Updated January 24, 2007 (first published February 8, 1999; previously updated August 9, 2005) (David Cloud, Fundamental Baptist Information Service, P.O. Box 610368, Port Huron, MI 48061, 866-295-4143, [email protected]; for instructions about subscribing and unsubscribing or changing addresses, see the information paragraph at the end of the article) –
From time to time I receive inquiries from people asking me if I am a “Baptist Brider” and inquiring further about my views on the church. Let me say in the strongest terms that, no, I am not a Baptist Brider and I have no sympathy with it whatsoever.
I have published my position on the church in the Way of Life Encyclopedia of the Bible & Christianity, which is readily available to anyone who is interested and has been available since its publication in 1993, and there is not a hint of Briderism in it. There are issues that I did not raise in the Encyclopedia studies, though, and I have decided to publish my reply to a letter from a Bible college student in which he asked me five questions in relation to church matters. I have extended and edited the original reply so that it more thoroughly explains my position, as I have had more time to consider the issue and have come to what I believe to be a better understanding of it from Scripture.
Concerning my position on the church, I can say that I don’t perfectly fit in anywhere. I have good friends that are Landmark Baptists; and though I appreciate their emphasis on the New Testament assembly and a pure church and many other things, I don’t go along with successionism and the definition of alien baptism or the idea that baptism is the door to the church. I believe, rather, that it is a requirement for church membership, and there is a significant difference between the two positions. I also have good friends who are proponents of the standard “universal church” idea and the standard Scofield dispensational view that the church started at Pentecost, but I don’t go all of the way with that, either.
During the early part of our missionary work in South Asia, I determined to research the issue of the church for myself. We arrived on the mission field in 1979 and I had been a missionary for a year or so but I felt that I still did not understand the church and church work sufficiently. I had been challenged in various ways with the Protestant position, the Scofield position, the Pentecostal position, as well as strong Baptist positions. To research the issue I did not gather a bunch of books on the subject by various men; I shut myself up, rather, to the one Book that really counts: The Bible, my sole authority for faith and practice. I set out to determine exactly what the New Testament has to say about the “church.” What did the Lord Jesus Christ and the apostles want me to believe on this issue? First I used Strong’s Concordance and carefully examined every reference to the English word “church” and to the Greek word “ecclesia.” I spent much time studying the book of Acts and the church epistles. I examined the Pastoral Epistles almost word for word and read them dozens of times. I wrote down everything I learned about the church, and that study formed the basis for a course that I first taught in Asia in our church planting work in the 1980s. That material eventually became an entry in the Way of Life Encyclopedia of the Bible & Christianity and more recently appeared in an updated version as one of our Advanced Bible Studies Series courses entitled “The New Testament Church.”
Now I will answer the questions which have been asked of me about my position on the church:
QUESTION: “WHEN DID THE N.T. CHURCH BEGIN?”
BRO. CLOUD’S ANSWER: I believe the church began during the earthly ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ, that it was empowered on the day of Pentecost, and that it was organized and established by the apostles as recorded in the book of Acts and the Epistles. Why do I believe the church began during the earthly ministry of Christ? (1) There is no statement in Scripture that supports the common view that the church started on the day of Pentecost. (2) In Matthew 16:18, Christ said he would build His church. Christ is the Founder and Rock of the church. I can see no biblical reason for not assuming that He began building the church during His earthly ministry. (3) Matthew 18:17 implies that the church already existed during Christ’s earthly ministry. (4) Acts 2:41 says those saved on the day of Pentecost were “added unto” the congregation which already existed. I believe Pentecost was not the birth of the church, but was the anointing of the church. I also do not see this as a fundamental issue one way or the other.
QUESTION: “WHAT IS THE BODY OF CHRIST?”
BRO. CLOUD’S ANSWER: As you can see from my Bible Encyclopedia, I believe there are three aspects to the church: (1) The Local Assembly on earth (Acts 2:47; 13:1). This is the object of the vast majority of the Bible references to the church. Sometimes “church” refers to the local assembly in a general, generic, institutional sense (1 Cor. 15:9; Gal. 1:13; Phil. 3:6). (2) The Heavenly Assembly of the saints (Heb. 12:23; 2:12). (3) The Future Eternal Assembly of all the saints of all ages (Eph. 1:10-11; 2:16-22). In this sense the church is eternal (Eph. 3:21). I believe the term “body of Christ” is used in at least two of these senses. In 1 Corinthians 12:27, the body of Christ is applied specifically to the local assembly. I believe this is also what Ephesians 4:12 describes. There is a sense, then, in which the body of Christ is something beyond the local assembly even in this age. The church is described in Ephesians 2:13-22 as a temple that contains all of the New Testament saints and is growing into perfection, and verse 22 says the church at Ephesus was part of this larger temple. Ephesians 3:6 describes the mystery revelation that Paul was given, and it is the truth that “the Gentiles should be fellowheirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel.” It is obvious to me that the spiritual body spoken of here is something that encompasses more than the local assembly.
QUESTION: “WHAT IS THE BRIDE OF CHRIST?”
BRO. CLOUD’S ANSWER: There is endless speculation about the bride of Christ, but the Bible says very little about it. It appears to me that there are five passages that deal with the “bride” in the New Testament, though only three actually use the term. One of these is in the Gospel accounts in which Christ is called the bridegroom of the bride (John 3:29). In this passage, John the Baptist calls himself the friend of the bridegroom. It appears, therefore, that John the Baptist and other Jewish saints prior to the establishment of the church, were not a part of the bride. Ephesians 5:32 says the husband and wife picture Christ and the church. This language obviously implies a bride and tells us that the church is the bride. Whatever the church is, both now and in eternity, that is what the bride is. Revelation 19 describes the “marriage of the Lamb,” which refers to a bride, the Lamb’s wife (v. 7). The passage doesn’t say anything more about who the bride is. She is adorned in fine linen, which “is the righteousness of the saints.” In Revelation 21:9 the term “bride” is applied to the eternal city. This does not mean that the city itself is Christ’s bride. It means that the city is the dwelling place for His bride and not only for the bride but for Israel (the names of the 12 tribes of Israel are written in the 12 gates, Rev. 21:12) and the saved of all ages. It is the bride’s city, but all of the saints of all ages are at home there. The final passage is Revelation 22:17, where the bride invites sinners to God’s free salvation in Jesus Christ.
Taking all of these passages together, I believe all born again New Testament saints are part of Christ’s bride. Those He redeems in this age by His blood make up His lovely, beloved bride. In this present world, some born again Christians are not very faithful in many matters and some are not even profitable members of a proper church, but in Christ’s eyes, viewing everything from His eternal perspective (such as that described in Ephesians 2:18-22 and Hebrews 12:22-24), His bride already exists even though it is still growing and taking shape day by day in this time-bound world.
QUESTION: “ARE YOU A BAPTIST BRIDER?”
BRO. CLOUD’S ANSWER: Whatever the bride of Christ is, I do not believe it is strictly a “Baptist” bride. As I have stated, I believe all born again Christians are, or at least will be, part of the “bride.” In fact, based on Revelation 21:12-14, it is possible that the “bride” will ultimately be composed of all the saved of all ages.
The term Baptist is a good historical term with a good heritage, and I believe it is an important label today when defined properly. I have been a Baptist by conviction for 33 years. At the same time, I understand that the name “Baptist” is never used in the Bible in direct connection with the church. God gave the name Baptist to John, but He never called any of the churches a Baptist church. I refuse to go beyond the Bible in these matters and to make more of a name than the Bible itself would support. The Bible is the sole authority for faith and practice. Regardless of how helpful the term “Baptist” might be the fact remains that most Baptist churches today are deeply compromised and many are apostate. Sadly, the name has been so corrupted that it has become almost meaningless. Large groups of Baptists are affiliated together with the World Baptist Alliance, and they are riddled with modernism, ecumenism, and worldliness.
I do not believe a name determines the soundness of a church before God. That is determined by doctrine and practice, by the extent to which it conforms to the “faith once delivered to the saints.” The name Baptist does not necessarily mean a church is biblically sound, and the lack of the name Baptist does not necessarily mean it is an unscriptural church. When I was saved in 1973, I began to search diligently for a church that was committed to the apostolic New Testament faith. I read the New Testament through a number of times in the first months after I was saved, trying to find out how to discern a true church. I looked at many churches, and I found what I considered the closest conformity to the New Testament faith in some (though not all, by any means) unaffiliated Baptist churches. I have continued to look at other churches through the years and I have sympathy with some that do not carry the name Baptist, but I have remained a member of unaffiliated Baptist churches. There are churches that do not bear the name Baptist but that are also committed to the New Testament faith and practice. This has been true throughout history, and it is true today. I have preached in churches in Slovakia and in India and in the United States that do not bear the name Baptist but that are, in my estimation, sound New Testament churches.
QUESTION: “ARE PRESBYTERIANS AND OTHER DENOMINATIONS THAT REALLY HAVE THE GOSPEL PART OF THE CHURCH?”
BRO. CLOUD’S ANSWER: I do not believe in a Protestant concept of the church. I do not believe in a state church or a regional church or a denominational church or a “universal church” composed of all professing Christians. Scripturally speaking, to use the term “church” to describe a denomination is not scriptural. It is also unscriptural to speak of “the church in Canada” or “the church in Asia” or “the church of India” or “the European church.” When the Bible uses the term “church” to refer to a region, it consistently uses the term in the plural, i.e., the churchES of Asia (1 Cor. 16:19), the churchES of Galatia (1 Cor. 16:1), the churchES of Macedonia (2 Cor. 8:1), the churchES of Judaea (Gal. 1:22). We need to be careful to follow this biblical pattern and not to refer to “the church” in the sense of the churches in the world or the churches in a country or region.
As for any particular congregation, insofar as it is faithful to the New Testament faith, I believe it is a sound church. I don’t believe in a lineage test or a name test; I believe in a doctrinal test. One must especially analyze the church’s gospel, its doctrine of Christ, and its doctrine of Scripture. I don’t believe it is possible, for example, for a pedobaptist church to be considered a scriptural church, regardless of how sound its doctrine is in other matters. This is one reason I am a Baptist, because I believe the mode and purpose of baptism is plain in the New Testament, and I believe that it is important because it depicts the Gospel, and I therefore believe that any church that practices or accepts unscriptural baptisms is not a scriptural church, though there might be many saved people in it. The mainline Protestant churches were formed out of the apostate Catholic Church; and they did not reject Rome’s heretical baptism nor did they pattern themselves strictly after the apostolic faith as recorded in the New Testament Scriptures.
I do not believe true Baptists are Protestants. We trace our heritage not through Protestant denominations that came out of Rome in the 16th and 17th and 18th centuries, but through baptistic or “anabaptist” congregations that practiced the New Testament faith and were separate from Rome through the centuries.
Let me also repeat that though I could not accept a baptism from a pedobaptist church, even if the individual in question were baptized by immersion, I believe that any saved person will be a part of the bride of Christ regardless of his church affiliation and baptism.
ON THE QUESTION OF CHURCH SUCCESSIONISM
Concerning the matter of church successionism, I agree with the Baptist historian Thomas Armitage (1819-1896). Armitage was born in Yorkshire, England, the great-grandson of Methodist minister Thomas Barrat. Armitage’s mother also was a pious Methodist lady. Though she died when he was only five years old, she had prayed earnestly that he might be saved and become a good minister of Jesus Christ and on her deathbed she gave him her Bible, her chief treasure. Her prayers were answered when Thomas was soundly converted at a young age under the preaching of the Word of God, and he, in turn, preached his first sermon at age 16. Armitage moved to America when he was 19 and was ordained as a Methodist minister, though he expressed doubts about “the church government of the Methodist body, and about sinless perfection, falling from grace, and their views of the ordinances” (Baptist Encyclopedia, 1883). Further examination of these questions led him to seek membership in a Baptist church. In 1848, he was ordained as a Baptist preacher, and he began pastoring the Norfolk Street church in New York that same year. He was 29 years old. He was one of the founders of the Bible Union in 1850 and became its president in 1856. After a long and prosperous ministry, he made the journey to his “long home” at age 77. He was called “one of the greatest preachers in the United States; regarded by many as the foremost man in the American pulpit” (Ibid.). Armitage’s diligently researched two-volume History of the Baptists was completed in 1886. His deep understanding of apostolic ecclesiology is evident in the 1,470 pages of his church history. He well understood and appreciated the difference between Protestantism and the Baptist faith; he rejected “universal church” concepts; but he also rejected the notion of Baptist successionism and nowhere does he hint that he believed in a “Baptist bride.” Consider what he says about church succession:
“The attempt to show that any religious body has come down from the Apostles an unchanged people is of itself an assumption of infallibility, and contradicts the facts of history. Truth only is changeless, and only as any people have held to the truth in its purity and primitive simplicity has the world had an unchanging religion. The truth has been held by individual men and scattered companies, but never in unbroken continuity by any sect as such. Sect after sect has appeared and held it for a time, then has destroyed itself by mixing error with the truth; again, the truth has evinced its divinity by rising afresh in the hands of a newly organized people, to perpetuate its diffusion in the earth.
“It is enough to show that what Christ’s churches were in the days of the Apostles, that the Baptist churches of today find themselves. The truths held by them have never died since Christ gave them, and in the exact proportion that any people have maintained these truths they have been the true Baptists of the world. The writer, therefore, refused to be bound in his investigations by an iron obligation to show a succession of people who have held all the principles, great and small, of any sect now existing--no more and no less.
“When Roger Williams left his followers they were in great trepidation lest they had not received baptism in regular succession from the Apostles, as if any body else had. They heard, however, that the Queen of Hungary had a list of regularly baptized descendants from the Apostles, and were half persuaded to send their brother, Thomas Olney, to obtain it at her hands. Still, on the second sober thought, they could not swallow this dose of the essence of popery, and concluded not to make themselves ridiculous. Whereupon Backus solemnly says, that at length they ‘concluded such a course was not expedient, but believing that now they were got into the right way, determined to persevere therein.’ Thus, once more, wisdom was justified in her children, UNDER THE APPLICATION OF THE RADICAL ANTI-ROMISH PRINCIPLE THAT THE NEW TESTAMENT IS THE ONLY TOUCH-STONE OF CHRISTIAN HISTORY” (Thomas Armitage, A History of the Baptists, Vol. 1, 1890, preface, pp. iii,iv).