Research presented at the Anglican Connection Conference held at Beeson Divinity School last October revealed that average church attendance in the United States is less than twenty percent. This is less than half what research had indicated fifteen to twenty years ago. And indicators point to an ongoing downward trend over the next decade. One interesting statistic that emerged is the increasing number of people who profess to be Christian yet who see no need of church. How contrary this is to the picture we find in the Bible.
In 1 John 4:7 we read:
Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.
The phrase, love one another threads through the following verses. In verse 7 we are exhorted to love one another; in verse 11, we have a duty to love one another; and in verse 12, it becomes a test, ‘if we love one another…’ It echoes Jesus’ new command that all who follow him should ‘love another’ (John 13:34).
Why is it so important that we love one another? Why, by implication, should we be involved with others who profess to be Christian? Indeed, why should we be involved in church? John’s answer is bound up with the subject of last week’s Word – ‘Love’. ‘God’s love’.
John is saying in verse 7 that anyone who does not practice love in their relationships, especially their relationships with God’s people, does not know God. It is not enough simply to say we know God. Authentic Christianity is about living out the love of God within us.
Evidence of God’s love is the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, John tells us. And he goes on to draw out the implications of this in 4:11: Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. The gift of God’s love lays an obligation on us.
No one who truly responds to what Jesus Christ did for them when he died on the cross can go back to a life dominated by Self. The implication is that just as God has made such a costly sacrifice for us, so too his people should be willing to make costly sacrifices for one another.
In this remarkable chapter John tells us why we are to love one another and, by implication, why we need to be involved in and committed to a church. God’s love that originates within himself, was supremely revealed when Jesus Christ, through his death, provided an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Further, God’s love is brought to perfection when it bears fruit in his people – in our relationships with one another: If we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us. Truly an amazing statement.
In this little passage we are challenged to ask to what extent God’s love is reflected in our relationships with others at the church we attend? Do we take a genuine interest in one another – including those who may not be the intelligent, the beautiful and the successful? God welcomes everyone. The question is, do we? Do we pray for and support one another, do we truly welcome newcomers, not just on their first Sunday but over the following weeks? Do we go to church thinking not about what we can get, but what we can give? To take up two Greek words translated by our English word love, eros won’t serve others, but agape will.
Church alive. Significantly, churches where these principles are taught and practiced are churches that come alive. They are churches that people want to attend, churches where people want to bring their friends. One of the big challenges of life today is loneliness – people are looking for genuine community. Will they find it at your church?