David Cloud takes a lot of grief from people for no good reason. Most of what he has to say is good and true and the people attacking him on most occasions take cheap shots. I think some of his biggest detractors agree with him on 90%, but they don’t like him for three reasons alone, and in the following order: King James Version, music, and non-Calvinism. The same people who attack him often fellowship with continuationists and give them a pass. It’s the KJV issue — the third rail of fundamentalist and evangelical politics. I’ve been attacked many times because I have linked to Cloud and have supported him in different ways on various occasions. Even when I do disagree with him, I don’t usually answer him in public, because I don’t want him to take any more than he already gets. If you read Cloud, you are generally, almost exclusively, going to be helped.
I think I’m consistent with how I deal with David Cloud. I quote and link to people with whom we have less agreement than David Cloud. Every link comes with a disclaimer. I supported Cloud in his issue with West Coast by writing here on his behalf. I’ve known that I disagree with Cloud. I’ve often thought that if I did sit down with Cloud and had a long talk that on some of our disagreements, he might change. Would I change? Sure. I’d be willing to change to his position too, if it were biblical.
But now I’m going public against something David Cloud just recently published. He knows that everything he posts online or sends out in his news service is open game. He has to know that many of his supporters think he’s wrong, but he’s decided to go ahead and put it out there anyway. He says that he already had it in his encyclopedia since 1993, so it isn’t new. That’s fine. But more people read his online material than read his published material — by far.
I’m going to deal with what he wrote in bite sized portions that will encourage someone to keep reading. A lot reading this will already be sided with David Cloud, because more evangelicals are universal church than are local only. Some will see this as an intramural skirmish, because they completely ignore a local only position anyway, act like it doesn’t exist.
Despite some of the tone of Cloud’s post, I want to keep it as civil as possible, just dealing with the issue, and not with what I think of Cloud writing it or the level of scholarship that went into the post. Let’s just see if the Bible says what he says that it says. However, if he says something that I don’t believe is true, I’ll point it out, as nicely as possible.
So let’s begin. His article is dated September 17, 2013, and entitled, “Are You a Baptist Brider or Local Church Only?” Right off the bat, anyone reading should know that he’s not asking either/or. He is renaming “Baptist brider” with “local church only,” as if they are the same position. My opinion up to this day is that “Baptist brider” is generally a pejorative meant to disparage local only ecclesiology. The two titles are not the same. They are not identical. What I’m saying is that technically and biblically you can be local church only and not a Baptist brider. He should know that. Perhaps he does. If he does, then he shouldn’t write that “local only” means “Baptist bride," because that would mean he's only taking a shot.
The first part of the article is personal, where Cloud explains how he came to his position. I’m happy to hear that when Cloud understood that he was on the wrong track with a belief, or that he didn’t understand it, that he would study it on his own. That’s a good thing. I’m going to assume that Cloud didn’t take a position that would make him more popular with a particular camp, that this is what he actually does believe based on his approach and study. I’m also really happy to hear that Cloud thinks that his work should be church work, based upon the Bible.
OK, it’s at this point that Cloud starts making arguments for his position, including some scripture references. He said he looked at “Matthew 16:18; 1 Corinthians 12:13; and Ephesians 2:13-20" and couldn’t fit those into a local church only position. I’m going to take Cloud completely at his word, so I’m going to critique what he wrote here. He shouldn’t try to fit the Bible into a position, but take a position that the Bible teaches. If he was looking to fit the passages into a particular position, that’s a tell-tale indicator of how to come to a wrong one. I don’t think Cloud is a novice, and that’s a bit of hyperbole to even bring that up, as if he’s firing that preemptive warning shot across the bow. Again, let’s assume that Cloud understands hermeneutics. Proving him wrong isn’t personal. It isn’t an attempt to degrade him completely because he has it wrong on this one position. Instead, we can look at this arguments, and see if they match up with the text of scripture.
I’m not going to call what he’s written so far an argument. He’s saying he can’t fit “local only” into three passages. He doesn’t tell us why he can’t, just that he can’t with good conscience. No argument has been made so far, unless being David Cloud is an argument, which we will assume he doesn’t believe.
He makes an argument in the next paragraph. His argument sounds like the following, and you can read it for yourself to see if I’m representing it properly. The gates of hell would not prevail against Jesus’ church (Mt 16:18), and since David Cloud has seen the gates of hell prevail against individual churches in his experience, the church in Mt 16:18 must be something other than local. Cloud has been to the location of the 7 churches of Revelation 2 and 3 and they’re not there, so the gates of hell prevailed against those congregations, leaving with no alternative but to see Mt 16:18 as talking about something other than local. That’s his argument. I don’t think I’m wrong here, but that is not an exegetical argument. It’s perhaps slightly better than the “I’m David Cloud” argument, but not much.
There is something that David Cloud does not talk about in his article that could clear some things up for him on this. I don’t want to assume that he doesn’t know this, but if he is going to make that type of argument for Matthew 16:18, then he would need to show that he understands this, and yet he doesn’t show it. It is basic grammar. It is looking at the actual words and deriving a teaching from them, allowing the Bible to stand as the authority.
“Church” (ekklesia) in Matthew 16:18 is a singular noun. That does not mean there is one of them in the entire world. If I say, “I answered the phone,” I’m not saying there is only one phone in the world, since I wasn’t referencing a particular phone. The singular noun can only be used two ways: a particular or a generic. Often, the singular noun is used in a generic way in the New Testament. It is used that way all the time in Greek and in English and in many other languages. This is very basic. When Jesus says, “I will build my church,” we don’t assume that He means there will be just one. He could be talking about the church generically. I think that He was, but it isn’t easy to conclude whether it was a particular, the Jerusalem church, or His church as an institution, the generic use, by the context. It could be either and could be both. We certainly shouldn’t make any conclusions about what “church” means from a passage ambiguous in its context.
What would be good to do is to look at how Jesus uses the word ekklesia in His 20 other usages of it in the Bible, and what you will find is that the other usages are plainly local. That is good hermeneutics, that is, taking the ambiguous usage and interpreting in the light of every other single usage by Jesus. There is no reason to believe that Jesus wasn’t using ekklesia in Matthew 16:18 like He was in the other 20 usages, beginning in Matthew 18:15-17. And if ekklesia was ever supposed to be an entity other than local, where is the passage that explains that usage of the word. Where? There is no where, and the reason is because it has only the one meaning.
A generic use of the singular noun doesn’t change the meaning of the word. An ekklesia is still an assembly, the way that Tyndale translated the word in every usage of it in his translation — “congregation.”
When Jesus said “my church,” He was distinguishing His governing institution from others. This was His. His ekklesia was different than the meeting of the Greek city state, the Sanhedrin, the congregation of Israel. He would be the Head of this one. However, it was still an assembly. Assemblies assemble. If they don’t assemble, they are not an assembly. If it isn’t a particular assembly, then Jesus is speaking of it in a generic way, which is common in the New Testament. Cloud doesn’t mention this, perhaps because he doesn’t know. If he did know, he should at least have talked about it. If you don’t know the two usages of the singular noun, you can be confused when it comes to interpreting singulars.
There is no mystical or spiritual or platonic usage of the singular noun. You’ve got two choices: particular or generic. If Jesus was using it as a generic, that doesn’t change the meaning of ekklesia. He is talking still about an assembly, not just a particular one. He’s talking about it as His institution. If I say, “I will write with my pen,” “pen” doesn’t suddenly become universal and mystical without warning. It retains the meaning, even though it isn't talking about or distinguishing a particular pen. It is "my pen," so that narrows it down, but it doesn't create something that is a different meaning of pen. It's still a pen.
Cloud doesn’t argue with exegesis. His argument is experiential. And it doesn’t prove anything, especially since he doesn’t exegete. In the end, he eisegetes. Just because individual churches are gone doesn’t mean that Jesus’ church is gone. Every single assembly in the world would need to be gone for the gates of hell to prevail. That has not been the case. Jesus’ church will exist as long as there is still one of His churches. It doesn’t even have to be a good one or the best one to be one. If it is a church, then His church has not been prevailed upon.
More next time.