SOURCE: The first church I remember attending was an Assemblies of God church in Albuquerque, N.M. After we moved, my family joined the Evangelical Free Church of America in St. Louis, Mo. Now I am on staff at a non-denominational church in the area while I finish up my Master’s at a Presbyterian Church of America seminary. And my favorite writer is C.S. Lewis, an Anglican.
These are the ecclesiastical flavors in which my mind has soaked. And I have loved it. I love denominations. That’s not to say that I would like to be in a denomination, but I appreciate them enough to write about it.
Denominations are beautiful. While some within the Church see them as schismatic and unhelpful, I see them as lovely, imperfect variations on a single, pure theme.
But personal preference aside, are denominations actually biblical? That’s a difficult (and perhaps unfair) question.
Try asking it another way. Are Baptists biblical? Are Methodists biblical? Are Lutherans biblical? Or is it only us “non-denoms” who have gotten things right?
On issues that aren’t the Gospel and don’t pertain to the Gospel, Christians have this wild freedom to lovingly differ with their brothers and sisters.
Paul reminds the Corinthian church that he preached to them the pure, unadulterated Gospel. The Gospel is of first importance to the Church (1 Corinthians 15:3-5).
Opponents of denominations will argue that Paul is calling the Church to unite around the Gospel and forsake all other creeds and confessions. (“I’m not a (insert denominational label), I’m simply a Christian.” After all, denominations focus us on the secondary issues when what we need to focus on is the primary issue: the Gospel of Christ.
But rather than explicitly forbidding ecclesiastical denominations (a concept that didn’t even exist in the early church), Paul is reminding one local congregation in central Greece to focus on one thing as of first importance. He doesn’t say that other issues are not important. But he is reminding them of the overshadowing primacy of the Gospel.
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SOURCE: Church of Christ members tell their denominational friends that the Church of Christ is not a denomination. But, their friends are simply not buying it. Here are six reasons why:
1. To name an organization or institution is to denominate it. The various, so-called, scriptural names for God’s people are not names at all, but rather, they are descriptions of “what” they are. The English word, “church”, is an erroneous translation of the Greek word, “ecclesia’, which only means a group or assembly. It carries NO religious connotation what-so-ever. To single out a descriptive term, and use it as a title, is to give God’s called out people a title that He did not authorize. Many Church of Christ members try to evade the issue by using the lower case “c” in “church of Christ’. Not only does this evade the issue, but it is grammatically wrong. Failure to use correct grammar cannot keep something from being what it is.
2. But, one might argue, “The ecclesia is the bride of Christ, therefore it should have the name of its husband”. This would be a good argument except for one very important fact. And that fact is that the custom of the bride taking her husband’s name is a Western custom, and it cannot be stretched out of context to cover an Eastern situation. Does the Bible say, “Mr. and Mrs. Ananias?” Does it say, “Mr. and Mrs. Aquilla?” Libraries contain stacks of documentation confirming these two cultural differences.
3. When most logical thinkers see a prominent sign, similar to the signs of all denominations, put up on a building similar to all other denominational buildings, they correctly conclude that the sign indicates property owned by a denomination.
4. And, from the viewpoint of their friends, where do you find the name, “Church of Christ”, in the phonebook? It is very clear to them that it is found in the yellow pages with all of the other denominations. And it does not make any difference whether they spell it with a little “c” or not.
5. Denominations have creeds. Churches of Christ have creeds. And in the words of one of their own notables, “There is only one thing worse than a written creed, and that is one that is not written.”
Probably the most harmful aspect of their creed is the manner in which truth is determined. For example, when an issue comes up, instead of prayerfully studying all sides of it, they seek out the conclusions of the brotherhood preachers. There is absolutely nothing wrong with soliciting the opinions of respected brethren. What is wrong with this approach is the rejecting of all other viewpoints without looking into them. When they do this, the brotherhood position becomes their creed. One very dangerous tenet of this creed is the judgmental position that all are lost who do not agree with it. This attitude is very visible in the so-called “sound” Churches of Christ.
That there are that many denominations is a lie created and propagated by Roman Catholic Apologist claiming there are 38,000 differing “Protestant denominations”. They make this claim to say that the Sola Scriptura of the Protestant Reformation is divisive in nature, protestants are divided so therefore they must be the One True Church. This lie is then repeated by other groups and while the specific number of denominations that may be claimed can be higher or lower than the 38,000 number, this false claim is made often by many groups who claim to be the One True Church.
Roman Catholic apologist get their numbers from the “World Christian Encyclopedia” (WCE) by David B. Barrett. Because the 2,400 page, 2-volume WCE is $320 new, we will have to rely on secondary sources to see why the 38,000 denomination claim is nowhere near true. The two sources we will look at are a book written by a Protestant called “Upon This Slippery Rock: Countering Roman Catholic Claims to Authority” by Eric Svendsen (see an applicable excerpt here), and a “Facts and Stats Sheet” provided by a RCC Apologist where much of the info in the WCE is detailed for us to see. To grasp what I am about to say might require you to spend sometime looking at those last two links. I will refer to these resources as the “Protestant resource” and the “RCC Resource”.
It is readily apparent after studying the RCC resource that the WCE is not really a good resource to determine how many Christian denominations there actually are. Denominations are not defined correctly and are categorized by country, race and other non-helpful sub-categories to show a way over-bloated result.
The RCC resource says the statistics are subdivided into “6 major ecclesiastico-cultural mega-blocs”. Those mega-blocs are Independents (about 22000), Protestants (about 9000), “Marginals” (about 1600), Orthodox (781), Roman Catholics (242) and Anglicans (168). When looking at the first “mega-bloc” we see there are not really 22,000 “independent denominations” there. To come to the 22, 000 number they include “single autonomous congregations”, “isolated radio churches”, “house-church networks” and they use race as a sub-category. In other words there are African, Black American, Filipino, and Indian Apostolics and there are African, Black American and Chinese Charismatics etc. The categories are inappropriate to determine how many denominations there are because they even include “hidden Buddhist believers in Christ” and “hidden Hindu believers in Christ”. All of these 6 major mega-blocs of information have the same problems. And the “marginal” category with “about 1600 denominations” are not really Christian denominations, but Christian pseudo Cults.
To get a better understanding of how many denominations there really are let’s refer to the Protestant resource by Eric Svendsen. Svendsen says in his book Upon This Slippery Rock, “Barrett identifies seven major ecclesiastical “blocs” under which these 22,190 distinct denominations fall (Barrett, 14-15): (1) Roman Catholicism, which accounts for 223 denominations; (2) Protestant, which accounts for 8,196 denominations; (3) Orthodox, which accounts for 580 denominations; (4) Non-White Indigenous, which accounts for 10,956 denominations; (5) Anglican, which accounts for 240 denominations; (6) Marginal Protestant, which includes Jehovah s Witnesses, Mormons, New Age groups, and all cults (Barrett, 14), and which accounts for 1,490 denominations; and (7) Catholic (Non-Roman), which accounts for 504 denominations”.
Svendsen then says “Barrett indicates that what he means by “denomination” is any ecclesial body that retains a “jurisdiction” (i.e., semi-autonomy). As an example, Baptist denominations comprise approximately 321 of the total Protestant figure. In other words, if there are ten Independent Baptist churches in a given city, even though all of them are identical in belief and practice, each one is counted as a separate denomination due to its autonomy in jurisdiction. This same principle applies to all independent or semi-independent denominations. And even beyond this, all Independent Baptist denominations are counted separately from all other Baptist denominations, even though there might not be a dime’s worth of difference among them. The same principle is operative in Barrett’s count of Roman Catholic denominations. He cites 194 Latin-rite denominations in 1970, by which Barrett means separate jurisdictions (or diocese). Again, a distinction is made on the basis of jurisdiction, rather than differing beliefs and practices”.
“However Barrett has defined “denomination,” it is clear that he does not think of these as major distinctions; for that is something he reserves for another category. In addition to the seven major ecclesiastical “blocs” (mentioned above), Barrett breaks down each of these traditions into smaller units that might have significant differences (what he calls “major ecclesiastical traditions,” and what we might normally call a true denomination) (Barrett, 14). Referring again to our seven major ecclesiastical “blocs” (mentioned above, but this time in reverse order): For (1) Catholic (Non-Roman), there are four traditions, including Catholic Apostolic, Reformed Catholic, Old Catholic, and Conservative Catholic; for (2) Marginal Protestants, there are six traditions; for (3) Anglican, there are six traditions; for (4) Non-White Indigenous, which encompasses third-world peoples (among whom can be found traces of Christianity mixed with the major tenets of their indigenous pagan religions), there are twenty traditions, including a branch of Reformed Catholic and a branch of Conservative Catholic; for (5) Orthodox, there are nineteen traditions; for (6) Protestant, there are twenty-one traditions; and for (7) Roman Catholic, there are sixteen traditions, including Latin-rite local, Latin-rite catholic, Latin/Eastern-rite local, Latin/Eastern-rite catholic, Syro-Malabarese, Ukrainian, Romanian, Maronite, Melkite, Chaldean, Ruthenian, Hungarian, plural Oriental rites, Syro-Malankarese, Slovak, and Coptic. It is important to note here that Barrett places these sixteen Roman Catholic traditions (i.e., true denominations) on the very same level as the twenty-one Protestant traditions (i.e., true denominations). In other words, the true count of real denominations within Protestantism is twenty-one, whereas the true count of real denominations within Roman Catholic is sixteen. Combined with the other major ecclesiastical blocs, that puts the total number of actual denominations in the world at ninety-two obviously nowhere near the 23,000 or 25,000 figure that Roman Catholic apologists constantly assert and that figure of ninety-two denominations includes the sixteen denominations of Roman Catholicism (Barrett, 15)!”
To put this into perspective the Protestant resource goes on to say “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”. The hardline Church of Christ is guilty of perpetuating these ill-conceived and false numbers about denominations so they can go onto say they are the One True Church, like many other groups do.
To sum up this section, it is obvious that we cannot determine if the WCE is a good resource to refer to when trying to determine the number of Christian denominations there are actually in the world without buying the massive encyclopedia and studying it in full detail. Without looking at the WCE for ourselves and having to rely the these two best resources I found we cannot know for sure that he is correct when Svendsen’s Protestant resource says that Barret and the WCE went on to further define the number of denominations by defining traditions and “major ecclesiastical traditions” separately to come up with his number of “ninety-two actual denominations”. But that number seems allot more possible and plausible than the obviously over-inflated numbers that RCC apologist and other exclusive authoritarian groups irresponsibly throw around. After all how did you answer Blackburn’s question of “If I were to ask you exactly how many different churches exist in the world today… what would you say?“. You probably guessed allot but not 38,000 denominations “all teaching opposite things”. I thought of less than a dozen differing denominations off the top of my head. How about you?