The Myth of the 33,000

The question of the vast number of Christian denominations can make one wonder, but is the myth of the 33,000 a strong argument against Christianity?

When it comes to arguing against Christianity, some believe the best arguments opposing it come from Christianity itself. The myth of the 33,000 is one such argument. The fable is meant to show that the high number of Christian denominations is a clear sign of disunity and doctrinal inconsistency. Is this true? If so, why so many?

To get a full overview of the denominations, this page is definitely recommended reading: The Facts and Stats On “33,000 Denominations.” However, as it is quite daunting, I’ll quickly summarize it here.

The World Christian Encyclopedia does say there are 33,000 denominations, that much is true, but it isn’t that simple. The 33,000 is divided into “6 major ecclessiastico-cultural mega blocs” and “300 major ecclessiastico-traditions.” When citing the numbers, one may refer to the 6 major ecclessiastico-cultural mega blocs and point to that just as strongly to an opposing argument. The numbers can be taken both ways and by themselves they don’t provide a real solid footing for the argument.

The core of the argument is that each denomination is against each other. If we take a closer look at the WCE we find a surprising fact. Denominations are defined foremost by autonomy, culture, and race, not doctrine. Most denominations vary from one another only because of a unique service to a specific location, race, or culture, not doctrine. Perhaps the best example is the 242 Catholic denominations, which all share the same doctrine, yet exist to serve the specific needs of those in different areas. The page also lists about 22,000 of these denominations as “independent.” These can be as small as one church serving a unique community. While there are denominations that do vary in doctrine, the myth that all 33,000 are opposing each other is false. Although there are some disagreements between major denominations, the similarities often far-outweigh the differences. Denominations are not separate Christianities nor are they at complete odds with one another. Critics will often try to oversimplify the matter to make it appear worse than it really is. Sometimes its intentionally deceptive, other times it’s simply a product of an ignorant mind.

Finally, all of us are human beings with flaws. We make mistakes and sometimes we misunderstand. Pride, selfishness, and greed are factors that need to be weighed in also. This isn’t a truth exclusive to religious denominations. If you’ve ever heard a conspiracy theory you know what I’m talking about. Human flaws should not take away from the truth or bring us to the conclusion that no truth exists at all.

It’s easy to find unity with people who agree with you, but finding unity with those you disagree with requires sacrifice and a deeper love for humanity. As Ravi Zacharias once said, “Unity doesn’t have to be uniformity.