protestants, and Lutherans. Inspired by that conversation, I sought to add my voice to the Catholic vs. Methodist vs. Baptist debate. So, what is their main difference?
The main difference between Catholics, Methodists, and Baptists is their Organizational Structure. Catholics believe that the Pope, based in Rome, is the Vicar of Christ and the head of the Church. He can issue infallible pronouncements on Faith and morality. The Roman Curia, Cardinals, Bishops, and Priests assist the Pope in running the Church at various levels. In contrast, Methodists lack a central headquarters and leader. The General Conference, Council of Bishops, and the Judicial Council oversee the activities of the Methodist church. Baptists, on the other hand, have a congregational government. Each Church runs its affairs without outside interference. The congregations can unite to form denominational alliances that shouldn’t interfere with the individual structures of the churches.
So, join me in navigating the doctrines, traditions, and expressions of Faith among Catholics, Protestants, and Lutherans. I hope that through this article, you’ll have a clearer understanding of their core differences and shared beliefs, which unite us as the body of Christ.
Catholic vs. Methodist vs. Baptist: Difference in the definition
The word Catholic means “universal” or “complete.” According to St. Cyril, the word Catholic refers to the Church’s global reach, doctrinal, moral, and spiritual perfection, and ability to meet the world’s needs. Proponents of the Catholic Church believe they descended from the New Testament church, with the Pope as Peter’s successor.
Methodists are protestant Christians who ascribe to the teachings of John and Charles Wesley. While a student at Oxford, John Wesley led a group of students who devoted themselves to frequent attendance of communion, serious bible study, and prison visitations. Their methodical dedication earned them the name “Methodists.” On 28th February 1784, John Wesley formed the first Methodist Church in the US. Interestingly, John Wesley never wanted a separate denomination.
Baptists are a separatist group from the Church of England. They earned their name from their practice of credo-baptism by immersion, congregational autonomy, and missionary work. John Smyth is credited as the Baptist founder in 1608 after a question arose among his group as to the legitimacy of infant baptism. When Smyth couldn’t find any scriptural basis for it, he baptized himself and 36 others, marking the birth of the Baptists.
What’s the Difference between Catholics, Methodists, and Baptists?
This means the Universal Church.
Name based on the discipline with which followers practice their Faith.
Name based on the practice of Baptism by immersion.
Believe the Church descended from the Early Church.
John and Charles Wesley.
Believe the Pope is the vicar of Christ.
Led by Conferences at local, regional, and international levels.
Believe in Transubstantiation.
Believe in the real presence of Jesus during communion.
The Eucharist is a symbol.
Believe in Pedo-baptism as a requirement for Salvation.
Believe in pedo-baptism, but not as a requirement for Salvation.
Believe in Credo-baptism through immersion for professing believers.
Differences in the beliefs between Catholics, Methodists, and Baptists
Catholics believe in Salvation by Faith but add sacraments to ensure a person’s Salvation. For a person to be saved, they must believe in Jesus, be baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Spirit, and observe the Eucharist and Confession. Nevertheless, these acts don’t guarantee entry into heaven. You may go through purgatory for cleansing through suffering.
Catholics believe you can lose your Salvation if you commit a mortal sin and fail to repent before you die. They split sin into mortal and venial. Mortal sin is a deliberate violation of the Ten Commandments. Venial sin, on the other hand, is an accidental violation of God’s law. According to Catholicism, venial sin attracts less severe consequences in life and death but, Mortal sin leads to loss of Salvation and eternal death.
Methodists also refute eternal security. They do so based on Hebrews 6 and 10, which warn against apostasy in the believer. According to Methodism, God freely grants Salvation to all people. However, we have a responsibility to walk the straight and narrow. We can also resist God’s grace and call to holiness, but doing so puts us at risk of falling away from God’s grace, consequently losing our Salvation.
In contrast, most Baptists uphold eternal security. They believe that those God has sanctified will never fall away. Although believers may Sin and incur temporary consequences, God will preserve and sustain them unto Salvation.
Catholics uphold Baptism as the first sacrament that opens the door to all others. They view it as the way to receive the Holy Spirit, thus essential in the process of Salvation and attainment of eternal life. Furthermore, they believe that through Baptism, original and personal sin is forgiven, which is used to justify infant baptism. However, Baptism must be accompanied by holy living; otherwise, you’ll lose eternal life and the Holy Spirit.
Methodists use Baptism as an initiation into the Church. They uphold it as the first step to Salvation. Through Baptism, a convert rejects sin and starts a new life as a believer. Like the Catholics, Methodists practice infant baptism. Unlike the Catholics, Baptism among Methodists isn’t a requirement for Salvation.
Baptists believe Baptism marks a convert’s new life. They reject infant baptism, insisting that only believers can be baptized. Furthermore, Baptism is a requirement for church membership and participating in the Lord’s Supper.
Catholics believe that Eucharist is the foundation and apex of Christian life. Drawn from the last supper, Catholics believe that the Eucharist was Jesus’s way to perpetuate his suffering throughout the ages. They believe in transubstantiation, where the bread and wine become the body and blood of Jesus during Communion.
In contrast, Methodists reject transubstantiation, believing Christ is present with them during the Eucharist. According to Methodism, Eucharist isn’t just a memorial; it brings the reality of God’s past deeds to the present. Unlike the Catholic Church, Methodists don’t place age restrictions on who can take the Eucharist. It’s not unusual to find children taking the Eucharist.
Baptists hold a different view from Catholics and Methodists. According to Baptists, the Eucharist is a symbol and a memorial of Christ’s death in the past and an anticipation of his return in the future. It is only accessible to baptized believers but isn’t necessary for Salvation.
Basis of doctrine
According to Catholicism, the Bible and apostolic tradition are essential to understanding Faith. The Church is the custodian of these traditions and has the authority to interpret and reveal God’s will and plan. Without the Church, believers are susceptible to false doctrine. Consequently, there isn’t a strong emphasis on personal devotion and Bible study. Instead, congregants primarily rely on priests to offer an interpretation.
Methodists uphold the Wesleyan Quadrilateral for theological understanding and doctrine. The Wesleyan Quadrilateral includes scripture tradition, reason, and experience. Wesley taught that these are indispensable in accurately interpreting Scripture. As such, Methodists acknowledge that Scripture is the primary authority for doctrine but apply reason, tradition, and experienced Faith in its interpretation.
In contrast, Baptists uphold Sola scriptura (Scripture alone). They believe that Scripture is the ultimate source of doctrine. It is inerrant and written by people inspired by God. Baptists also believe that Scripture is the standard by which God will judge us so it will endure to the end.
What are the similarities between Catholics, Methodists, and Baptists?
Catholics, Methodists, and Baptists believe in a Triune God. They believe that God reveals himself as three distinct persons who are one. The Persons of the Trinity possess one nature and exist in perfect harmony. They aren’t three gods or part of God; they are God.
Divinity and humanity of Jesus
All three believe Jesus was fully God and human when He walked the earth. Jesus’ humanity was necessary for our Salvation. He had to be born under the law but lead a sinless life to qualify him as an acceptable sacrifice for humankind. His Divinity gave him the authority to forgive sin and eventually judge the world. The Divinity and humanity of Jesus are foundational to understanding Salvation.
All three believe in the original sin committed by Adam and Eve in Eden. They hold that death came into the world through this sin, and humankind inherited a sinful nature from Adam and Eve. This nature predisposes humanity to evil and that only God’s grace through the finished work on the cross can redeem us.
What do Catholics think of Methodists and Baptists?
Catholics believe that Methodists and Protestants are not the true Church. However, they maintain that some aspects of these churches align with the truth, albeit imperfect. For instance, they acknowledge that their Baptism is legitimate. This is evident by not re-baptizing those converting to Catholicism. They also believe they worship the same God but differ in how to approach Him. Catholics believe that there is hope of salvation for Protestants who earnestly seek God.
Do Catholics, Baptists, and Methodists use the same Bible?
No. Catholics use the Catholic Bible, which contains an additional 7 books and additional sections in Daniel and Esther. Methodists and Baptists use the standard Bible with 66 books. Popular translations among Methodists and Baptists include New Revised Standard Version, Common English Bible, King James Version, and New International Bible.
Which one is more popular- Catholic, Methodist, or Baptist?
Catholicism is more widespread and popular. The Catholic Church has over 1.3 billion followers, then Methodist with over 80 million, and the Baptists at over 50 million. Catholicism has been around for almost a millennium and was the state religion for most of Europe. Its rich history and liturgical masses have made Catholicism synonymous with Christianity.
As a devout Christian, I have always been passionate about the Christian faith. This inspired me to pursue a degree in Religious studies and a Masters in Theology in college. I have also been privileged to teach 4 Christian courses in a college and university. Since I am dedicated to spreading the word of God, I am actively involved in the Church. Additionally, I share his word online and cover diverse topics on the Christian faith through my platform. You can read more about me on the about us page.