Tuesday, April 12, 2005

33,000+ denominations of Protestantism

I was at the library one day researching something, and I saw the much talked about Protestant reference, the World Christian Encyclopedia by David B. Barrett, George T. Kurian, and Todd M. Johnson (2001 edition). I thought I'd see for myself what it says. This is what I found ...David Barrett, et al, does indeed refer to "over 33,000 denominations in 238 countries." (Table 1-5, Vol 1, pg 16). This refers to his unique definition of a "Christian denomination", but does not include small ones (congregations of a couple hundred or less), which would dramatically increase this number beyond all imagination.

Barrett states there are 242 total Roman Catholic denominations (year 2000 numbers). So I looked into what he believed these denominations were. Barrett breaks down his encyclopedic reference by country. So I looked up how many Roman Catholic denominations are within the U.S. according to Barrett. Much to my surprise, Barrett shows ONLY ONE Roman Catholic denomination for the Unites States. So I wondered where the heck the 242 denominations were? I looked in Barrett's reference for Britain, and again he listed ONLY ONE Roman Catholic denomination. I thought surely that of the 238 countries within his encyclopedic reference there must be a country that had more than ONE Roman Catholic denomination. There wasn't. I could not find one country listed by Barrett that had more than ONE Roman Catholic denomination. So, what does Barrett mean when he states there are 242 Roman Catholic denominations?

It seems Barrett is counting each country as it's own Catholic denomination. So, for Barrett, the Roman Catholic Church of the USA is a different denomination than the Roman Catholic Church of Canada. I don't know how he got 242 denomination from 238 countries listed, however.

Some numbers from Barrett's ...

1970: 26,350
1995: 33,820

Under U.S. Country Table 2, of the 6,222 US denominations, there's only ONE Roman Catholic denomination listed, there's 60 Orthodox denominations. Barrett labels the rest of the denominations: Protestant, Anglican, Independent, & Marginal. The more commonly accepted classification of Christianity used even by Protestant scholars, such as Leslie Dunstan in his book Protestantism, Christianity consists of: 1) Catholic, 2) Orthodox, & 3) Protestant.

So, using this more commonly understood classification ...

# of US Denominations
Catholic 1
Orthodox 60
Protestant 6,161

Remember, the above numbers are derived using Protestant sources only. Barrett differs from other Protestants such as Dunstan as to what constitutes a Protestant denomination. What Dunstan would call Protestant, Barrett describes as:

Barrett's classification:
Protestant 660
Anglican 1
Independent 5,100
Marginal 400

That's just for the U.S. Yet, there's but ONE Catholic denomination in the U.S., either by Dunstan or Barrett's standard.

Another way of looking at it is not to use Barrett's fuzzy understanding of denominations at all. What does Webster call a denomination? Let's see ... Webster calls a 'denomination' a "a religious organization uniting local congregations in a single legal and administrative body." The category called "Protestantism," since it does not actually "unite" any local congregation into a "single legal and administrative body," is more accurately a grouping of denominations rather than a denomination, according to Webster's definition.

How does one know if their "denomination" is of the Protestant kind?

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 33,820 that Barrett classifies, which ones refute the pillars of Protestantism shown above ...

1) Catholic Church
2) Oriental Orthodox. (5th century schism).
3) 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 US, the next largest so-called "denomination" after the Catholic Church is referred to as "Baptist" according to http://www.adherents.com/ 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 is a law unto itself, then isn't every individual Baptist parish, according to Webster, it's own legal and administrative body, its own denomination? I wonder how many Baptist parishes 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 it. Missouri Synod Lutherans want nothing to do with the Lutherans of the World Lutheran Federation, for example. Therefore, I believe 33,000 is a tragically low estimate of Protestant denominations IN THIS COUNTRY (U.S.) let alone in the world.

Why is this even relevant to a Christian seeking to find a denomination to call his or her own? Because if someone is seeking to unite themselves with the ONE Church of Christ, they ought to look for the ONE which is the same single, historically apostolic Church throughout the world. If one is to judge how well the epistemological principle of Sola Scriptura has united Christians or rather divided them, then the ever-growing divisions of Protestant denominations might be something one ought to consider.

God bless,



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