Saturday, August 8, 2009

James White Gets Silly With Numbers

James White's article entitled "The 33,000 Denominations Myth" deserves singling out. I'm not sure why he bothered writing this article. I sense it is simply to have "something" written, so that his followers who don't actually read the article can at least believe that, if James White wrote a response, then it's a good bet the Catholic side is up to no good.

Let's have a look at exactly what all the fuss is about. It is simply this: The claim used by Catholic apologists that there are 33,000 protestant denominations is incorrect. It refers to Tim Staples' and others quotation of the World Christian Encyclopedia (Oxford University Press, 2001), pg. 10. White's article simply disputes this figure and asks Catholics to stop using it and to stop blaming sola scriptura for it.

But unfortunately, James White is guilty of his own accusation - not researching properly. Sure, he did a slightly better job than Tim ... because he HAD to. He had to respond. But, as we shall see later, he tripped over himself in his haste to get his article out.

We could probably gloss over this simple mistake, except that one of James White's main weapons of attack against Catholic apologists is lack of scholarliness. Much loud-mouthed boasting of his debating prowess and scholarliness can be heard from his corner. An example:

There was a time when Catholic Answers tried to put forward a serious face of scholarship. They sought to utilize at least semi-scholarly sources (though even then without much serious effort to use them in context..). But over the past few years it seems the bottom of the barrel has come into clear view, and the pretense of scholarship has become glaring.

Irrespective of the errors, White's article doesn't give us any plausible justification for there being even just MORE THAN ONE Christian church, let alone three, three hundred or thirty-three thousand. Would James White admit that Sola Scriptura is responsible for ten protestant denominations? One Hundred? It matters not the number. If only ten, that is nine more than enough for James White to pull the eject lever from protestantism and return home to the Catholic Church.

And White's article does nothing to exonerate Sola Scriptura from blame for this abhorrent situation. Absolutely, and without possible confusion, the refusal to submit to the authority of Rome, hand in hand with the belief that the Bible is the sole authority, can have no other possible result than the conflagration of Christian churches. I do not see how this can be avoided. Conversely, if one remained in filial communion with Rome, trustfully suppressing one's own ideologies and preferences, one simply would not participate in the building of new churches. It really is a simple as that.

So, here are the numbers.

James tries to defend protestantism by pointing out that the 33,000 figure is not a listing of "denominations" arising from the Protestant Reformation. He points out that the Protestant denominational figure is actually 11,830 and asks us to please remember that the denominational number includes Roman Catholics, Orthodox as well as Protestants! Is 11,830 more than one? Yes, even I can do that math.

He gleefully asks us to note that there are 242 Catholic denominations!

Catholic Answers board carried the following post, which should assist James White with his understanding of these numbers.

"David Barrett, et al, does indeed refer to "over 33,000 distinct denominations in 238 countries..." (Table 1-5, vol 1, page 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 also 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 United States.

So I wondered where the heck are these 242 denominations? 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 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 denominations from 238 countries listed, however. Some numbers from Barrett's...

Denominations / Paradenominations:
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, and there's 60 Orthodox denominations. Barrett labels the rest of the denominations: Protestant, Anglican, Independent, and 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, and (3) Protestant. So, using this more commonly understood classification....

Number of U.S. 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 33,000 that Barrett classifies, which ones refute the pillars of Protestantism shown above? (a) Catholic Church, (b) Oriental Orthodox (5th century schism), (c) 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 U.S. the next largest so-called "denomination" after the Catholic Church is referred to as "Baptist" according to

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-church is a law unto itself, then isn't every individual Baptist parish-church, according to Webster, its own legal and administrative body, its own denomination? I wonder how many Baptist parish-churches 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 them. Missouri-Synod Lutherans want nothing to do with the World-Lutheran-Federation Lutherans, for example.

Therefore, I believe 33,000 is a tragically conservative number of Protestant denominations IN THIS COUNTRY (U.S.) let alone in the world.

Anti-Catholic Evangelical apologist Eric Svendsen is quoting from an earlier edition of the same encyclopedic source. Unfortunately, if you've read Dave Armstrong's article on the subject, you know that Eric Svendsen's polemics fall flat upon its face (as usual). The beauty is, Svendsen still has not faced up to the fact that there is ONE Catholic Church listed for every country Barrett lists. Nor has he addressed the fact that all those "denominations" that use a 66-book Protestant Bible, and uphold the pillars of Protestantism (sola scriptura and sola fide) are PROTESTANT even if they claim otherwise. Calling themselves "non-denominational" may be a clever marketing technique, but the world (including Protestant authors) knows them as Protestants.

See also: The Facts and Stats on "33,000 Denominations"

No comments :

Post a Comment

Share This