I'd like to incorporate some information from this site in my Religious Ed. class.

I teach a weekly class to 8th and 9th graders and none of them really understand what the difference is between us and Protestants. I live in a small town in Wisconsin which is pretty much devoid of religious tension, so I don't want to stir the pot and tell them about the gruesome details 30 years war or the martyrs of Queen Elizabeth from a completely Catholic perspective, nor do I want to sugar coat the way Catholics have treated Protestants over the past 500 years (i.e. the Tudors).

Therefore, how does one present children with an accurate depiction of Reformation history without wavering (and losing all credibility) or covering up the truth while still maintaining the children's innocence and not instil any prejudices in them?

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    I think any fair teaching about the Tudors paints them in pretty bad light from any angle. I don't think you need to worry much about making them look like Catholic heroes. :)
    – Flimzy
    Commented Sep 21, 2011 at 21:08
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    I'd tell them about Luther (95 Theses, papal bull, separation from the Church etc). Then I'd tell them how this caused the Counter-Reformation and what wrongs were then corrected. I think this would show both Protestants and Catholics in a good light. Commented Sep 21, 2011 at 22:55
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    Are we not OK with SO/SE "GoodSubjective/BadSubjective" tools? This looks like a chance to get an experience based (I tried this and it works) kind of answer. Commented Jan 21, 2017 at 21:16

2 Answers 2


I have lead a middle school (6th, 7th, and 8th grade) Catholic religious education class for three years and this question often comes up:

What's the difference between Christians and Catholics? My friends say they are Christian, but I thought we were too. What's the difference?

The reason for their question is because their friends simply say they are "christian", not "non-denominational christian", "baptist christian", or "protestant" for example. Often, they don't even know which denomination they belong to.

Introducing them to the Reformation is a good idea, but be careful not to overload them with more information than they care to know about. It's important to simplify the subject enough that they get the gist of it.

I usually take it as an opportunity to give a brief overview of church history, including a few interesting facts that you might not otherwise get a chance to talk about. I usually summarize it like this:

  • In the beginning, there was Judaism. The Jews were God's chosen people, but were awaiting a Messiah to save them.
  • Then God became human and died on a cross for the salvation of everyone.
  • Jesus organized a special group of 12 followers (the apostles) to lead his church, making Peter the first Pope. The other apostles became the first bishops.
  • The apostles went on to ordain priests. For the next 1,500 years there was only one church, the Catholic church.
  • Then in the 16th century, some people decided to "protest" the way the church was being run at the time, split off and start denominations of their own. Then over the next 500 years, more and more denominations have formed. Now there are thousands of denominations.

I'm simplifying a bit there, obviously, but this gets the point across. Then you'll be able to add in a few other factoids:

  • The word "Catholic" means "universal". The early christians used the word to describe the church because it is open to everyone (not just the Jews like Judaism was before).
  • This is why, in the creed, we say that "We believe in One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic church" because we believe that Jesus started one church and that he wanted us to be one, it's holy because Jesus said he would protect it ("the gates of hell would not prevail against it"), it's Catholic because it's open to everyone, and it's apostolic because our priests can trace their succession back to the first apostles.

In summary, just use it as an opportunity to clear up some confusion and use it as a teaching moment. You don't need to go into the gritty details.

  • "For the next 1,500 years there was only one church, the Catholic church." Actually this statement is not accurate, there were the Waldenses and Albigenses. In every age there were witnesses for God—men who cherished faith in Christ as the only mediator between God and man, who held the Bible as the only rule of life, and who hallowed the true Sabbath. How much the world owes to these men, posterity will never know. They were branded as heretics, their motives impugned, their characters maligned, their writings suppressed, misrepresented, or mutilated. Yet they stood firm.
    – HelloWorld
    Commented Sep 19, 2013 at 23:26
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    @HelloWorld It convienently sweeps the great schism under the carpet as well Commented Aug 5, 2014 at 16:04

I think Andrew has laid out a fantastic outline for the general scope of the Church's development.

To note, when you start to drill down past the overview above, you might cite "We believe in One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic church" in the Nicene Creed and begin teaching about splits from the Church beginning with the East-West Schism in the Church, then move forward and explain the Reformation and subsequent sectarian developments in the context of the Church as a living Institution.

Try to maintain a focus on the concept of the Church being a living, dynamic institution; frame the sectarian developments not as fragmenting of the Church, but rather as ways groups within the Church took ownership. Be clear in laying out the difference between Reformation and Heresies within the Church, and you will have taught them an effective, critical framework for understanding groups that are apparently different, but actually part of a family.

Rather than impose uncritical descriptive, historical facts about the Reformation, teach it as a living arm of the Church;

A civilization is a heritage of beliefs, customs, and knowledge slowly accumulated in the course of centuries, elements difficult at times to justify by logic, but justifying themselves as paths when they lead somewhere, since they open up for man his inner distance.

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