Monday, July 16, 2007

The 30,000 Protestant Denomination Myth


I actually heard the Catholic correspondent on Fox News mention that there are 28,000 Protestant denominations (the exact number bounces around 30,000) so I went to find the article that debunked that myth. I sent an email to the Fox correspondent - nothing worse that getting your facts wrong on national TV. He emailed back and said he would look in to it. Somehow I doubt I will get a public retraction.

Svendsen checked the original source for this erroneous number in his article 30,000 Protestant Denominations?

"As we have shown, the larger figures mentioned earlier (8,196 Protestant denominations and perhaps as many as 8,000 Roman Catholic denominations) are based on jurisdiction rather than differing beliefs and practice. Obviously, neither of those figures represents a true denominational distinction. Hence, Barrett’s broader category (which we have labeled true denominations) of twenty-one Protestant denominations and sixteen Roman Catholic denominations represents a much more realistic calculation."

"If the Roman Catholic apologist wants instead to cite 8,196 idiosyncrasies within Protestantism, then he must be willing to compare that figure to at least 2,942 (perhaps upwards of 8,000 these days) idiosyncrasies within Roman Catholicism. In any case, he cannot compare the one ecclesial tradition of Roman Catholicism to 25,000, 8,196, or even twenty-one Protestant denominations; for Barrett places Roman Catholicism (as a single ecclesial tradition) on the same level as Protestantism (as a single ecclesial tradition)."

"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. One can only hope that, upon reading this critique, Roman Catholic apologists will finally put this argument to bed. The more likely scenario, however, is that the death of this argument will come about only when Evangelicals consistently point out this error—and correct it—each time it is raised by a Roman Catholic apologist. Sooner or later they will grow weary of the embarrassment that accompanies citing erroneous figures in a public forum."

2 comments:

jswranch said...

Carrie,
How many (best guess) Protestant Denominations are there?


How many is too many?

Ellen said...

John, part of where the lie of the statistics comes in is the "different" denominations that have separated not because of doctrine, but because of language.

There are two denominations within a couple of miles of me. They share identical doctrine, but one is "Netherlands Reformed" and the other is "Christian Reformed". One conducts services in Dutch. You count those as different denominations.

I have a challenge for you. Before you make a statement about the number of Protestant denominations, please do a survey (and provide the source for numbers) looking for actual differences in doctrine and group denominations according to identical (or as identical as what you require for Roman Catholics) and then tell me how many groups there actually are.

Thank you!