Independent Baptist vs Roman Catholic – What’s the Difference?

What is the difference between Independent Baptists and Roman Catholics?

First, let’s look at the polity of these two groups. Roman Catholics have an Episcopal Polity, referring to the Greek word Episkopos, meaning Bishop.

The Bishops are considered to be the successors to the twelve apostles. The Roman Catholic Canon law has these requirements on a bishop:

To be a suitable candidate for the episcopate, a man must:

1° be outstanding in strong faith, good morals, piety, zeal for souls, wisdom, prudence and human virtues, and possess those other gifts which equip him to fulfil the office in question;

2° be held in good esteem;

3° be at least 35 years old;

4° be a priest ordained for at least five years;

5° hold a doctorate or at least a licentiate in sacred Scripture, theology or canon law, from an institute of higher studies approved by the Apostolic See, or at least be well versed in these disciplines.

  • 2 The definitive judgement on the suitability of the person to be promoted rests with the Apostolic See.[1]

(The Apostolic See or Holy See, in Roman Catholic terminology, refers to the ecclesiastical jurisdiction of the Pope.)

A majority of Bishops are Diocesan Bishops – meaning they govern local regions called dioceses, which contain multiple parishes.

A bishop may have additional titles such as cardinal or archbishop as well. The Bishops within a certain conference or province keep a list of priests updated that are suitable for becoming bishops. This decision will ultimately then be sent to the Holy See, the office of the Pope.

The Pope himself is a bishop, namely the bishop of Rome.

The Pope appoints Cardinals, and when there is the need for a new Pope, the Cardinals elect a Pope.

The Pope is the leader of the entire Roman Catholic Church. He is viewed as the apostolic successor to the Apostle Peter. Catholics have a list of popes that goes all the way back to Peter. The First Ecumenical Council of the Vatican of 1869–1870 declared as Catholic dogma the doctrine of Papal Infallibility, meaning that in the specific case when the Pope speaks “ex cathedra”, meaning “from the chair”, that is, the Chair of Peter, his declarations are infallible and unquestionable.

Additionally, the decrees of Bishops at a General council in communion with the Pope also are infallible and their doctrine is unquestionable.

Bishops, when they in a unified manner teach doctrine that has not been set at a general council, but is the universal teaching of the Roman Catholic Church are also proclaimed as infallible. When a Bishop teaches on matters not so universally held, he is not infallible, but he is authoritative, and Catholics are required to be submissive.

These beliefs of the authority of the Bishops, Pope, and the authority vested in the church itself are referred to as the church’s Magisterium. The Magisterium is the Church’s teaching authority to be the determiner of what the Word of God truly is and means.

Underneath bishops are the priests and deacons. Priests are typically clergy within specific Catholic Churches or dioceses. They must be unmarried men. In 2014, there were 415,792 Catholic priests worldwide, and as of 2009, there were 5,100 Bishops. As of the creation of this video in 2019, there are 224 Cardinals.[2]

For Independent Baptists, there are only two offices – Pastor and Deacon. The term “bishop” or “elder” is considered to be synonymous with “pastor.” Some churches have multiple pastors or assistant pastors. Deacons may be full-time staff, but often are laymen who work secular jobs. Independent Baptists have no requirements for pastors to be single or celibate.

There is no hierarchy above the churches. Members of the churches select their own pastors. There is no organization that can tell the churches what to teach or do, or to have oversight over them. Churches generally fellowship with other like-minded churches, sometimes within organized groups, often called “fellowships” or on an informal basis.

Churches ordain pastors which may then serve at other Baptist churches if they are elected by the membership. They also ordain men to the ministry to serve as missionaries, often going to foreign countries to start churches. An Independent Baptist missionary in the United States typically will have to travel across the country visiting churches and getting their promise of monthly support until they have enough financial backing to go to their destination country, called the “mission field.”

Independent Baptists hold to the doctrine of Sola Scriptura – “the scripture alone.” This means that the only authority is the Bible. If a pastor preaches something, it is not considered infallible. Each church member is expected to examine the teaching in their Bible and to see whether the teaching is biblical or not. This is, of course, a contrasting view with the Roman Catholic view of the Magisterium, or teaching authority of the Church. The Roman Catholic view holds the Scriptures and Sacred Tradition both as the word of God, and only as they are properly interpreted through the Church’s Magisterium. In the catechism of the Catholic Church, it is stated:

“It is clear therefore that, in the supremely wise arrangement of God, sacred Tradition, Sacred Scripture and the Magisterium of the Church are so connected and associated that one of them cannot stand without the others. Working together, each in its own way, under the action of the one Holy Spirit, they all contribute effectively to the salvation of souls.”[3]

The view of sola scriptura is rejected therefore, and an individual reading the Bible and coming to any conclusion other than the Roman Catholic Church’s official positions as set in their councils and by their popes is considered “private interpretation.”

Independent Baptists do not view their pastors as priests and reject the idea of the priesthood of a select group, instead holding to a doctrine of the priesthood of all believers. Each person is individually and directly accountable to God, and the only mediator between God and man is Jesus Christ. In the Roman Catholic view, the priesthood is God’s method of continuing authority to bind and loose and forgive sins, and faithful Catholics are expected to confess their sins to the priests to receive this forgiveness. Independent Baptists only confess to the person they sin against, and to God.

Unlike Independent Baptists, Roman Catholics also have varying religious orders. Friar, Monk, Nun, or other titles are given to those who serve in these orders. Monks and Nuns live and work in a monastery and live celibate lifestyles.

Now let’s discuss the view of Salvation of Independent Baptists and Roman Catholics.

Both Independent Baptists and Roman Catholics claim to believe in Salvation by Grace alone, but in practice they look very different.

Independent Baptists say that Salvation comes through grace alone, and that the grace comes through faith alone. Salvation is “by grace, through faith.” In other words, there is nothing that a person can do to receive the grace of God which brings salvation, other than a specific act of faith.

Independent Baptists teach that the act of faith which brings salvation is a one-time event, often referred to as “salvation”, “getting saved”, being “born again” or “coming to Christ.” They reference a few specific Bible passages to indicate what this involves.

John 3:16 says that this salvation experience comes by belief in Jesus Christ, and Romans 10:9 indicates that the belief includes belief in Christ’s resurrection. Most Independent Baptists teach that once a person has truly believed in Christ in this way, and been saved, that there is nothing that they need to do to remain saved, and that salvation cannot be lost. They emphasize the importance of a saved person doing good works and living a holy life as an expression of their salvation, but deny anything other than their faith is involved in bringing that salvation.

For Independent Baptists, this salvation is the moment when a person is justified, that is, receives Justification, being made right with God, and therefore upon death will go to heaven instead of hell. This is also the initial step in a person’s sanctification, that is, being made holy, which is an ongoing process from this point forward. Independent Baptists teach that a person will never become totally sanctified, or perfect, until heaven, but that they are to grow in holiness. This sanctification process is not connected to an individual’s salvation, as that is taken care of in the one-time salvation experience.

In contrast, the Catholic view teaches that the grace that brings salvation is not obtained by faith alone. Instead, the Roman Catholic Church itself is the repository of saving grace, and God’s method of imparting this saving grace is through the Church. The ways that the church dispenses this grace to individuals are called sacraments. The church itself is considered the universal sacrament of Salvation, and there are seven sacraments of the church by which members receive saving grace.

First are the sacraments of initiation. In the Catholic view, when a child is born, they are unsaved and going to hell due to the original sin, Adam’s sin, which has been passed down to them. (In practice, although not official, many Catholics think that unbaptized children will be in limbo, and not go to hell.) As a result, faithful Catholics baptize their infant children, which is typically done by pouring water on the child’s head, and this baptism is viewed as washing away the child’s original sin. An unbaptized person who converts to Catholicism later in life will also be baptized as an adult, and this baptism is viewed as washing away original sin, as well as other sins the individual has committed before baptism.

The second sacrament of initiation is confirmation. In the Roman Catholic view, confirmation seals the individual with the gift of the Holy Spirit. This typically happens, depending on the diocese, between the ages of seven and sixteen, generally nearer the higher end of that range in the United States. This takes place only once, and the individual is considered to be strengthened in their Christian life, and indicating their personal decision to remain part of the Church.

The third sacrament of initiation is the Eucharist, also called the Blessed Sacrament. It is an initiation sacrament when first received at first communion. Generally, it is received during the daily mass. The Eucharist consists of unleavened bread, called the host, and wine, which are consecrated. The Roman Catholic view holds that the bread and wine cease to be bread and wine but become the Body and Blood of Christ. The appearance of the elements are not changed, but the reality is. This is called “transubstantiation.” Christ is viewed as being truly present in the elements, termed the “Real Presence.”

The sacrament of the Eucharist is consecrated and distributed by a priest during the celebration of Mass. Different Catholic Churches practice the distribution of the host differently. Some have the priest place the wafer directly on the tongue of the recipient, while others place it in the hand. Some churches have both options. Officially, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops says that it is up to the individual on how they prefer to receive it.

Additionally, churches differ in who receives the elements. In some, only the priest will drink of the wine, and the laity receive only the host. In others, the laity receive both. The practice of only the host being distributed rests on transubstantiation, which states that both the host and the wine become the body and blood of Christ, so someone who only takes the host and not the wine still receives Christ’s blood.

The first sacrament of healing is the sacrament of Penance, also known as confession, forgiveness, or reconciliation. An individual must be repentant, confess to a priest, receive absolution, and complete a task of satisfaction or penance. In some cases, certain greater so-called “reserved” sins can only be absolved by certain priests. Even greater sins such as intentional desecration of the Eucharist can only be absolved by the Holy See.

The second sacrament of healing is anointing of the sick. This is done with blessed oil by a priest.

Finally are sacraments of service. Holy orders is the Sacrament which is used to ordain bishops, priests, and deacons, and is administered by a bishop.

Holy Matrimony, or marriage, is also a sacrament, and once married and the marriage is consummated, the marriage cannot be dissolved.

Roman Catholicism teaches that the use of sacraments to obtain saving grace is required for salvation. In contrast, the Baptist view of salvation by Grace through Faith alone means that Baptists do not hold to any sacraments. However, some of the practices Roman Catholics have as sacraments are similar to practices in Baptist churches that serve other purposes.

Independent Baptists also practice baptism. Baptism is not to be done by pouring or sprinkling, but by immersion only. Only those who have been saved may be baptized, which means infant baptism is rejected. Baptism is viewed as an ordinance which adds the individual into the membership of the particular local church, and in which the individual identifies himself with Christ as the baptism pictures Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection. Baptists reject the idea that baptism washes away original sin or any sin. When the individual is baptized, at some point after the one-time salvation experience, they have already had their sin washed away.

Let’s pause for a second to discuss the Independent Baptist view of how sin is removed. Independent Baptists teach that shedding of blood is required for the remission of sin, due to Hebrews 9:22. When Jesus Christ died on the cross, his blood was shed, and this blood is viewed as what washes the sin of an individual away, but only effective for the individual when they are saved through faith. Blood washes their sin away, so when the individual is baptized, the sin is already taken care of. In contrast with the Roman Catholic view, the blood is viewed as washing away past, present, and future sin, which means that no matter what a truly saved individual does after salvation, the penalty for that sin is already removed, so the person is never again in danger of going to hell.

Because of this, Baptists teach a doctrine of assurance, that a person can know for sure that they are already saved and going to heaven. This salvation is only by faith and not through any works a person can do. It is viewed as incompatible with the Bible to teach that baptism, receiving the Eucharist, praying, or any other action is a part of salvation.

Roman Catholics believe in two types of sin, venial sin and mortal sin. If a Catholic commits a mortal sin, they must receive the sacrament of Penance to deal with the sin and have it absolved. In the catholic view, if a person has an outstanding mortal sin that is not absolved when they die, they don’t achieve salvation and will go to hell. Mortal sins destroy the sanctifying grace which brings salvation.

Independent Baptists will not accept a person as being truly baptized if they were baptized while unsaved, such as infant baptism, or if they were not baptized by immersion, or by a church that they view as not having proper authority. Such a person would be required to have Baptist baptism.

Baptists don’t practice confirmation. Baptists believe, from Ephesians 1:13, that when a person is saved by their belief in Christ, they are sealed with the Holy Spirit, and there is no necessary other time for this to take place. The Holy Spirit also indwells a person at this point of salvation.

In addition to Baptism, the only other Baptist ordinance is the Lord’s Supper, which has some similarities and some differences to the Catholic Eucharist. There is also bread and so-called “fruit of the vine” or the “cup”, which is not wine but unfermented grape juice. In some Independent Baptist Churches, only members of the particular local church can participate. The Lord’s Supper is done on differing schedules from church to church. Most don’t observe it as frequently as weekly, and some observe it as infrequently as once a year.

Members receive both elements, the bread and the cup. These are viewed as simply being grape juice and unleavened bread. They are not considered to be the real presence of Christ, or even his spiritual presence, but only symbolic. Once again, the observance of the Lord’s Supper is not a sacrament, and Independent Baptists do not view the observance of it as providing any saving grace. Instead, it is for saved, baptized believers only, who are all assured of going to heaven.

As mentioned before, Baptists reject confessions to a priest. They also generally do not do anointing with oil. They do ordain their ministers, but this is not viewed as providing saving grace, nor is marriage viewed this way.

As a result of these major differences on salvation, Independent Baptists don’t accept the Catholic claim that they believe in salvation by Grace alone. Instead, since Roman Catholics teach that this grace comes through sacraments, which are viewed by Independent Baptists as works, Independent Baptists believe that Roman Catholicism teaches salvation by works, and as a result that Roman Catholics are not saved.

As was also mentioned, Roman Catholics reject Salvation by faith alone, but they do view faith as part of salvation. The Baptist view is that this faith for salvation is a one-time expression of faith, the salvation experience. Roman Catholics consider this to be the “Catholic faith”

When Catholics interpret Ephesians 2:8, they see the grace as coming through sacraments. The faith is the Roman Catholic faith, this whole system of sacraments. Therefore, salvation is a life-long process of being faithful Catholics and receiving divine grace as the Church dispenses it. There is no salvation outside of the Roman Catholic Church.

Baptists also believe that all saved individuals are saints. In Roman Catholicism, “Saint” is a title that can be bestowed ­on individuals only after certain criteria are met. The act by which a person is declared as a saint is called “canonization.”

When the Roman Catholic Church declares an individual as a saint, they are recognizing that the person lived an exemplary life and are now in heaven. Saints can be venerated and prayed to, asking them to intercede before God on one’s behalf. To be canonized, after their death an individual’s life is first investigated. The Catholic Church must verify that the individual performed a miracle- even after their death, and once this has been done, the person is beatified and declared blessed. At this point, another miracle must take place as a result of prayers made to the beatified person. Once this too is verified the individual may be declared a saint.

Independent Baptists not only believe that all saved individuals are saints, but many of them believe in a doctrine called “cessationism.” This doctrine means that the miraculous gifts that allowed individuals to perform miracles, prophesy, or speak in languages they didn’t understand are no longer available. Due to this doctrine, most Independent Baptists would reject the authenticity of the miracles claimed by Roman Catholics.

Roman Catholics have additional religious practices which Baptists disagree with. Venerating the saints is viewed as a form of worship or undue reverence which should be reserved for God only. Prayers to the saints are also rejected as it is believed that only Jesus is the intercessor between God and man.

Many Catholics use a set of prayer beads called the Rosary to pray certain prayers in honor of the Virgin Mary. Independent Baptists reject the use of prayer beads as both an indication of these prayers being vain repetitions, and as being a practice rooted in paganism.

The “Hail Mary” one of the repeated prayers in the Rosary, has the individual pray to Mary requesting her to pray to God on the person’s behalf, which is viewed as impossible and unscriptural by Independent Baptists. There are some other things related to Mary that Independent Baptists have a problem with, which we’ll get into in a moment.

Roman Catholics practice a lot of liturgy, with repeated prayers and liturgical chants, use of Latin, sacred images, statues, pictures, and crucifixes; relics, pilgrimages, holy hours, et cetera.

The images are viewed as anti-scriptural Graven Images by Independent Baptists, and the rest is viewed as adding of vain tradition to the scripture. In contrast to the liturgy and High-Church style of Roman Catholicism, Most Independent Baptists are more low-church. Some have an organ, but not all. Some have orchestras. Some have more relaxed dress standards, and services often contain congregational and individual singing, taking of an offering, and announcements. In some Independent Baptist churches, participation in worship is encouraged. Individuals may speak out loud, saying “amen” during the service, or raising their hands. There may be public prayer requests.

In addition to the Pope, the second major person that most Independent Baptists think of when referring to differences between the Roman Catholic Church and themselves is the Catholic view of Mary.

Roman Catholics refer to Mary as “Mother of God”. Independent Baptists recognize that when Christ was born in Bethlehem, he was born to the Virgin Mary, who was his mother, and that Christ also was God. But they view Christ as having been present as a person in the triune Godhead prior to this birth, and so Mary really was only the Mother to his human side, not his divine side. As such, they reject the title “Mother of God.” Similarly, Roman Catholics call Mary the Mother of humanity as Christ was the creator, and Mary was his mother. Independent Baptists once again note that Christ created the world prior to his incarnation before Mary existed, and that Mary was not the mother of Christ’s existence or his person, but only of his physical body, or of his humanity.

Roman Catholics sometimes refer to Mary as the Second Eve. The Bible identifies Christ as the second Adam, and they look for a Second Eve. Andre Marie says at Catholicism.org,

“The foundation of this beautiful alias is entirely biblical. Jesus Christ is the New Adam. Now, the old Adam had a helpmate like unto himself who was his partner in crime. It’s a parallelism that begs to be completed. Common sense tells us we don’t have to look far to complete it. For those who have eyes to see and ears to hear, the Gospels show us that Jesus had a partner in redemption, and that partner was Mary.”[4]

Independent Baptists reject that parallelism. In that quote you hear the beginnings of another popular title for Mary, though not official Catholic dogma: The title “Co-redemptrix.

Pope Benedict XV said

“As the Blessed Virgin Mary does not seem to participate in the public life of Jesus Christ, and then, suddenly appears at the stations of his cross, she is not there without divine intention. She suffers with her suffering and dying son, almost as if she would have died herself. For the salvation of mankind, she gave up her rights as the mother of her son and, in a sense, offered Christ’s sacrifice to God the Father as far as she was permitted to do. Therefore, one can say, she redeemed with Christ the human race.”

Even those Roman Catholics who teach this doctrine do recognize that Mary herself needed to be redeemed, but they insist that she played a part in the redemption process. Independent Baptists believe that Mary was willing to be used of God, but did nothing herself in the plan of redemption.

Additionally, the Roman Catholic Church has taught for centuries, but only recently in 1854 added as an official, infallible doctrine, the belief in Mary’s Immaculate Conception. This doctrine, rejected by Independent Baptists, teaches that Mary was born perfect, untainted by original sin. Roman Catholics use this to explain how Jesus himself was born without original sin.

An older doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church that Independent Baptists reject is the perpetual virginity of Mary. This doctrine teaches that Mary was a virgin her entire life. Baptists see the passages that mention Jesus’s brothers and the verse indicating that Joseph and Mary didn’t have marital relations “until” she gave birth to Jesus as refuting this belief.

In 1950 Pope Pius the 12th set as infallible dogma the doctrine of the Assumption of Mary, speaking ex cathedra. This doctrine teaches that upon the end of Mary’s earthly life she was taken bodily into heaven. This doctrine, being based entirely on Roman Catholic tradition, and not found in scripture, is rejected by Independent Baptists.

Roman Catholics say that as Mary was the Mother of Christ’s body, and Christ’s body is the Church, that Mary is mother of the church. Independent Baptists reject this, believing that Mary was the mother of Christ’s physical body, while the church is not Christ’s physical body, but that each local church is a body of people belonging to and serving Christ.

Roman Catholics may use the title “Queen of Heaven” to refer to Mary, noting that the mother of a king can be called the Queen mother. Independent Baptists again reject this, believing that Mary holds no special position other than being Christ’s physical mother.

What do Catholics and Independent Baptists teach about the spiritual condition of the other? Do Baptists believe Catholics will go to heaven or vice versa?

Independent Baptists believe true Catholics are not going to heaven. A true Catholic is trying to obtain salvation through sacraments, and Independent Baptists believe that someone doing this is trying to earn salvation, and therefore rejecting Jesus Christ as the only way to heaven. Despite this, some Baptists would say that there may be some who rejecting their own church’s doctrine, have trusted in Christ alone, but remain in the Catholic Church. A person such as this, if they have truly believed in Christ by faith and not trusting any works, would be saved and will go to heaven.

Catholics believe that “All salvation comes by Jesus Christ and through his one Catholic Church.”[5] They teach that people who don’t know that the Catholic Church is the one way to God can receive salvation, and heaven, if they are sincere. Here’s what the Catechism of the Catholic Church says on this:

Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the gospel of Christ or his Church but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience—those too may achieve eternal salvation.[6]

However, if a person is aware of the Catholic Church and refuses to be a part of it, Roman Catholics teach that such a person is going to hell. The Catechism states:

Hence they could not be saved who, knowing that the Catholic Church was founded as necessary by God through Christ, would refuse either to enter it or to remain in it.[7]

Another difference in belief between Roman Catholics and Independent Baptists is their teaching on what the Church is. Many Independent Baptists believe that the only references to a church in the Bible use the word to refer to local assemblies. Therefore they reject the Catholic view of a Universal, visible church, only believing in Local, visible churches.

Both Catholics and many Independent Baptists reject the concept of a universal, invisible church as taught by Protestants, viewing the concept of an invisible church being foreign to scripture.

Roman Catholics view their churches as legitimate due to their claim that Christ built the church on Peter, and there has been a succession from the apostles of one bishop ordaining another to the present. Therefore, Christ’s authority, given to Peter, is retained in their church today.

Independent Baptists have differing views. Many teach what has been termed “Baptist Successionism.” This doctrine accepts the premise that the legitimacy of a church requires an unbroken succession back to Christ. Generally, this means that there have always been churches that teach the same as Baptists, from which the modern day Baptists come, though they were under other names. Often these are groups such as the Waldenses, Paulicians, Donatists, Albigenses and Anabaptists. Other Baptists hold to a “Spiritual Kinship” view, which doesn’t claim that these groups were the same as Baptists, but were spiritually kin, and so they were sufficiently close to correct doctrine to be true churches.

Other Independent Baptists teach that the unbroken succession idea is unnecessary, and so although they would teach there have always been true churches on the earth in one place or another, they don’t believe that they are necessary in some kind of unbroken line.

The view of some Independent Baptists is that Baptists are protestants, either originating in the Protestant reformation or the English separatist movement in the 1600s.

Independent Baptists differ from Roman Catholics on accepted Scripture. Independent Baptists along with Protestants accept only 66 books, 27 New Testament and 39 Old Testament books.

Roman Catholics accept several other books as scripture, the Deuterocanonical books, which Independent Baptists call the “Apocrypha.” Additionally Roman Catholics have additions to Daniel and Esther that Independent Baptists don’t accept. Independent Baptists and Roman Catholics also number the Ten Commandments differently.

Independent Baptists reject the idea of any purification after one’s death, While Roman Catholics teach the doctrine of purgatory, a state of being in which those who are not completely purified, yet are in God’s grace, exist after their death. Though not official dogma, historic teaching of the church often views purgatory as an actual location, and that this purification process involves fire or torments. Official Roman Catholic doctrine does however teach that souls experiencing purgatory are helped by the prayers of those still living, and pious acts done on their behalf.

Independent Baptists reject purgatory as unscriptural, as well as any kind of prayer for the dead, believing each person is individually accountable to God for what took place during their life, and there is nothing any person can do to alter their eternal situation after they die, nor anything that someone still alive can do for them.

There are certainly many other differences, but these make up most of the major differences.


[1] Code of Canon Law Canon 378 § 1, http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG1104/_P1D.HTM (Accessed 1/8/2019)

[2] http://press.vatican.va/content/salastampa/en/documentation/cardinali—statistiche/distribuzione-per-papa.html (Accessed 1/8/2019)

[3] http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p1s1c2a2.htm (Accessed 1/8/2019)

[4] https://catholicism.org/second-eve.html

[5] https://www.catholic.com/qa/how-protestants-are-saved (Accessed 1/8/2019

[6] Ibid

[7] Ibid


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