Christianity is a much more diverse religion than would seem from the outside. The Catholic Church, for example, has 1.2 billion adherents worldwide and has existed since the time of the apostles. The Wesleyan Church, in contrast, was founded in 1848 and has approximately 475,000 adherents worldwide. These two denominations are an excellent example of Christian diversity.
Catholics and Wesleyans share many beliefs. They hold very similar beliefs on traditional Christian topics such as the Trinity, the incarnation, Christ's death and resurrection and more. Wesleyans hold many Protestant views that Catholics don't. Among these are the doctrine of justification by faith alone and the sole authority of the scriptures for salvation. Catholics believe that justification (being judged blameless in God's eyes) involves the church as well as good works. Catholics also believe that the church is the caretaker and final interpreter of scripture. In addition, Wesleyans emphasize a personal distinct conversion experience. Catholics don't disregard a conversion experience, but they don't require it or, in most cases, emphasize it.
Two sacraments bind Catholics and Wesleyans (along with most Christians) together: baptism and communion. Beliefs and practices surrounding these rituals differ, however. Wesleyans emphasize "believer's baptism," which means that baptism is meant primarily for someone who's had a conversion experience. Most Wesleyan churches don’t baptize infants. Catholics, in contrast, baptize infants as well as new converts. Communion is a little bit different, as well. Catholics believe in transubstantiation, the doctrine that the bread and wine are literally but invisibly transformed into the body and blood of Jesus. Wesleyans believe communion is a means of grace, an opportunity for the believer to commune with God. In addition to baptism and communion, Catholics practice five other sacraments that Wesleyans don't recognize: confirmation, penance, marriage, holy orders and the anointing of the sick.
Catholic worship follows the same liturgy in every part of the world, with the primary difference being the language spoken. Each service includes readings from the Old Testament, New Testament and Gospels, as well as hymns, recitation of creeds, corporate prayers. communion and a short homily or sermon. Communion is the centerpiece of Catholic worship. Wesleyan worship varies from one church to the next. Traditional Wesleyan worship includes hymns supported by a piano and organ, prayers, and a sermon, with the sermon taking center stage. Contemporary Wesleyan worship may include praise music led by a praise team, supported by drums, keyboard and guitars but the sermon still takes precedence.
Catholics and Wesleyans differ greatly in their organization. For Wesleyans, organization power is centralized at the local church level. Local churches are organized into districts, each managed by a district superintendent who functions as a manager and resource provider. Above this are several denominational boards that oversee education, missions and other endeavors for the denomination. There is also a General Superintendent to oversee and help manage these activities. Each level is made up of both clergy and laity. Wesleyans meet every four years in a General Conference made up of both clergy and laity to make denominational decisions. Catholics are hierarchical. The local church reports to the bishop, the bishop reports to a higher tier of bishop such as an archbishop and they all report to the Bishop of Rome, the pope. The pope has ultimate authority in the Catholic Church. Church councils are held much less frequently, with the most recent being Vatican II in 1962. Laity do not participate in the government of the Catholic Church beyond limited roles at the local level. Catholics only ordain men as priests and bishops, while Wesleyans have women at every level of the clergy. In 2012, the Wesleyan Church elected its first female General Superintendent, JoAnn Lyon, to lead the church.
- BBC News: How Many Catholics Are There in the World?
- The Wesleyan Church: Our History
- The Wesleyan Church: Our Core Values and Beliefs
- Ken Schenck: The Wesleyan View of Communion
- American Catholic: The Seven Catholic Sacraments
- Patheos Library: Roman Catholicism - Rites and Ceremonies
- Ancient and Future Catholics: Basic Catholic Beliefs and Practices
- Patheos Library: Roman Catholicism - Organization and Structure
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