A local church comprises of all believers that are called out of the world to worship the Father through the Son Jesus Christ. Aubrey Malphurs however begins to define a church using the old reformist definition that a church is any place that the word of God and the sacraments are upheld. (Malphurs, 116) Malphurs expands upon the definition to be a gathering of professing believers in Christ who are organized under leadership to pursue its mission through the functions of service, evangelism, worship, fellowship, and teaching. (Malphurs, 123) The problem with the more expanded definition of Malphurs is that it can disqualify certain ministries as having churches such as nursing homes, prisons, and military establishments. Overall, the reformist definition of a church that Malphurs gives is thus more fitting for churches being established among places that have sizable restrictions.
A church thus should be simply defined as a collection of believes that uphold the word of God and the sacraments because some people groups are un-teachable, unable to have fellowship in a group (such as a maximum security prison), are unable to do anything of service (such as residents in a care center), and so forth. Malphurs’s first definition only serves to clarify this author’s own definition, but Malphur’s more defined definition of a church would be ideal but it would not be completely necessary.
The point when a church stops being a church is decided by Christ himself because he takes away the lampstand from those churches that are disobedient when he judges the church. (Revelation 2:5) When this act of judgment occurs, then the church stops proclaiming the gospel. Malphurs makes clear that a church could still continue to be a church even if it is disobedient, but he stresses that places that have abandon the gospel are no longer churches. (Malphurs, 123) The view of Malphurs is thus rather agreeable with scripture for the most part.
Malphurs describes old paradigm churches as being those that ignore the great commission and care for their own, but he describes new paradigm churches as upholding the great commission with great importance. (Malphurs, 122) One could argue that a definition of a local church could qualify or disqualify on old paradigm church based upon the ability for the church to measure up to the definition standard of a church. The problem with doing such a definition based analysis to determine if a church is a church or not is that the analysis has an element of human decisiveness.
Currently the church that this author attends does not compare well to the full definition of a church that Malphurs describes. The church only mainly provides service by preaching on Sunday and providing money for food for a local food pantry, the church does not do evangelism in any formal way except that sometimes the senior pastor tries to convince his friends from college about the importance of Christianity, worship occurs for a few minutes on Sunday, fellowship is limited to a five to ten minute span when people are expected to greet each other as part of the liturgy, and teaching is limited to the pulpit and a short time of Sunday school. The difference between the definition of Malphurs and the practices of this author’s church are that Malphurs places much more importance upon doing things and working out a mission. The church that this author attends on Sunday does not place a very critical importance upon very many aspects of church life, and many people that attend are retired, very wealthy, own their own business, are youth, or are some other people group that see church as more of a Sunday retreat that serves them. This author does not actively seek to make sizable changes because this author has started going to a Hebrew worship center on Saturdays that is very active in fellowship, teaching, worship, and service, and thus some people at church on Sunday have actually become hostile and jealous about any contributions that this author would make on Sunday morning.
Malphurs, Aubrey. A New Kind of Church: Understanding Models of Ministry for the 21st Century. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 2007.