A certain anti-Catholic objects to the characterization of Protestantism’s denominations and congregations as “voluntary associations of like-minded people.” While it may be true in general that this is not how they describe themselves, it’s pretty clear that the description is nevertheless pretty accurate. Consequently I observe that a necessary distinction sometimes must be made between what people say about themselves and the way that things really are.
I don’t have any interest in making the full argument myself, because I think it’s plenty clear from this article at Called to Communion (warning: nearly 950 comments at this writing, so it may take a little while to load the article). Because the Protestant reserves to himself the right to join or separate from any denomination or congregation based upon his own personal understanding of Scripture, these fellowships can never reasonably be described as anything other than voluntary associations of people who happen to agree with each other. He can describe it to himself however he likes, but the fact of the matter is that if he finds himself in sufficient disagreement with his fellows at some point, he will separate from them: he will no longer be in association with them. Of course, different Protestants have different pain thresholds, so to speak: one man may be able to put up with quite a lot of theological diversity, while others just can’t. Nevertheless I don’t see how the analysis is invalid, even though they might happen to disagree with it. The individual’s right to judge is absolute in Protestantism.