The New Testament uses some form of ekklesia ("church") at least 117 times. If you don't know what that word means, you're getting a lot wrong, and it won't stop there. If you don't understand what a church is, you will disobey many other teachings of the Bible.
We have no basis in the text of scripture to believe that ekklesia means anything other than the one obvious thing you find in the text. You have a large sample size, so it isn't difficult to see what a church is. So what happened? If you know history, then you also know why people get the meaning of ekklesia wrong. Very early after the completion of the New Testament, very powerful influences had already distorted its meaning for obvious purposes. There hasn't been a total apostasy on the doctrine of the church, but the false teaching has take predominance in the mind of professing Christianity. Add David Cloud.
Cloud doesn't see how Ephesians 2:13-20 (he probably means 13-22) could fit a local only interpretation. Earlier in his article, he talked about "we" and "ye." This would be a good moment to go back to that thought. In v. 10, Paul says that "we" are Christ's workmanship, created in Him, including himself with the same conversion as the church at Ephesus. But in v. 11, he switches to "ye," giving a spiritual account of the church at Ephesus, talking about them, excluding himself, because he's talking about that church in that city. Paul wasn't a Gentile or "uncircumcision in the flesh" (v. 11). Then notice how Paul goes back to the first person plural, speaking about salvation again, in vv. 14-18. He switches back to "ye" again, obviously speaking to the church at Ephesus again in v. 19, telling the story its membership.
Between verses 18 and 20, Paul uses soteriological terminology to tell the tale of what occurred in the conversion of the church at Ephesus, putting a special emphasis on how that God had saved them as Gentiles, and included them in the kingdom of God and the family of God, again soteriological terms. The saints at Ephesus were now "fellowcitizens with the saints" (kingdom of God) and "of the household of God" (family of God).
Notice how in verses 18 and 22, Paul says "ye," excluding himself. If the temple of God and the habitation of God were a universal church, then Paul would be saying that he was an unconverted non-member of the universal church. He says "ye," because each local church is a temple of God and an habitation of God. If Paul were talking about all believers everywhere or even any believers anywhere, he would say "we," just like he had earlier in the chapter.
There are some parallels between Ephesians 2 here and 1 Corinthians 3, both written by the Apostle Paul. Speaking of the church at Corinth in 1 Corinthians 3:9, he says, "ye are God's building." It was God who had given the increase (3:7). Paul had laid the foundation. How? By preaching the gospel. He talks about that later at the beginning of chapter 15. He says that the foundation for that church is Jesus Christ (3:11). Then he says "ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you" (3:16). If Paul was talking about all believers, he would have said "we" in 1 Corinthians 3:16, and not "ye." The church at Corinth was the temple of God. The church at Ephesus was the "habitation of God." Same thing.
In Ephesians 2:21-22, the church at Ephesus ("ye") was "a holy temple." They were not the only holy temple. Other churches were also that, like the church at Corinth. It too was the temple of God.
Cloud writes: "This holy temple is a habitation of God, whereas there are unsaved people in the local churches." That's actually another argument from him, like the one in which he said that the gates of hell prevail against individual churches, so the church couldn't be local only. He's saying that because there are unsaved people in churches, they couldn't be God's holy temple and habitation. The church at Corinth was the temple of God. Argument over.
God dwelt with the "congregation of the LORD" (Jehovah) in the Old Testament. Were there unsaved people there? God chose to make Israel His holy habitation, even though Israel was rife with unbelief. God's immanence doesn't corrupt or pervert His transcendence. Can Cloud not believe that the church of Corinth was the "temple of God" because there were unbelievers in that temple? The glory of the Lord finally left Israel, and Jesus' special presence will not remain in a church, as seen in the church at Laodicea, when He removed His candlestick. There was a Jezebel in the church at Thyatira (Rev 2:18-28), but Jesus still dwelt in that temple, walked in the midst of that church.
There is nothing unique about Ephesians 2 to be a problem for understanding "church" like one would in any other of its usages, as local only. This is a total stretch for Cloud to write what he does.
Cloud then goes into a few paragraphs broad brushing local only teachers, that many of them are bullies. How? Really. This is the kind of argument that Cloud should keep to himself. It does not add anything to his position. Does he really think that his "universal/local" position is going to be less welcome than a "local-only" one?
The Catholic position is that the true church is universal (catholic) and visible. The Protestant position is that the true church is universal and invisible. If he believes the Protestant position, he should embrace it. He says he doesn't believe in a Protestant universal church, but his position is a Protestant universal church position. He has some unique twists to it, some oddities that do make him one of a few at least. That doesn't help him. It leaves him with something very, very confused. He says the church started with the ministry of Christ, and he uses passages to indicate that. But he takes a position on 1 Corinthians 12:13 that contradicts that. If the church doesn't start until the Spirit baptizes into the one body, then it couldn't have started before Pentecost. He gives an exegetical basis for saying that it had to start before Pentecost, some things that are very clear, and contradicts that by saying:
At the same time, I do not see this as a fundamental issue one way or the other. If the Lord had wanted to make the matter more clear, He could easily have done so, but He didn’t.
It is actually clear. It's just not clear to David Cloud. The Lord did make it clear. The Bible is clear.
Cloud makes an incredible argument in these paragraphs. Just follow it. It's clear. I'll put it in a logical syllogism to help you get it.
What is the truth, God promises David Cloud will know.
David Cloud knows the church is universal and invisible.
The church being universal and invisible is the truth.
You catch this line of reasoning from him. This logic is flawed. Knowing it doesn't make it true. I would actually be more concerned about agreement from my church (1 Tim 3:15). You are not always better off studying something out on your own with no one else involved, and then depending on a kind of subjective validation of that knowledge, crediting God for giving that to you. As well, does a person who writes a Bible encyclopedia know what words mean? I have a few Bible encyclopedias. Half a dozen of those tell me what a church is and I don't believe them. There is something to preaching the truth to a congregation, and getting the input and fellowship of a church, if someone is humble to other's instruction and correction, that brings objective accreditation.
Look also how Cloud is saying that because it isn't clear, it isn't a fundamental issue. It seems that what he's saying is that the nature of the church isn't a separating issue, because it isn't fundamental. And again, the reason it isn't fundamental is because Jesus didn't make it clear what His church was or when it started. That all sounds very familiar.
More to Come