If you are familiar with the “journey home” conversion stories on EWTN or Catholic apologetic works, you would have realized a common rhetoric: “Look at the fruit of the Reformation and its ‘Bible only’ – division into 33,000 quarreling denominations with different Bible interpretations! How can such confusion be from God? Only the holy Catholic church is true!”
In 1994, Al Kresta, a Catholic convert, wrote in Surprised by Truth: “I wondered how Protestantism, which has splintered into over 20,000 denominations worldwide, could be what Jesus had in mind in John 17:21…”
The most popular Catholic apologetic organization, Catholic Answers wrote in 1998: “Today there are more than 26,000 different denominations and sects and independent churches throughout the world. They have split over issues as central as the Lord Supper and as trivial as what musical instruments may be used at church. Each Christian with Bible in hand, must find his own Christian truth.”
Another Catholic apologist wrote: “There are now over 33,000 Protestant denominations … Reliance on sola scriptura has not been effective in establishing doctrine or authority.”
Notice how the number of Protestant denominations has been inflated over the years without any documentation. I’ve personally had grossly inflated figures like 44,000 or 55,000 thrown at me by Catholics, but when I ask for a documentation or standard reference work to back up their wild claims, they either sing another tune or run for the hills.
If there is a standard source for these figures, why the number tricks? A Catholic apologist, Steve Ray, was courteous enough to cite his source for the “33,000” denominations (which he also blamed on sola scriptura) from the World Christian Encyclopedia by David Barret, George Kurian and Todd Johnson (2001), Oxford University Press, page 10. But this argument falls apart on scrutiny.
1. It’s disingenuous for Catholics to blame sola scriptura for these divisions. If a Christian church believes the Scripture is the sufficient rule of faith, how does it then follow that an abuse of it is an argument against its sufficiency?
The Bible is perfectly suited to its purpose, but people are still imperfect, people are sinners and people are ignorant. Even more than a point, people have their traditions and mindsets. Therefore, there will always be differences in interpretation.
Besides, there are many Christian churches today that do not profess, let alone practice sola scriptura. There are still churches where all sorts of concepts that violate sola scriptura are being embraced, so how can the principle of sola scriptura be blamed for the actions of those who do not even believe in it?
2. Has the alleged infallible Magisterium of Catholicism succeeded in uniting Catholics? A poll once showed that 25% of Catholics in the US didn’t believe in life after death, another 46% says no one really knows and 55% believe they can dissent from official Church teachings and still remain Catholics.
In another poll by the National Catholic Register, 67% of Catholics in the U.S. favoured ordaining women, 52% accepted abortion, 75% said priests should be allowed to marry, and 87% said couples should make their own decisions on birth control.
Another Catholic publications published a survey showing that “less than 29 percent of those under the age of 45 agreed that the ‘bread and wine are changed into the body and blood of Christ”. According to the work, Peter Lovest Thou Me?, in France and Italy, 49% Catholics don’t believe in Christ’s resurrection, 77% don’t believe in hell, and 75% believe in neither purgatory nor the devil.
The Catholic World Report once indicated that, “two-thirds of Catholic theologians [express] disbelief…in the existence of Satan.” All these facts show that Catholicism is not as united as pop apologists try to make it look. Such “cafeteria” or “buffet” type of religion is certainly not the plan of God. One of the elementary rules of Logic is consistency: if an argument refutes your own position, it’s dishonest for you to utilize it.
3. The World Christian Encyclopedia which has obviously been over-cited lists 242 Catholic denominations, 781 denominations (p. 16) yet, neither groups arose from the Reformation. It also stated that Protestants have 8,973 denominations and this list includes non-Trinitarian groups like Oneness churches, Seventh Day Adventists, and some “Marginal” or “Independent” groups like Jehovah’ Witnesses, Gnostics and Mormons!
Even a novice knows that these are not Protestant churches. Catholics can only arrive at the “33,000” figure by either inflating the number in their source by over 300% or most quoting that figure have never consulted their source.
4. On a closer examination, it’s obvious that Catholic apologists arrived at their 33,000 figure by lumping together the 8,973 Protestant denominations given in this World Christian Encyclopedia with other groups listed separately which are not related to them. For example, the reference work lists:
The “Independents”, Arab radio/TV network (19 denominations), British Israelites (8 denominations), Afro-Caribbean Zionist (1 denominations), Gay/Lesbian tradition, Latin Rite Catholics, Old Catholic (26 denominations).
If you have even a passing knowledge of these groups (such as the Old Catholic/Latin rites) you’d agree that they do not believe in sola scriptura, let alone practice it. Note this fact very carefully the next time a Catholic throws around catchy phrases like “Which of your 33,000 is the truth?” or “Sola scriptura is the blueprint for anarchy.”
5. Catholic apologists, Ben Douglass, Nick and David Palm have included this “Protestantism has 33,000 denominations” rhetoric into their list of “Unsound Sticks: Arguments Catholics Shouldn’t Use.” They wrote:
“The World Christian Encyclopedia artificially inflates the number of Catholic ‘denominations’ by counting Eastern churches in communion with Rome as separate denominations.” They also stated that even if an accurate tally for Protestant denominations can be arrived at “we still could not blame the whole of that number on Sola scriptura. Some of these churches share substantial unity in faith, even if they are judicially independent (perhaps due to geography). And much of the disunity of faith within Protestantism …stems from efforts to subordinate the authority of Scripture.”
While I must commend these men for their honesty and objectivity, their voices have been drowned by other “front line” pop apologists of Rome. It’s quite unimaginable for these guys who have thrived on the ignorance, applause and financial support of their Catholic audience for years to sidestep their propaganda, admit their falsehood and retract these errors.
Even when these facts are pointed out to them, they will still resort to another shallow rhetoric: “Are you now saying having 100 denominations is acceptable to God?” Which of course begs the question, because if God wanted to do away with all disagreements and denominations, He could have done it. But He hasn’t.
6. This World Encyclopedia even hurts the Catholic apologia. On page 11, it lists out figures of people killed by various groups in history:
Secular governments killed 55, 597,000.
Atheists – 31,519,000
Muslims – 9,101,000
Animists – 7,469,000
Catholics – 4,951,000.
So Roman Catholicism has the blood of 5 million people on her hands – according to the same source they use to bash Protestants! I don’t see Catholics quoting this portion. Why?
This reveals a lot about those who defend Rome. Truth is not their priority. Even worse, their fans are too biased and prejudiced to rely on facts while the plate-spinners are more eager to gain fame and donations and keep their latest DVDs selling.