Are Protestants and Romanists Together (HC LD 30, QA 80-82)?  

When we have family worship, we sometimes talk as a family about how the Reformed faith differs from other theological perspectives including other religions. I firmly believe the Reformed and Presbyterian understanding of the Bible and the world is the most precise, logical, faithful, and comforting, so of course, I’m teaching my children this historic understanding of Christianity. It’s reassuring to confess such a faithful theological tradition with millions of Christians past and present. Reformed Theology isn’t novel.

However, I get concerned about how my children hear me as I explain differences with other theological perspectives. To promote love, I ask them questions like, “Do we hate those who believe differently? Does this mean we can’t be friends with those who believe differently? Should we love those who think very differently than we do?” I want to help my kids realize we can love and respect those whom we firmly disagree with.

There is a widespread cultural assumption that if you disagree with someone on important matters like religion, politics, or social issues, you hate them or reject them or are intolerant. This is far from the truth. Showing respect and love while unwaveringly disagreeing with others is quite possible and is the regular practice of Christians. Many others are civil as well. I’m trying to instill in my children a firm belief that we can disagree with others, even hate their conclusions, while respecting and loving those who come to those conclusions.

What does it mean to be Protestant? It means we are protesting something. What are Protestants protesting? Protestants are protesting the corruptions inside Romanism (or Roman Catholicism). The Protestant Reformation happened because many within the church, men like Martin Luther, John Calvin, and Martin Bucer, exposed myriad theological problems and practices inside the church and encouraged reform according to the Bible. They protested these Romanist perversions, not to be unnecessarily divisive, but to be pure and pleasing to the Lord. The Reformers realized how damaging theological perversions can be in a Christian’s life, how they distract from Christ and pure worship, and how they strip Christians of true comfort in Christ, so they sought to clarify Biblical doctrine and reform church practices accordingly.

Okay, so Protestants continue to have significant problems with Romanist theology, piety, and practice. The corruptions within Romanism still exist as seen in Rome’s unwillingness to repent from the Council of Trent. One of the significant problems that still exists is the papal mass. The idolatries of the papal mass continue to make the papal mass antithetical to the Lord’s Supper which provides true comfort and assurance for true believers.

Heidelberg 80 expresses the large chasm between Protestants and Romanists. Heidelberg 80 asks: “What difference is there between the Lord’s Supper and the papal mass?” The question assumes that there is a great difference between the Lord’s Supper and the papal mass and that they are not the same thing. There is no true communion between Protestants and Romanists. That is not to say we hate Romanists or aren’t friends or can’t be civil; it’s only to say there are irreconcilable differences that put our theology, piety, and practice at odds. For many other reasons as well, we have no true communion. Here’s how the Heidelberg explains the difference between the Lord’s Supper and papal mass. Please listen carefully because there is considerable difference.

The Lord’s Supper testifies to us, first, that we have complete forgiveness of all our sins through the one sacrifice of Jesus Christ which He Himself accomplished on the cross once for all; and, second, that through the Holy Spirit we are grafted into Christ, who with His true body is now in heaven at the right hand of the Father, and this is where He wants to be worshiped. But the mass teaches, first, that the living and the dead do not have forgiveness of sins through the suffering of Christ unless He is still offered for them daily by the priests; and, second, that Christ is bodily present in the form of bread and wine, and there is to be worshiped. Therefore, the mass is basically nothing but a denial of the one sacrifice and suffering of Jesus Christ and an accursed idolatry.

The Lord’s Supper is different in these significant ways. First, the supper proclaims to us that complete forgiveness is ours in Christ. What comfort! Christ died once and for all. Christ’s one death on the cross is sufficient to save us from our sins and misery. Jesus said on the cross, “It is finished” (Jn. 19:30). Second, the Holy Spirit unites us to Christ in an inseparable bond. We are Christ’s body. Like a branch, we are grafted into Christ the vine. Additionally, we ask: Where is Christ? He is in heaven at the right hand of God the Father almighty. Christ wants to be worshiped there. So, the Lord’s Supper gives believers marvelous comfort and assurance in Christ whose crucifixion is sufficient for our salvation.

The papal mass is different in these significant ways. First, the papal mass renders Christ’s sacrifice on the cross insufficient. Christ needs to be sacrificed in the mass over and over again for believers to have true forgiveness. This calls into question the sufficient death and resurrection of Christ and undermines our comfort in Christ. It is an absurdity to say the priests continue to sacrifice Christ for the forgiveness of sins every day. This is far from what we read in the Bible. Second, the papal mass posits that Christ is physically present in the form of bread and wine. In other words, the bread and wine transubstantiate into the actual flesh and blood of Jesus. Here’s a little rhyme: The bread and wine become divine. Therefore, Christ is to be worshipped at the table. The bread and wine are worshiped because they become Christ himself. Besides the fact that a legitimate argument can be made that the papal mass means cannibalism, if Christ’s physical body (remember, he is a resurrected human being with true flesh and true blood) is at the right hand of the Father, it cannot at the same time be in local churches across the world. This would be illogical. Christ is physically there, not physically here, there, and almost everywhere. The Reformed view of the Lord’s Supper is much more faithful in saying that Christ is spiritually present in the bread and wine and does, by his Holy Spirit, truly nourish our souls (HC 75, 77).

Dr. Zacharias Ursinus said:

The Lord’s Supper teaches that Christ is to be worshipped by us in heaven at the right hand of the Father: for it does not overthrow but establishes the articles of our faith and the doctrine of the whole gospel which teaches that Christ is to be sought and worshipped above. [1]

Ursinus then quoted Colossians 3:1 and Acts 7:55 which reveal that Christ is in heaven at the right hand of God; we are to seek him there. Does Christ want us to worship a piece of bread or a cup of wine? No, for this would be idolatry, for the bread and wine are signs and seals not Christ himself.  

As Protestants, we believe that the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper remain bread and wine, and as Reformed Protestants, we believe that Christ is spiritually present and that we truly feast on him as he nourishes our souls. We should love and respect Romanists, but we must adamantly disagree with them on this important point of theology, piety, and practice. We are not together on this. We are very far apart. We are still calling Rome to repent of this idolatry and to believe the true gospel. Saying this doesn’t mean we hate, quite the opposite. Love compels us to tell the truth and to continue to discuss our differences civilly.

To say someone is wrong is not the same as saying, “I hate you” or “I think you’re an idiot” or “I reject you.” Believing someone is wrong and continuing to be their friend is exemplary. Let us, along with our kids, model this for the world. Let us have the Spirit of Christ as we disagree with others on important truths.

[1] Zacharias Ursinus, trans. Rev. G. W. Williard, ed. Eric D. Bristley, The Commentary of Dr. Zacharias Ursinus on the Heidelberg Catechism (RCUS: 2004), 748. Slight edits in punctuation.

Quotes from the Heidelberg Catechism and creeds are taken from Zacharias Ursinus & Jonathan Shirk, The Heidelberg Catechism: True Comfort for Life & Death (Manheim: Small Town Theologian, 2021), 395.

Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. May not copy or download more than 500 consecutive verses of the ESV Bible or more than one half of any book of the ESV Bible.

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Jonathan Shirk

Welcome to the online home of Jonathan Shirk, family man, Reformed pastor, author, podcaster, and small town theologian. Whether you're from a small town or big city, may this website help you find deeper comfort and joy in the gospel.

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