# Where does 36,000 denominations come from?

#1

I will try to do my best in explaining this huge number.

In math terms do you know what “factorial” “!” means?
(ie 5! = 5 x 4 x 3 x 2x 1 = 120)

You can use this “property” to see how many combinations of something are possible. Now it isnt quite right here, but it shows how fast things can add up.

So in the case of 36000 different teachings we can look at 8 specific teachings to each denomination.

1-Bible (SS, Oral , other)
2-Faith (Alone, Works, other)
3-Church (First, Authority, Members, other)
4-End Times (Rapture, Nothing, Hell, other)
5-Baptism (Babies, Audults, Choice, Method, other)
7-Communion (Real, symbol, limited, other)
8-Salvation (Selected, Choice, All, other)

Im not sure how the original number was calculated, but considering the different positions for each issue and the different ranking for each denomination then 8!=40,320 differences is a good start.

Any one else? Any Math majors out there? Take a guess/theory?

#2

I don’t know where the number comes from, but I am certain those holding sola scriptura have a hard time defending this one (those in that debate, isn’t it tiring to see them dodge this issue, as if it’s never a fact of Protestantism?).

#3

It probably comes from World Christian Encyclopaedia, or is an extrapolation from it. Put simply, it doesn’t tell us much. There are not 20,000 Protestant “denominations”, or at least denominations in the sense most people think of them. The same report defines Catholicism as including many denominations. I wish people would stop quoting that figure

#4

I read on these forums that the number came from the IRS and represents the total number of tax exempt religious institutions. I would hesitate to use that number for “denominations” as some here do because each church is independent in some denominations and must file for its own tax exempt status. That 30,000+ number, then, would represent a combination of denominations and individual churches.

#5

Pride, Herecy, Self-Glorification

#6

I don’t think anyone knows for sure I think I read the IRS quote is over 20,000 which is an incredible amount really.
Those are the numbers we know for sure.
THere are other theories on how to arrive at a particular number.
But one thing we can know for sure the number is way to many and is in the tens of thousands (even though the exact number is unknown). Some protestants haggle that the World Christian Encyclopedia exagerates the point and 30,000 is too much.
SInce I am not an expert I would condede the point. But I think they miss the bigger point here that we have tens of thousands of denominations and whether the number is 10,000 or 30,000 the protestant postion is really weak here. Chirst prayed that we all be one. PRotestantism has turned one into tens of thousands and the divisions have no end in sight. Sola scriptura has been a disaster for christian unity. WHich was a priority for the early church and for Jesus himself. We aren’t doing much better if we go with the IRS number of 20,000 folks. Chirst left one shephrerd to tend one flock obviously something is wrong here.

#7

[quote=Maccabees]I don’t think anyone knows for sure I think I read the IRS quote is over 20,000 which is an incredible amount really.
Those are the numbers we know for sure.
THere are other theories on how to arrive at a particular number.
But one thing we can know for sure the number is way to many and is in the tens of thousands (even though the exact number is unknown). Some protestants haggle that the World Christian Encyclopedia exagerates the point and 30,000 is too much.
SInce I am not an expert I would condede the point. But I think they miss the bigger point here that we have tens of thousands of denominations and whether the number is 10,000 or 30,000 the protestant postion is really weak here. Chirst prayed that we all be one. PRotestantism has turned one into tens of thousands and the divisions have no end in sight. Sola scriptura has been a disaster for christian unity. WHich was a priority for the early church and for Jesus himself. We aren’t doing much better if we go with the IRS number of 20,000 folks. Chirst left one shephrerd to tend one flock obviously something is wrong here.
[/quote]

Good point. The actual number is mostly irrelevant, and a good argument can be lost in flurry of bean counting. Namely, that logically there is no stopping point for the number of denominations or faith-variants when using the incoherent and unbiblical Bible-alone theory.

Scott

#8

It would be impossible to find an exact tally of the different denominations we have today. When I go to Florida there are a lot of denominations that I never even heard of, my grandmother says a new church opens every year.

#9

I’m by no means a math major, but seems to me that even TWO (2) is One to many.

Jesus established ONE church, not church’ES. so whether the number is 36,000, 20,000 or 2…same difference.

#10

There is no way, mathematically or philosophically, to determine the number as many Protestant denominations come and go all the time. Try to add to that the tens of thousands that sprung up and have since vanished and the end number may be astronomical.

In the late 17th century, Bishop Jacques Bossuet attempted to write a book that he titled “The History of the Variations of the Protestant Churches.” This was only about 150 years after the start of the reformation and his finished work filled four volumes!

Thal59

#11

[quote=mkw]I’m by no means a math major, but seems to me that even TWO (2) is One to many.

Jesus established ONE church, not church’ES. so whether the number is 36,000, 20,000 or 2…same difference.
[/quote]

I agree any more than one is not a good thing, but there is a huge difference between a few and thousands of divisions.

#12

It seems to me that the truth is obviously not in those 36,000+ denominations. The first split from Rome was in 1054 when the Greek orthodox Church split from Rome. The reason for that split was political differences. Since 1054, the Greek Orthodox church has not held a single ecumenical council. Tradition states that the Bishop of Rome is to preside at the councils. Obviously they believe that.

The protestants, however, split because of theological differences (most of which had not been heard of before)!!!

Because of this, they never held on to the truth or the keys. Accordingly, there have been many splits in the protestant church since the reformation.

As Catholics, we hold onto beliefs that have been passed down for 2,000 years. Luther, Calvin and other reformers had a strong devotion to the Blessed Mother. I seriously doubt you will find many Lutherans or Presbyterians with that same devotion!!!

God Bless

#13

As a Prot, I would also like to know where the 36,000 denominations come from. Are you including things like the Worldwide Church of Christ or JWs? Most Protestants I know don’t consider either of those churches, they consider them cults. Are you including Scientology? The Unitarians?

#14

[quote=jazzbaby1]As a Prot, I would also like to know where the 36,000 denominations come from. Are you including things like the Worldwide Church of Christ or JWs? Most Protestants I know don’t consider either of those churches, they consider them cults. Are you including Scientology? The Unitarians?
[/quote]

Hello jazzbaby1;
I think the number should include everything that springs from the reformation, even including the Branch Davidians, the Universal Church of the Creator (white supremacists), the JWs and the LDS and RLDS Churches. Why exclude any of these so-called “bible-believing” churches from those groups that originally splintered away from the Catholic Church in the 1500s. They are the natural progression of self-guided biblical interpretation.

I would, however, exclude groups that do not rely on the bible, like the Scientologists and the Hare Krishnas.

Peace and Charity,

#15

As Rm Catholic pointed out, up until 1054 AD, there was but ONE Church. The Orthodox split from Catholicism in 1054 was mainly political. The Reformation coming som 500 years later was a disaster for Christianity, creating numerous divisions in what was intended to be the one body of Christ, divisions which then split and re-split again, resulting in the numerous denominations we have today.

#16

[quote=jazzbaby1]As a Prot, I would also like to know where the 36,000 denominations come from. Are you including things like the Worldwide Church of Christ or JWs? Most Protestants I know don’t consider either of those churches, they consider them cults. Are you including Scientology? The Unitarians?
[/quote]

Good question! I am sure the Worldwide Church of Christ or JWs consider whatever denomination you belong to as a cult. Most, I am certain, are the small mom and pop “dancing with snakes” type of churches you see down south where services are held in the back yard or in a mobile home. But regarding the more recognized Protestant faiths, in America alone, there are more than two dozen kinds of Baptist, Methodist, Lutheran, and Presbyterian denominations each. That’s almost 100 denominations right there.

If you want to know where they came from, you’ll find you have a lot of homework to do.

Thal59

#17

The number is closer to 33,000. The source is the IRS. That’s the number of independent entities currently holding tax-exempt status as churches. It doesn’t include each individual congregation, as these are covered under the status of their respective denominations.

The point has been made that some denominations may require (for reasons not explained) each separate congregation to file for tax exempt status independently – but that still doesn’t account for all those tens of thousands of independent entities.

The point has also been advanced that, “Well, they REALLY are all pretty much the same.” But the response is, if the difference in doctrine is important enough for them to declare themselves separate denominations, then the difference IS important enough to consider them separate denominations, just as they say they are.

#18

33,000+ denominations of Protestantism

I was at the library one day researching something, and I saw the much talked about Protestant reference, the World Christian Encyclopedia by David B. Barrt, George T. Kurian, and Todd M. Johnson (2001 edition). I thought I’d see for myself what it says. This is what I found …

David Barrett, et al, does indeed refer to “over 33,000 denominations in 238 countries.” (Table 1-5, Vol 1, pg 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 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 suprise, Barret shows ONLY ONE Roman Catholic denomination for the Unites States.

So I wondered where the heck the 242 denominations were? 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 no how he got 242 denomination from 238 countries listed, however.

Some numbers from Barrett’s …

**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,, there’s 60 Orthodox denominations. Barrett labels the rest of the denominations, Protestant, Anglican, Independent, & 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, & 3) Protestant. So, using this more commonly understood classification …

# of US 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.

to be continued…

#19

continued…

How does one know if their “denomination” is of the Protestant kind?

You might be a Protestant if …

1. You belive the Bible consists of only 66 books
2. You believe authority rests with Scripture Alone (Sola Scriptura)
3. You believe justfication 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 …

1. Catholic Church
2. Oriental Orthodox. (5th century schism).
3. 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 US, the next largest so-called “denomination” after the Catholic Church is referred to as “Baptist” according to adherents.com/

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 is a law unto itself, then isn’t every individual Baptist parish, according to Webster, it’s own legal and administrative body, its own denomination? I wonder how many Baptist parishes 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 it. 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.

#20

And thus the tragedy that is Protestantism. Some even have debates against their own denomination, as justdave pointed out. Truly tragic.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit www.catholic.com.