When is a church not a church? | Mulholland on Revelation #UMC

The book of Revelation is full of practical application for today’s church. One of my favorite things about Bob Mulholland’s commentary on Revelation is the attention he gives to the formative power of the Apocalypse. One good example of this comes in his analysis of the letter to the church in Ephesus in Revelation 2:1-7. Mulholland observes that, according to Acts 19-20, when the gospel first came to Ephesus, believers responded in a way that carried significant impact in the city, economic not least. They believed the gospel and they behaved in a way that brought the implications of the gospel to bear on the city of Ephesus. But by the time Revelation is written, while the Ephesians still believe the right things (Rev 2:2), they have lost their first love (Rev 2:4). They remain orthodox, but they’re no longer evangelistic. So Mulholland says

…we see that orthodoxy and evangelism are the inseparable foci of a healthy church. Both must be kept in dynamic balance. Evangelism without orthodoxy becomes a tolerant pluralism and results in a community formed around diffuse human values and criteria. Orthodoxy without evangelism becomes a cold, harsh legalism and results in a community formed around debilitating “do’s and don’ts.” Sound orthodoxy and fervent evangelism result in a community of faith whose growing wholeness of life is a powerful witness of the cleansing, healing, liberating life in Christ to a soiled, wounded, and imprisoned world (435).

Mulholland seems to be using the language of evangelism to refer broadly to the various ways churches might engage their community in ministry, even though that language typically refers to a clear articulation of the truth of the gospel and a call to faith in Jesus. In any case, his point is made. And some may think he doesn’t go far enough, since there are segments of some denominations that are neither orthodox nor evangelistic.

Commitment to truth is important, but it’s not enough. And that commitment must translate into action. Likewise, engaging the culture must be grounded in truth. If it isn’t, there are consequences. Jesus commanded the church in Ephesus to remember and do the works they did at first (Rev 2:5). If they do not, he will remove their lampstand. That is, their status as a church. What’s the point? A church that doesn’t maintain the balance between orthodoxy and evangelism will not long be a church. And that, of course, raises another question. When is a church no longer a church?

Have you ever been in a church setting that did a good job keeping the balance between evangelism and orthodoxy ? A church that did not? What are the keys to keeping the balance? Why do churches struggle to keep that balance? Leave a comment below and share your thoughts and experience.

Get your copy of Revelation by Robert Mulholland.

Dr. Matt O’Reilly is pastor of Hope Hull United Methodist Church near Montgomery, AL, a fellow of the Center for Pastor Theologians, and Adjunct Professor of New Testament and Pastoral Ministry at Wesley Biblical Seminary.

For more from Matt, be sure to subscribe to the Orthodoxy for Everyone YouTube Channel, listen to SermonCast, connect on Facebook, and follow @mporeilly.

2 thoughts on “When is a church not a church? | Mulholland on Revelation #UMC

  1. I have been part of a church that maintains this balance. How is this done? The church has a vision statement through which every activity and teaching is evaluated. The gist of the vision is that the church exists to evangelize and disciple. Anything not out of a heart to live out that vision, those things are pruned. The leaders refer to the vision as the DNA of the church. Leaders at all levels are held accountable to live lives worthy of the call to Christian leadership: pastors, small group leaders, children’s teachers, musicians, media specialists, youth who lead other youth, etc. Unbiblical teaching is quickly addressed and corrected. The pastor reached out and corrected me, too, a spouse of a pastor in the church, when I initiated a charge into a local community matter in a manner that did not reflect the heart of Jesus. He saw me as a representative of the church and encouraged me to rethink how I was leading others and how it compromised the vision of the church. My public statement would reflect on the church…and Christ. He exhorted me to reorient myself to evangelism. So in that church, I observed that the keys to balancing evangelism and orthodoxy are: vision with pruning and discipleship with accountability. The vision focuses evangelism. Discipleship maintains orthodoxy and the evangelistic vision.


  2. Concerning the balance and maintaining it, it seems many churches find it much easier to focus on orthodoxy while ignoring evangelism, especially Mulholland’s broader sense. There’s much less involved in believing a certain set of beliefs and claiming those beliefs guarantee your holiness than there is in being in ministry with other people, especially those who have yet to come to faith in God through Jesus, the risen living Christ.


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