Daily Archives: September 15, 2011

Sidebar: The 38,000 Denominations Argument

We interrupt this ongoing series on Catholicism to bring you a special bulletin, hopefully clarifying something I said in a previous post before some sarcastically impaired person tries to use it against me.

In this post, I stated:

Without submission to the church as a teacher, you have no other way to go other than to split into a separate body of believers with no further fellowship when a disagreement arises.  And there are 38,000 recognized denominations of Christianity proving my point!

Of course, this argument is frequently used by atheists to suggest that there is extreme disunity in Christianity.  It’s also used by Catholics to show the need for a central teaching authority.

Here, I was using it flippantly the same way as a Catholic, to highlight the need for a high church concept and for the body of believers to submit to their local church.  I don’t believe in “church shopping” if you don’t like where you currently attend.  And I hate the fact that people create new denominations on a whim, and sometimes over the most trivial points.

I have often argued that there is more unity in Christianity than disunity, with varying opinions on side issues or non-issues.  I’m not going back on that by making the statement I did, and was reminded this morning that the issue is much more complicated than just a few differences of opinion.  This video from JP Holding does an excellent (and humorous job) of showing the differences in the various denominations:

Denominations are most often formed to serve the unique needs of a specific geographic area.  For example, I’ve often talked about being a member of a Grace Brethren church.  The doctrine comes from the Schwarzenau Brethren (the “German Dunkers”), and was renamed “Grace Brethren” in the United States.  We have no doctrine that is distinct from the original denomination, just a different name for a different geographic region.

The Anglican Church in the United States is called the Episcopal Church.  Why?  Well, “Anglican” is the Church of England, and probably wouldn’t have been a popular name to go by after this tiny, little row called “the American Revolution.”  Perhaps you’ve heard of it.  Anti-English sentiment would have run high in the new republic, so they changed their name.

Over time, the two churches have grown apart.  Episcopal Churches, for example, celebrate homosexuality and bless gay marriages, ordain openly gay clergy and elect openly gay bishops, as well as allowing female pastors.  None of that is condoned by the head of the Anglican Community, the Archbishop of Canterbury.  He has, in fact, threatened to expel the Episcopal Church from the Anglican Community over these issues.

Despite the row, at the end of the day, the Episcopal Church is still part of the Anglican Church, just called a different name for a different region.

Geographic region is really the key to understanding denominations.  Sometimes, it’s just easier to form a denomination than to answer to a larger authority who might not understand exactly what a particular church needs.

I just wanted to make it clear that I’m using the argument flippantly.  I meant it as a humorous underscore to my point that people aren’t going to understand the Bible unaided, and that the Bible cannot be our sole authority.  We need teachers to show us how to read the Bible.  I’m not trying to suggest that 38,000 denominations is equivalent to 38,000 completely different and contradictory views of Christianity.

Renewed Denial of the Roman Catholic Church, part 2: The Centrality of the Church

Recently, in a conversation on Facebook, I confessed that much of Protestantism annoyed me.  Longtime readers will know that I believe in consistency — hermeneutics should be consistent, interpretations of passages should incorporate what has gone before, and your bar of acceptable proof should be even across all areas of your life.

Protestantism just isn’t consistent.  And my previous post laid the groundwork for why I don’t think Protestantism is very consistent with regard to Sacred Tradition.  In this post, I’m going to discuss the concept of high church, how Protestantism lacks it, and why it is biblical.

The Bible is clear, as any Catholic will tell you, that we should hold to a high church concept.  That means the church should be visible, evident, and hold the power of discipline over its members.  If my church excommunicates someone because he is an unrepentant adulterer, then the church down the street should not welcome him with open arms.

Also, the church should be there to interpret Scripture’s teachings for us.  Peter tells us that no teaching comes in a vacuum (2 Pet 1:20).  In Acts, Phillip is shown to interpret Scripture for a man; indeed, the man recognizes that he needs someone to interpret Scriptures for him (8:29-30)!

It is the visible and powerful church, therefore, that should help us understand the teachings.

Combining the lack of centralized teaching and the invisibility of the church, you can easily see the problem of Protestantism.  If Susie doesn’t like what the United Methodist Church is saying, then she can go to my Grace Brethren church.  If she doesn’t like Pastor Steve’s next sermon (she will love Nate’s music — I mean, who wouldn’t?), then she can move on to the local Episcopal church down the block.  Ultimately, if Susie doesn’t like any of the Protestant denominations, then she’s free to start her own denomination.  There are thousands; what’s one more?

Bottom line: this isn’t the church that Christ promised us in Scripture.  This isn’t the pillar and foundation of truth (1 Tim 3:15).

Here, it was extremely tempting to rejoin the Catholic Church.  That would require some humility; after all, I would have to submit to some dogma that I don’t like.  But, that is what the high church concept is all about.  I expect my beliefs to be challenged, and I expect God to change me in order to conform to the image of his Son (Rom 8:29-30).

But, at the end of the day, I just can’t do it.  I really tried.  But I can’t believe submission means that I have to leave my mental faculties at the door, and believe things that I know simply cannot be true.  There’s a difference between submission and cultic mind control.  After all, the Bible tells us to test everything and hold on to what is good (1 The 5:21) — a passage written to the individual.

For example, the Bible says that my wife is to submit to me as spiritual head of household, as if to Christ.  Now, if I tell her the sky is green, does she then have to submit to me as her husband, even though she can evidently see that is not the case?  According to Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians (5:21), no.  Testing my statement, it isn’t good and she therefore isn’t under an obligation to submit.  In marriage, Jesus gave us the out of a spouse creating serious disunity (Mt 19:1-9; note that “sexual immorality” isn’t the best translation of v. 9 — the Greek word doesn’t imply adultery, but rather putting asunder or dividing).

So, if the teacher isn’t “rightly dividing the word of truth,” I should think we aren’t under any obligation to submit (2 Tim 2:15).  This is the standstill of Catholic vs. Protestant.

On one hand, the Catholic says that the Protestant is still the final arbiter of what Scripture says (private judgment or interpretation), even if he’s holding a high church concept.  To some degree, this is correct.  But, these same Catholics don’t realize that they themselves have engaged in private judgment as well.  They have made the private judgment to submit to the teachings of the Magisterium.

On the other hand, Protestants have made the private judgment not to follow the teachings of the Magisterium.  Some of us have investigated some troubling claims and found that they are not as well-supported as the Magisterium would have us believe.

In the next post, I will disseminate one such unsupported doctrine, the Perpetual Virginity of Mary.  I will show that it is unbiblical and illogical, and this is why I simply can’t submit to it.  Ultimately, it was my investigation of this doctrine that affirms me as a Protestant.