Alpha & Omega Ministries Apologetics Blog
It's not 33,000 Protestant Denominations, But Millions
09/18/2010 - James SwanThere seems to be a new conversion story every day of a lost Protestant finding his way across the Tiber. Based on these testimonies, one may be tempted to think the Roman church is growing while Protestant churches are dwindling. Haven't Rome's defenders been doing such a stellar job with apologetics, so that the conversions are coming fast and furious? Shouldn't the number of Protestant churches therefore be going down?
According to one of Rome's apologists, the opposite is true. There has been an increase in Protestant church bodies. It no longer is 33,000 Protestant denominations. John Martignoni says there are now millions:
There are hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Protestant denominations, and the main reason for this is sola scriptura. Now, I admit that my "experiences" constitute anecdotal evidence, but I have found nothing to dissuade me from the notion that my anecdotal evidence is not indicative of a much more widespread phenomenon. And, for clarity's sake, I define a Protestant denomination as a religious unit of one or more persons that has: 1) A particular set of beliefs on matters of faith and morals, which may or may not be unique to that group; and 2) Has its own structure of authority that ultimately answers to no human being outside of the denomination.
John's statistical conclusions come from his use and gathering of "anecdotal evidence." He's delved into his wealth of subjective experience and arrived at a conclusion about reality. That's quite a rigorous apologetic presentation, similar to a Mormon missionary arguing from a burning in the bosom.
Aside from the fact that his estimate of millions of Protestant denominations has no real evidence to back it up, there are a few other problems with his burning in the bosom apologetic conclusions. His subjective feelings have informed him that sola scriptura is the culprit. This reminds me of someone who blames a situation on one idea or a particular group of people at the expense of other factors that should figure into an equation. Secondly, his feelings don't seem to be moved when it comes to evaluating divisions within Romanism. Is sola scriptura the culprit for that as well? The irony is that this very statement from Mr. Martignoni was not written in response to a Protestant, but to Roman Catholics stating the 33,000 denominations argument should be abandoned. That is, Martignoni's is at odds with the conclusions of another Romanist. It's one Romanist opinion against another. Perhaps sola scriptura is responsible for this as well? No, Romanists are allowed to disagree with each other simply because they say they say they are able to do so.
Mr. Martignoni then gave his personal opinion of what constitutes a Protestant body. This also appears to be based on his burning in the bosom apologetic conclusions. Is this Rome's official definition? No, it's once again, John's personal opinion. Interestingly, the guys over at Triablogue have been revisiting this same subject. In this post, it is pointed out that dumping 33,00 denominations into one big pile can only be done consistently if they actually share something in common: "So the very objection to Protestant diversity tacitly assumes that all Protestant denominations have a common denominator. They must have something essentially in common that makes all of them Protestant." In other words, the 33,000 different denominations actually share at least one thing in common in order to be classified together. This post also points out inherent difficulties with Romanist argumentation and is worth a look at.
When it comes right down to it, Roman Catholic apologists like Martignoni suffer from gross double standards in their methodology. Many of their arguments and conclusions stem from their own subjective feelings and private interpretations of Romanism and the Bible. They don't even begin to point their same arguments back on their own worldview to see how consistent they are.