Why Do We Have Denominations? + Funniest line in the Bible? #246 Part 1

Hello friends and happy Saturday to you! Today we are going to grapple with some Catholic theology and discuss denominations. Oh boy! Our readings for the day include some more fascinations from 1st Samuel (chapters 21 and 22 + Ezekiel 1, Psalms 37 and 1 Corinthians 3.) It has obviously been quite a while since I’ve read 1st and 2nd Samuel from cover to cover – maybe dating back to my seminary days – because I keep being reminded of remarkable things every day in this book! Today we have what has to be one of the funniest lines in the Bible. David is fleeing from King Saul, who wants to kill him, so naturally he goes to GATH. Yes – Gath, as in the stronghold of the Philistines, the Israelites enemies and the hometown of Goliath, the Philistine’s hero. What was that, you ask? OH YEAH, I’d almost forgot – David KILLED Goliath in front of all of the Philistines, so why did he go there, you ask? Actually, I didn’t almost forget about that, because I am not an insane person, but it is almost as if David did forget about it until he got to Gath, and quickly discerned that maybe being chief bad guy of the Philistines meant that maybe David shouldn’t hide there? This is sort of like Nick Saban getting in trouble with the president of the University of Alabama, and going and hiding out in Auburn to get away from him; or Wonder Woman having a squabble with Superman, and hiding from him in the headquarters of the Legion of Doom. Pretty crazy stuff, but once David realizes that maybe this isn’t the best idea – he gets another idea that is almost as crazy as the first (except that it works!) and he decides to act like an insane person. Yes, a full on loony, drooling down his beard and scribbling on walls and gates and such. Which leads to what has to be one of the funniest lines the entire Bible, and it is delivered by none other than the king of Gath:

14 “Look! You can see the man is crazy,” Achish said to his servants. “Why did you bring him to me? 15 Do I have such a shortage of crazy people that you brought this one to act crazy around me? Is this one going to come into my house?”

1 Samuel 21:14-15

I honestly can’t wait until my next opportunity to say, “Do I have such a shortage of crazy people around that you bring this guy to me?!” Anyway, none of that is what we are focusing on today – you get all of that for free. Today our focus is on unity in the body and denominations in christendom. How many Christian denominations are there exactly? It turns out that this is a hard number to pin down, because part of it consists of determining what a denomination is, and what groups actually represent Christianity, and which don’t. Many Catholics like to say that there are over 30,000 Protestant denominations, but that number appears to be too high…the real number seems to be in the 5-11000 range, which isn’t much better. I found an excellent article on this question, written extremely well by a Catholic (former Protestant who converted in 2011) that is really quite fair and balanced in dealing with Protestants. He says:

There are not—repeat with me—there are not 33,000 Protes­tant denom­i­na­tions. There are not any­where close to it. It is a myth that has taken hold by force of rep­e­ti­tion, and it gets cited and recited by reflex; but it is based on a source that, even Catholics will have to con­cede, relies on too loose a def­i­n­i­tion of the word “denom­i­na­tion.” 

The source is the two-volume World Chris­t­ian Ency­clo­pe­dia (Bar­rett, Kurian, and John­son; Oxford Uni­ver­sity Press). Take note of the pas­sage where the 33,000 fig­ure comes up:

World Chris­tian­ity con­sists of 6 major ecclesiastico-​cultural blocs, divided into 300 major eccle­si­as­ti­cal tra­di­tions, com­posed [sic] of over 33,000 dis­tinct denom­i­na­tions in 238 coun­tries (Vol. I, p. 16).

So accord­ing to the WCE, the 33,000 fig­ure rep­re­sents “world Chris­tian­ity.” Now unless a Catholic wants to sup­pose that “world Chris­tian­ity” means Protes­tantism, the num­ber would have to be some­thing less. 33,000, accord­ing to the source from which the num­ber comes, means the whole of Chris­tian­ity, not Protes­tantism specif­i­cally.

The WCE then goes on to break down “world Chris­tian­ity” into the fol­low­ing broad cat­e­gories:

  • Inde­pen­dents: 22,000 denom­i­na­tions
  • Protes­tants: 9000 denom­i­na­tions
  • Mar­gin­als: 1600 denom­i­na­tions
  • Ortho­dox: 781 denom­i­na­tions
  • Catholics: 242 denom­i­na­tions
  • Angli­cans: 168 denom­i­na­tions

Thus the imme­di­ate prob­lem is that the WCE only clas­si­fies 9000 denom­i­na­tions (27% of the whole) as Protes­tant. To get to 33,000, one must add in the Inde­pen­dents, Mar­gin­als, Angli­cans, and 232 of the Ortho­dox.So the WCE comes up with 438 Pres­by­ter­ian denom­i­na­tions and 647 Methodist and 1017 Bap­tist. I think the num­ber is inflated. More­over, Inde­pen­dent Bap­tist con­gre­ga­tions, who have a high doc­trine of the local church and gov­ern them­selves, are each counted as sep­a­rate denom­i­na­tions, even though they may all believe the same doc­trine. There are 8,142 such con­gre­ga­tions named by the WCE, whether Bap­tist or not, whether Protes­tant or not.

I think the num­ber is inflated.

Among the 23,600 “Inde­pen­dents” and “Mar­gin­als” (70% of the whole) are large num­bers of groups one would have a hard time call­ing Protes­tant. They include Mor­mons (122 denom­i­na­tions), Jehovah’s Wit­nesses (229 denom­i­na­tions), Masons (28 denom­i­na­tions), Chris­tadel­phi­ans (21 denom­i­na­tions) Uni­tar­i­ans (29 denom­i­na­tions), Chris­t­ian Sci­ence (59 denom­i­na­tions), Theosophists (3 more denom­i­na­tions), British Israelites (8 denom­i­na­tions), Pros­per­ity Gospel groups (27 denom­i­na­tions), One­ness Pen­te­costals (680 denom­i­na­tions), “Hid­den Bud­dhist Believ­ers in Christ” (9 denom­i­na­tions), wan­der­ing bish­ops (12 denom­i­na­tions), Inde­pen­dent Nesto­ri­ans (5 denom­i­na­tions), occultists (3 denom­i­na­tions), spiri­tists (20 denom­i­na­tions), Zion­ists (159 denom­i­na­tions), even “Arab radio/​TV net­work” (19 denom­i­na­tions), “gay/​homosexual tra­di­tion” (2 denom­i­na­tions), and schis­matic Catholics (435 denom­i­na­tions). It is a strange and eclec­tic list. (See here and here.)

How­ever strong the temp­ta­tion some may have to char­ac­ter­ize any­thing not Catholic or Ortho­dox as “Protes­tant,” you can’t do that. All that tells Protes­tant apol­o­gists is that you don’t know what Protes­tantism is, or what its dis­tinc­tives are—and they would be right. And why would they take any­thing you say seri­ously after that? If you don’t know what Protes­tantism is, who are you to be talk­ing about its errors? Not only are Mor­mons, Jehovah’s Wit­nesses, One­ness Pen­te­costals, Uni­tar­i­ans, Pros­per­ity Gospel believ­ers (included among 23,600 Inde­pen­dents and Mar­gin­als) not Protes­tant, they are not even Chris­t­ian; they adhere to a false Chris­tol­ogy. Protes­tants and Catholics are in agree­ment about who Christ is; these other groups have other ideas.

Many Catholics like to cite the 33,000 fig­ure because the num­ber is so out­ra­geously large they assume it is a par­tic­u­lar embar­rass­ment to Protes­tants. Look at all this divi­sion in your ranks! But the result has been that Protes­tants con­sult the source, take note of the prob­lems with it, claim a few thou­sand denom­i­na­tions at most, and scoff at the wild exag­ger­a­tion. Catholics look fool­ish for insist­ing on a ridicu­lously high and easily-​refuted num­ber, and Protes­tants imag­ine they can sleep the sleep of the just because the real num­ber is nowhere close. See! they say. No denom­i­na­tion prob­lem here! Thus the real issue gets lost.

Catholics need to stop cit­ing this num­ber, not only because it is out­landishly false but because it is not the point how many Protes­tant denom­i­na­tions there are. The point is the scan­dal of divi­sion and the love of pri­vate judg­ment that has caused so much of it. The scan­dal would be no less if there were two denom­i­na­tions, and no greater if there were two mil­lion. Any divi­sion in the body of Christ is a scan­dal. To argue over how many is a red her­ring. It is an argu­ment about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.

The real point is St. Paul’s words in Eph­esians 4:4–6:

There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call, one Lord, one faith, one bap­tism, one God and Father of us all, who is above all and through all and in all.

By “one body,” St. Paul means “one Church,” as is evi­dent when you com­pare Eph­esians 1:22-23a and Colos­sians 1:18, 24. Protes­tants don’t need to answer to an Ency­clo­pe­dia; they need to answer to St. Paul. 

Source: Scott Eric Alt: https://www.ncregister.com/blog/scottericalt/we-need-to-stop-saying-that-there-are-33000-protestant-denominations

Some very interesting words from our Catholic friend, and he raises some interesting points that we will deal with today and tomorrow. First, however, let’s go read our focus passage today, 1 Corinthians 3.

Strong words today from the apostle, and I think our Catholic friend Scott is absolutely right that we all have some explaining to do as to how the church has become so very divided over the nearly 2000 years since the ascension of Jesus. Interestingly, that division was already happening within a few short years of the ascension of Jesus, as Paul points out in 1 Corinthians 3 here:

In fact, you are still not ready, because you are still worldly. For since there is envy and strife among you, are you not worldly and behaving like mere humans? For whenever someone says, “I belong to Paul,” and another, “I belong to Apollos,” are you not acting like mere humans?

1 Corinthians 3:2-4

Being divided and following human leaders (instead of Jesus) is a sign of immaturity and worldliness in Christians, because these human leaders – no matter how important their role, or how good their teaching – they are nothing says Paul in vs. 7:

So, then, neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.

1 Corinthians 3:7

This is an important passage – Paul is saying that neither he, nor Apollos, nor any other human (including you, me and the Pope(!) is anything to follow and be divided over…but only God who gives growth)

One area that Scott and I quite agree on is that the original intent and purpose of Jesus and the Apostles is that there would be one church and one body – we see this crystal clear in John 17:

20 “I pray not only for these, but also for those who believe in me through their word.21 May they all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us, so that the world may believe you sent me.22 I have given them the glory you have given me, so that they may be one as we are one.23 I am in them and you are in me, so that they may be made completely one, that the world may know you have sent me and have loved them as you have loved me.

John 17:20-23

And that is a fitting place to leave off part one of this discussion of denominations, which we will pick up tomorrow in more depth. Jesus prays for and calls His people to be united in the kind of oneness that He and the Father have. Instead, we have thousands of denominations and church splits every year. How big of a problem is this for us? Stay tuned tomorrow – same bat time, same bat channel for more.


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