How should I respond to those who claim “all religions are the same” or “it doesn’t matter if you are Catholic or Protestant because they believe in the same God?”
To answer this question well, I must be direct. On the claim that “all religions are the same,” might I cut to the chase and say clearly that Judaism, Islam, and Christianity are clearly not all the same. Judaism is rightly understood as the root of Christianity – as Jesus himself was of the Jews in his coming to fulfill the plan of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the New Covenant. However, whereas the Jewish people today still await the Messiah, Christianity of course believes that Jesus, born of Mary, is the Messiah. In speaking of Islam, though Islam is also said to be tied to Abraham through his slave son Ishmael, the prophet Mohammed did not live until about the 6th – 7th centuries A.D. While all three of these religions believe in only one God, the manner in which God is understood is by each faith is not the same – and thus, the manner of being in relationship with God, (that is the practices of religion) are likewise not the same.
As for there being no difference if one is Catholic or Protestant, this too is sadly problematic, noting that what is sad is that divisions in Christianity are recent. In the first 1000 years after Christ died and rose of the dead, Christianity was one. Some false teachings were put forth in the early centuries. However, those with false teaching (called “heretics,”) did not prevail in forming sustained expressions of false Christianity. Only in mid-11th century, in the split of the Eastern (Orthodox) from the Western (Roman) Church did the first division happen– the main issue being the role of the Pope.
More recent are the divisions of Catholic vs. Lutheran vs. Reformed vs. Anglican etc. These divisions only began in the 16th century, with such persons as Martin Luther, John Calvin, and King Henry VIII of England. While some of the reformers may have had the best of intentions, frequently the reform efforts that were rooted in responses to the sins and corruption of men went on to stray from true teaching.
This brief history provides a basis to say that it DOES MATTER if one is Catholic or Protestant. Though all Christians believe in Jesus Christ, his life, death, and
resurrection, Christians have unfortunately become disconnected on other significant truths – and in some areas the divide sadly continues to widen. However, these
divides would be easier to reconcile were not for the original divisions of the 16th century: over the nature of Holy Orders as a sacrament, over nature of the Holy Eucharist: both as a sacrament and in considering the Mass a “sacrifice,” etc. Know this: the fullness of the truth of Christ “subsists” in the Catholic Church for the sole reason that our lineage comes directly from Christ himself and his apostles. This truth was restated in June 2007 by the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith in a document called “Responses to Some Questions Regarding Certain Aspects of the Doctrine on the Church.” Their statement answers the question of “why does it matter if we are Catholic” in this way: “According to Catholic doctrine, [Protestant] Communities do not enjoy apostolic succession in the sacrament of Orders, and are, therefore, deprived of a constitutive element of the Church. These ecclesial Communities which, specifically because of the absence of the sacramental priesthood, have not preserved the genuine and integral substance of the Eucharistic Mystery cannot, according to Catholic doctrine, be called ‘Churches’ in the proper sense.”
Thus, it does matter – and the reason why is plain: there is a ministerial priesthood of Christ that offers the Eucharist. We pray that by our own living of the truth of the Eucharist all others who are separated from us may accept Jesus’ invitation to partake and to receive his life.