The Denominations Myth

How many denominations are there? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Have you ever heard the claim about how many denominations there are in Protestantism? This is used by people in Catholicism, Orthodoxy, and even atheists and agnostics. The former against Protestantism and the latter against Christianity. How can anyone take Christianity seriously when there are so many different groups?

The number is often exaggerated and without looking at the source for it. Any high number should be viewed with suspicion, especially if it goes into the tens of thousands. Still, this claim is not without some evidence behind it and even this from a valid source.

If you look at The World Encyclopedia of Christianity you will find that it does indeed say there are over 30,000 denominations. Well, time to pack it up and go home. After all, we’re way too divided if that’s the case.

While there is some division, it is not as much as one would think at a closer look. The division is into six major ecclesiastical blocks. It’s strange how that isn’t the first position cited. Actually, no. No, it’s not. Many people wanting to use arguments without checking their source thoroughly will go with something that falls along their biases. We are all guilty of this tendency and we must all check ourselves.

This is a list of these kinds of groups. If you look, you will find that Orthodoxy and Catholicism both have a number of denominations listed in them. This is based on the kinds of rites that they follow. It’s doubtful whether any practitioner of these traditions thinks that these all count as different denominations.

Some denominations are also based on a particular need. Consider the case of a Korean church for instance. They want a church that speaks their language and understands their culture. Their beliefs could be identical to the Baptist church down the street in terms of doctrine, but they would still be another denomination.

Also, consider that in a city like mine, Atlanta, you could have churches in different areas that are independent Baptist. These are not tied to a hierarchial order. Suppose they all have the same beliefs doctrinally, but they are far apart because this is a big city and not everyone wants to drive fifty miles or however much it is to get to church. Each of these would count as one denomination.

Someone might say, “Well, Nick. Of course, you’re going to say this. You’re a Protestant.” Fair enough, but first off, that doesn’t deal with the evidence I present. Second, it doesn’t deal with the fact that a Roman Catholic writer also recognizes the problem. Does this show that Catholicism or Orthodoxy are incorrect? Not at all. It does show that this is a bad argument for their position, just as there are bad arguments for Christianity, Protestantism, Sola Scriptura, and any other position.

For a humorous look at this, I recommend also the video my ministry partner, J.P. Holding made.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

How To Examine Claims

What are some steps you can take in investigation? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

So yesterday, my wife brings to my attention this claim. It’s an old one and it’s one I had looked at before but not really wrote much about except on Facebook because I take it as prima facie nonsense since it sounds like conspiracy theory thinking. It’s important that you know that in my family, I’m the more intellectual and my wife is the more emotional. So let’s suppose you’re someone who hasn’t studied this area as much and you hear a claim. How can you start investigating a claim like this?

Let’s start by seeing what it says:

Much to the dismay of the Vatican, an approx. 1500-2000 year old bible was found in Turkey, in the Ethnography Museum of Ankara. Discovered and kept secret in the year 2000, the book contains the Gospel of Barnabas – a disciple of Christ – which shows that Jesus was not crucified, nor was he the son of God, but a Prophet.

Actually, the account could not show that. It cannot show that any more than you can give someone a NT and show them Jesus is the resurrected Lord just by doing that. You have to work through the data of what the document says and why it should be believed. At best, you can say an old manuscript was found that CLAIMS this, but not one that shows it.

If we go this route, we also have to look beyond it. This is one claim. Do we have any other claim to the contrary? We have several. Practically every book of the New Testament as well as sources like Josephus, Mara Bar-Serapion, Tacitus, and Lucian. The crucifixion of Jesus is one of the most accepted facts of all by New Testament scholars.

Could it be this Gospel is right? Well perhaps, but if you’re going to say every other claim is wrong and this in the face of expert opinion on both sides of the fence, you need some convincing evidence. Just saying it is not convincing enough.

The book also calls Apostle Paul “The Impostor”.  The book also claims that Jesus ascended to heaven alive, and that Judas Iscariot was crucified in his place.

Amazingly enough, this all seems to match very well with Muslim doctrine. For those interested, I would suggest doing some research on the Gospel of Barnabas. Also, don’t confuse it with the Epistle of Barnabas.

A report by The National Turk says that the Bible was seized from a gang of smugglers in a Mediterranean-area operation. The report states the gang was charged with smuggling antiquities, illegal excavations, and the possession of explosives.  The books itself is valued as high as 40 Million Turkish Liras (approx. 28 mil. Dollars).  Man, where is the Thieves Guild, when you need them?

Now we’re getting somewhere. We have some claims we can look into. So let’s do that. Let’s go to the National Turk. I go there and I type in Bible in the search engine. The second link matches the image I see above. You can read the story here. At this point, I am not looking to see if the story is true or false, but if you read the story, the National Turk is saying nothing like what is presented in the rest of the article about the content of the book.

Authenticity
According to reports, experts and religious authorities in Tehram insist that the book is original.  The book itself is written with gold lettering, onto loosely-tied leather in Aramaic, the language of Jesus Christ.The text maintains a vision similar to Islam, contradicting the New Testament’s teachings of Christianity.  Jesus also foresees the coming of the Prophet Muhammad, who would found Islam 700 years later.
Several problems here. First off, who are these experts and religious authorities? We’re not told. There is not a single name I can go and check on. Do we even have a date on the book yet? If the book is 1,500 years old, who cares if it’s an original? We want the earliest and best sources. It’s also a wonder how this person could think Islam came 700 years later. Islam was active in the middle of the 7th century which would be 600 years after Jesus.
It is believed that, during the Council of Nicea, the Catholic Church hand-picked the gospels that form the Bible as we know it today; omitting the Gospel of Barnabas (among many others) in favor of the four canonical gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.  Many biblical texts have begun to surface over time, including those of the Dead Sea and Gnostic Gospels; but this book especially, seems to worry the Vatican.
And now we have something else we can investigate. Yes. This is believed. It is also believed by some that evolution is a giant fraud put on them by the scientific community. It is believed by many that the moon landing is a hoax. It is believed by many that 9-11 was an inside job. It is believed by many that Jesus never existed. The opposite claims are also believed by many. Of course, anyone who bothered to study the Council of Nicea would know that this is nonsense. Here’s what one scholar says about this.

There are also a lot of people who think (I base this on the number of times I hear this or am asked about it) that it was at the Council of Nicea that the canon of the New Testament was decided. That is, this is when Christian leaders allegedly decided which books would be accepted into the New Testament and which ones would be left out.

That too is wrong.

Who is this scholar?

Bart Ehrman.

Anyone want to think he has an axe to grind for Christianity? Muslims love quoting Ehrman. Will they accept him here?
What evidence do we have any of this is worrying the Vatican? We have no statements from the Vatican whatsoever. All we have is the article’s say so. Why should I take that seriously?
Much more of this article is just accusations about other people, but I think it’s ironic how it ends.
For centuries, the “defense” of blind faith has driven nations to war, violence, discrimination, slavery and to become the society of automatons that we are today; and for just as long, it has been justified with lies.  If you know better, act like it.
It is amazing that so many people who shared this article did so with blind faith without checking it. There’s also a greater irony when you talk about war and violence and look at the history of Islam. Perhaps those who believed this article should have known better and acted on it.
This has just been one case, but I hope I have shown some of the tools that can be used. This is also assuming that you are not an expert on the material. I really recommend doing this even for stuff that agrees with you. There’s a lot of nonsense on the internet after all.
In Christ,
Nick Peters
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