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A FELLOWSHIP OF LOVE – THE
CHURCH AS IT OUGHT TO BE!

(SERMON NUMBER 7 ON LONELINESS)

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

A sermon preached at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles
Lord’s Day Morning, August 24, 2014

“And the Lord make you to increase and abound in love one toward another, and toward all men, even as we do toward you” (I Thessalonians 3:12).


I have been preaching on the subject of loneliness for six straight Sundays. Loneliness is a very important topic, as Green Day’s ever-popular song “Blvd. of Broken Dreams” so clearly shows. “I walk alone. I walk alone. I walk alone.” Young people often feel that yet in our burned out culture! Several young people have come into our church, and are now coming every week. They come because I promised them that their loneliness could be cured in this church. And they have found that it’s true. They have found out that we really do love them! Their loneliness really is being cured in our church! That’s why they come back.

Loneliness is one of the greatest problems facing young people today.  Your parents can't help - they are too tired and too busy.  School friends leave and you don't see them again.  You go to a party and nobody talks to you.  You play video games and text - but it's not real people!   The only place where you can make friends that last a lifetime is in church - but it has to be a loving church!

You see, loneliness can only be cured by love. The Greek word translated “love” in the New Testament is “agape.” W. E. Vine said that agape love is “the characteristic word of Christianity.” It is used of God’s love toward us. It is used of Christians' love toward each other. But it doesn’t end there. Our text shows that our Christian love is to “increase and abound” “toward all men” (I Thessalonians 3:12). When the Apostle Paul spoke of this church at Thessalonica, he praised them for their “labour of love” (I Thessalonians 1:3). They worked at it! They worked at loving each other and “all men.” My long-time pastor at the Chinese Baptist church was Dr. Timothy Lin. In his book, The Secret of Church Growth, Dr. Lin had a chapter on Christian love. He said,

The Early Church had God’s presence...because the brethren loved one another (Timothy Lin, Ph.D., The Secret of Church Growth, FCBC, 1992, p. 28).

Dr. Lin was exactly right. And Christian love is the main thing lacking in our evangelism today!

Thom S. Ranier wrote a book titled, The Bridger Generation (Broadman/Holman, 1997). He pointed out that the churches today are utterly failing to convert young people, ages 18 to 24. They can’t attract young people from the world, and they lose about 88% of their own young people, raised in the church. I’m not going to go into all the reasons for that. But I know that the main reason is a lack of Christian love in most churches. How can people love each other when they don’t even know each other? How can they know each other when they don’t even have a Sunday evening service? How can they be concerned for each other when there is a Bible study instead of a prayer meeting on Wednesday night? How can you love people you never pray for?

So, if we want to have you come into our church and stay here, we have to love each other – and we have to include you in our fellowship of love! Let no one feel left out! Bring everyone together in our fellowship of love! That’s what a church should be – a fellowship of love! Let us make Paul’s prayer our own prayer!

“And the Lord make you to increase and abound in love one toward another, and toward all men, even as we do toward you” (I Thessalonians 3:12).

We dare not look at other churches. They don’t often put that much “labor of love” into their work. People come and go without even knowing each other! The methods that are being used are not reversing this trend. We need to rethink everything we are doing – and we need to do it now! It will be too late 25 years from now. So, let us with great honesty and open minds take a good, hard look at the situation. Let us reevaluate what is being done in our evangelism.

I. First, current methods of evangelism don’t reach today’s young people.

Those who study the statistics of evangelism agree that 80% of those who do become church members do so before the age of 21. That figure shows that we are doing something terribly wrong regarding the group (age 15 to 21) who are most likely to become new church members.

The response is often to become “progressive.” Bring in new translations of the Bible. Throw out the traditional hymns. Bring in snare drums, Power Points, overhead projectors and “worship leaders.” Make the “worship service” 45 minutes long and cut the preaching to 15 minutes. All of this is supposed to turn the churches around and bring in young people. I say that’s self-deception at its worst! Who has it brought in? Where has it worked?

“Oh,” you say, “in the super churches! It works there!” But are you sure that you’re right? I say you are not right. I say that these so-called “progressive” methods have utterly failed to bring lost young people between 15 and 21 years old into any of our churches – including the super-churches!

I read an interesting article titled “Contemporary Churches Aren’t Attracting Many Contemporaries” (World Magazine, August 20, 2005, p. 24). In that article, Clint Rainey, a journalistic intern at the Dallas Morning News, said that the “seeker friendly” mega-churches are designed to attract middle-aged Baby Boomers. And they build these super churches by transferring “in” from smaller congregations. This statement reflects Dr. James Dobson’s evaluation that “80 percent of church growth results from transfers of membership” (Focus on the Family Newsletter, August 1988, p. 2). Clint Rainey said, “The younger crowd has had its fill of big flashy churches…These churches attract middle-age adults…but [not] my generation.” He says these mega-churches are “impersonal in every way.” He says, “Young people today are not impressed with technology, big buildings, and commercialism…Young adults today crave real religion.” That’s right! They are lonely and the super-churches do not meet their need!

The article continues by saying, “Many megachurches have grown not by making new converts to Christianity but at the expense of small congregations, doing to them what Wal-Mart does to small businesses. But in congregations that are so big the pastor does not know his own members and the members do not know each other, it is difficult to give people…the care…they often need” (The article by Clint Rainey is reproduced in its entirety at the end of this sermon on our website, at the end of this sermon).

There you have it – from a writer of your generation, a young man who knows what he’s talking about! Calvary Chapel, Rick Warren and Joel Osteen are playing to the older Baby Boomers – the married, middle-aged crowd. They are not reaching your generation! Their methods of evangelism do not reach your generation!

I was in one of those big churches for a Saturday service two weeks ago. There were very few young people your age! Everyone was grim looking. They did not speak to each other as they walked out of the service. You can hide in a church like that, but you cannot make lasting friends! 

II. Second, the New Testament method of evangelism
is the way to reach young people today.

Which takes us back to our text,

“And the Lord make you to increase and abound in love one toward another, and toward all men, even as we do toward you” (I Thessalonians 3:12).

The word translated “love” is “agape” in the original Greek text. It literally asks the Lord to make “you to increase more and more, and to cause you to overflow in love one to another, and toward all men” (cf. Rienecker, A Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament, Zondervan, 1989, p. 596). As I said, W. E. Vine called “agape,” “The characteristic word of Christianity,” because it is the heart of the Christian message – God loves us with agape love (cf. W. E. Vine, M.A., An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, Revell, 1966, volume III, p. 20). God sent Jesus, to save us from sin out of His agape love for us. He died on the Cross to pay for our sins out of agape love for us. He rose physically from the dead and lives at the right hand of God, praying for us, out of agape love. Yes, agape, Christian love, is “the characteristic word of Christianity.” Christianity, in its pure form, is all about God loving us, and us loving each other, and all people. That’s the central word of Christianity – agape – Christian love. Christian love “never faileth” (I Corinthians 13:8). The gimmicks and the big “show” the mega-churches put on is failing to reach your generation. But “charity [agape love] never faileth” (I Corinthians 13:8). We need to make Christian love central in our evangelism if we want to reach the young people of our day!

Love is the theme, love is supreme;
Sweeter it grows, glory bestows;
Bright as the sun ever it glows!
Love is the theme, eternal theme!
   (“Love is the Theme” by Albert C. Fisher, 1886-1946).

The early Christians expressed their agape love to each other and all men by having a “love feast,” an “agape” banquet every Sunday. They sat down and ate a meal together. The Christians of the first century ate a meal together...every Sunday! They called it an “agape feast.” Dr. John MacArthur, though wrong on the Blood, was right when he pointed out that they had meals like this every Sunday (cf. The MacArthur Study Bible, notes on Acts 2:46 and Acts 20:7). And their evangelism centered around the big, happy meals they ate together!

The evangelism of the first century centered around having those meals together. That’s called “fellowship.” I wrote a little song about it that we sang a moment ago.

Come home to Jesus, the table is spread;
Come home to dinner and let us break bread.
Jesus is with us, so let it be said,
Come home to dinner and let us break bread!

The fellowship’s sweet and your friends will be here;
We’ll sit at the table, our hearts filled with cheer.
Jesus is with us, so let it be said,
Come home to dinner and let us break bread!

Chorus:

Come home to the church and eat, Gather for fellowship sweet;
It’ll be quite a treat, When we sit down to eat!
   (“Come Home to Dinner” by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.;
      to the tune of “On the Wings of a Snow White Dove”).

As John Fawcett put it, in his hymn,

Blest be the tie that binds Our hearts in Christian love;
The fellowship of kindred minds Is like to that above.
   (“Blest Be the Tie” by John Fawcett, 1740-1817).

“And the Lord make you to increase and abound in love one toward another, and toward all men, even as we do toward you” (I Thessalonians 3:12).

Agape – Christian love! That’s what we must have “one toward another, and toward all men” if we want to get young people of the new generation into church, and then get them saved!

I said that most of the methods used in so-called “evangelism” today are a failure.  These “progressive” methods appeal to the older Baby Boomer generation, people who already consider themselves to be Christians. But these methods do not reach today’s young people of your generation. Why? Because they are not based solidly on the Bible, the Word of God.

What could be more solidly Biblical and “fundamental” than having “love one toward another, and toward all men”? You hardly hear anyone talking about fellowship and Christian love “toward one another, and toward all men.” And yet that is exactly what you find in the New Testament. The ancient pagan writers said, “The Christians love each other and they love the whole world.” That is something these ancient pagan authors couldn’t understand. But the young people of the first century understood it! That’s why they literally poured into the early churches! In the cold, heartless pagan Roman world of the first century, these young people found warmth and acceptance in the “agape” fellowship of the local church! We don’t need anything new! We need something that is 2,000 years old – love for each other, and for all people in and through the local church! That’s what our churches need – real old-fashioned love! I love that old chorus!

Love is the theme, love is supreme;
Sweeter it grows, glory bestows;
Bright as the sun ever it glows!
Love is the theme, eternal theme!

W. E. Vine called “agape” (Christian love) “The characteristic word of Christianity…used in the New Testament to describe [God’s love] toward His Son…the human race…to such as believe on the Lord Jesus Christ…to His children concerning their attitude one toward another…and toward all men” (W. E. Vine, M.A., An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, Revell, 1966, vol. III, pp. 20-21).

God’s “agape” love sent Jesus to the Cross to pay the penalty for your sins.

“For God so loved [agapésen] the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).

God’s love for you sent Christ to the Cross to pay for your sins. God’s love for you raised Christ physically from the dead to give you eternal life! God’s love for you draws you to Christ for salvation. God’s love for you drew you into this local church this morning to hear about Jesus, and to experience our “love one toward another, and toward all men” (I Thessalonians 3:12).

And I hope that you will come back next weekend! We’re going to have a tremendous time together! In fact, why not come back tonight at 6:15? We’re going to have a wonderful time tonight! I’m going to preach, and then we will sit down and have dinner together – at 6:15 tonight!

Come home to Jesus, the table is spread;
Come home to dinner and you will be fed.
Your friends will be waiting, so let it be said,
Come home to dinner and let us break bread!

I have told this story many times. Don’t close your ears! I want every newer person to hear it. Years ago there was a boy who walked all the way up LaSalle Street in Chicago every Sunday morning, going to Mr. Moody’s church. An old deacon stood at the door of a big Protestant church and watched the boy go by every Sunday. One day he said, “Young man, why do you walk all that way up there to church? Why don’t you come to church here?” The boy said, “No thanks, mister. I’m going to Mr. Moody’s church. They know how to love a fellow there!”

Love is the theme, love is supreme;
Sweeter it grows, glory bestows;
Bright as the sun ever it glows!
Love is the theme, eternal theme!

I hope you will be able to say that about our church as well! I pray that you will come back and learn about the love of Jesus, and salvation from sin through His death on the Cross, and eternal life through His resurrection from the dead! I hope and pray that you will come back and be saved from sin and Hell by Jesus, the Son of God!

Dr. Chan, please come and lead us in prayer. Amen!

The article by Clint Rainey comes after the outline of the sermon below.

(END OF SERMON)
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Scripture Read Before the Sermon by Mr. Abel Prudhomme: I Thessalonians 1:1-8.
Solo Sung Before the Sermon by Mr. Benjamin Kincaid Griffith:
“Boulevard of Broken Dreams” (by Green Day, 2004)/
“Somebody Needs Your Love” (by Dr. B. B. McKinney, 1886-1952)

.

THE OUTLINE OF

A FELLOWSHIP OF LOVE – THE
CHURCH AS IT OUGHT TO BE!

(SERMON NUMBER 7 ON LONELINESS)

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

“And the Lord make you to increase and abound in love one toward another, and toward all men, even as we do toward you” (I Thessalonians 3:12).

(I Thessalonians 1:3)

I.   First, current methods of evangelism don’t reach today’s
young people.

II.  Second, the New Testament method of evangelism is
the way to reach young people today,
I Corinthians 13:8; John 3:16.


The article by Clint Rainey, of the Dallas Morning News, is now given in its entirety for your examination and edification.


PACKED, BUT STILL EMPTY


“Contemporary” churches aren’t attracting many contemporaries


Clint Rainey, a journalism student interning at The Dallas Morning News, is put off by the “seeker-friendly” approach to church that – he contends – does a good job filling up massive church buildings but leaves many feeling spiritually empty.

In his opinion piece for the paper – “The younger crowd has had its fill of big, flashy churches” (July 25, 2005) – Mr. Rainey recalls how the church he grew up in transformed from a small congregation of a few hundred members into a megachurch of nearly 10,000. He says that the contemporary touches are designed to appeal to baby boomers, not to today’s young people. “These churches attract middle-age adults like iron filings,” he says. “But my generation isn’t in such awe.”

Mr. Rainey finds the new churches too materialistic and “impersonal in every way.” He says that young people today are not impressed with technology, big buildings, and commercialism. He decries the overall emphasis on “stuff” that plagues our culture and now our churches. He says that today’s young adults crave real religion.

Mr. Rainey closes his column with these haunting words: “In Europe, mass religious apostasy left its churches people-free, but the American megachurch could bring this irony: We, unlike the Europeans, have people in our big, empty churches.”

Set aside the debates over the church-growth movement. Also set aside for a moment the irony that changes implemented to make Christianity more attractive to young people are actually turning them off. The challenge of “empty churches” – even those that are packed with people – deserves attention.

Part of the problem is what sociologist and megachurch pastor Leith Anderson calls “generic Christianity.” He points out that today, one can go into a church (especially a megachurch) of nearly any denomination – Baptist, Presbyterian, Pentecostal, Wesleyan, Lutheran – and be unable to notice any difference among them. They all are likely to use the same praise songs and contemporary worship style. The sermons will tend to be about practical biblical tips for successful living, and go light on doctrine and sin. Also, all of these different denominations tend to use Sunday-school curriculum and other material from the same nondenominational publishers. These companies purposefully avoid all controversial issues and doctrinal distinctives, which would limit their market share.

As a result, “generic Christianity” is erasing denominational differences and giving churches a brand-new theological framework. Mr. Anderson thinks this is a good thing. Whereas the ecumenical movement among liberal mainline churches tried but largely failed to unify churches from the top down, the church-growth movement has succeeded, unifying the different denominations on a grassroots level.

And yet, this unity comes at a cost. Both liberal theologians and church-growth theologians downplay historic doctrines, seeing them as divisive and irrelevant. Both value what is new over what is old. And so both cut themselves off from the spiritual heritage of historic Christianity. Since some Christians today make up their own theology and practices as they go along, oblivious to the time-tested, battle-tested experiences of the church through the ages, their spirituality can seem shallow or “empty.”

Generic Christianity is not found in megachurches alone, of course, and many very large, “mega” congregations are still faithful to Scripture and to their own spiritual heritage. “Nondenominational” churches can draw on all of the strains of historic Christianity, instead of rejecting them all. And in a cultural climate that values “diversity,” the rich diversity of Christian churches should thrive.

As should small churches. Many megachurches have grown not by making new converts to Christianity but at the expense of small congregations, doing to small churches what Wal-Mart does to small businesses. But in congregations that are so big the pastor does not know his own members and the members do not know each other, it is difficult to give people the pastoral care – and the discipline – that they often need to be spiritually “full.”

But this has been neglected by churches of every size. Both large and small congregations must find ways not only to fill their pews but to fill their members.

By Gene Edward Veith, Cultural Editor, World Magazine, August 20, 2005, page 24.


(End of the World Magazine article)