“The ‘Myth’ of the 33,000” Coming Soon to a Blog Near You

by Steve Ray on August 24, 2007

And also — what happens when someone "swallows the Holy Spirit, feathers and all" as Martin Luther said. Stay tuned!

I have been told by some that I am wasting my time arguing with the man, or that it is not good to get animated and argue. I beg to differ. I would NEVER waste my time with the man if it weren't for all the others that will read the correspondence and be helped by it.

For example, this is just one such e-mail I've received in the last few days from a Protestant who is coming close to joining the Catholic Church. I have not revealed the name because of this person's predicament with those near him. Anyway, here it is:

"Dear Steve:  Thank you for your posted document about the Assumption.  I am well into conversion discernment, and had my sister read your Part I as she is beginning this discernment process.  She had never considered that Jesus didn't teach sola scriptura until she read this work of yours. "Just wanted you to remember that your work is not in vain.  Thank you! Keep writing! I find your work most helpful as I discern and write about my journey."

In the meantime, read my blog about "denominations" here based on a sign I saw for the "New Progressive Missionary Baptist Church" which is of course a new breakaway group from the OLD "Progressive Missionary Baptist Church."

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Thos August 24, 2007 at 7:05 PM

Mr. Ray,

We should all be able to address intelligently the arguments and claims you present in your document. Thanks for the challenge and for taking the time to write!

Regarding the dispute over how many denominations there are, I often feel like there are 590 million denominations (cite: Wiki, “Protestantism,” for a ballpark figure), not 33,000. That is, whenever I get into an in-depth discussion with a fellow Protestant about our Faith, I perceive that they (and I) each have a unique ecclesial authority (ourselves).

Peace in Christ,

PhilVaz August 24, 2007 at 9:52 PM

People complain about the number, but it is a Protesant source, World Christian Encyclopedia, published (2001, 2nd edition) by a reputable scholarly publisher, Oxford University Press. The total number of “Christian” denominations / paradenominations in that source is 33820 as of 1995.

We have to do a little subtraction since the source claims “242 Roman Catholic denominations” (i.e. basically one RCC for each country) and “781 Orthodox denominations” so we get:

33,820 (total) – 242 (Catholic) – 781 (Orthodox) = 32,797 (Protestant)

Round it up and you are still at 33,000. “Protestants” are basically those who broke away from the Catholic Church (Latin, West) in the 16th century, and all their further splinters since then. Orthodox are those who broke away from Rome in the 11th century. Granted, we could narrow down “Protestant” further and exclude others. But considering the initial big number with “Christians” being either (1) Catholic, (2) Orthodox, or (3) “Protestant” that’s what you get. And here’s another view:


Phil P

PhilVaz August 25, 2007 at 12:53 AM

On second thought, after some discussion at the CA boards, I’ll compromise:

Barrett’s World Christian Encyclopedia does indeed refer to “over 33,000 denominations in 238 countries” (Table 1-5, vol 1, page 16), but he also includes a small number of “Catholic” and “Orthodox” denominations in that total number, and the source is not very useful until we come to an agreement on what is meant by “denomination” and “Christian.”

Further, the data collected in this encyclopedia has been digitized and made searchable to the public at the World Christian Database at Gordon-Conwell :


Phil P

PhilVaz August 26, 2007 at 7:44 AM

OK here are 9000 on one page, in major blocs of Anglicans, Independents, Marginals, Orthodox, Protestants, and “Roman Catholics”, plus some “disaffiliated” and “doubly-affiliated.” The vast majority are Independents and Protestants. The “Roman Catholics” indeed appear to be one for each country. But here is the raw data collected by “World Christian Database” with country, name, megabloc, number of churches/congregations or parishes, with total affiliated church members for each. Whew! (3 meg HTML file)


Phil P

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