The Bad Evangelist Club: 33,000 Denominations


*Editor Note:  Starting this month we will be introducing a new series at Catholic Lane.  Known as The Bad Evangelist Club, we will be providing an examination of conscience so to speak for Catholic efforts at Evangelization and Apologetics.  We will do so by reflecting on the bad arguments being made (often by the writers themselves) in their past attempts in giving witness to the Catholic faith.  The series begins with Benjamin Baxter on the popular argument about Protestantism having 33,000 denominations  KMT*

Are there really 33,000 denominations?

File this one under Questions to which the answer is, ‘No.’

One Protestant friend of mine gets royally annoyed when he hears Catholics say there are 33,000 denominations in Protestantism. Paraphrased:

Really, I can think of maybe four or five major schools of Protestant theology, and maybe — maybe — 70 denominations in this country. And that’s being generous.

He once noted to me that the number of 33,000 — or 44,000, or whatever — relies on counting local communities independently, and breaking up international groups by country.  By that standard, there are as many Catholic churches as there are countries in the world which have Catholics. In fact, by the standard we’re holding Protestants to; our number of churches should be multiplied where the Eastern Rites are represented. This is, of course, a bogus standard, so it will turn off Protestants of any competence.

My friend went on to insist that what really matters is the theological unity, the unity in truths professed. To say “33,000” when there are really only about five or six or ten or seventy is a gesture of bad faith, and a sign we aren’t being serious.

“Within those schools of thought,” he said, “they don’t really disagree on anything important.”

Where’s the disconnect?

  1. We’re counting these churches as we care about them. That is, we’re counting local ‘independent’ churches independently when those selfsame independent communions as a whole don’t care about formal communion.
  2. Formal communion is “an outward sign” of believing the same things. Catholics say it is inseparable from believing all the same things, and Protestants don’t, but we agree until that point.
  3. Some Protestants will go farther, insisting that what lies behind even this theological communion is the spiritual communion of all believers. Catholics point to baptism in a measured agreement, but should immediately point further to the Eucharist.
  4. It is not enough to point out that even within schools of theology there is sometimes serious disagreement. Competent Protestants might even point out that within the Catholic Church there is serious disagreement between Thomists and Molinists but that they are both still unified with the Church. (This is possible because the Magisterium has not decided the matter; it has not decided the matter because it has not had to.)

What matters behind formal communion is, as the Protestant is right to say, the unity in proclaiming doctrine. Appropriately, they are largely unified in believing that formal communion doesn’t matter.   Mentioning 33,000 sounds scandalously dramatic among Catholics, but a Protestant who has spent any time at all arguing about these things would probably roll his eyes.

So what do we say?
There are at least two Protestant churches in the world. They contradict each other on important things, or disagree about which things are important. Isn’t this a problem? Keep in mind: This is not a case for Catholicism. This is a case against Protestantism.
This is where you follow up, building a case for Catholicism. When talking to a Protestant, begin with scripture, and point out the evidence for the Church in scripture. Don’t just say that scripture or history proves the Catholic Church. Competent Protestants will here want proof, so at this point refer to  scriptural passages which together and in context point to a visibly united community of believers, the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. It’ll still be a wild ride, so make sure you’ve studied the context yourself.
Eternal Consequences

Keep in mind the stakes. Protestants aren’t merely mistaken about this doctrine or that doctrine. They lack sacraments. Some Protestants — those who were not validly baptized — lack all of the sacraments. This has eternal consequences, whether it’s as simple as not bearing the mark of chrismation in heaven or abiding forever the unforgiving fires of hell.

When we speak of communion, we mean all forms of communion, right down to Holy Communion. Yet by making sweeping claims, you might just sweep someone out of earshot, even further from the Eucharist than they were before.  Allowing for God’s foreknowledge, that person you push away may come into the Church later anyway — but it may be much later, and if so you might get to answer to God for it.

In short, don’t say more than you have to. It rarely takes much to topple the internal contradictions of Protestantism. It certainly does not take 33,000 denominations.


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  • Are the thousands of non-denominational denominations to counted as one denomination or separately?

    • Hopefully Ben can speak for himself, but here’s how I see it:

      If you are “counting” the denominations, you are doing it wrong. Protestants don’t look at it the way we do. What we view as serious divisions more often than not aren’t to the Protestant, so they don’t look at themselves as having tons of denominations.

      There are a lot better ways to play the lack of unity card.

      • Phil Steinacker

        Of course they don’t look at it the way we do. Their take is deliberately self-serving, similar in dynamic to the need of those outside the Catholic Church to mount crtiques on Her authority.

        Well, naturally, they must do that…they have no choice if they choose tostay outside the Church.

        These are simply glip Protestant dismissal of that which they cannot refute. What else is it except 33,000 plus denominations? Most of those come by counting non-denominational churches unable to enterinto unity with any other church.

        Here in MD there is a large ND church which “planted” a number of otehr churches in a n ever-expanding radius. An evangelical buddy of mine associated with one of the satellties toldme the orignal church had drifted doctrinally, and even the satellite which he hoped would remain solid was drifiting, albeit differently from the original church.

        However, I don’t disagree with the idea there are better arguments to mount, if only because Protestants are too “well-defended” on this one, as therapists refer to clients who in their denial have erected “iron-clad” convincing arguments them the therapist is wrong about a particular point.

        • michicatholic

          And ours isn’t self-serving? Give me a break.

          • Phil Steinacker

            No, they are not. If YOU think they are, then you should stop talking. Catholicism is founded on objectively determined truth.

          • Tweety58

            Maybe YOU should consider a Denomination-you already talk like a Protestant.

        • Joe

          I ask you to identify 50 different denominations? I’ll give you one, Roman Catholicism. This shouldn’t be that difficult of a task since there are 30-40k different ones.

      • I can tell you I’ve debated a Protestant who considers himself the church. He is in essence a church of one.

      • Joe

        Hello I am a ‘Protestant’. I was baptized in the Pentecostal church, attended the Methodist church shortly after, attend a non-denominational church, and consider myself to follow the doctrines of a Baptist. To answer David L. Gray, I look at a non-denominational church in the way I look at all Protestant churches, as teaching the same MAIN doctrine. Protestants believe in the teachings of the New Testament. Some differences I consider minor are water baptism, predestination, Speaking in tongues, infant baptism, etc., etc. Some things I expect from every church I attend; biblical teachings with scripture to back it up; the belief that Jesus is the Son of God, died on the cross for our sins, and rose from the dead; the trinity. I have attended many different denominations over the period of my life and these expectations are fulfilled in all of the churches I’ve attended. Jesus is the body and denominations are the members. The one thing that keeps us together is the belief in Christ!

        1 Corinthians Chapter 12

        12 For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also [is] Christ.
        13 For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether [we be] Jews or Gentiles, whether [we be] bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.
        14 For the body is not one member, but many.
        15 If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body?
        16 And if the ear shall say, Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body?
        17 If the whole body [were] an eye, where [were] the hearing? If the whole [were] hearing, where [were] the smelling?
        18 But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him.
        19 And if they were all one member, where [were] the body?
        20 But now [are they] many members, yet but one body.
        21 And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you.
        22 Nay, much more those members of the body, which seem to be more feeble, are necessary:
        23 And those [members] of the body, which we think to be less honourable, upon these we bestow more abundant honour; and our uncomely [parts] have more abundant comeliness.
        24 For our comely [parts] have no need: but God hath tempered the body together, having given more abundant honour to that [part] which lacked:
        25 That there should be no schism in the body; but [that] the members should have the same care one for another.
        26 And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it.
        27 Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular.
        28 And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues.
        29 [Are] all apostles? [are] all prophets? [are] all teachers? [are] all workers of miracles?
        30 Have all the gifts of healing? do all speak with tongues? do all interpret?
        31 But covet earnestly the best gifts: and yet shew I unto you a more excellent way.

    • Chris

      Congregationalist non-denominational assemblies really ought to be considered denominations unto themselves.

      Likewise, you can easily find 30+ Lutheran Denominations in N. America, alone.

      Not all Lutherans play with other Lutherans, as a side. Don’t discount that.

      • michicatholic

        Like there aren’t different varieties of Catholics. There are various church bodies in union with Rome, like Byzantines and Ukrainians. As well as some not in union with Rome, but who are considered Catholic, nevertheless, like Orthodox. It’s nowhere near as nice and neat as many Latin-rite American Catholics would like to believe.

        • michicatholic

          Not to mention the fact that the Latin rite is so split ideologically that there are probably at least 3 or 4 different kinds of those, de facto.

          • There are indeed factions in the Church today, and that is regrettable. Yet there have always been such, and they are a product of man’s attempt to sunder as a result of original sin.

            What makes us different than our Protestant brethren is we have a way to objectively solve the manner: The Magesterium. We have the gold standard to which all must conform to, to move beyond our factionalism, and she has the authority to make sure that the focus is placed on Christ, and not on the personality cults.

          • Tweety58

            There is ONE CHURCH-the REMNANT of Catholicism-non-CINO-non-Cafeteria,orthodox,not heterodox,disobedient and unsubmissive to the Teachings of the Church which are Christ’s teachings,PERIOD !

        • Tweety58

          They are schismatic at best,heretical at worst.

    • That’s a fair question. There may not be 33,000 but it’s probably in the hundreds if not thousands. Though thy may have similar foundations, their disunity doesn’t make it One Church.

  • GuitarGramma

    Thank you for this article. I’ve long thought that the “33,000 denominations” argument was at best ineffective, and at worst false.

    Far better to start a litany (how Catholic): “There are Protestants who believe in infant baptism and those who reject it. There are Protestants who believe once-saved-always-saved, there are those who reject the notion. There are Protestants who believe that abortion is a sin, there are those who accept it as necessary. … How can they all be right?”

    Fewer minds will close when you approach the differences instead of the numbers.

    • Gramma, this is both benevolent and proper. Thank you!!

      • Matthew 18:20… For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.

    • Joe

      These are things which do not matter. Jesus gives a guideline for salvation, every non-denominational church I’ve attended professes their trust in Christ.

  • Reader

    Thanks for this interesting article. I agree with the points made by poster Gramma but I do think that highlighting 33,000 separate “churches” helps to reiterate the point about disunity which is the premise of Protestantism.
    Protestantism is first and foremost a concept based on disunification from Catholicism primarily and from other Protestant denominations too.

    • Benjamin Baxter

      It if causes someone to stop listening to you, does it help reiterate anything?

      • sinner

        Isn’t that the realm of the Holy Spirit? A person’s journey to the Truth is usually very complex. I should never believe that the answer to your question rests on my shoulders. I do believe that Reader is correct that unity is what the issue begs.

        • We are responsible for our own actions. If we drive a Protestant away, and it’s over something on which we were wrong about, we have to answer for that before God. The whole “pray as if it depends on God, act as if it depends on you”

          • Tweety58

            If we were unintentionally “wrong”there is no sin-read your Catechism.

          • Yet we have a responsibility to keep ourselves educated. As Paul frequently said “I would not have you ignorant brethren”

            This kind of argument does drive Protestants away, and it’s something that is verifiably false, and anyone who actually studies it has concluded it false for the past 10 years. (Even those commenting in the boxes don’t dispute the number is flawed.)

            If we are going to be witnesses to the Gospel, then it implies we need to properly form ourselves. Peddling bad and verifiably false arguments speaks to that poor formation, and we are accountable for that.

          • Tweety58

            Read my two SUPPORTED arguments further down

          • Tweety58

            It depends upon whom is doing the education-my comments and figures are supported by PROTESTANT SOURCES courtesy of Dave Armstrong.Seek lower and thee shall find.

          • And Yet Mr. Armstrong makes the exact same argument I do about this number: it’s damaging to real apologetics and evangelization. Matter of fact he was one of the first people to link to Mr. Baxter’s article and the two of us had a lengthy discussion on his fb page about why this number, though blatantly false, refuses to die. You can see it on his page when this article came out.

          • Like this source from Dave Armstrong?

            “One may indeed question the criteria by which “denomination” was defined. This ultimately led to my own skeptical position, and caused me to change my opinion only a short while after I wrote my paper, upon further reflection (and to remove the paper from my website). Strangely enough, one person who helped convince me to change my mind was the anti-Catholic Eric Svendsen (who despises my work and thinks little of me even on a personal level). But I don’t care where truth comes from: truth is truth. Eric made a good argument, that I found compelling. Here are a few excerpts from it (30,000 Protestant Denominations? ) — his words in blue, with some commentary of my own, in black: ”


            We are going to flatter the gentleman from Melvindale with discussing his work, but I think in the interest of full disclosure you should be pointing out that Mr. Armstrong rejects the argument you are putting forth, and has even stated he AGREES with Eric Svendsen on this one issue.

            Mr. Armstrong also basically makes the point Mr. Baxter made:

            “Be that as it may, I think we can safely refer to “hundreds” of Protestant denominations, using a cogent doctrinal definition, not merely jurisdictional or superficial (though institutional unity is ot an unbiblical characteristic, either, if we want to get technical about it). Biblically-speaking, any more than one “denomination” or “Church” is a scandal. The Catholic continues to assert that there is one Church and that the Catholic Church is the fullest institutional expression of that one Church, with other Christians implicitly connected with it to more or less degrees. This (agree or disagree) at least lines up with the biblical witness as to the nature and definition of the Christian Church, rather than being blatantly contrary to the Bible, as the very notion of denominationalism (wholly apart from later disputes about numbers) is. “

          • Billy Bagbom

            God bless Dave Armstrong!

        • Benjamin Baxter

          I refer you to the comment by Jhawk lower in the thread — I’ve come to this conclusion not by reasoning in a vacuum but by listening to the people.

          It’s a lot more effective, and a lot more on-point and a lot more accurate and a lot more communicative, to say: “Why is there more than one?” than it is to lean on a casual number from originally from a source that counts them differently than anyone else does. We know the principle is rock-solid; meanwhile, the number is a distraction from the principle. Cut out the number.

  • Shaun Alexander McAfee

    I’m sorry; I disagree. 33,000 is not a failed attempt, it seems like it s hyperbole, but its a real fact.

    This is so off key. Archboshop James Gibbons of Baltimore counted at least 55 different views of Communion/Eucharist, and that was in 1875. He was the foremost apologist and sociologist in the Church at the time.

    Demoninations are “recognized autonimous brands of the Christian church”. When one church seperates itself from another, autonimously, that is denomination. If there are 55 different interpretations on the bread and wine/juice alone, yes, there very well could be 33,000 different ones considering all the elements of faith.

    Did you also know the stat comes from the Oxford University Press; no overlooked number according to one of the best sociological christian ministries in the world.

    EDIT: I also disagree that Protestestants are more than mistaken about sacrements and unity is a huge concern once it is brought up correctly and effectively. My own conversion was made complete by my realization that Christ demands Unity.

    • Nobody is saying unity isn’t important.

      It’s just that the 33,000 statistic is objectively BOGUS. The way the numbers were compiled was absolutely shoddy and no Catholic would accept their conclusions of the hundreds of different Catholic denominations.

      It is also shoddy because Protestants do look at the issue differently, and that matters, especially if our goal is to reach them instead of playing internet champ.

      • Marcus Guevara

        I don’t cling to the 30 thousand denominations argument. In fact, I really don’t use it unless it somehow comes up. However, I don’t know that we can say it is “objectively” bogus. The matter is probably more subjective than objective. This article is entirely the opinion of the author and his Protestant friend. The author doesn’t provide any reputable sources that contradict the Oxford University Press on this matter. The 30 thousand denominations argument comes from the lack of central authority and government between two churches that may share the same name. If the Baptist church in Texas doesn’t have any kind of relation to the Baptist church in Oklahoma – they are different denominations. That’s because the authority lies only with the pastor of the Church. The matter gets worse with “non-denominational” churches. It’s not about similarity and agreement – it’s about unity by subjection to authority. Easter rite churches don’t have their own authority and can’t make their own decisions on doctrine. The Orthodox Church is extremely similar to the Catholic Church – we agree on almost all serious, or crucial, matters – yet it is a different denomination. I still think there are more effective arguments and explanations but to me it’s not bogus. It is in fact a sad reality.

        I still enjoyed reading the article and appreciated the author’s thoughts on the matter.

        • No, it’s objectively bogus. The list says there are over 500 Catholic denominations. It’s a legit concern the argument tries to address, but it’s still factually wrong.

          And in Rome’s eyes the Orthodox are not a “denomination.” We might not have full communion with them, but it really isn’t fair to the Orthodox (and even Eastern Catholics in communion with Rome) to consider the EO a “denomination.”

          • Marcus Guevara

            Kevin, I just want to make sure you and I aren’t arguing. It’s difficult to measure tone on forums so I am just ensuring that I don’t come off as argumentative. I am just offering my opinion. I respect yours and the authors and I’m not trying to change it.

            My opinion on your comments concerning the Orthodox is that they are a denomination… of Christianity. Just as Catholicism is a denomination. Denomination isn’t a bad word. It doesn’t indicate whether something came before or after – it just indicates that it is a division of a bigger piece. It’s how you tell the difference between the two. I don’t think it’s unfair to state that Eastern Orthodoxy is a division of Christianity. If it is than it should also be unfair to Protestants to call them a denomination since they also share some communion with us.

          • Hi Marcus,
            I would define it the way the Church does in her documents:

            Churches of the East that have a valid priesthood, valid sacraments and valid episcopal orders are described as churches, particular churches, etc. Even if they aren’t in communion with the Bishop of Rome, they still for the most part have the faith, have valid orders, succession, etc.

            Protestants have none of those things. That’s why they are referred to as “ecclesial communities” or some other term. We have certain elements of communion with some of them them (belief in basic tenets of Christianity such as the Trinity, upholding the Bible as the word of God), but compared to the East, that union is really really limited.

            Eastern Catholics get pretty upset when you view them a denomination, and I’d say they have a pretty good basis for that. Sometimes terminology can be a matter of semantics, but as is the case with denominations in Protestantism, I think semantics are pretty important here. It is why I think the Oxford definition is completely bogus, and imagines Christianity in a fashion that neither Catholics or Protestants really recognize.

            Hope that provides greater clarity.

          • Thanks for the info Kevin. For my reference can you point me to where I can find the “ecclesial communities” term in official Church documents?

          • Benjamin Baxter
          • Ben provided one, but another high profile example would be Dominus Iesus paragraph 17. The instruction points out the clear differences between “churches” and “ecclesial communities”

            Having a valid episcopacy is the most important part. No episcopacy and you can kiss everything else that makes a church a church goodbye.

          • Phil Steinacker

            Kevin, there ARE hundreds of groups calling themselves Catholc. I don’t know – nor do I care – if the number is 500.

            Counting individual non-denominational churches and phony Catholic churches is fair game. Claims that such distinctions don’t matter to Protestants are the real bogus claims and quite necessary because the ND movement is the logical historic extension of the splitting off which began with Luther. The problem is so bad that the protestant claim that they see it differently is a required but weak rationalization of a reality they cannot control or explain away.

            You appear to have bought into the weak excuses they offer. I don’t buy them and never will. While it makes sense the various Protestant churches can be broken down into 6-7 categories according to theological schools, the sad truth is that among those in any one category there are continuing disagreements which I have encountered first-hand. That is a condition which is historically demonstrated without fail, and we should continue to expect nothing else.

            OTOH, I agree only about its ineffectiveness as an argument, but then I don’t bother wrangling with Protestants anyway. That ministry is not mine, and I have zero interest in it. I think the observation about Protestantism splintering itself into tens of thousands of tiny pieces simply highlights the truth that the Catholic Church is the True Church founded by Jesus Christ, and therefore ismore useful for internal consumption.

            Don’t forget to post a link to your source. Thanks.

            BTW, you mention the list without citing it. Please provide a link. I remember reading an article about the research firm when it announced the count at 33,000, and read the latest count was up to 40,000+ a couple years ago. I just figured the splintering of ND churches just continues unabated.

      • Shaun Alexander McAfee

        Thanks. I hope I didn’t sound uncouth. I only have a different opinion. Our best apologists use this in their debates and books, including Madrid, Hahn, Keating, and Staples. Again, I’m not here to say that the author can’t have an opinion, I just hope this Bad Evangelist Club campaign doesn’t hurt apologetics with authors trying to be overly novel. I hope you understand. I appreciate your comment.

        • And even though many of those guys are freakishly talented when it comes to apologetics, even the best gets some things wrong.

          Though I’m known to normally clash with him, I think Dave Armstrong settled this best when he wrote the following:

          Sometimes you gotta go where the evidence takes you. I encourage people to get creative when it comes to apologetics. Many of the writers i’ve put on here have done precisely that. Yet we can’t do so through arguments that really are false.

          • Shaun Alexander McAfee

            Fair enough. God Bless You.

      • jasonbmiller

        I don’t think it is at all objectively bogus. If I take an objectively scientific perspective to classify protestants – like if I classified types of spiders – each tiny little change AND regional difference would be held into consideration. You would end up with thousands of denominations. Unlike Catholicism or Orthodoxy, you don’t have many doctrines to hold them all together. I can’t actually think of any. You could say that all protestants agree in sola scriptura – well they don’t. You could say that all of them reject sacraments – they don’t. All of them accept the divinity of Christ – they don’t. Then what about all those unique little cults around the world that are off shoots of Protestantism – they can’t be dismissed – each one of them has a unique theology revolving around their founder. Once you start dividing and subdividing based on those factors, it starts to get a little insane. The only genuine denominations of Catholicism are folks like the lefebrites, the liberal catholic church, and a few of those folks. There is a way to graphically illustrate here – it is how families are represented in the social sciences. The branches in Catholicism are almost all connected together – they represent the various rites and regions. The branches in Protestantisms are cut off with hash marks representing a divorce in ideas. If you do this, you will find literally thousands of denominations. This needs to be acknowledged. The reason we can’t speak to it well during a debate, is because we don’t have a neat and simple way of demonstrating it in a few minutes or even hours. Someone should just take the time to design it and put it on a website, especially so we don’t end up with this idea that there are NOT thousands of denominations.

        • The 33,000 comes from Oxford. Oxford uses a definition of “denomination” that would lead to there being over 500 denominations within Catholicism. Ergo, the number is bunk, no matter how much you spin it.

          Since the number is bunk, we should drop it. We should instead focus on things which ARE objectively true: The Protestant concept of communion and unity has absolutely nothing to do with the New Testament. Nobody denies that there are a lot of differing denominations, even if you give a very favorable interpretation towards Protestants.

          We just say “don’t use a demonstrably false number which is going to alienate any Protestant with half a brain for no reason.”

          • Phil Steinacker

            Within Catholicism? Or using the word Catholic in the name of their so-called church?

  • Marie Dean

    Because of the false emphasis on a certain type of ecumenism, which does not ever discuss the “protest” element of Protestantism, we forget that most denominations are not only not sacramental, but non-Credal.

    The new formula for baptism in many of these “Church of Bob” of “Church of Jim”, may not even be Christian baptism, as I found out in 2008 as an RCIA director. Some of the people coming were baptized “In the Name of Jesus” only, not in the Trinitarian form. So, sadly, many so called Protestants are not even baptized Christians. We need to know the great differences in order to evangelize properly, which is our duty.

    • Billy Bagbom

      Good point, Marie. In the early Church, as we can read in the Acts of the Apostles, converts were sometimes baptized “in the name of the Lord Jesus.” But that Name was understood (even if only implicitly, at the start) in a trinitarian context (as Matthew 28:18-20 makes clear). In our own postChristian era, nothing can be taken for granted. I think that is why, in the reception of Protestant converts into the Catholic Church, we cannot take a valid trinitarian baptism for granted. We should know from precisely what confession they are coming.

  • Pat

    Isn’t it easier to just point out that scripture only justifies (no pun intended) ONE Church (ecclesial communion)? IOW, if there is any more than ONE Church that teaches the essential Truths of the faith then we have a majot problem. Every argument in this area obviously boils down to AUTHORITY. Proper Authority , in fact.

    • That’s more or less what we are driving towards. It’s a fluff argument in the first place. What makes it bad is that its a fluff argument that happens to be factually wrong.

  • Ben

    It seems to me that we have to consider that the amount of Protestant communities is rising. Why? Because despite the claim that there are in fact few denominations, there is another element of division between Protestants, alongside doctrinal disagreement. Authority is central and in my experience a more important reason for a believer to join this church vs another. You can find two churches on the same block, having the same basic creed, worship style and music and yet they are divided, do not share anything and ignore each other. The rejection of the Catholic Church’s authority has begotten this attitude. Each believer is free to choose his church and he is not, most of time thinking in terms of doctrine.
    So the figure of thousands of Protestant communities is telling because it shows that the division between believers is embedded in the Protestant mindset.

    • John M.

      For the complete argument I make, see:

      I don’t believe there are 33,000 Protestant denominations, I believe there are hundreds of thousands, if not millions, based on my experiences. I define a Protestant denomination as a religious unit
      of one or more persons that has: 1) A particular set of beliefs on
      matters of faith and morals, which may or may not be unique to that
      group; and 2) Has its own structure of authority that ultimately answers
      to no human being outside of the denomination. I believe that if God leaves us on this earth long enough, that we will eventually have 1 denomination for each Protestant, or, at least each Protestant family.

      However, when discussing the disunity in Protestantism, there is no need to mention a specific number. I usually just say something along the lines of “many thousands” of denominations. The point is, as one poster already basically pointed out, there is no central authority in Protestantism that can define for you exactly what a Protestant believes in. Some believe in Sola Fide, some don’t. Some in infant baptism, some don’t. And so on. The main point is, each Protestant is, essentially, their own Pope, Pastor, and Theologian, which results in thousands upon thousands of division…the root cause being the dogma of Sola Scriptura and individual interpretation thereof.

      • Just say there are lots, and focus on the lack of ability to achieve true unity, even on simple matters such as eternal security.

        Speaking as the one who came up with the club and wanted Mr. Baxter to do this, both of us think the issue of unity is a problem in Protestant communities. We just think the 33,000 canard is a stupid way of doing it, because the number is false, and most Protestants who have done remedial study will be alienated by it.

      • Mary Kochan

        You know, that would agree with what Luther himself noted. In 1525 he wrote: “There are nowadays almost as many sects and creeds as there are heads.”

        • Shaun Alexander McAfee


        • jasonbmiller

          Very nice – that says it very well. And that was in his time – any reasonable person could see that this has multiplied in the last 500 years.

  • Jhawk77

    I absolutely hated the 33,000 number when I was studying the Catholic Church. To me, a “denomination” means a group of congregations that have a common set of interpretations, and have a centralized body of authority that they are accountable to. The 33,000 number, I think, adds in all the “one of a kind” protestant congregations without any associations, and therefore, the total could be that high. However, I agree with the writer that using this number, even if has validity, seems so outrageous that most protestants dismiss it out of hand as extreme hyperbole, and therefore dismiss everything else you might say as well.

  • Wulfrano Ruiz Sainz

    False. There are 300,000 of them and counting. Each one falsely christian as the rest.

    • Benjamin Baxter

      This is demonstrably false. To be Christian is to be baptized, and to be baptized is to be Christian. Some Protestant groups are Christian and others aren’t Christian.

      • opinionated1945

        “To be Christian is to be baptized and to be baptized
        is to be Christian.”

        Strictly speaking this is not true. According to the original
        and universal (Catholic) Christian Church, baptism must invoke The HolyTrinity: The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit”. [CCC1278]

        Certain denominations may (falsely) identify themselves as ‘Christians’, but aren’t by definition. Examples: Mormons, Jehovah’s Witness and Unitarians.

        • A baptism not done in the triune form is not a baptism in the eyes of the Church. You are basically just sprinkling water on someone. Nothing happens if it is done in something other than the Triune formula.
          So I think in this instance its a matter of semantics.

        • Benjamin Baxter

          Mormons and Oneness Pentacostals are the reason I said some Protestants aren’t Christian.

          • opinionated1945

            Thank you for the clarification and my best regards.

    • Wulfrano Ruiz Sainz

      Read Pope Pius XII encyclical “The Mystical Body of Christ” first and then we can talk.

      • Mystical Body of Christ?

        Matthew 18:20… For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.

        So much for the mystery…

        Judaica Bolshevist Mammonism (Baphomet) = Mahomet (Muslim Fratrum)

        Mendacium homosexuales sunt canes, de diabolus.

        (Ordo Draconis, sine pari)

  • me

    If they have 70 different schools of thought then they might as well have 33, 000. There’s only supposed to be ONE. and even though all these churches have the same end goal in mind, the reformation has broken apart 33, 000 times trying to be more right then its protestant neighbor.

    • Benjamin Baxter

      Exactly my point! (I didn’t write this comment, by the way.)

  • Hegesippus

    Truth is Truth.
    Catholics learn this from the teaching Magisterium of the One Church.
    If someone asks for the authority behind following one of the very many protestant groups all over the world, then they are taking on faith the theology taught by that group.

    Any particular “denomination” may belong to a large ‘family’ of groups under one approximate banner, of which there are several, but there is no guarantee regarding Truth.

    Therefore, the large number remains, but it should be tempered with the fact that these can be grouped together in to main themes/variations.

    • I guess my only problem with it all is that the number 33,000 is objectively bunk. It counts “catholic” denominations, and has a conception of Christianity that neither Protestants or Catholics recognize in its “denominations.”

      So why continue to use the number? Is liking the rhetorical point worth alienating a lot of Protestants who know better, and even others? Just say “we don’t know how many there are” when asked the question. Then point out most Protestants don’t view this as that big a deal, and then examine whether or not that cavalier attitude closely resembles the Church of the New Testament. Then once you’ve proven that false, show from the New Testament what the Church Christ established is supposed to look like.

      • Hegesippus

        The number is meaningless, really. But as you think there are Catholic denominations, I think it better you discover an accurate understanding of Catholicism, rather than argue over a number.

        All Catholics are either under one authority or they are acting outside of the Church. That does not make them “other” Catholics, but simply Catholics not in communion with the Church. There is only one Catholic Body.

        • Actually I don’t think there are Catholic denominations. But the figure of 33,000 denominations DOES treat over 500 different catholic groups as “denominations” of Catholicism.
          We aren’t really arguing over a number. I don’t even think we may be arguing. 🙂 If the number is meaningless, then why such a spirited defense of the number that isn’t actually real?

          • Hegesippus

            Maybe you have misread something. I did not defend the number, although the number is very high with regards to actually seeking Truth. There is only one Truth, that of God. I know which one I follow.

            Even if there was one alternate, it cannot be true. But with so many variations, it does not bode well for those who “protest” against the original.

      • jasonbmiller

        But protestants ARE Catholic denominations as well – they are break-aways from the Church. I know many protestants who acknowledge this when they call the Catholic Church the “Mother” Church. If we define Protestants by the protest of certain doctrines of the Church, which cause a break-away, then ALL break-aways are protestant – even the Pious XII folks.

        • Howard

          Just like all humans are fish, because we descended from fish — but try calling your wife/girlfriend a fish and see what happens.

        • Hegesippus

          If you do not hold Catholic teachings to be full and true, and are in full communion with the Catholic Church, then you are either a heretic or not Catholic. There is no grey area or middle ground.

          Claiming to be a member of a club that does not recognise you as a member is not membership.

          Ut unum sint, that they may be one, is a very suitable prayer, but that is not for spurious claims of membership while holding on to autonomy. The other churches (Greek Catholic, etc.) who come under the authority of the Vatican are completely under the authority of the Pope.

          Btw, it is Pius X. They are in schism, I believe, which is another matter.

  • Sam F

    Kevin Tierney says: “the 33,000 statistic is objectively BOGUS. The way the numbers were
    compiled was absolutely shoddy and no Catholic would accept their
    conclusions of the hundreds of different Catholic denominations.”
    I would agree that the number is bogus – at least for today’s Protestantism. That said, the number is bogus for two reasons. 1. It is far too small a number. 2. The number is probably uncountable in any realistic sense. I don’t say those things with no reason. Back in the 1980’s I did a survey of local churches in my rural county for Virginia Right to Life and I was amazed at the number of Baptist Churches alone. Do they agree with each other? Sort of. Enough to call themselves Baptist, though in some groups that is only a historical left over. But that’s the end of it. They have no cohesive theology and don’t agree on anything enough to be one church. Recall that my experience is prior to the explosive growth of non-Denominational churches, From speaking to the members of these groups, I can make a reasonable conclusion: Disagree with the pastor/elders on anything and you’re out. That is quite enough to count these groups as separate Churches. As for the un-countability… these Churches collapse, split, morph with such speed that counting them is a hopeless task. So the 33K number is almost certainly too low.

  • Reader

    If there are really only ‘4 or 5 schools of thought’ and ’70 denominations’ in this country, then how is Craig Atwood’s standard PROTESTANT reference work HANDBOOK OF DENOMINATIONS IN THE UNITED STATES 432 pages long? (see To say that there are only between 5 or 6 or even 70 can only be done by rejecting the standard definition of what a ‘denomination’ is. To act like it is Catholic apologists who made up the idea of more than a handful of denominations is exaggerating at best.

    • Nobody says it originated with Catholic apologists. Everyone knows where it originated. With Oxford in the way they count organizations within Christianity.
      What Mr. Baxter, myself (and other apologists like Dave Armstrong) have been saying since at least 2004 is that the Oxford definition is severly flawed, and we are using a demonstrably false argument to try and score points, and as a result of fallacious arguments, are giving an easy layup to Anti-Catholics and confirming the caricature of Catholics as dishonest in their apologetics.
      Apologetics is not playing internet champ. Souls are on the line. If we are going around pushing demonstrably false arguments to try and make our side look better, and we alienate a Protestant away from the Church, we must answer for that before the Judgement seat of Christ for the scandal we perpetuate. That is how high the stakes are.

  • J. Boanerges

    Fracturing is what it is and when one breaks from another and forms a
    “new” congregation to the liking of their “pastor”, that’s a new
    denomination. It should be apparent that the advent of Protestantism
    ushered in the “I am my own pope” theology. Therefore, 33,000 or more
    “new” congregations with their own unique beliefs.

  • Howard

    “We’re counting these churches as we care about them. That is, we’re counting local ‘independent’ churches independently when those selfsame independent communions as a whole don’t care about formal communion.”

    Oh, so they don’t really think the differences between them are important, huh? Well, SOME don’t. Others DO. Very few think that their own meeting-house contains all the elect presently sojourning on Earth, but there are a few of those. A student in some of my classes a dozen years ago belonged to a weird little Ebionite-like sect that thought the hundred or so of them constituted the entire True Church today. More common are small clusters who think everyone else is going to Hell for refusing to share their peculiar beliefs about the Rapture. IT IS IMPOSSIBLE TO GENERALIZE, and therefore it is impossible to get a meaningful count.

    A more serious complaint is that, in the final analysis, every Protestant is a Pope unto himself. The counter to that is that the same is true of almost all American Catholics.

  • D.A. Howard

    Your friends claim that there are not 33,000 denominations and yours is false. There are at least that in the U.S. Why? Because a denomination is an authority structure: “1a recognized autonomous branch of the Christian Church” (Oxford English Dictionary, Denomination), Since many, if not most denominations have autonomous authority, they are separate from one another. This is a commonly misunderstood term, that Protestants try to minimize in order to cover over their chaos. A denomination is not a “school of thought,” it is about authority, like we have always said.

    • Howard

      Actually, it’s about having different names. Just look at the root of the word.

    • I say with all due respect, but I question whether or not you actually read the article. Everyone knows what Oxford said about Christian denominations. What we point out is that Oxford actually classifies different religious orders and ecclesial movements within Catholicism as “denominations” under their definition.
      The 33,000 number, again, is objectively bogus. Does that mean there isn’t a lack of unity in Protestantism? Of course there is. They’ve been splitting and dividing ever since Luther, to the point where Luther and Calvin realized they had unleashed a great problem, but were too stubborn to realize that their theology of private interpretation (setting themselves up as the gold standard for orthodoxy) is what caused it.
      So how many denominations are there? Who knows. It could be a few hundred, it could be several thousand, it could be even more. Yet if you ask a Protestant, they view it differently.

      Here’s something we (Catholics and Protestants) can agree upon:
      1.) There is no source that provides unity for Protestantism that functions in reality.
      2.) Their claimed unity is not really a strong one when you realize that on the biggest questions of salvation, they fall into at least two different camps. (Whether or not you can lose salvation.)
      3.) The mere existence of that two is a scandal, and contrary to the promises and will of Christ.
      4.) From that point, you can actually meaningfully interact with them.
      If you are dying on the hill of 33,000, you are defending a number that is really and truly false. If you want to use it to beat it over the head of Protestants, you aren’t really reachg out to them or evangelizing them, you are just looking to start a fight.

  • simon_james

    “To say “33,000? when there are really only about five or six or ten or seventy is a gesture of bad faith, and a sign we aren’t being serious.”

    Speaking of signs we aren’t being serious . . .How about tossing out a range from 5 to 14 times 5 . . . how about basing the answer on what “a Protestant friend of mine” happens to think? How about undertaking zero serious analysis while simultaneously claiming someone else’s is wrong?

    And 5 or 6 or 10 . . . really? There are at least 5 or 6 or 10 just on Thornton Street in Akron, Ohio. There are easily 70 within the greater Akron area. They are in no way affiliated. Basing the total count on “theological differences is a bit odd, also. The point is that there is division.

    • Benjamin Baxter

      Of course the point is that there is division. But the point here is to point out the division they already acknowledge and have a problem with, and let them think about it for a moment or two.

  • Molly

    So instead of saying “denominations,” can we say “independent ‘churches'” each with its own pastor claiming to teach the whole Truth…?

  • Clinton Lowell Ufford

    Technically, a Protestant is someone who believes in Christ and has been baptized, yet refutes Catholicism. CCC 838 – A Protestants roots are in the Reformation

  • DAVE

    The basic problem of this article is definition — the author conflates “denominations” with “theologies”, or theological traditions. Having spent 20 years in the Lutheran church, most as a pastor and leader, I can tell you that there ARE at least 30,000 denominations – independent groups, no matter what “ecumenical agreements” they point to — because they all fight against ANY unified structure. It’s a “we can get along but be separate” mentality that is foreign to Catholic theology and the Catholic faith. Now, there ARE only a handful of protestant theological strands — Calvinism, Lutheranism, Fundamentalism, Evangelicalism, etc — and even those blend together as the adherents, as in various “denominations,” are free to pick and choose among those, and then fight with each other whose more “pure,” more “biblical” with no central teaching to guide them but their interpretation.(The Lutherans, for example, have a catechism and doctrinal book called the “Book of Concord” and STILL cannot agree on what THAT even means) Catholics, thankfully, have a Catechism, the Magisterium, and all the wit and wisdom of 2000 years to guide her. Some disagree, as always will in any group, but there is an official teaching that they have to justify their variance from, whether they believe it or not.

    • Benjamin Baxter

      I don’t think the blog post above conflates anything. Instead, it’s repeating a Protestant objection which itself involves that conflation.

      Part of evangelism is reaching people where they are, and Protestants are in error. The wonderful thing about error, especially serious error, is that you are almost always able to notice something wrong about it. Our trick as evangelists is to point out the wrong they can see so they can come to appreciate the wrong they don’t yet see.

      You don’t talk to a Communist and point out God-given rights being violated. Instead, you point a finger at the mountain of corpses he keeps under his rug, or the failure of the system to redress the wrongs it claims to redress. Once he appreciates that that is a problem, then lay on things from principles he does not already hold. Just so, with Protestantism, their stated goal is to come and know God and be saved. This can be a true Christian goal in a limited sense, depending on how he means it. But how can they know God when there’s so much theological squabbling without an end in sight?

      This kind of objection will cause him to think about it more than casually, lazily throwing out a number he is not guaranteed to recognize as true, or mattering, which will often make him merely roll his eyes, rolling over and away from the faith.

  • Chris Caudle

    It can be considered a question of authority. How many ‘decision makers’ are there in the various faiths? Who has the authority to remove a pastor, or,who,can discipline a congregant?

    Who I given authority on the many serious dogmatic questions our modern times have raised?

    In the current state of the Protestant faith, that number is tremendous…I am not a counter, but it is certainly in the thousands.

  • michicatholic

    Thank you. Methodists are Methodists even when they’re in different towns just like Catholics are Catholics in different towns. Catholics like to say 30K denominations because it feeds into their (mis)perceptions about Protestants.

  • Amatorem Veritatis

    Oh my…here we go again. False dilemma alert. What happened to the good ole’ Catholic standard of “both and”?

    1. Mr. Baxter presents the false dilemma on a rather thin premise. One, it is a Protestant premise, which is OK as it relates to what he claims is his central theme…apologetics from the perspective of your “adversary”. But he then goes further, claiming the 30K – 40K rationale is objectively false, based again on that same subjective, and therefore self-serving Protestant premise. He should have acknowledged that it does not matter what the actual number is, as error is error. And that point SHOULD be the ultimate focus of this line of apologia

    2. As others have said, this is clearly a distinction without a difference. Although our P & E (protestant & evangelical) brethren may object to this claim, which is in fact based on actual data (it is certainly more than an assertion…unlike the writer’s premise) as being hyperbolic, the question as to whether the “correct” number is 40K, 30K or only 40 or 30, misses the point. Any number of differences that equal at least one is a problem on core dogmatic doctrine. Otherwise you are left with the mistaken notion that right and wrong are relativistic, or some cumulative measure of error or difference. Wrong.

    3. The bottom line is that the more compelling argument from my perspective is the one that uses the rather obvious fact of P & E disagreement and history (pick any number of traditions, denominations or schools that you want) to demonstrate the first order error of private revelation, independence and individualism as relates to the Christian logos (Truth). As is expressed (we believe) in the fullness of revelation found only in the Catholic Church.

    The article represented a good opportunity to make both a small point regarding the tactics of effective apologetics and a larger philosophical point about “the great divide”. Unfortunately, it missed on both counts…unless you include the great comments that followed!

    • We exist to provide good discussion. 🙂

      I don’t think the mark was missed for one reason:

      1.) The “33,000” has an objective content to it. Mr. Baxter demonstrated that content is indeed objectively false.

      That it serves a larger confessional point and agenda is noteworthy but irrelevant. There’s a reason why apologists who spend most of their time actually out on the front lines don’t use this argument. (A classic example is Dave Armstrong.) He realizes that you can’t and shouldn’t use bad arguments to advance your agenda, since those arguments will turn off people who are paying attention.

      I chose this introductory topic to be covered because you had to deal with the “small points” before you get to bigger points. Next month will be how NOT to refute Sola Scriptura. (Actually we got a couple installments of those)

      • Amatorem Veritatis

        Your provision of “good discussion” is welcomed and appreciated. This is a new blog for me, and it appears to be promising.

        However, not to belabor the point to death, but I would suggest that if you replace “objective” and “objectively” in your paragraph 1.) with “subjective” and “subjectively”, then it reads correctly. The 33,000 number is one of many estimates of something we might consider an objective reality, the number of non-Catholic Christian faith traditions currently in practice. As an estimate, it is therefore subjective without some attempt at erecting some definitional or forensic boundaries. Mr. Baxter’s critique is only objective in the sense that you agree with his forensic boundaries. I do not…:-)

        Finally, as I also understand the rhetorical and journalistic method of the Socratic dialectic, and appreciate that sometimes there is a purpose to erecting a “straw man”, one must be careful in terms of the when and where. I am a convert who was well steeped in both the religion of secular humanism (full atheism) as well as several P & E traditions, and I have seldom heard anyone actually invoke the 30K/40K argument in favor of Catholic truth. Perhaps as a purely subordinate amplification of a larger point, but never as a primary argument.

        • The 33,000 denominations used to be one of the staples of Catholic apologetics. Really, if you were doing apologetics, you had to use the number. Keating used it in Catholicism and Fundamentalism, Patrick Madrid used it in countless debates against Anti-Catholics, etc. A certain 18 year old supremely arrogant apologist even used it in his first online debate.

          While the number was always shaky and poorly sourced, it was only around 2003 that Dr. Eric Svendsen (a now disgraced Anti-Catholic polemicist for an unrelated manner) wrote a research paper that examined the “33,000 denominations” charge and revealed its true source: The Oxford Dictionaries classification of Christian denominations. He showed how it also said there were 500 Catholic denominations, why the number was flawed from a Protestant perspective, etc.

          So in that case, when people say “33,000 denominations”, they are quoting Oxford. Oxfords number is false, because Catholics do not believe there are 500 Catholic denominations. There’s really nothing subjective about this.

          The argument is still in use today on Catholic Answers live and other Catholic radio as for why Protestantism is false. It isn’t in the staple of the big name apologists anymore (who tend to avoid using it now that it’s been pretty badly demolished), but it still persists in popular circles, hence the reaction on this thread.

          Glad we are getting a new audience to CL. Like I mentioned before, this “bad evangelist club” will be a monthly series, but there will be a lot of apologetics and catechesis regularly here.

          • Amatorem Veritatis

            In reviewing my own records and research data on the above, I offer the following comments:

            1. The “false” source that you cite (improperly) is actually the World Christian Encyclopedia (WCE) published by the Oxford University Press. Issued first in 1982 and updated in 2001. Oxford Press as you know is hardly a “fly by night” operation, and is one of the largest publishers of bibles in the world.

            2. Other reputable Christian research organizations such as Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary seem to find the data both accurate and appropriately validated to use in their own research and publications.

            3. The information that you cite from Mr. Svendsen is also somewhat incorrect. Or perhaps your source was incorrect. The WCE actually lists 242 Catholic “denominations” in the ’81 publication, but admits that they count each country (238 countries) as a separate “denomination” (they find 4 additional due to identification of liturgical rite I believe).

            4. Now we can agree that the WCE author(s) were in error by counting each countries Catholic Church as a denomination,, and we might also agree with the criticism that some Protestant traditions such as Anglicanism or the various Orthodox Churches have a coherent enough ecclesial structure that they also can claim to be “over-counted”. But this can not be said to be a valid criticism when it comes to the Protestant, Independent (non-denominational) and Marginals (Christian cults) categories. As these categories are defined by their absence of any coherent ecclesial structure, and their independence from any doctrinal uniformity, they can be accurately considered separate denominations. It should also be noted that the Oxford study did NOT count churches that fell below a certain size threshold, which eliminated thousands of smaller churches whose theology is based primarily on the what their Pastor may declare.

            5. So, although it may be true that the Oxford WCE authors have a definition of denomination that is open to some criticism, the underlying data would seem to demonstrate that those Christian traditions that fall into the Protestant, Independent or Marginal categories (excluding Orthodox & Anglican) might easily exceed 33,000 world wide.

            You have perhaps read through this critique and overview of the WCE, but if not, it is worth a read. Not sure how you can legitimately come to the sad conclusion that non-Catholic Christianity has been on a 500 year (1000 year?) trend of accelerating fragmentation. Arguing over exactly how many holes are in the HMS Titanic hull seems to miss the more fundamental point. Shalom!

          • Nobody is denying the trend. We were just pointing out the number is bogus.
            Why use a number that is bogus, and the faults with the number are readily available? Why not just say “we don’t know, the number is growing, but even two is a cause for scandal, and contrary to the Gospel.”
            Rather than using an arbitrary number, the Protestant instead has to defend their ecclesial model in light of the New testament, something which isn’t very easy to do.

  • Malcolm Kirk

    Good idea. But hard to execute.

    First on you current issue: the 30,000 number does have difficulties. Let us begin by noting that the Catholic Church does not view Orthodox churches as Protestant, though they certainly are in protest against Rome. Second, the church views churches with fundamentally Christian doctrine as “seperated brethren,” not heretical. Yet in previous published lists of Christian denominations (including the 30,000 referenced by Catholic apologists), there are heretical groups included (Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, etc). …That said, it is difficult not to see churches splitting over either doctrine, or leadership as not establishing their own denominations on a small or large scale. Larger denominations even have smaller ones within them: Lutheranism, Presbyterianism, Baptists, etc, etc, all have sub-denominations (some of which have also steered heretically into liberal theology). “Mars Hill,” under the founding and leadership of Mark Driscoll, passes itself as an independent sort of non-denominational church with “Reformed Baptist” doctrine (oximoronic) and a Charismatic view of continuation of “sign gifts” (even more oximoronic). But as such, it acts as its own denomination (with Mark as its Pope),…and growing by leaps and bounds, one might add.
    That said….
    Scholarly honesty will run you into several problems on your task. For instance, Catholic apologists sometimes engage in bad exegesis to defend the Church’s stand on an issue; but the fact is, so does the Church in the Catechism.
    They also will defend Church positions by relying on spurious sources when lacking any reliable historical record; but the Church does this, too. For example, the perpetual virginity of Mary rely heavily on the Protoevangelium of James.
    Catholic Apologists sometimes rely on fallacies in proving their argument; but so does the Chruch. Here are three examples:
    The sensus fidei / sensus fidelium is nothing more than argumentum ad populum which discounts the minority of Catholic scholars who disagree, as well as ignoring the sensus fidei / sensus fidelium of Orthodox and Protestant Christians who must also have the Holy Spirit (else they would not be Christians at all).
    The Church’s late definition of infallibility conveniently engages in post hoc protor hoc, thereby excluding certain decrees made by Popes and Counsels that clearly believed themselves to be stating them with doctrinal authoritative at the time they made them.
    The Church’s declaration that Muslims believe in the same God as Jews and Christians engages the fallacy of cherry picking / selective evidence / suppressed evidence / incomplete evidence. It uses the most minimalisitc view of the Islam divinity, and ignores the historical context under which Mohammed developed (or allegedly had revealed to him) his divinity’s nature (which is decidedly not Christian). And, while modern Jews have a similar radically monotheistic god (i.e. one God, who is only one Person), they can at least claim to be following in a Jewish tradition.
    The Church’s modern teaching of “to Jesus through Mary” is fallaciously justified on reversing the equation (if you will) of Jesus coming to us through Mary; thereby asserting we need to go to Jesus through her. Of course, this argument is both illogical, and anti-biblical. A similar one is that Mary is the most reliable intercessor for us (and can most sympathize with us) because she was only human, yet sinless (unlike Christ, who was both human and divine (thus minimizing his full humanity). Yet scripture clearly teaches that Jesus is fully human, and our reliable, sympathetic intercessor / advocate (Heb. 2:17-18; 4:14-16).
    Finally, the Church engages in a radical expansion of what scripture says is required for salvation based one’s acceptance or rejection of these extra-biblical issues that really have no baring on the person of God, or his work of saving people through Jesus Christ.
    So, to stand against some of the bad arguments of Catholic apologists is, in many instances, to simultaneously stand against the church.

    • Hello Mr. Kirk,

      Thank you for your reply. I’d take issue with the citations you give as being “fallacious” but the comboxes really aren’t a place to do so. Myself or I’m sure Mr. Baxter would be able to discuss these issues in more depth in another forum, and I would invite you to contact me at kmtierney at gmail dot com to see about any discussion.

  • jyegge

    The most basic truth about Catholicism is that even though
    there are differing theological schools, spirituality approaches, etc., within Catholicism, Catholics are all united under
    One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, which is guided by St. Peter’s
    successor (the Holy Father) and the successors of the other Apostles (college
    of Bishops). Conversely, Protestants are guided by their personal
    interpretation of Scripture, regardless of their particular denominational
    affiliation. The result is that there are as many Protestant denominations as there
    are Protestants.

    Hence, the Protestant person approaching the minister after the service and
    saying, “I think you’re wrong Bob and here’s why” and when the
    disagreement gets too heated, they simply walk out and find a new church, also
    called church shopping. (google “church shopping” and you’ll be amazed)

    • Glenn54321

      I see your point and we Catholics certainly have a single set of dogmas. However, there seems to be just as many takes on these dogmas internally as the protestant have externally. Both the clergy and laity reside all over the spectrum of beliefs. One priest will say, for example, “no contraception in any circumstances” others will say “well, it’s basically ok most of the time.” If these are the shepherd’s assistants and operate unchecked this way, one has to wonder where the truth really lies. Sure, we have a book of dogmas, but if major sections of the magesterium are contradicting it, does it really have absolute authoritative weight?

      No matter how you cut it, our house is in disorder and highly feminized. Going to a typical Mass feels like some narcissistic moron’s idea of self-help from the 1980s. The music is repulsively banal. Communion is signaled by about a dozen post-menopausal ex-hippies rushing the alter while their granddaughters assist the priest. It’s no wonder we’re about 1.5 generations from going extinct; the men and masculinity have been driven out and it’s causing a radical imbalance.

      At any rate… Protestants might go church shopping, but Catholics go pastor shopping… essentially the same thing.

      • jyegge

        Glenn, your description of the experience of most Catholics in the U.S. at a typical Sunday Mass is totally accurate and funny too, if it weren’t so true. But I have some good news on that front. One orthodox man in our parish started asking people, “Hey! What do you think of our music at Mass?” He found out that most people hated our hippy band that stood up front and performed each week. He organized a group of men, who move the piano up our unused choir loft and donated about $2000 for new, hard cover traditional hymnals. The band quit because they would have had to give up Bob Dylan tunes and play from the loft. Now, we have great, much more traditional music and our band leaders quit the parish after many hissy fits. Success!!! You can do it too. Start asking parish members if they like the Peter, Paul and Mary music and get ready for their real feelings. They don’t like it either.

        Lastly, individual priests and even bishops are not the teaching Magisterium of the Church. The catechism reflects Church doctrine, not an individual priest or bishop or even a group of bishops if they are not in union with the pope on the matter. So I don’t care what father say’s, unless he is in conformity with Church doctrine.

    • Malcolm Kirk

      Sound exegesis is sound exegesis. Now, there can be areas of speculation, such as which James is the author of the book bearing that name, etc. But context determines meaning. It is always amazing to here Catholic apologists rebuke someone for taking a text out of context, but then do the same thing if it is for attempting to prooftext a Catholic doctrine; or appeal to historical context, unless inconvenient to their point of view; or neglecting such fundamental principles as not basing a doctrine on a narative (particularly a single historical event or act without divine endorsement, and without any basis in God’s divinely revealed teachings).
      That said, I will freely admit that many Protestants and Protestant denominations also play the same sort of games with their pet doctrines (such as everyone being able to have a “prayer language” / speak in tongues, or “sign gifts” ceasing with the death of the last of the Apostle whom Christ chose, etc).
      Sound exegesis is only the enemy of those who abuse a text.

      • jyegge

        The questions Catholics ask our Protestant brothers and sisters are basic – even before biblical exegesis comes into play. For example, why do Protestants deny the authority of the Catholic Church, but at the same time take the Church’s word on matters like the Trinity, the idea that the Bible is infallible, which books actually belong in the Bible, and who Jesus Christ is? The arch-heretic Arias was using scripture when he said Jesus is not equal to God, but the Church said, no, Jesus is equal to both the Father and Holy Spirit. How did the Church know that and why do you believe the Church on that and not Arias?

        Also, why would God give us an infallible scripture (as attested to by His Church), but not give us an infallible teaching authority? What good is an infallible Bible without and infallible authority to interpret it? Lacking an infallible teaching authority would lead to a multitude of different groups, all claiming they are correct (i.e., Protestantism). But Jesus prayed that his Church would be one – united.

  • Just wanted to thank everyone for a really fun discussion. Lots of people know I tend to be really pessimistic about comboxes, so when a discussion remains civil the entire way through, I view that a big thing. Everyone grills each other hard but everyone takes it in stride. How it should be. Looking forward to next month, where yours truly drops the editor hat and tries his hand at apologetics with “How Not to Refute Sola Scriptura”

  • Marcus

    For lots of reasons, I’ve always felt a bit sheepish whenever we’ve used the 33,000 figure for the number of Christian denominations, and agree we should this number cautiously. However, this figure comes from a Protestant source: “World Christian Trends AD 30 – AD 2200: Interpreting the Annual Christian megacensus,” by David B. Barrett and Todd M. Johnson (William Carey Library; Pasadena, California, 2001). In Part 9, Globalistics, page 366: denominations, Christian (distinct and separate) ….. 33,000. They also project denominations (Christian), Ad 2025 …… 50,000!

    • Marcus,
      The source is never in question, its the criteria on which that source uses to define things. It’s in a way even catholics would reject, to say nothing of Protestants.

  • Wulfrano Ruiz Sainz

    Read Pope Pius XII encyclical “The Mystical Body of Christ” first and then we can talk,

  • Tom Leith

    But isn’t Evangelization passe now?

    • I was wondering how long it would take for these kind of trolls. Thankfully the article has already had its moment in the sun.

      As one with more trad bona fides than you, go troll elsewhere. This is where we do constructive things.

  • tteague

    Regarding denominations, the issue is, I believe, the tendency towards disunity (or perhaps the easy willingness to embrace disunity) and no so much about the so-called 33,000+ denominations. Depending on how one wants to look at it, one could say there are only seven “real” Protestant denominations: Anglican, Baptist, Congregational, Lutheranism, Methodism, Presbyterianism, and Reformed. But then when one looks at the history and current state of those seven, one finds many splinter groups. And then there are so-called non-denominational and evangelical churches. The point I’m making is not to think in terms of denominations, rather to see that in the DNA of Protestantism is a deeply felt need to separate oneself from one another over any number of issues, and to do so even as a badge of one’s own theological integrity or piety. But, of course, this contradicts both Christ’s desire for unity, and the clear teaching of scripture that in matters of faith, hope, and love, that love trumps even faith. Without claiming 33,000+ denominations as the “issue”, point to the tendency toward disunity in Protestant history as a sign that something may be wrong at its core. Point to scripture. Make it about Christ and not us vs. them. I say this having been a Protestant for more than 45 years and then coming into the Church last year.

    • tteague

      …and I would add that the current trend towards a broad Evangelicalism is the desire to find a common ground among many Christians. Though Evangelicalism is, in many ways, just the extension of Fundamentalism (mixed with a little bit of Calvinism) into a populist, non-denominational, Jesus-centered mold, it is, nonetheless, a way for many Christians to leave behind the denomination wars of Protestantism’s past and forge a new sense of unity. Many Protestants now find themselves no longer protesting – at least not protesting the Catholic Church the way their ancestors did (though they still maintain many un-examined prejudices). Perhaps this new landscape this is a field ready for harvest for the Catholic evangelist.

      • I’ve found this as well. It’s also why I conceived of the series. We need to drop the things that are going to alienate them, especially when those things are false.

  • Tweety58

    Speak for yourself Ben.There ARE about 44,000 different Protestant Bodies which have denominated.

    • Showing actual evidence would help. Mr. Baxter has shown the commonly accepted numbers are bunk.

      • Tweety58

        Guess you didn’t read my comments further down.A tad premature.

  • Tweety58

    Whether the number is 30, 300, 3000 or 30,000, it still shows the fallacy of Sola Scriptura, and that should be enough for anyone to come back to the Church, or at least realize there just may be something to the Catholic Church. We have survived 2000 years.

  • Tweety58

    According to the Dictionary of Christianity in America [Protestant] (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 1990): “As of 1980 David B. Barrett identified 20,800 Christian denominations worldwide . . .” (“Denominationalism,” page 351). I have this book, so I have seen this with my own eyes. Barrett “classified them into seven major blocs and 156 ecclesiastical traditions.” This is from the Oxford World Christian Encyclopedia (1982) of which he is the editor. Also, according to the United Nations statistics there were over 23,000 competing and often contradictory denominations worldwide (World Census of Religious Activities [U.N. Information Center, NY, 1989]). This was cited in Frank Schaeffer’s book Dancing Alone (Brookline, MA: Holy Cross Press, 1994), page 4. Schaeffer is Orthodox. The 1999 Encyclopedia of Christianity has this to say: “In 1985 David Barrett could count22,150 distinct denominations worldwide.” (edited by E. Fahlbusch, et al., Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1999, vol. 1, p. 800, s.v. “Denomination”). Barrett is the statistical editor. Again citing the Oxford World Christian Encyclopedia (1982): “. . . a projected 22,190 by 1985 . . . The present net increase is 270 denominations each year (five new ones a week).” (pages 15-18)

    Source:Dave Armstrong

  • Tweety58

    You might be a Protestant if….

    (1) You believe the Bible consists of only 66 books
    (2) You believe authority rests with Scripture Alone (Sola Scriptura)
    (3) You believe justification is by Faith Alone (Sola Fide)

    How many of the “denominations” listed by Barrett fall into this category? I’m betting over 33,000. Let’s look at it this way, of the 33,000 that Barrett classifies, which ones refute the pillars of Protestantism shown above? (a) Catholic Church, (b) Oriental Orthodox (5th century schism), (c) Eastern Orthodox (11th century schism). Any others? Perhaps I’ve missed a few. Even if you break apart the Orthodox Churches into separate Patriarchates (Bishops), that doesn’t reduce the BIG number of 33,820 by very much, does it? Some would say, “well that number is completely inflated” based upon Barrett’s fuzzy definition of “denomination.” On the contrary, I would say that it is a MUCH LARGER NUMBER of denominations using Webster’s definition of “denomination.”

    Even within the Catholic Church, the most diverse forms of Catholicism, the Latin and Eastern Rite, share the same government, the same “religious organization uniting local congregations in a single legal and administrative body.” In other words, Canon Law for the Eastern Rite and Canon Law for the Latin Rite come from the same single government, chaired by the same Vicar.

    In the U.S. the next largest so-called “denomination” after the Catholic Church is referred to as “Baptist” according to

    Is this a single denomination by Webster’s use of the word? Can the Baptist denomination rightly be called a “religious organization uniting local congregations in a single legal and administrative body?” I don’t believe so.

    I suspect the label ‘Baptist’ is yet another grouping of denominations like the word “Protestant,” since according to one Baptist scholar, every

    “local Baptist parish church is a law unto itself. Its relations with other Baptists churches, its compliance with recommendations from national church headquarters, its acceptance of any resolutions formulated at regional , national, or international conventions — all these are entirely voluntary on the part of the parish church.” (Religions of America, Leo Rosten, ed.)

    If it is true that every Baptist parish-church is a law unto itself, then isn’t every individual Baptist parish-church, according to Webster, its own legal and administrative body, its own denomination? I wonder how many Baptist parish-churches are in the world? I know there are too many to easily count here in Colorado Springs.

    Are there any major denominations within Protestantism, for example Lutheranism, which can be correctly called a denomination by Webster’s usage? If so, I’m not familiar with them. Missouri-Synod Lutherans want nothing to do with the World-Lutheran-Federation Lutherans, for example.

    Therefore, I believe 33,000 is a tragically conservative number of Protestant denominations IN THIS COUNTRY (U.S.) let alone in the world.

    Anti-Catholic Evangelical apologist Eric Svendsen is quoting from an earlier edition of the same encyclopedic source. Unfortunately, if you’ve read Dave Armstrong’s article on the subject, you know that Eric Svendsen’s polemics fall flat upon its face (as usual). The beauty is, Svendsen still has not faced up to the fact that there is ONE Catholic Church listed for every country Barrett lists. Nor has he addressed the fact that all those “denominations” that use a 66-book Protestant Bible, and uphold the pillars of Protestantism (sola scriptura and sola fide) are PROTESTANT even if they claim otherwise. Calling themselves “non-denominational” may be a clever marketing technique, but the world (including Protestant authors) knows them as Protestants.

    Source:Dave Armstrong

  • Billy Bagbom

    “Well, there’s me and my brother Darrell, and my wife and Billy Bob. And I’m not real sure about Billy Bob.”

  • The point is not whether the 33,000 number is true or false. The issue is one of pure logic. If you need a premise you use the weakest premise you can. The weaker the premise the harder your argument is to attack. So saying 33,000 when 33 will do is just making their rebuttal easier. I don’t know that you want to take it down to 2.

    If there were only 2 protestant faiths I would not find that such a serious problem. I say that when asked, “What about the Eastern Orthodox?” Often I say, “Can we deal with that later?” Just lump EO and Catholic together as 2 faiths that have apostolic succession and valid sacraments and a strong role for tradition. Once we settle that a faith like that is what we should be looking for then we can ask, “EO or Catholic?”

    So we need more than 2 protestant faiths. Ask them how many they think there are. If they say 8 or 50 or whatever then just accept it. Some number where you would have a problem if you had no solid way to choose. With 2 you can always imagine one excludes itself in some way.

  • poetcomic1

    There are as many Protestant churches as there are Protestants. One’s ‘membership’ in anything from a Primitive Baptist sect that does not believe in dancing or card-playing to the most New Age trendy Unity style pop-church is an ‘individual’ choice and so each protestant is his or her own ‘holy spirit’, a ‘holy spirit’ conjured from within at will like a genie.

  • Name

    Kudos to this site for being the only one on the internet (to the best of my knowledge) that is a little bit honest with the Protestant denomination figures. Now please go all the way and say that the 33k figure is a great big lie . . . .

  • Joe

    I am a Protestant and I would like to clear this up here and now. Here’s a challenge to those who think that 33,000 is an accurate number. List 50 denominations, I’ll give you the first, Roman Catholicism. This is bogus and like any other Protestant, I believe that if you make a claim, back it up.