Iron Sharpening Iron: A Review of Dr. Strouse’s Critique


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Pictured: David Cloud receiving "Defense of the Faith" award from Dr. Strouse

This response to Dr. Strouse’s critique replaces an edition I sent out privately to a few men and that was inadvertently posted to Dr. Waite’s mailing list on October 19. I’m glad that Dr. Waite sent it out, because I was leaning toward not publishing this at all. I simply wanted to get some feedback from a few men, particularly my own pastor and Dr. Strouse, but I believe that these things need to be aired and discussed.

A lot of men seem to be deeply fearful of doctrinal controversy, but it is a necessary thing in this fallen world.

The Bible says, “Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend” (Prov. 27:17).

Iron sharpening iron produces heat and sparks, but it can be very profitable in keeping our Swords sharp. If done in a right spirit and if received in a right spirit it doesn’t have to make us enemies. Of course, sometimes controversy does divide, and sometimes it should divide. But not always.

The type of controversy I am referring to is not a matter of trying to get men to take sides. That is the carnal Corinthian spirit. Rather, it is a matter of trying to get men to think seriously and prayerfully and biblically about the issues that face us.

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An excerpt from “Are You a Baptist Brider or Local Church Only?” September 17, 2013:

“In my experience, many proponents of the ‘local church only’ doctrine try to bully people similar to the way that many Calvinists do. They want to force you into an either-or position. You are either a Calvinist or an Arminian. You are either ‘local church only’ or ‘universal church.’ But I won’t be bullied in this way. I am neither Calvinist nor Arminian, local church only nor universal church by the standard definitions. I am just a Biblicist. That has been my passionate objective since the first day I was saved, and I have held to promises such as John 7:17 and 8:31-32 for encouragement that I
can know the truth. I don't believe in a Protestant universal church composed of all denominations or all churches or all professing Christians or the churches in a country or region. I don’t believe in a ‘Protestant church’ or an ‘evangelical church’ or a ‘fundamentalist church.’ But I do believe that there is a full aspect of the church that goes beyond any local church and that this entity exists today and not just in prospect. It exists spiritually; it exists in God’s mind; and is described in Scripture, and that’s enough for me” (Cloud, “Are You a Baptist Brider?").

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IRON SHARPENING IRON: A REVIEW OF DR. STROUSE’S CRITIQUE

The following is a reply to Dr. Thomas Strouse’s report entitled “Dr. David Cloud’s Ecclesiology.” Having long considered him a friend and having received various high honors from him in the past, I was surprised at the tone. I suppose that he justifies this as a zeal for church truth, but am I suddenly a dangerous heretic because I interpret a couple of verses differently than he does on this issue, even though I am so nearly “local church only” that many people have charged me with being a “Brider”?

Dr. Strouse says that a “dark cloud” is now over my ministry. If it is, I haven’t seen it. Maybe the “dark cloud” that Dr. Strouse sees is merely the view through his own dark glasses. In fact, I have never experienced more evidence of the Lord’s pleasure and of His blessing on our work, both on Way of Life and on the church planting in South Asia.


Actually, it is truly a wonder that the Lord can use any of us.

“But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us” (2 Corinthians 4:7).

In regard to my doctrine of the church, I point my readers to the article “
Are You a Baptist Brider” at the Way of Life web site and to the entry on “the Church” in the Way of Life Encyclopedia of the Bible & Christianity and to the course on “The Church” in the Advanced Bible Studies Series.

I have never claimed to have the last word on the church. From my perspective, men who are strong for the local church, like the Bible clearly indicates we should be, don’t have to agree on every jot and tittle of interpretation of every verse on this doctrine.

As Peter said, there are “some things hard to be understood” in Paul’s writings, and if Peter found them hard to be understood, who are we to think that we understand everything?

I have written books on Bible difficulties and have made this an area of special study, but in some cases and on some matters I feel that I understand less than ever.

For example, I’m not sure that I fully understand 1 Corinthians 12:13. What I do know for sure is that the capitalized “Spirit” means Holy Spirit, unless one wants to correct the KJV, which I do not.

There are many things in the Bible that I find difficult. I have changed my view on “the sons of God” in Genesis 6 three different times in three different editions of my book
Things Hard to Be Understood: A Handbook of Biblical Difficulties!

Dr. Strouse critiqued a public article in a public forum, and he has every right to do that. I’ve always said that pubic preaching ministry is not a private matter and should be dealt with publicly. I have a right to preach publicly, and Dr. Strouse or whoever has a right to critique me publicly. (No one has ever shown me how that 2 Timothy 4:2 is limited to preaching to one church only. While many of the New Testament epistles are written to particular churches, many others are written to the brethren at large.)

What a preacher doesn’t have a right to do, I would contend, is to misrepresent a man’s words.

There was also a mocking, domineering, dismissive tone to Dr. Strouse’s critique that concerns me. I wonder if it could be a reflection of his doctrine?

In response to my article “Are You a Baptist Brider,” a 32-year-old preacher replied,

“This was a very helpful article and this is where I have come within the past two years as well. I have THE LOCAL CHURCH ONLY BULLIES and also the universal church evangelicals who try to sway me. But I am safe with the Scriptures.”

It does appear that there is some bullying that comes with this territory, and I don’t believe that it is a mark of Christian grace.

I believe Dr. Strouse is a man of God who loves the truth, and I would ask him to reconsider what is happening here and the spiritual fruit of it.

Worse is the fact that Dr. Strouse misrepresented my position and my words. He did that to such an extent that someone who reads only his article would not know what I believe about the church and would misunderstand my passion for the assembly (the “local church”), and more importantly, my passion for the Lord of the church and my most earnest and longstanding desire to make Christ and His Word the sole authority for faith and practice.

Though I have long believed that there are some things not exactly clear in regard to the church and the body and the bride and such, and that there is room here for some difference of opinion, I am so strong on the local church that most people would never know that I am not “local church only.” In practice, in fact, I am. There is no emphasis whatsoever on a “universal church” in my ministry. I almost never use the term “church” in that sense. When I did my own intensive study of the church as a young missionary 30 years ago, I determined that since at least 99% of the references to the church refer unquestionably to the present assemblies, this will be my emphasis, regardless of what I believe about the 1%.

As for being misrepresented, I will give some examples of the specific ways that I have been misrepresented by Dr. Strouse.

He made the following statement:

“With his [Cloud]s] predetermined definition of ecclesia as a ‘spiritual body,’ he forces it upon Mt. 16:18.”

In truth, I refuse to make a predetermined definition of any Bible word, always allowing the context to define words. I made that very clear in my article, and I stand by that position and encourage every brother in Christ to employ it.

Dr. Strouse says,

“The ‘mystical body of Christ’ teaching to which Dr. Cloud and many others hold, gives the theological system which advances the ecumenical movement (I Cor. 12:13 is its watchword), as well as the para-church movement, the popular church-hopping practice, and the apathetic attitude among Christians toward church membership and involvement. ... Dr. Cloud’s ecclesiology is dangerous because he provides the ecclesiological system which undermines the doctrine and practice of, and the honor and glory for, NT assemblies” (Strouse, “Dr. Cloud’s Ecclesiology”).

Whatever some others might be guilty of, my theology does not undermine the doctrine and practice of the New Testament assembly. (As for the honor and glory, that belongs to Jesus Christ alone.) My theology destroys the ecumenical movement, the para-church movement, the church-hopping practice, and the apathetic attitude among Christians toward church membership. My theology honors the New Testament assembly and its one Head Jesus Christ.

As another example of the way I have been misrepresented, Dr. Strouse says that I have “a heavy dependence on Protestant and protestantized fundamentalist Baptist authors and sources.”

No one could possibly know whether that is true unless he could read my heart and know what I depend on as I read man’s writings.

By God’s grace, I don’t believe that I have any such dependance. I have tested every author with God’s Word for 40 years to the best of my ability and I have literally cried out for help from the Lord (Proverbs 2:1-6). I don’t trust Protestants and I don’t trust Baptists. I get help from a wide variety of preachers, including Dr. Strouse, but I apply the Berean test to all of them.

From the first week I was saved, one of my major objectives in learning the Bible was that I might become equipped to test men by it so that I would not be led astray. My life verses include the following:

“Therefore I esteem all
thy precepts concerning all things to be right; and I hate every false way” (Psalm 119:128).

“If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or
whether I speak of myself” (John 7:17).

“Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If ye continue in my word,
then are ye my disciples indeed; And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:31-32).

“These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so” (Acts 17:11).

“Prove all things; hold fast that which is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:21).

The Lord is my judge, and no man can take away my passion for the Bible as sole authority. Those who read my writings for themselves and who hear my preaching/teaching for themselves and those who know me can discern this passion, as large numbers have testified (and as Dr. Strouse himself used to testify).

I could be wrong on any number of points, being a mere man, but I am not guilty of “a heavy dependance” on some group of men or theological system.

As for a dependance on a Protestant view, the opposite is true. The standard Protestant view of the church revolts me. I cringe when I read such things as “the evangelical church” or “the church in America.” I always think to myself, “Which evangelical church? Which church in America?” I reject their downplaying of the assembly. I reject the popular idea that one can be a member of “the universal church” and therefore ignore the assembly.

I don’t have to make every verse in Scripture fit a “local church” scenario to reject a Protestant stance on the church.

Dr. Strouse implied that I am injuring his church by publishing something that he doesn’t agree with and doesn’t want his people to be taught. I could say exactly the same thing. By publishing things that I believe to be wrong (such as the “local church only” doctrine which, in my estimation, misuses some clear passages of Scripture) and by publishing harsh critiques of me, I could say that he is potentially injuring the churches we plant and undermining my authority.

But I don’t believe this. I believe that he has a right to teach, preach, reprove and rebuke, and not only in his own church. And I believe that it is my responsibility as a church leader to teach the people how to interpret the Bible for themselves and how to know truth from error. I don’t do this by attacking men for publishing something my people might read and by questioning their motives. I protect the people by explaining to them why a certain teaching is wrong and by helping to guide them in their selection of reading material. I teach them that even the best of preachers can be wrong, and an error on the part of a biblically-sound man doesn’t necessarily make him a dangerous heretic that we should mark and avoid. I teach them both to “prove all things”
and to “hold fast that which is good.”

Those are personal attacks that have nothing to do with a biblical critique of my doctrine of the church.

That’s all I have to say.

Dr. Strouse has given his opinion of my doctrine and ministry, and that is his privilege.

I will close as I began.

I have never claimed to have the last word on the church. From my perspective, men who are strong for the local church, like the Bible clearly indicates we should be, don’t have to agree on every jot and tittle of interpretation of every verse on this doctrine.

I wish Dr Strouse the very best and much blessing in God’s will in these trying times.

“But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us” (2 Corinthians 4:7)”

In Christ, Bro. Cloud
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David Cloud, Fundamental Baptist Information Service, P.O. Box 610368, Port Huron, MI 48061, 866-295-4143, fbns@wayoflife.org

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Distributed by Way of Life Literature Inc.’s Fundamental Baptist Information Service, an e-mail listing for Fundamental Baptists and other fundamentalist, Bible-believing Christians. Established in 1974, Way of Life Literature is a fundamental Baptist preaching and publishing ministry based in Bethel Baptist Church, London, Ontario, of which Wilbert Unger is the founding Pastor. Brother Cloud lives in South Asia where he has been a church planting missionary since 1979. OUR GOAL IN THIS PARTICULAR ASPECT OF OUR MINISTRY IS NOT DEVOTIONAL BUT IS TO PROVIDE INFORMATION TO ASSIST PREACHERS IN THE PROTECTION OF THE CHURCHES IN THIS APOSTATE HOUR.

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