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 Issues | Ecumenical | The Church of Rome has erred

The Main Errors

An outline of the main issues which divide Roman Catholic and Protestant churches.

Sections on this page:

Separate page:


Understanding the heart of the differences.

The most important question any individual faces is how they can be right with God.  How can you enter heaven?

The word used to describe how someone can be 'right' with God is justification.  The differences regarding the doctrine of justification have been described as the ‘formal cause’ of the Reformation.

But, if we want to know the answer to these questions, then this raises an even deeper question on the nature of authority. How can we be confident that a particular teaching about salvation is true? On what authority does it rest.  The matter of authority has been described as the 'material cause' of the Reformation.

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Are these differences still relevant?

Roman Catholics and Protestants have totally different understandings of these two issues which impact not only on the heart of the faith but on its practical outworkings. However, the picture is complicated by the fact that especially amongst the protestant churches there are many who no longer accept either the true protestant or the Roman view of authority and therefore come to a wide diversity of views about salvation and many other practical issues. The collective name for this third approach is liberalism.

The irony of today is that whilst Roman Catholics and Protestants can and do disagree strongly about the nature of authority they at least believe in the concept of a definite authority. Liberals, by contrast tend to have a very elastic view of authority which is individualistic. Thus in many of the practical issues facing people, particularly concerning matters of morality, Roman Catholics and Protestants have found themselves working together against secularism and against the emasculated form of Christianity represented by liberalism that now dominates many Protestant Churches and has a substantial foothold in parts of the Roman Church. Examples of this can be seen in the Evangelicals and Catholics Together movement in North America and in the way in which Anglo-Catholics and Evangelicals have found common cause in then Anglican Churches against the liberal innovation of the presbyteral ministry of women and the liberal endorsement of sexually immoral behaviour such as homosexual practice.

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The Reformed position is that Scripture is the Word of God and therefore carries with it all the authority of God its author. This means that our full and final authority in all matters of faith and practice is Scripture. Whilst reformed Christians have a strong respect for tradition and are always willing to learn from the world around, which is the handiwork of God, nothing else has an authority equal to what God has declared.

The Roman Catholic Church does not deny that the Bible is the Word of God, authoritative and reliable. However, they also assert the authority of Tradition, by which they mean a body of teaching handed down in the Church and particularly safeguarded by the Roman See. Further they assert that the Papacy has the authority on earth to make statements which have full and binding authority.

Thus the Roman Church has created for itself an authority structure which in its own terms is unassailable – after all, if you the Papapcy can make full and biding statements, who within can deny this power without being cast out.
To Protestants the claims of the Roman Church are heresy, because they have set up a human authority alongside the Word of God, which in effect means over it. To Protestants it is all too apparent that the authority structure of the Roman Church has been invented in order to protect and defend teaching and practices which are completely alien to the Word of God.

The Authority of the Bible

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Justification concerns the matter of how we can be right with God. To the outsider the differences on this issue may appear to be trivial, concerning semantics and the odd word but the differences are very deep and it is the practical outworking which most clearly demonstrate this.

The Bible teaches that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3.23). Because of this we are alienated from God and under His judgement. God sent His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, into the world to die on the cross. Now, by faith in Christ our sins can be forgiven and we have the promise of eternal life. So the Apostle Paul could write 'that I may be found in Christ not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith (Philippians chapter 3 verse 9)

Thus we assert that we can stand righteous before God only through faith in Christ. Hence the Reformation catchphrase ‘by faith alone’, or in latin, ‘sola fide’. Moreover, our righteousness is not our own, but His – what is called an ‘alien righteousness’ – as the verse above shows.

The Roman Church accepts that we are justified by faith but it argues that this initial justification includes the sacrament of baptism and that it is the Church which brings this about when it baptises. After baptism, people still sin and these sins can destroy the life that begins with initial justification. The Church teaches that people must go on gradually changing until we can stand pure before God. Because most people do not achieve this level in this life after death they enter into an intermediate state – purgatory – when through suffering they are cleansed. In this life good works, indulgences, penance are all means by which people can make themselves pure and remove the damages of sin. But Catholics also pray for those in purgatory, say masses for them, make donations etc, in order to speed their progress through purgatory.


The Sacrifice of the Mass

Roman Catholic doctrine also teaches transubstantiation. This teaches that when we take the Lord's Supper (Roman Catholics call it the Mass), the bread and wine actually became the real flesh and blood of Jesus and this is what atones for our sins, rather than the bread and wine being taken as a memorial for Jesus' sufficient and once only sacrifice 2,000 years ago. This is a vitally important doctrine and was at the very heart of the reformation in Europe where many were burned to death for repudiating this unbiblical teaching.

(See also Cross†Way article 'The Finished Work of Christ - Jerome and the roots of Catholic error' which shows how a mistranslation in Jerome's translation (Vulgate) of the Bible led to the teaching of Christ's sacrifice as continual rather than a once for all sacrifice).


Over the centuries the Church of Rome has developed a theology of the virgin Mary which is totally unbiblical. They assert a number of erroneous teachings such as that she was without sin and that she is also a mediator between God and man, contributing in some way to our salvation. For a detailed analysis of these Marion errors click here.

Thus the Roman Catholic Church has invented a doctrine of salvation which goes far beyond Scripture, which in fact destroys the simplicity of biblical teaching about justification, and makes people entirely dependent upon the Church itself. It is a system of spiritual slavery designed to prop up a corrupt institution.


The way of salvation

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Historical Background

In 16th Century attempts to reform the Catholic Church under the Word of God were bitterly and forcefully resisted leading to the lasting division of the Church. This was nothing new, there had been many attempts at reform and mostly these had been ruthlessly suppressed. In England the greatest movement for reform had been the Lollards and John Wycliffe whose attempts to produce the Bible in English scandalised a Church fearful that people might read the Word of God for themselves and see how corrupt the Church had become. At the political level there were centuries of dispute over the nature of the authority of the Bishop of Rome in England.

Whilst the Reform movement in England is inextricably linked to Henry VIII it was well under way before he ascended to the throne and Henry's attitude to it was extremely mixed. Until his death Henry remained firmly Catholic in doctrine whilst at the same time exploiting the reformation to further his personal and political aspirations. The chief step taken by Henry was to renounce the authority of the Bishop of Rome over the English Church. This was a natural development from pressures that building for years, but in many other ways Henry resisted attempts at reformation. Therefore it was not until his death that lasting change occurred.
The reformation was first and foremost a spiritual revival and as such never dependent upon politics or power. However in terms of the outward appearance of the Church of England the reformation took off under Henry’'s son King Edward IV, was sealed in the blood of the martyrs during the reign of Henry’'s daughter Queen Mary, and was both consolidated and to a certain extent moderated during the reign of Henry’'s daughter Queen Elizabeth I.

History section of issues

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The Church of England and Roman Catholicism

The Church of England is a Reformed Catholic Church. It is the historic Church of the English people dating back to long long before the Reformation but it was reformed. The monarch of England is sworn to uphold the protestant religion by law established. The doctrines of the Church of England, which are safeguarded by Parliament, denounce all the major errors of the Roman Church.
In particular:

We affirm that salvation is to be found in Christ alone (Article 11). This teaching was anathematised by the Roman Catholic Council of Trent which is still official Catholic teaching.

We denounce the doctrine of Purgatory, and all that goes with it, as a gross deception which leads people away for simple faith in Christ (Article 22).

We affirm that the Church of Rome has erred (Article 19). This is an important assertion not simply because it is blatantly obvious, but because we affirm that Churches can err, therefore their authority is necessarily secondary to the Word of God written, that is the Bible.

We declare that the Bishop of Rome has no jurisdiction in this realm of England (Article 37). The claims of the Roman See to an authority beyond their own bounds are pernicious and have been the source of division and conflict with the Orthodox Chuches and with Protestants. The political aspirations of the Papacy are all part of this claim.

Other Church Society Articles

What do the Times Require? Church Association Tract by J. C. Ryle on the unscriptural and soul-ruining character of Romanism.

What do we owe to the Reformation? Church Association Tract by J.C. Ryle.

Martyrdoms for Religion under Queen Elizabeth and Queen Mary. Church Association Tract 204.

The Anglican Position Towards Rome and the Papacy. Church Association Tract 429.

Purgatory and Penance: Differences That Remain - the Impasse Between Rome and Protestantism.  George Curry

Cranmer's Doctrine of the Lord's Supper in its Gospel Context. Churchman article by Roger du Barry.

Prayers for the Dead. Extract from Homily XIX. Church Association Tract 126.

The Invocation of the Saints. Church Association Tract 422.

Prayers for the Dead. Church Association Tract 3.

What's wrong with praying for the dead? Cross†Way article by David Phillips, Autumn 2007. 

Evangelicals, Anglicans and Ritualism in Victorian England

Churchman article by Nigel Scotland outlining the history of ritualism in the Church of England and Evangelical Opposition to it, including the founding of Church Association (One of the forebears of Church Society).

The Devotional Aspect of Confession. Church Association Tract from 1904 explaining from Scripture what true confession of sin is and how this differs from Auricular Confession (i.e. confession to a priest).

The Errors of Ritualism have their Source in the Unregenerate Human Heart. Church Association Tract from 1875 by C. J. Goodhart.

The Real Presence. C19th Church Association Tract 25 by W. F. Taylor, explaining how the doctrine of the Real Presence is contrary to Church of England teaching.

Bertram (aka Ratramnus) and the Reformers. The Reformers appeal to the 9th Century Monk Bertram in their opposition to the "Real Presence." Churchman article from 1880 by W. F. Taylor.

The Reformers' Doctrine of the Holy Communion. Churchman article by C. Sydney Carter.

What did our Reformers teach about the Lord's Supper? Church Association Tract 119.

The Sarum Mass Compared with the Communion Office of the First Prayer Book of Edward VI. Church Association Tract 113.

Confession and Forgiveness of Sins. Church Association Tract from C19th explaining from Scripture and Cof E teaching what true confession and forgiveness of sin is and how this differs from Auricular Confession (i.e. confession to a priest).

The Rev Canon Meyrick on Confession. Church Association Tract 312. Explanation of the origins of Auricular Confession, its detrimental effects on society, its abolition at the Reformation and lack of Scriptural warrant.

Voices of the Church of England on Auricular Confession. Church Association Tract 27.

The Christian Priesthood. Church Association Tract.

The Great Controversy: Which is the Channel of Salvation? Faith? or The Sacraments? Church Association Tract 163. By J. B. Waddington.

The Eastward Position. J. C. Ryle (Church Association Tract No. 30)

The Eastward Position. J. C. Ryle (Church Association Tract No. 136)

Twelve Reasons Against Distinctive Vestments.  J. C. Ryle (Church Association Tract No. 137)

Distinctive Vestments. J. C. Ryle (Church Association Tract 33)

The Minister's Scarf, or the "Sacrificer's" Stole - which? Church Association Tract 267.

Give me oil on my hands, make me Roman... Cross†Way article by David Wheaton (Autumn 2007) explaining how Roman Catholic practices have gradually permeated Church of England ordination services.

Gospel Freedom & Priestly Tyranny. C19th Church Association Tract outlining from the bible and official CofE teaching the nature of Christ's sacrificial death and how this contrasts to the errors of ritualism.

Incense in Ante-Nicene Christianity. Churchman article by David Brattston explaining how incense was not used or opposed for use in the worship of the early church.

Candles, Crosses, Altars, Pictures: What do the Homilies Say? Church Association Tract 224.

Altar Lights: Their History and Meaning. J. T. Tomlinson (Church Association Tract No. 91)

A Word in Season about Lent. Church Association Tract 237

Church Association Declaration Regarding the Pope's Letter to the English People. C19th Church Association Tract 216.

Apostolical Succession. Church Association Tract 321.

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Related Links
Roman Error
BulletMain errors
BulletRoots of the error

BulletToward Reunion

BulletRoman teaching on Mary
BulletBiblical teaching on Mary


Ecumenical Pages
BulletARCIC - Church 1991
BulletARCIC - Life in Christ 1995
BulletARCIC on Mary
BulletGrowing Together (IARCCUM)

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