Presbyterian Vs. Roman Catholic: What's The Difference? An easy explanation

In this article, we'll explore how these two christian churches differ from one another and what makes them unique.

Last Updated:
January 10, 2024
April 18, 2023
8 minutes

Christianity is one of the oldest religions in the world. It is a faith that has been around for centuries and has widely varied beliefs. Yet, despite these differences, there are two main branches of Christianity: Presbyterian and Roman Catholic. In this article, we'll explore how these two christian churches differ from one another and what makes them unique.

1. Overview Of Presbyterian And Roman Catholic Beliefs

Presbyterians view Scripture as the ultimate authority for faith and life. Therefore, they emphasize a literal interpretation of the Bible and believe it is God’s inspired Word. In contrast, Roman Catholics place greater emphasis on tradition, in addition to Scripture, when interpreting the Bible.

Sacraments also differ between these two denominations. For example, Presbyterians practice two sacraments: Baptism and Communion. Baptism is seen as a symbol of cleansing from sin, and Communion is a reminder of Jesus’ sacrifice for us. On the other hand, Roman Catholics practice seven sacraments: Baptism, Penance, Eucharist (Communion), Confirmation, Anointing of the Sick, Holy Orders (the ordination of clergy), and Matrimony (marriage).

In addition to these differences in approach to scripture and sacrament practices, Presbyterian churches are governed by elders. In contrast, Roman Catholic churches are led by a pope or bishop with priests under him/her. This hierarchical structure influences how decisions are made within each denomination.

So you can see that while Presbyterian and Roman Catholic beliefs both stem from Christianity, important distinctions affect how they interpret scripture and practice sacraments and govern themselves internally.

2. Presbyterian Vs. Catholic: History And Lineage

The Presbyterian church traces its origin back to John Calvin, an influential theologian of the 16th-century Protestant Reformation, and the work of John Knox, a Scottish Catholic Priest who studied with Calvin in Geneva. They developed a form of Christian worship that focused on preaching and education and emphasized personal responsibility in faith. Representative assemblies of elected govern Presbyterians lay people, ordained ministers, and elders.

The Roman Catholic Church has its roots in Christianity of the 1st century AD. It is guided by the teachings of Jesus Christ that were passed down from generation to generation through apostolic succession. The pope is the head of this church, with cardinals and bishops serving beneath him as administrators for different regions within Catholicism. Catholics focus on tradition, teaching authority, sacraments, liturgy, and hierarchy as part of their faith structure. Catholic theology believes in papal supremacy alongside the scripture.The major distinguishing factor that makes Catholicism unique is the pope.

At first glance, Presbyterians and Roman Catholics may be very similar; however, looking more closely, one can see that these two denominations have distinct differences in their beliefs about salvation, Scripture interpretation, authority structures, sacraments, and other aspects of their faith practices. Yet, despite these distinctions, both denominations are committed to upholding Christian faith, doctrine and seeking ways to serve God faithfully using their unique approaches.

3. Role Of Scripture In Presbyterian And Catholic Churches

At the heart of the Presbyterian Church is a commitment to Scripture as the only infallible source of truth and authority. Moreover, Presbyterians believe that all of Scripture is inspired and useful for building up faith and guiding us in our life with God. As such, Scripture is seen as having both a primary role in preaching and teaching and an authoritative role in discerning what is right or wrong.

The Roman Catholic Church also has a high view of Scripture, but it is not the sole source of authority. While scripture holds an important place in teaching and preaching, it must be interpreted through tradition and the teachings of the Church. The Catechism states that "Scripture should be read within 'the living Tradition of the whole Church.’” This means that while scripture may be used to inform doctrine, it cannot be used to determine or create doctrine on its own.

In short, Presbyterians understand scripture to be the foundation upon which all other aspects of faith are built. At the same time, Roman Catholics see scripture as part of a larger tradition that informs faith. The difference lies in how each church views its relationship to scripture - whether it is seen as solely authoritative or part of a larger tradition. Ultimately, both traditions value scripture but approach it differently when discerning God’s will for their lives and churches.

4. Presbyterian And Catholic Views On Salvation

First and foremost, Presbyterians believe that the only way to be saved is through grace alone, by faith in Jesus Christ. This means that good works are not required for salvation, but a trusting relationship with God through Jesus Christ is essential for eternal life. Therefore, they do not believe that Baptism is necessary for salvation but instead hold it as a sign of membership in the church.

In contrast, Roman Catholics believe that faith and good works must be present for any person to be saved. They teach that justification comes from grace which can only be received through faith in Jesus Christ and the sacraments he instituted, such as baptism or confession.

These differences manifest themselves in the Christian life in a variety of ways:

  1. Presbyterians tend to emphasize personal responsibility when it comes to one’s spiritual growth and development;
  2. Catholics focus more on communal participation within the Church as a source of spiritual growth;
  3. Presbyterians place much emphasis on individual Bible study, while Catholics also rely heavily on the teachings of their priests;
  4. Catholics often look towards Mary and other saints as intercessors to God, while Presbyterians do not recognize praying to these figures;
  5. Presbyterians typically practice believer’s baptism while Catholics practice infant baptism.

Presbyterian and Roman Catholic churches believe that Jesus provides us with an opportunity for redemption through His death on the cross and resurrection from the dead. Although there are differences between these two denominations about what one must do to receive this redemption, both agree that eternal life is available to all who accept Him as Lord and Savior and live according to His teachings.

5. Presbyterian And Catholic Views On Worship

First off, Presbyterians typically have more freedom when it comes to how they worship. They don't necessarily stick to any one set of rules, so it's up to them how they want to structure their services. This means that each congregation can develop its unique style of worship.

On the other hand, Roman Catholics abide by a much more structured approach to worship. This includes traditional liturgies and rituals that must be followed during Mass and other yearly services. The Pope also has authority over what is taught at Mass and which sacraments are celebrated within the church.

What's more, Presbyterian churches tend to be less formal regarding what people wear in church or if they participate in Communion or not. Meanwhile, Roman Catholics have stricter dress codes for attending Mass and restrictions on who can receive Communion during services.

So there you have it - two very different ways of approaching worship. No matter which one resonates with you most, it's important to remember that all forms of worship come from a place of love and respect for God.

6. Presbyterian And Catholic Views On Sacraments

First off, Presbyterians recognize two sacraments: baptism and the Lord's Supper. Baptism is seen as a sign of membership in the Church, while the Lord's Supper is viewed as a commemoration of Jesus' death on the cross and an anticipation of His return. On the other hand, Roman Catholics recognize seven sacraments: baptism, confirmation, Eucharist (the Lord's Supper), penance (confession), anointing of the sick (formerly known as extreme unction), holy orders (ordination), and matrimony. These are all seen as acts that bring about grace from God to help us live our lives according to His will.

The way these two denominations practice these sacraments also differs significantly. For example, Presbyterian churches typically have open Communion - anyone who believes in Jesus can participate - while Roman Catholic churches generally restrict Communion to those who have been baptized into their faith or who have gone through a period of preparation like catechetical instruction or RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults). Baptism is also practiced differently; Presbyterians typically use only water during baptism, while some Roman Catholic churches use only oil or both, depending on local customs.

Understanding what happens during these sacraments also differs between Presbyterians and Roman Catholics. For example, many Presbyterians believe baptism symbolizes cleansing from sin rather than removing it. In contrast, for Roman Catholics, it is said that through baptism, sins are forgiven and removed from one’s soul. Similarly, Presbyterians view Communion as symbolic, whereas for Roman Catholics, it is said to be the actual presence of Christ’s body and blood in bread and wine, respectively.

These are just some key differences between how Protestants view sacrament worship and how Catholics do. It's important to note that regardless of denomination, each sacrament has a special meaning rooted in the Christian tradition that all followers of Jesus Christ should respect!

7. Presbyterian And Catholic Clergy Structures

First, Presbyterians have a decentralized organization with local congregations able to make decisions independently, without a hierarchical authority figure or governing body. Instead, the pastor of each congregation is elected by the members of the church, who then serve as the congregation’s spiritual leader and preside over communion services and other ceremonies.

In contrast, Roman Catholicism has a hierarchical system with priests appointed by Bishops who answer directly to them. Priests are assigned to individual parishes and report to their bishops on their parishioners' spiritual needs and activities. In addition, Roman Catholics have cardinals and archbishops responsible for overseeing an area or group of parishes within the church hierarchy.

Now let's consider some critical distinctions between Presbyterianism and Roman Catholicism when it comes to clergy structures:

  • Presbyterians don’t have cardinals or archbishops;
  • Members of their local congregation elect Presbyterian pastors;
  • Bishops appoint Roman Catholic priests;
  • Roman Catholic priests report directly to their bishop;
  • There is no direct hierarchical authority in Presbyterianism.

These points reveal that while both churches have distinct organizational structures for their clergy, they differ in important ways that impact how they govern themselves and serve their congregations spiritually.

At its core, this means that Presbyterians have more autonomy over local congregational matters compared with Roman Catholics. This can lead to greater flexibility when responding to changes within the parish or broader community since decisions need not be made through higher levels of leadership, such as bishops or cardinals, before being implemented locally. On the other hand, Catholics may benefit from more oversight from higher levels of authority which can result in more consistent practices across all parishes in an area or region under one bishop’s jurisdiction.

8. Presbyterian And Roman Catholic Views On Ordination

First, there’s a significant difference regarding who can be ordained in each denomination. For example, the Presbyterian Church allows men and women to be ordained as ministers, while the Roman Catholic Church traditions only permit men to become priests.

The process of ordination also differs between the two denominations. Presbyterians typically require candidates to complete seminary training and pass an exam before being ordained. In contrast, Roman Catholics usually need several years of study in a seminary program followed by an examination. Additionally, Presbyterians view ordination as an act of calling from God, while Roman Catholics view it as a sacrament administered through the church hierarchy.

And finally, ordained clergy’s roles in each denomination vary greatly. For example, ordained ministers have more freedom to preach and lead worship services in the Presbyterian Church according to their own theological beliefs. On the other hand, Roman Catholic priests are expected to follow strict guidelines set forth by the Vatican and adhere closely to traditional Catholic teachings.

9. Presbyterian And Catholic Practices Regarding Marriage And Divorce

Regarding marriage, both denominations view it as a sacrament rooted in faith and one of the most sacred commitments two people can make. However, there are several key differences between the two. Here's a look at three:

  • Presbyterians allow for civil marriages, whereas Roman Catholic marriages must occur within a church setting.
  • Presbyterians believe marriage is between two people, while Roman Catholicism thinks marriage is between one man and one woman.
  • Presbyterians allow remarriage after divorce, while the Roman Catholic Church requires an annulment before a person can remarry in the church.

When it comes to divorce, Presbyterian churches have adopted different stances on the matter over time. Generally speaking, though, they do not condone divorce but instead strongly encourage couples considering divorce to pursue reconciliation with God first and other resolution methods if possible. On the other hand, Roman Catholics hold firmly to their stance against divorce; however, they recognize limited exceptions such as abandonment or adultery.

Divorce is allowed in Presbyterian churches when there is biblical justification, such as abandonment or abuse; however, couples must still participate in counseling before getting divorced. In contrast, Roman Catholics do not permit divorce except by an annulment granted by the church or through legal separation, which does not dissolve the marriage bond but allows individuals to live separately from each other while remaining married according to the law of God and man.

10. Catholic vs Presbyterian: Views On Social Issues

First, Presbyterians generally have a more liberal stance regarding social issues than Roman Catholics. For example, many Presbyterians support same-sex marriage and abortion rights, while the Roman Catholic Church maintains a traditional view of marriage and is firmly against abortion.

Second, Presbyterian churches tend to accept other faiths and religions more than their Roman Catholic counterparts. Presbyterians believe everyone can practice their faith without being judged or persecuted by another group. At the same time, the Catholic Church has traditionally been more exclusive in its beliefs and practices.

Third, Presbyterians are often more open-minded when it comes to social issues such as gender roles and racial justice than Roman Catholics are. For instance, Presbyterian churches are more likely to accept women in leadership positions, while the Catholic Church still holds traditional views about gender roles within its hierarchy. Similarly, Presbyterians tend to be more vocal about racial injustice than Catholics, advocating for social change through peaceful protest and education initiatives rather than violence or exclusionary measures.

11. Catholic vs Presbyterian: Denominations

Now, let's look at some of the main differences between these two denominations. For starters, Presbyterian churches are led by elders elected by church members who follow a congregational form of government. The Roman Catholic Church is led by bishops appointed by the Pope, who follows a hierarchical authority structure. Additionally, Presbyterians do not recognize any leader as infallible, while Catholics believe that the Pope is infallible in faith and morals.

Furthermore, Presbyterians believe that salvation is through faith alone, while Catholics believe in faith and good works as means for salvation. Additionally, Presbyterians use an open communion where anyone can partake, whereas Roman Catholics only allow those baptized into their faith to receive communion.

So you can see quite a few differences between these two denominations regarding beliefs about salvation and leadership structures - just for starters! It's important to remember that all Christians have different interpretations of Scripture, but being aware of these distinctions can help us understand each other better and appreciate our unique perspectives on faith!

12. Catholic vs Presbyterian: Governance

The presbyterian church follows a system of governance known as Presbyterianism or presbyterian polity. This system is based on local congregations electing representatives to higher governing bodies, such as regional assemblies. These representatives will then decide for the entire denomination on such issues as doctrine and discipline.

In contrast, the Roman Catholic Church follows a hierarchical structure with the Pope at its head. There are various levels of leadership beneath him, including cardinals and bishops who have authority over their respective dioceses. These leaders make decisions according to Canon law, based on teachings from Scripture and tradition passed down through generations.

These different forms of governance mean that while both churches may share similar beliefs and practices, they express them differently. For example, Presbyterians emphasize the role of individual congregations in decision-making, while Catholics focus more on following established Church hierarchy and laws.

13. Catholic vs Presbyterian: Attitudes Towards Ecumenism

One significant difference between Presbyterians and Roman Catholics regarding ecumenism is their approach to unification within the church. For example, Presbyterians believe that unity must be sought through fellowship and dialogue across all denominations, while Roman Catholics focus more on maintaining their traditions and practices. Here are five key points about the differences in attitudes toward ecumenism:

  • Presbyterians strive for unity amongst all believers, regardless of denomination, while Roman Catholics maintain their traditions and practices.
  • Presbyterians emphasize personal spiritual growth as a way to bring about unity, while Roman Catholics prioritize following the teachings of Church leaders and upholding Church doctrine.
  • Presbyterians accept diverse beliefs within the Protestant tradition, while Roman Catholics view religious diversity as a threat to unity.
  • Presbyterians focus on building relationships with other believers through mutual understanding and respect. In contrast, Roman Catholics focus on reaching out to non-Catholics to bring them into the fold of the Catholic Church.
  • Presbyterian churches often include different worship styles and liturgies, while Roman Catholic churches tend to be more traditional regarding worship style and liturgy.

Overall, there is an evident distinction between Presbyterian and Roman Catholic attitudes towards ecumenism; however, both denominations draw from similar sources such as scripture, tradition, reason, and experience to reach common ground. Despite their differences in approach, they still recognize the importance of working together to promote Christian unity among all believers worldwide.

14. Presbyterian And Roman Catholic Attitudes Towards Other Religions

The Presbyterian Church believes all other religions are equally valid paths to God. They also think that we should not judge or criticize those who choose different spiritual ways than our own. The church also encourages its members to learn about other religions and respect them, even as they recognize that they have a different understanding of truth than their own.

On the other hand, Roman Catholics believe that Christianity is the only true path to God. They view different religious beliefs as inferior and believe their adherents must convert to be saved from sin. This viewpoint is based on the Catholic doctrine of papal infallibility, which holds that the Pope's teachings are divinely inspired and thus cannot be contradicted by any outside sources, including other faiths.

So while Presbyterians have an open and accepting attitude toward people of all faiths, Roman Catholics maintain a more exclusive approach to religion. Even so, both denominations strive to spread the love of God throughout the world in their unique ways – a goal we can all get behind!

15. Comparing Presbyterian And Roman Catholic Traditions

The Presbyterian Church is rooted in the Protestant Reformation, emphasizing individual interpretation of scripture and a decentralized decision-making structure. The focus is on personal spiritual growth and self-governance in local congregations. They don't adhere to a central hierarchy of leadership or centralized doctrine like the Roman Catholic Church does.

In contrast, the Roman Catholic Church follows traditional teachings from the Bible as interpreted by the Pope and other church authorities. As a result, they have a robust hierarchical structure emphasizing obedience to power within the church. There is also a strong tradition of Marian devotion, with Mary as an important figure in worship services and rituals.

The two denominations also differ significantly in their views toward other religions. For example, Presbyterians believe that all people can be saved through Jesus Christ regardless of their religious backgrounds or beliefs. In contrast, Catholics typically hold that only those baptized into the Catholic faith can enter heaven and achieve salvation.


It is clear that Presbyterian and Roman Catholic denominations have their differences, but they also share some commonalities. For example, both denominations emphasize the importance of faith in Jesus Christ and the authority of Scripture. They also both adhere to a hierarchical system of governance, with Presbyterianism recognizing the power of elders and Roman Catholicism recognizing the authority of bishops.

In conclusion, although there are differences between these Christian denominations, there are still many similarities between them. Both seek to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ, recognize the authority of Scripture, and strive to live together in unity despite their differences. For this reason, we can appreciate both traditions because they uniquely contribute to our spiritual heritage today.

Frequently asked questions

Frequently Asked Questions

How do Presbyterians and Roman Catholics view the role of the Pope?

Presbyterians and Roman Catholics have distinct views on the role of the pope:

  • Roman Catholics view the pope as the head of the Church and his decisions and teachings as infallible.
  • Presbyterians do not recognize the papal authority and instead have a decentralized approach to ecclesiastical leadership with individual congregations having autonomy.
  • These contrasting perspectives highlight the different structures and beliefs of these two religious traditions.

What are the key differences in worship styles between Presbyterians and Roman Catholics?

  • Presbyterian and Roman Catholics have distinct worship styles.
  • Roman Catholics have a more structured approach, with a focus on liturgy and sacraments.
  • Presbyterians have a simpler worship style, emphasizing freedom.
  • Roman Catholics view their sacraments as sacred rituals, while Presbyterians see them as ordinances or symbols.
  • These differences reflect the unique beliefs of each denomination.

How do Presbyterians and Roman Catholics view the importance of good works in relation to salvation?

  • Presbyterians believe that salvation comes through grace alone, by faith in Jesus Christ, and good works are a response to God's grace.
  • Roman Catholics believe that faith and good works are both necessary for salvation, and good works are a means of cooperating with God's grace.
  • Both denominations recognize the importance of good works in regards to salvation, but differ in their understanding of how it relates to salvation.
  • Presbyterians focus on grace, emphasizing the importance of faith in Jesus Christ and viewing good works as a response to grace.
  • Roman Catholics emphasize the importance of both faith and good works, viewing good works as a means of cooperating with God's grace and growing in holiness.

What is the significance of infant baptism in Roman Catholicism?

  • Infant baptism in Roman Catholicism is seen as a sacrament which cleanses the soul from original sin and initiates the child into the Church.
  • It is a necessary step for salvation and the entry into a life of faith.
  • It is believed that baptism in infancy is necessary for the child to have a chance at a life of faith.
  • The role of the Pope is recognized in Roman Catholicism as the authority figure who governs the Church.
  • Infant baptism in Roman Catholicism is seen as a necessary stepping stone to a life of faith and salvation.

How do Presbyterians and Roman Catholics understand the concept of the priesthood?

  • Presbyterians and Roman Catholics have different perspectives on the priesthood.
  • Presbyterians believe in the 'priesthood of all believers,' allowing individuals to approach God directly.
  • Roman Catholics have a hierarchical structure, with the pope as the head and priests acting as intermediaries between the people and God.
  • Both denominations view the priesthood as a distinct role within the church.
  • Despite their differences, they share a respect for the importance of the priesthood.

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