Some rambling reflections on the flexibility of denominational loyalty among the Protestant laity
There is of course a very large number of Protestant groupings and also some Protestants who avoid groupings altogether. The reason behind the profusion of Protestant denominations is that the founders of the denominations concerned were struck by important points in the scriptures and have made those points of central importance. And if founding a new denomination seems required by the importance of those points, so be it.
But the concerns that led to the founding of the various denominations tend to be very little attended to by the laity. Protestants normally choose their church not according to its doctrine but rather according to its geographical convenience or the friendliness of its outreach.
The lady in my life -- Anne -- is a rather good example of that. Her father was Gospel Hall and her mother was brought up as a Salvationist. But for reasons of convenience Anne attended solely Methodist and Presbyterian churches -- with Presbyterians being by far her most frequent church associates. But Anne is a singer so when her Salvationist friends got to know of that, she was asked to come with them and sing solo hymns during the street corner evangelism for which the Sallies used to be so famous. And she did. She sang with the Sallies on street corners. And I am MOST impressed by that. I find it hard to think of a better recommendation of good character than that.
My own background is also a little mottled. My father was an Anglican of the most nominal sort and my mother was a Presbyterian. I cannot remember either of them ever putting a foot inside a church but my mother's denominational attachment still had some life in it so I was from an early age sent to Presbyterian Sunday School -- which I greatly enjoyed. Then when I went to High School there was a non-denominational Bible study group which met during lunch hour called the Crusaders. And I joined and enjoyed that too. So: Osama bin Laden, watch out. I am actually one of those evil Crusaders that you fantasize about!
For a while after that I joined the Jehovahs Witnesses, who are FEROCIOUS Bible students -- and that suited me down to the ground. I learnt enormous amounts about what the Bible says at that time. I even began to look at the original Greek and Hebrew of the scriptures then. Sometimes it is useful to go back to the original Bible rather than relying on any of the many translations. And to this day I still enjoy reading the Bible. Ecclesiastes is my favourite book for wisdom and Revelations is the most fun.
Eventually, however, by about age 18, I became dissatisfied with the JWs and went back to attending my local Presbyterian church (Ann st.). And I got on well there with the minister: old Percy Pearson. His sermons used to be a bit obscure but I followed them and would nod when he made a good point. So he got into the habit of addressing most of his sermons to me! Though I think only he and I knew that. We used to have good chats in the church hall afterwards too.
And at about age 20 I became an atheist -- largely as a consequence of studying philosophy. By the time I took up formal study of philosophy at university I had already read all sorts of philosophy -- from Aquinas to Bultmann. I have a younger relative (cousin one removed) who was at one time an Assembly of God minister. When he was, I warned him not to study theology as it would destroy his faith. But he did and it did. He is now an academic.
Many years elapsed after that during which I attended no church at all (except to get married). But about 15 years ago, I felt that it would be good to renew some contact with the marvellous Christian faith so have attended the very occasional service at both the magnificent Anglican cathedral and my old Presbyterian church. And I get a lot out of both, atheist though I remain. I am off to Evensong at the Cathedral this Sunday, in fact.
So I think that denominational wandering is almost a defining feature of Protestantism.