Bryan Cross tries to acquit himself of the charge that he’s guilty of the very thing he accuses the Protestant of, namely: ecclesial consumerism:
As he summarizes the charge: “But the objection to this argument is that the person who moves from Protestantism to Catholicism does the very same thing, essentially creates ‘Church’ in his own image by reading the Bible and deciding that the doctrine of the Catholic Church most closely matches what the Bible teaches. So, the objection is a form of the tu quoque (i.e. you too) objection.”
Here’s his attempt to deflect the charge:
“But there is a very important difference. What is problematic in the Protestant approach is not that the individual uses his own intellect and will in making decisions about the identity and nature of the Church. We can't but use our own intellect and will in making decisions. Individualism is not equivalent to individual agency. So, that's not the issue.”
“The issue is the criterion by which we decide what is the true Church. The approach in the Protestant case (because in Protestantism ‘apostolic succession’, insofar as the term is used, is thought to refer fundamentally to the doctrine of the Apostles) is to interpret Scripture, while typically assuming sola scriptura, and work out what one thinks was the Apostles' doctrine, and then find a present-day community of persons who shares that doctrine, call them ‘the Church’, and then join ‘the Church’.”
“So what exactly is the relevant difference between the Protestant picking out a Protestant denomination that fits his own interpretation of Scripture, and the Protestant adult who becomes Catholic for the right reason? In the former case, the individual works out a set of doctrines from Scripture, and then seeks out those persons who are presently teaching according to that set of doctrines, and joins their community and submits to them. In the latter case, by contrast, the individual finds in history those whom the Apostles appointed and authorized, observes what they say about the basis of the transmission of Magisterial authority, and then traces that line of successive authorizations down through history to the present day to a living Magisterium, and then submits to what this present-day Magisterium is teaching. In both cases the individual inquirer is using his intellect and will. But in the former case he is using his own determination of *doctrine* from his interpretation of Scripture to define and locate ‘the Church’, but in the latter case he is using the *succession of sacramental authority* from the Apostles to locate the Church and then let the Church tell him what is and is not orthodox doctrine.”
Unfortunately for Bryan, his attempt to rebut the comparison is unsuccessful. The prior identification of the correct criterion is a common concern for Catholic and Protestant alike. Hence, there is a rather exact analogy when we compare Bryan’s conduct to the Protestant conduct he assails.
Both groups consider the identification of the correct criterion to be the primary issue. For your rule of faith will, to some extent, select for your theology (or theological options) and corresponding ecclesial affiliation.
It’s not a case of first determining your doctrinal stance, then choosing a church that happens to match your doctrinal stance. Rather, it’s a case of first determining your criterion (whether sola Scriptura or sola Ecclesia), which will, in turn, affect your theological method, resultant theology, and subsequent choice of a Christian fellowship. So the parallel holds in both cases.
But I’d also add that Bryan presents a very artificial version of how people choose churches. For one thing, people don’t generally attend churches as individuals. Rather, they attend churches as families.
For example, if a Baptist marries a Presbyterian, then there are certain options. She can leave her church to attend his church. He can leave his church to attend her church. They can compromise by attending a neutral church. And so on and so forth.
There’s no direct correlation between my beliefs and the beliefs of my denomination. They may intersect, but that doesn’t mean they coincide. I may be prepared to affiliate with a number of different denominations as long as they fall within certain acceptable parameters.
In addition, since many or most Protestants don’t identify any particular denomination or local church or independent church with the one true church, they don’t use their theology to locate or find “The Church.” They don’t use their theology to select for “The Church” since, in their theology, there is not one-to-one correspondence between the one true church and any particular denomination or local church or independent church. So they are more flexible than Bryan’s wooden caricature allows for.