Catholics vs. Protestants vs. Lutheran: What is the main difference?

As a theologian of many years, I have studied a range of Christian denominations to try to understand the nuanced differences. Among the various denominations, Catholics, Protestants, and Lutherans stand out as distinct groups with their own unique beliefs and practices. As I have served in the church, I have interacted with believers that share the same curiosity and intrigue. Some people think of the three as entirely different, and some see them as the same. I would like to help by sharing my insights and gain clarity as we delve into the topic of “Catholics vs. Protestant vs. Lutheran.”

The main difference between Catholics, Protestants, and Lutherans is found in how they interpret doctrine and authority. Catholics hold the Pope as the authoritative figure and believe in transubstantiation during Holy Communion. Protestants emphasize the Scripture alone as the ultimate authority, which is seen in scriptures like 2 Tim. 3:15-17. They also believe in salvation by faith in Christ and reject certain Catholic teachings. Lastly, Lutherans align with many Protestant beliefs. However, they also uphold the significance of the Lutheran Confessions, justification by grace through faith, and maintaining ceremonial worship.

In this article, I will be sharing the differences, similarities, and also which of the three is most popular. Kindly keep reading as we take a deep dive into this topic.

Catholics vs. Protestant vs. Lutheran: Difference in definition

Catholics vs. Protestants vs. Lutheran
Catholics vs. Protestant vs. Lutheran. Image source: Pixabay

The term “Catholic” is derived from “katholikos,” a Greek word that means “universal” or “general.” This name represents the Church’s mission to reach out to everyone and share the good news of Jesus Christ with them, regardless of their race, nationality, or socioeconomic standing. The Catholic Church considers itself to be a spiritual home for a community of believers from all over the world, offering a sense of community and unity under the direction of the Pope and the Magisterium, the Church’s governing teaching body.

The term “Protestant” comes from the Latin word “protestari,” which means “to publicly declare or protest.” Separation from the Catholic Church and commitment to certain theological practices and beliefs define Protestants. A person who associates with one of the several Christian faiths that resulted from the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century is referred to as a Protestant. There are numerous other denominations that fall under the umbrella of Protestantism, including Anglicanism, Baptist, Methodist, and Lutheranism. Although each Protestant church has its own doctrines and customs, they nonetheless have similar ideas that set them apart from Catholicism.

The term “Lutheran” refers to the group of people who follow Martin Luther, a German theologian and monk who, in his day, questioned some of the beliefs and practices of the Catholic Church. The importance of Scripture, redemption by grace through faith, and the priesthood of all Christians were stressed throughout Luther’s writings and sermons. A Lutheran is an individual who belongs to a Christian denomination that traces its origins to the teachings and reforms of Martin Luther in the 16th century. Lutheranism is a branch of Protestantism that developed as a result of the Protestant Reformation.

What’s the Difference between Catholics, Protestant, and Lutheran?






The Pope, Magisterium, is considered to have the final authority in matters of doctrine and interpretation of Scripture

They believe that the Bible is the ultimate authority.

They believe in the authority of the Scripture and also the Lutheran Confessions


They practice seven sacraments:



-Holy Communion


-Anointing of the Sick

-Holy Orders


They practice two sacraments


-Holy Communion

They practice two sacraments


-Holy Communion


Catholics believe in the intercession of saints and hold a reverence for Mary, the mother of Jesus. They believe the saints and Mary can intercede on behalf of believers.

Protestants believe in direct access to God through Jesus Christ and emphasize that all believers can pray to God without intermediaries.

Lutherans believe in direct access to God through Christ Jesus. They do not seek the intercession of saints.

Holy Communion

Catholics believe in the doctrine of transubstantiation, which teaches that the bread and wine in Holy Communion actually transform into the body and blood of Jesus Christ.

Protestants view it as symbolic or metaphorical, considering it as a memorial of Christ’s sacrifice.

Lutherans believe in consubstantiation.

It suggests that Christ’s body and blood are present alongside the bread and wine.

Church structure

They have a hierarchical structure with the Pope at the top, followed by bishops, priests, and deacons.

They have diverse structures, and some follow a congregational model where individual congregations have autonomy in decision-making.

They follow a congregational structure and also a synod-based structure, where groups of congregations are governed by synods.

The Doctrine of Life and Death

They believe that after death, souls undergo judgment and are assigned to either heaven, hell, or purgatory. Purgatory is seen as a temporary state of purification for those who die in a state of grace but are not purified.

They believe that after death, souls are immediately judged and assigned to either heaven or hell based on their faith in Jesus Christ.

They believe that after death, souls are immediately judged and assigned to either heaven or hell based on their faith in Jesus Christ.

Core belief

Catholics believe in salvation through faith and works, emphasizing the importance of both faith in Jesus Christ and performing good works as a response to God’s grace.

Protestants hold the core belief in salvation by faith alone. They believe faith in Jesus Christ is the sole means of receiving God’s forgiveness and salvation. They also emphasize on personal relationship with God.

Lutherans share the belief in salvation through faith alone. They also uphold the importance of the Lutheran confessions.

Differences in the beliefs between Catholics, Protestant, and Lutheran

Catholics vs. Protestants vs. Lutheran - What is the main difference?
Catholics, Protestant, and Lutheran beliefs. Image source: Pixabay

Due to their various theological stances and historical origins, Catholics, Protestants, and Lutherans have very different beliefs.


The authority of the Pope, the Magisterium, and the presence of tradition alongside Scripture are all highly valued aspects of Catholicism. In contrast, Protestants consider that Scripture alone should be upheld as the final authority in. Lutherans value the Bible and, additionally, the Lutheran Confessions, which articulate the teachings of Martin Luther.


Catholics believe in salvation through faith and works. They also believe Mary and the saints intercede on behalf of Christians. Protestants believe salvation is acquired through faith alone. They also believe each believer should have a personal relationship with God. Lutherans believe salvation is acquired through faith alone. They believe in justification through faith and view the sacraments as instruments of God’s favor.

What are the similarities between Catholics, Protestant, and Lutheran?

  1. Salvation through faith: There may be differences in the specifics of how salvation is understood and achieved. However, all three groups emphasize the importance of faith in Jesus Christ for salvation.
  2. Moral teachings: Protestants, Catholics, and Lutherans share many moral teachings that are based on the principles found in the Bible. They highlight virtues like love, justice, compassion, forgiveness, and honesty as important aspects of Christian living.
  3. Community: Despite some theological differences, they all value community and fellowship among believers. They like to convene and pray, worship, and offer mutual support to each other.
  4. Trinitarian Belief: All groups affirm the doctrine of the Trinity, believing in God as the one Being in three distinct persons: Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit.
  5. Christian holidays: Catholics, Protestants, and Lutherans celebrate a common set of festivals, including Pentecost, Good Friday, and Palm Sunday. These events are recognized as periods of spiritual meditation, remembrance, and celebration because they are significant in theology and history.

What do Catholics think of Protestants and Lutherans?

Catholics vs. Protestants vs. Lutheran
What do Catholics think of Protestants and Lutherans? Image source: Pixabay

Views of Catholics toward Protestants and Lutherans can vary among individuals. In general, Protestants and Lutherans are accepted as fellow Christians by the Catholic Church, and their baptisms are recognized as authentic.

Although the Catholic Church officially supports unity among churches and discussion, individual Catholics may have a variety of opinions about Protestants and Lutherans. Some Catholics collaborate with other Christian traditions and fully embrace the ecumenical spirit. They could emphasize the principles and beliefs that all Christians share to foster communication and cooperation. These Catholics could be willing to absorb Protestant and Lutheran beliefs and behaviors.

However, it is important to note that not all Catholics may be equally exposed to or knowledgeable about different Christian traditions. Some Catholics could lack a thorough understanding of the doctrines and practices of Protestants and Lutherans. This could make them more guarded and conservative. They could view the Catholic Church’s doctrines and rituals as superior and the most complete representation of Christianity. These individuals may view the differences in doctrine and practice as important and potentially dividing.

Do Catholics, Lutherans, and Protestants use the same Bible?

Yes. The Old Testament and the New Testament of the Bible are used by Catholics, Lutherans, and the majority of Protestants. The Old Testament canon does, however, include a few minor differences. The Deuterocanonical books are extra texts that are included in Catholic Bibles; Protestant Bibles adhere to the Hebrew canon. Despite these variations, all three traditions hold the Bible to be the ultimate authority for Christian doctrine and practice, believing it to be a product of divine inspiration and revelation. Lutherans place a high value on Scripture while defending the validity of the Lutheran Confessions; Catholics acknowledge the authority of Scripture and tradition; and many Protestants emphasize the Sola Scriptura concept.

Which one is more popular between Catholics, Protestants, and Lutherans?

Catholics vs. Protestants vs. Lutheran
Catholics, Protestants, and Lutherans popularity. Image source: Pixabay

With more than one billion followers, Catholicism—the biggest Christian denomination—has a sizable following all over the world, making it the most poplar. Particularly notable examples of its influence include the Philippines, Southern Europe, and Latin America. The Catholic Church’s top-down hierarchy, which is headed by the Pope, is a factor in both its organizational cohesiveness and widespread influence.

On the other hand, Protestantism is made up of a wide variety of denominations and traditions, each with its own unique set of beliefs and practices. The Protestant Reformation in the 16th century gave rise to Protestantism, which has since proliferated in many regions of the world. Protestants comprise a large portion of the population in places like the United States, Germany, the United Kingdom, and South Africa. There are between 800 million and 1 billion Protestants worldwide. Protestantism is a decentralized religion that allows for various theological interpretations, worship practices, and organizational structures.

Lutheranism is a particular branch of Protestantism. In northern Europe, notably in nations like Germany, Sweden, Norway, and Finland, Lutheranism rose to prominence. These areas have a long history with the Lutheran religion and still have sizable Lutheran populations. In contrast to Catholicism and more general Protestantism, Lutheranism is less well-known globally and makes up a lower share of all Christians. There are over 77 million Lutherans.

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