Just for Catholics

30,000 Protestant Denominations?

Question: If one thing is clear, it's that there is one, single, visible Church that Jesus founded. This multitude of competing, conflicting denominations is no sign of God's work; therefore, it must be the work of the Evil One. Somewhere in the midst of these 30,000 denominations, there is one true church, and the rest are in sin and rebellion.

Answer: The "thousands-of-denominations" argument is very often employed to prove all sorts of things. Here are some citations from letters received from other Catholics:

How can all these denominations claim to follow the Bible yet all come to different conclusions? How can I possibly know which one of those above teach the truth when they can't even agree on what the Bible says? The Bible alone has created so much havoc in this world.

If there is only one Church, why are there so many Protestant denominations? Possibly many thousands throughout the world, as compared to only one Catholic Church? I do see it as a sign of God's judgment that there are close to 30,000 Protestant denominations.

The Bible alone can be dangerous. In fact, the Bible alone IS dangerous. Look at Protestantism: 100,000 different interpretation of the Bible, 100,000 contradictions, 100,000 different denominations claiming to have the key.

Peter said that no prophecy of the Scripture is for private interpretation. This is why you have 30,000 different Protestant denominations that all believe differently from one another. This alone should give you a clue that Protestantism is not the true Church of Jesus Christ.

So, the existence of many Protestant denominations supposedly proves that the Sola Scriptura  is dangerous, that we should not try to understand the Bible for ourselves, that the church of Rome is the one true church, and of course, all the other churches are false.

Elsewhere I have written on the significance of the heterogeneity among Christians. (See That They May Be One and Disagreement among Protestants). Here I simply want to make one important addition, namely, that the allegation so often repeated by Catholic apologists that there are 20,000 to 30,000 Protestant denominations is simply FALSE . . . not to mention the double standard employed, for the Roman Church is not exactly united. There are untold factions and divisions, and diverse understanding of doctrine within Catholic groups and by different Catholic theologians and individuals.

In an article entitled "30,000 Protestant Denominations?", Evangelical apologist Eric Svendsen exposes the falsehood of this fabrication. Briefly:

  • Svendsen shows that the source of this figure is the World Christian Encyclopedia (David A. Barrett; Oxford University Press, 1982).

  • Barrett cites a figure of 20,780 denominations. However not all of them are Protestants. According to Barrett, Protestants account for 8,196 (and incidentally, Roman Catholics account for 223).

  • However, even this figure of eight thousand Protestant denominations is misleading, for Barrett defines "distinct denominations" as any group that might have a slightly different emphasis than another group. The distinction is made on the basis of jurisdiction, rather than differing beliefs and practices.

  • Barrett breaks down the Protestant bloc into twenty-one major "traditions" which are much closer to what we usually mean by the word "denominations." It is interesting that Roman Catholics are subdivided into sixteen such "traditions."

  • Svendsen concludes, "In short, Roman Catholic apologists have hurriedly, carelessly - and, as a result, irresponsibly - glanced at Barrett's work, found a large number (22,189), and arrived at all sorts of absurdities that Barrett never concluded."

Copyright Dr Joe Mizzi. Permission to copy and distribute this article without textual changes. < BACK TO Q&A