Presbyterian beliefs vs. Catholicism

My daughter’s boyfriend is a Presbyterian. What are the main differences between their beliefs, and Catholicism?

I’m an ordained Presbyterian elder so I can tell you as much about this as you (or anyone else) wants to know.

There are four main Presbyterian denominations in the United States. In order of size they are: the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (my denomination), the Presbyterian Church in America, the Evangelical Presbyterian Church and the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. If you tell me which denomination he is affiliated with I can help you more. Basically the PCUSA is the most liberal theologically (although I am a conservative) and the other groups include many parishes who broke away because of the liberalism. For example the PCUSA decided to ordain women in the 1970s and many parishes defected and joined the PCA which does not ordain women.

Presbyterian theology is Reformed. Our most important classical theologian is John Calvin and our most important modern theologian is (probably) Karl Barth. We accept the ancient creeds of the Church but have added some modern creeds as well. Probably the most important is the Westminster Confession ( A quick summary of our theology would be the Westminster Shorter Chatechism ( which would probably take about 15 minutes to read. I think if you read that you would have a good basic grasp of Reformed theology. If you want to know more about the other creeds in Reformed theology I would recommend

(I don’t want to be redundant and tell you things you already know so if you want more information on our theology, just ask.)

We get our name from the fact that our church government is elder (presbyter) led. We don’t have bishops. Our “bishops” are called “presbyteries” where elders from many parishes gather together and make decisions in council. (The word presbytery also referrs to what you would call a diocese.) We recognize two orders of elders: teaching elders and ruling elders. Teaching elders are also known as ministers of the word and sacrament because they are the primary preachers and dispense the sacrament. Ruling elders administer the congregation and assist in dispensing the sacrament.

Our joke is that in Acts 15: if the Catholics were right, they would have just asked Peter to settle the dispute; if the Congregationalists were right, every local parish would have decided the matter on their own but, since the Presbyterians are right, the early Church sent all their elders to meet together and decide what to do.

If you want to know more, let me know.



Here is a very good site for a quick general description of Presbyterians from a ‘RC’ point of view:thumbsup: :

Here is a quick chart that compares several denominations to the RCC:

I actually learned (or lernt?) how much we do not have in common with them while getting this together for you. My BSF International Bible Study I go to (protestant) mentioned Calvin in a lecture and quoted from him and I got very discouraged and nearly quit! Lets just say Calvin is not at the top of my list on who I quote to prove Christian values.:nope:

I live in UTAH so we are just happy when our kids find a date that is any Christian religion! Who cares if they are Baptist, Lutheran, or Methodist? Please God, just find a Christian!:bowdown:

Praise God, she found one!:dancing:

My advice, talk to the young man and share your Faiths together. We can learn from each other. Who knows, if he likes your daughter and you invite him to mass or some other Church activities (hopefully your parish has youth activities and picnics, etc?) he may come home to Rome? Remember too that sometimes saying “NO” to a teenager is the same as forcing them to do something? The kid may be a great guy so try to get to know him, but always guide your family the way your Faith says to and help the children make the right choice. Denomination does matter and you should help guide those you are responsible for. Ultimately though, the child will one day have to choose on their own and you can only watch. Raise them well.

Make sure your daughter knows the difference between the two Faiths so she can make an informed decision too. Let her know the difficulty that interfaith marriages/relationships have. I speak from first hand experience on this one. Interfaith marriages do work though if both spouses are willing to work at it. My wife is not RC and my kids are burnt out from our “church hoping” “Buffet Line” theology we had as protestants.:banghead: Most of my daughters friends are not even Christian. Count you blessings, sometimes they are hard to see.:bounce:

Pray, pray, pray.:bowdown2:



If you have time:

What is an ordained Presbyterian elder?

What college/school to you go to?

How long a course?

What is your job?

What kind of theological degree?

Sounds interesting and I’ve never met one. I’d really like to know more about it.

You also gave some good references in you post.:yup:



Calvin, do you believe there is such a thing as objective, capitol T Truth in religion?

Do you believe Truth matters?

Do you believe your particular denomination has it? If yes, then you believe that other Presbyterians (and other denominations of Christians) do not have it.

If yes, why?

If no, why bother?


  1. The Presbyterian Church ordaines people to three offices: minister of word and sacrament (teaching elder), ruling elders and deacons. Each of the offices do different things. Ministers preach the homily and bless the sacrament, elders distribute the sacrament and administer the church and deacons perform acts of service. People are ordained to their office through a laying on of hands and the ordination is considered valid for life (although there is an active term of office and an inactive term).

  2. University of Virginia. I was also at the University of California, Berkeley. (Don’t ask why I’m in Los Angeles now – long story – but I’ll be back in Virginia later this year.)

  3. I’m a PhD student. I’ll be in school until I finish or they kick me out – whichever comes first! (Probably four more years.)

  4. Believe it or not, I actually get paid to go to school. (Not very much!)

  5. No theological degrees. I’m self-taught.

Ministers must have a theological degree. Elders do not have to have one, but they are examined on their theology before they are ordained. So I had to pass an examination.


Being from Utah… I can second that and I am VERY happy for both you and her!!

I had to import my wife from Tennessee to Utah…LOL…


Yes, I believe in Truth in religion. I’ll even go one step further and say: I believe that the fullness of Truth can only be found in Jesus Christ (who said “I am the Truth”). All other religions may contain some aspect of “truth,” but only in Christ do we learn that there is a God who has revealed Himself to us and, as such, is knowable and loves us and, as such, sent His Son to die for us and for our salvation and, even now, calls us, through His Holy Spirit, into communion with Himself and each other.

Absolutely, I believe this matters. Truth is “saying of what it is that it is and saying of what it isn’t that it isn’t.” If there really is a God who really did all of the things I outlined above than that really is the important to know about! If that information doesn’t “matter” I can’t think of anything else that will!

Only individuals can aprehend Truth because one needs a heart, a mind and a soul to know what Truth is and respond to it. Accordingly, I do not believe my denomination has Truth, per se. My denomination is composed of many individuals – some aprehend the Truth and some (sadly) do not. The same is true for other denominations.

I should probably mention the Fall here. The Church teaches about the Fall of man and original sin. Even without the Church, however, if I were honest, I would admit that I do bad things and make mistakes. I assume other’s share this same experience. (I would hate to be the only sinner in the world who gets things wrong!) Although I recognize it and believe in it, I think this Fall keeps me from ever fully aprehending and defining Truth. I think this is what St. Paul refers to when he writes of “seeing through the glass darkly.”

I’ll use an analogy to explain myself from the book Flatland. (It is worth reading if you haven’t read it.) In Flatland, a two-dimensional being named “A. Square” is taken into the third dimension (called “Spaceland”) and then returns to the second dimension (“Flatland”) and tries to reconcile his experiences and knowledge of the third dimension with the two-dimensional universe that he lives in. I think my life as a fallen man who knows and loves the Truth is like living in Flatland but having had a glimpse of Spaceland. Through God’s grace and mercy I know what Truth is, but appropriating it fully to myself in this lifetime is like asking a square to become a cube. Someday this will change. I think this is what St. Paul refers to when he writes of the day when “we shall know and be fully known.”

So I feel a tension of “now, but not yet” when I think about Truth and my life. To go to St. Paul again, I think this is what he is referring to when he writes of his desire to “depart and be with Christ” existing at the same time as his “desire to remain.”

Now I believe we can learn about the Truth through contact with other individuals. (Books are useful too!) Denominations are forums where individuals can come together and help each other know Truth. That is why they are useful and why I bother with the one I am in.


I live in UTAH so we are just happy when our kids find a date that is any Christian religion! Who cares if they are Baptist, Lutheran, or Methodist? Please God, just find a Christian!:bowdown:

Praise God, she found one!:dancing:

Thanks for the info including the websites. Actually, I am very happy she found a Christian! He is a wonderful young man, and has already attended Mass with us several times. He has also asked questions about the Catholic faith, e.g. Our devotion and beliefs re: Mary. So even though he has told her he will never convert, just his interest in our faith gives me hope! I always told her it was easier to marry a Catholic, but that even a Christian is okay as long as if they get married her fiance agrees to raise the chilldren in the Cathiolic religion.
thanks for the support! pj13

As a Presbyterian he should be open to the Church Fathers and Church history. Try to get him to read/talk about the Church Fathers or early Church history and see if that gets him interested.


Off topic. You are so close here it is scary. I strongly suggest you read everything you can lay your hands on about the Beatific Vision. For a quick start, try: Heaven and


Thank you for the suggestion.

I have seen the phrase “Beatific Vision” before but I don’t know what it means and I haven’t read anything about it.

For many years I thought about God and Truth in terms of the third-dimension/second-demension analogy but (just a month or so ago) a friend of mine told me about Flatland which really described how I felt as a Christian trying to come to grips with Truth, the doctrine of the Trinity, God’s omniscience and our free will, Christian unity, etc. So reading Flatland helped me a great deal because it gave me a story to describe my feelings. I felt like I could have written it myself.

Maybe some books on the Vision will help too.



Gods peace be with you Theopilus,


Thanks for the response, you helped me learn today so it proves I had a good day.

A prisoner of Christ:love:



One more note. Catholics and prostestants use the same words sometimes but with different meanings so make sure when you share your Faith with him that you use words he will understand correctly.

Examples are:

Pray means ‘to ask’ or make a humble request. By this definition prayer does not have to be directed to God alone. So Roman Catholics do pray to Blessed Mary since it is only a humble request and nothing more. Prior to the 1950’s many books were written with the word ‘pray’ instead of ‘to ask’. Example: “I pray you will take a walk with me?”

Worship:love: means reverence offered a divine being or supernatural power; an act of expressing such reverence, a form of religious practice with its creed and ritual, extravagant respect or admiration or devotion. By definition we can worship someone deserving of our admiration or devotion even though they are not God by any means. We can also worship God. So Roman Catholics do worship God and worship Blessed Mary also. There is nothing at all wrong with this Tradition using this definition. This word has changed meanings over the years and even between countries.

Venerate:love: means to regard with reverential respect or with admiring deference or to honor with a ritual act of devotion. Based on this Roman Catholics do in fact venerate Blessed Mary as well as our parents, great people in history like the apostles, and Christian martyrs. These people have a special place in our hearts.

Adore:bowdown: means to worship or honor as a deity or as divine with loving admiration and devotion. Based on this definition Roman Catholics adore God and God alone!

Also start with easy concepts that we have in common and build up to more complex theological issues like Blessed Mary and how RC’s interact with her. Also use Scripture verses “IN CONTEXT” to show him that our Faith is based on Scripture and ‘T’radition. Show him how the Bible came from the Catholic ‘T’radition and the Church. Show him the history of Christianity but start in the OT and work forward to present time, this will show him Christ founded our Church and the others split off. If you start at the present and work back in time some people will invent forefathers or family trees for their religion when non-exist.

Let us know how it goes so that we can help when possible.:wink:



I have read your posts with interest because I have a close friend who was once a Catholic and is now a PCA elder. I like Flatland as well and I’m also a graduate of UVA - Go Hoos! My friend and I have some lively discussions (I’m Catholic - we grew up together). I must say, and I mean this as a compliment, that from your posts on this and other threads, you have more in common with Catholics than you do with my friend, or John Calvin, for that matter.

I have read a bit on Calvin’s theories on predestination and, frankly, it’s scary stuff. Have you ever read Scott Hahn’s book Rome Sweet Home? He was a Presbyterian Minister and theology professor who became Catholic. There are other prominent Catholic apologists who were Presbyterian as well (Steve Wood and Marcus Grodi - the host of the EWTN program The Journey Home). You can get books from these folks on this website (I particularly recommend Scott Hahn).

God Bless and say a prayer for me on the Lawn!


Whoa man! :bigyikes: Ease up on the worship Mary inference. That is a huge stumbling block for a lot of folks and although your definition might be technically correct, the word worship is almost universally applied to God alone!

I would rather say that we give Mary honor, but it would be idolatry to elevate her to the level of God, as I am certain you know. I am saying this for the benefit of those who read your post, but might not have read it the way you intended.


This is a great thread as I also come from a long line of Presbyterians!!! I’m just learning now how really off they are (sorry) on their doctrines, etc. Who’s to say we should believe Calvin’s way of thinking over Jesus Christ himself-------come on! Perhaps some don’t even consider this–but I do!!! And their total Sola Scriptura belief–how could any ordained pastor even attest to this? Who’s gone to seminary and studied!!! I certainly don’t understand it!!!

As Augustine said: “A faith not worth questioning isn’t a faith at all”

God Bless~~~~:)

… this ship is sinking…


Gay ministers: