This myth seems to be prevalent, at least, on the popular level in the Jakartan context.
The purpose here is just to point out the differences between Protestant Christianity against Roman Catholicism (in its classic, Pre-Vatican II, Tridentine version). The best way, it seems, is simply to lay out the statements of the Council of Trent (1545-1563), which represents Roman Catholicism, on the one hand, and the Westminster Confessions (1646), which was written with Catholicism in view, representing the Protestant position, on the other. I will not be arguing for which position is right (whole books have been written on that!).
So here are three issues on which Trent and the Westminster Confessions differ: Assurance of Faith (can you know whether you are truly saved?), Justification by Faith alone, and the Authority of the Scriptures. The italicized emphases are my doing to make clear the differences. Obviously only a small sampling can be supplied here.
Oh, and by the way, the word “Anathema” means accursed.
- Assurance of Faith
“Although hypocrites and other unregenerate men may vainly deceive themselves with false hopes and carnal presumptions of being in the favor of God, and estate of salvation (which hope of theirs shall perish): yet such as truly believe in the Lord Jesus, and love Him in sincerity, endeavouring to walk in all good conscience before Him, may, in this life, be certainly assured that they are in the state of grace, and may rejoice in the hope of the glory of God, which hope shall never make them ashamed.”
Compare with the Council of Trent:
Session 20; Canons 13-15
If anyone says that in order to obtain the remission of sins it is necessary for every man to believe with certainty and without any hesitation arising from his own weakness and indisposition that his sins are forgiven him, let him be anathema.
If anyone says that man is absolved from his sins and justified because he firmly believes that he is absolved and justified, or that no one is truly justified except him who believes himself justified, and that by this faith alone absolution and justification are effected, let him be anathema.
If anyone says that a man who is born again and justified is bound ex fide to believe that he is certainly in the number of the predestined, let him be anathema.”
So, for the WCF, one may be certainly assured that they are saved by God, not so for the Canons of Trent.
- Justification by Faith alone
“Those whom God effectually calls, He also freely justifies; not by infusing righteousness into them, but by pardoning their sins, and by accounting and accepting their persons as righteous; not for any thing wrought in them, or done by them, but for Christ’s sake alone; nor by imputing faith itself, the act of believing, or any other evangelical obedience to them, as their righteousness; but by imputing the obedience and satisfaction of Christ unto them, they receiving and resting on Him and His righteousness by faith; which faith they have not of themselves, it is the gift of God”
Compare this with the Council of Trent: (Session 6, Chp. 7)
“This disposition or preparation is followed by justification itself, which is not only a remission of sins but also the sanctification and renewal of the inward man through the voluntary reception of the grace and gifts whereby an unjust man becomes just and from being an enemy becomes a friend, that he may be an heir according to hope of life everlasting…
For though no one can be just except he to whom the merits of the passion of our Lord Jesus Christ are communicated, yet this takes place in that justification of the sinner, when by the merit of the most holy passion, the charity of God is poured forth by the Holy Ghost in the hearts of those who are justified and inheres in them; whence man through Jesus Christ, in whom he is ingrafted, receives in that justification, together with the remission of sins, all these infused at the same time, namely, faith, hope and charity.”
So, for the WCF, justification, whereby one is counted righteous before God, is a singular, once-for-all, event on the basis of Christ’s righteousness. For Trent, justification is mixed with sanctification, and includes the process of infusing virtues in the sinner. Justification, then, is a process for Trent (final justification is thus on the basis of the sinner’s life), whereas once-for-all for the WCF (this certainly has implications as to why Trent denies that one can be certain or assured about his salvation).
- Doctrine of Scripture
Council of Trent, Session 4
“Furthermore, in order to restrain petulant spirits, It decrees, that no one, relying on his own skill, shall,–in matters of faith, and of morals pertaining to the edification of Christian doctrine, –-wresting the sacred Scripture to his own senses, presume to interpret the said sacred Scripture contrary to that sense which holy mother Church,–whose it is to judge of the true sense and interpretation of the holy Scriptures,–hath held and doth hold; or even contrary to the unanimous consent of the Fathers; even though such interpretations were never (intended) to be at any time published. Contraveners shall be made known by their Ordinaries, and be punished with the penalties by law established.”
Compare with the WCF 1:8, 9-10
“…But, because these original tongues are not known to all the people of God, who have right unto, and interest in the Scriptures, and are commanded, in the fear of God, to read and search them, therefore they are to be translated in to the vulgar language of every nation unto which they come, that, the Word of God dwelling plentifully in all, they may worship Him in an acceptable manner; and, through patience and comfort of the Scriptures, may have hope.
The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself: and therefore, when there is a question about the true and full sense of any Scripture (which is not manifold, but one), it must be searched and known by other places that speak more clearly.
X. The supreme judge by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture.”
The difference on this one is self-explanatory and huge.
So there we go. Protestant Christianity and Roman Catholicism are very different. (In my view it would also be a myth to believe that Roman Catholicism is the original form, whereas Protestantism deviated from Christianity in its oldest and truest sense; but again, whole books could (and have!) been written on that topic; besides, the Scripture, to me, remain to be the final means by which we adjudicate on the two positions).
For further reading, I would suggest Michael Kruger’s Canon Revisited.