The Catholic Lane is calling off Roman Catholic apologists who use the tired phrase that Protestantism has produced 33,000 denominations:
One Protestant friend of mine gets royally annoyed when he hears Catholics say there are 33,000 denominations in Protestantism. Paraphrased:
Really, I can think of maybe four or five major schools of Protestant theology, and maybe — maybe — 70 denominations in this country. And that’s being generous.
He once noted to me that the number of 33,000 — or 44,000, or whatever — relies on counting local communities independently, and breaking up international groups by country. By that standard, there are as many Catholic churches as there are countries in the world which have Catholics. In fact, by the standard we’re holding Protestants to; our number of churches should be multiplied where the Eastern Rites are represented. This is, of course, a bogus standard, so it will turn off Protestants of any competence.
My friend went on to insist that what really matters is the theological unity, the unity in truths professed. To say “33,000″ when there are really only about five or six or ten or seventy is a gesture of bad faith, and a sign we aren’t being serious.
“Within those schools of thought,” he said, “they don’t really disagree on anything important.”
So what is the alternative?
There are at least two Protestant churches in the world. They contradict each other on important things, or disagree about which things are important. Isn’t this a problem? Keep in mind: This is not a case for Catholicism. This is a case against Protestantism.
This is where you follow up, building a case for Catholicism. When talking to a Protestant, begin with scripture, and point out the evidence for the Church in scripture. Don’t just say that scripture or history proves the Catholic Church. Competent Protestants will here want proof, so at this point refer to scriptural passages which together and in context point to a visibly united community of believers, the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. It’ll still be a wild ride, so make sure you’ve studied the context yourself.
Keep in mind the stakes. Protestants aren’t merely mistaken about this doctrine or that doctrine. They lack sacraments. Some Protestants — those who were not validly baptized — lack all of the sacraments. This has eternal consequences, whether it’s as simple as not bearing the mark of chrismation in heaven or abiding forever the unforgiving fires of hell.
When we speak of communion, we mean all forms of communion, right down to Holy Communion. Yet by making sweeping claims, you might just sweep someone out of earshot, even further from the Eucharist than they were before. Allowing for God’s foreknowledge, that person you push away may come into the Church later anyway — but it may be much later, and if so you might get to answer to God for it.
In short, don’t say more than you have to. It rarely takes much to topple the internal contradictions of Protestantism. It certainly does not take 33,000 denominations.
And if two guys in white shirts and a tie show up at your front door, if it’s a Michigan winter invite them in. But if it’s warm out, be careful. They may be Roman Catholic apologists with instructions on how to reduce you to a puddle of uncertainty. But if you have a Bryan Cross hat, maybe that will provide the force you need to withstand their challenge.