How divided are Protestants?

One of the criticisms made by Catholics about the Protestant movement is that it is continually dividing into more and more “denominations.” The number of denominations cited can be anything from 33,000 and upward. The reason invariably given to explain this state of affairs is the doctrine of Sola Scriptura.

I’m not so sure that this argument is quite as overwhelming as Catholics might like to think. The logic seems unsound. If it were sound then when we Protestants see division in the ranks of the Catholic Church we would by using the same logic suggest that the Catholic Magisterium is to blame for the differences of viewpoint. Presumably, most Catholics would see such an assertion as wayward? Well, then, if a Protestant believes that the Bible rather than the Magesterium is a sufficient rule of faith how is it that Catholics conclude that a difference of opinion abut our sufficient source is a valid argument against its sufficiency?

Whatever. That’s merely an en passant observation since my focus here is not upon the method of argumentation used against the doctrine of Sola Scriptura but upon the actual division within the Protestant movement since that division is undoubtedly a reality. The suffix that Catholics usually add to their argument against the doctrine of Sola Scriptura is that the denominations “all disagree with each other.”

Does that assertion adequately describe the reality? Do we Protestants all disagree with each other? The 33,000 figure (apparently lifted from the World Christian Encyclopedia – [ check it out](""), it’s only $300+) implies that there are 33,000 different viewpoints or opinions i.e. total cacophony. But I respectfully submit that an objective analyst would probably not draw that conclusion. We Protestants do not disagree about everything. For example, it’s reasonable to assume that most Protestants have no trouble reciting the Nicene Creed – including the filioque, incidentally – as a public profession of faith.

So, how “divided” are Protestants? Not as much as some might suggest, perhaps?


Hi Mick,
First, I would take issue with the notion that protestants have splintered within themselves since the reformation. This would presume that all protestants come from the same protestant source. They don’t. If we start with Luther, it would be innaccurate to say the anabaptists or Anglicans or even reformed spintered out of Lutheranism. More correctly, they each independently splintered off of Rome. So, it could be said that Rome keeps splintering, or at least that Rome’s splinters continue to splinter. So, I don’t see how sola scriptura, which is not even accepted by a number of protestants groups, could be the culprit.

But I would say it is true that there is, by definition, division, else we would see unity. Lutherans are not in communion with Baptists, who are not in communion with Anglicans, who are not in communion with Rome. This is different, however, than differences amongst Catholics, which is more akin to differences within Lutheranism, or amongst Baptists.

Was I clear? :smiley:


I agree that the existence of more than 30,000 denominations within Protestantism does not imply that of as many differing doctrines; but even if we group them under the main bodies of teaching, the discord is undeniable: Lutheran; Anabaptist; Anglican; Calvinist; Presbyterian; Congregationalist; Baptist; Methodist …

Hey Jon,

Most eloquently stated. You were concise, clear and comprehensive.:wink:


Yes, the discord is indeed undeniable.


The practice of Sola scriptura (since the Reformation) has basically allowed for every individual, as an authority unto itself, to interpret scripture. As such it makes sense to state that this is at the basis for all the denominations (only since and after the Reformation have we seen such a plethora of denominations forming) we see amongst our Protestant bretheren. Also, to state that there is disagreement among Catholics (disunity in opinion) as if this in and of itself entails the same thing as literally separating themselves from the CC to form another denomination, is false (there are or have been movements within the CC by some Catholics who wish to overturn certain core doctrines of the one CC, for example, liberal theology). There is however and will always be one Catholic Church, no matter how many Catholics disagree with her on such and such a matter, that in no way suggests a multitude of denominations rather dissenting opinions of a professed Creed held by the one CC for two millenia.

P.S. I think you are confusing the structural and doctrinal oneness of the CC with unity among Catholics themselves. I would say therefore your comparison to Protestants (many professed creeds under the umbrella of Protestantism) and its many denominations (more than one structural/doctrinal organization) with Catholics dissenting on one point or another to the one creed of faith held by the CC, is faulty.

How people on the outside see the differences in their belief is fairly irrelevant.

The parties involved apparently feel that the differences in belief are significant enough to warrant founding a new church. That, I would think, means that those most closely involved think that the differences make all the difference.

If most Protestants do profess the Nicene Creed, then they also believe that the Church should literally be “one, holy, catholic and apostolic,” as those who wrote it were at the time “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic.”

You pose as usual, a most interesting question. It is often said (obviously from some tract, since it is usually worded verbatim…“We have the magisterium to give us one truth, you have 30,000 'sects” and 30,000 versions of truth."

This is of course absurd on its face. I don’t listen to 30,000 versions of anything. I have studied, read, and determined that “a” church properly defines truth in a way that seems appropriate to me. Roman Catholic converts have said the same thing. They read the bible, and determined that the RCC most correctly defined certain things they way they felt they should be defined. We are no different in our adherence to one doctrine of belief.

I would also agree that there are not 30,000 separate beliefs. Many of these churches were started hundreds of years ago, in disparate places, they developed basically the same doctrinal beliefs and would have been one had information been as it is today,nearly instantaneous.

Saying that, we still have serious differences. Yet, we find common ground every day. During the past few months, we have had only one priest, our Rector retired. While in the search for a new rector, clergy from either a Lutheran or Presbyterian church “helped” out. He was most welcome, most wonderful, and there wasn’t a instant of issue about any doctrinal difference. We have Catholic nuns who speak, one did so during our Lenten series on the Desert Mothers and Fathers. The Franciscan retreat center offers spiritual guidance to us individually and full use of all their facilities. I’m sure they turn no one away, regardless of faith community. We of course interacted with the Jewish community as well during this season, but I did that when I attended Catholic churches and colleges. That was the norm to interact around the Seder dinner. So personally, I find some of these differences rather small and inconsequential myself.

So, I guess it depends. Those that are of the more conservative side of things may not do this, but my experience on the more liberal end of things finds a lot of common ground and interaction.

I agree that comparing doctrinal disagreements between communions, whether be between Lutherans and Catholics, Anglicans and Baptists, is not the same as disagreements within each communion. The notion that there is an umbrella organization known as protestantism is similarly faulty.


Indeed. And that is why they, independent of each other, initially broke from Rome, not from each other.


I do, and I pray for reunification regularly.


I’ve been Lutheran all my life, raised by a Lutheran pastor. Never once was I told to interpret scripture myself. I was told to read my catechism, the Lutheran Confessions, the councils, creeds, and ECF’s. Sola Scriptura is not about personal interpretation.
Martin Chemnitz

**This is also certain, that no one should rely on his own wisdom in the interpretation of the Scripture, not even in the clear passages… **We also gratefully and reverently use the labors of the fathers who by their commentaries have profitably clarified many passages of the Scripture. And we confess that we are greatly confirmed by the testimonies of the ancient church in the true and sound understanding of the Scripture. Nor do we approve of it if someone invents for himself a meaning which conflicts with all antiquity, and for which there are clearly no testimonies of the church.


So then what is Protestantism? :confused:

Don’t most denominations fall under Protestantism (and share certain characteristics like SS or SF. . . ).

Jon, yours is but one of the many Protestant denominations, now I’d like to hear from the other (thousands of) denominations on how they interpret SS.

You cannot deny history, Jon, ever since the reformation and the invention of SS, there has been many divisions amongst Christians on what the Scriptures state and/or mean.

=josie L;5035624]Jon, yours is but one of the many Protestant denominations, now I’d like to hear from the other (thousands of) denominations on how they interpret SS.

As you may know, knowledgeable Lutherans generally don’t consider themselves protestants, but instead reformationists whose goal continues to be reunification. That said, I’d be curious to know, also.

You cannot deny history, Jon, ever since the reformation and the invention of SS, there has been many divisions amongst Christians on what the Scriptures state and/or mean

SS has its roots long before the reformation, Josie, but what is true is the sad fact of the divisions amongst us, and particularly how it has hurt the western church.


But it begs the question Jon, whether that Church which wrote the Nicene Creed is still in existence, still “one, holy, catholic and apostolic.” Is it? And if it is, should we not then profess to fully belong to her?

That Church which wrote the Nicene Creed which you and I both believe, that professes one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church is currently in schism and separation. It exists, wounded by schism, in Rome, Wittenburg, the East Orthodox, Canterbury, etc. We, all of us, should do everything we can to be able to not only profess our membership in her, but do it all of us at one altar.

Pray for the day,

Agreed. I wouldn’t want you to compromise, and neither will Lutherans and others. So, we must together look to the guidance of the Holy Spirit to reconcile our differing expressions of His truth.


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