May 24, 2015: This Pentecost Sunday will be the 1982nd birthday of the Christian Church.
Before He ascended, Jesus prayed for His disciples and for all those “who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me.” -John 17:20-21
The Center for the Study of Global Christianity at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (link below) estimated that in 1900, there were about 1,600 Christian denominations world-wide. As of 2012, that number had grown to approximately 43,000.
Heads up, all y’all who are familiar with my blogs about “Satan’s Century”! Jesus prayed to the Father that we would all be one so the world may believe in Him. Satan wants us divided so the world will NOT believe in Him!
Each of these 43,000 denominations falls roughly into one of three categories. FYI: The following is highly simplified for the sake of clarity only. It’s also going to get some of your panties in a bunch, but church history is what it is.
More than half of all Christians identify as Catholic; 70% of these identify as Roman Catholic. All of the churches in the Catholic grouping can trace their histories back to the Apostles and include “one, holy, catholic and apostolic” in their creeds. The Greek roots of the word catholic — kata and holos — mean “with respect to wholeness.”
All of these denominations teach that Scripture is inerrant and primary, but that it came out of, and is therefore a part of a larger wholeness known as Tradition (with a capital T). Thus, while these denominations also teach that the Holy Spirit inspires individuals in matters pertaining to their personal walks with Jesus, they also teach that His inspiration on issues of doctrine must be discerned in union with the combined wisdom of the Church’s elders as it has been passed down to us from the first century through to modern day.
Important sources of Tradition include the Bible, first and foremost, plus the writings of the early Church Fathers and the rulings of Ecumenical Councils.
The Assyrian, Orthodox and Anglican groups split off from the Roman communion in roughly the centuries shown below in parentheses. Their disputes are largely political, not doctrinal.
- Roman Catholic (Matt 16:18) = 1.2 Billion
- Assyrian (5th c.) = 600,000
- Orthodox (12th c.) = 386 Million
- Anglican (16th c.) = 85 Million
Most of the 43,000 denominations fall into this category. These churches reject all of Tradition apart from the Bible (minus 7 books*). They call this Sola Scriptura. Each denomination can trace its history only to the 16th century or later and to an individual founder whose interpretation of Scripture conflicted with that of his mentor’s. The first of these was the Catholic priest, Martin Luther, who decided the Holy Spirit had dropped the ball at some point in the 15 centuries since Christ, but that He was now ready to correct Himself … via Martin Luther … with the truth about what the Catholics had messed up.
Jesus said, “The Advocate, the Holy Spirit that the Father will send in my name — he will teach you everything and remind you of all that [I] told you.” – John 14:26
Some of Luther’s own disciples decided he had got it wrong too and went off and started their own denominations where some decided they had got it wrong too and went off and … etc. etc. etc. … which is how we got from the unity Jesus prayed for to the 43,000 that is a scandal and a stumbling block to non-believers. In doctrine and in practice, these denominations differ from one another in ways both large and small. Yet each claims to have discerned their own variation on the truest interpretation of Jesus’ teachings via the inspiration of the same Holy Spirit. (And you wonder why I’m Catholic?)
- Lutheran (16th c.) = 65-90 Million
- Baptist (17th c.) = 75-105 Million
- Reformed (18th c.) = 55-85 Million
- Modern Protestant (20th c.) = 400-500 Million
A handful of 19th and 20th c. denominations reject the Doctrine of the Trinity which is attested to by all Catholic and Protestant denominations. The First Council of Nicaea (325 CE) declared the full divinity of the Son; the First Council of Constantinople (381 CE) declared the divinity of the Holy Spirit. At this time — i.e., the 4th c. — Christendom was still fully united.
- Mormon (19th c) = 15.5 Million
- Jehovah’s Witness (19th c) = 8.2 Million
- Oneness Pentecostal (20th c) = 6 Million
*About the Protestant Bible
Protestant Reformers rejected certain parts of the Old Testament that had been accepted by all of Christendom for more than a millennium. These included the Books of Tobit, Judith, Wisdom (Wisdom of Solomon), Ecclesiasticus (Sirach, Ben Sira), Baruch (includes the Letters of Jeremiah), First and Second Maccabees, plus some sections of Daniel and Esther.
I read several articles on this subject, which are linked below. One by a Protestant claimed that the inspired status of these books had been contested right through the Middle Ages, but another by a Catholic cited a Protestant church historian saying this was not true, that these books had always been included and considered authentic.
I understand it is common for modern Protestant Bibles to include the contested books, though they are stigmatized in a section labeled Apocrypha, which means “of doubtful authenticity.”
This article on the “Canon of the Old Testament” goes into detail about the history of the alleged “lack of full acceptance” of these books @ http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/03267a.htm.