By Chris Watts
I am a millennial. I think this means I am supposed to hate older people, and they are supposed to hate me.
There is a growing narrative in this country (that may or may not be true) of generational animosity. Of course, we should know that this is nothing new. Probably every generation in history has thought their elders were out of touch and looked at their youngers with some mixture of disdain and despair. Social media and the internet have merely intensified feelings that have always existed.
But the church is supposed to be different than the world! Jesus said that “by this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). Surely this must also apply to love between older and younger Christians? When Paul, speaking of the church, said “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you’” (1 Cor. 12:21), wouldn’t that equally apply to older and younger Christians? We need each other!
Division is a sin we are repeatedly told to avoid and watch out for (Rom. 12:3-5, 16:17-18, Titus 3:10). Church, we must eliminate the “us v. them” mentality of the world! I imagine nothing gives the Devil more pleasure than watching the church devour itself. To be clear, when I say “we” I am referring to everyone, both old and young. Whose responsibility is it to make the first move towards unity? Yours, whoever you are! “As you wish others would do to you, so you do to them” (Luke 6:31).
How can we do this? How can we rise above the disagreements and divisions the world would thrust upon us? There are two things we all need to remember:
- Different doesn’t always mean sinful.
There is a remarkable amount of leeway in God’s instructions for His Church. There must be, else the Bible would be too big to carry! So much of the trappings of our worship and daily living are framed, not by scripture, but by culture. Why these songs, why this style, why this attire, why that structure, why those activities? These are not doctrinal questions, but practical matters left to us by God.
When Paul was discussing such things (specifically meat and holidays, but generally anything that doesn’t matter specifically to the Lord), what did he say? “Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother” (Rom. 14:13). Who is responsible for this, the older or younger Christian? YES! Both/and! We all have a responsibility to put the needs of the other first! Older Christians, we aren’t trying to abandon truth because we like different things. Younger Christians, remember that they have been faithful for decades and ask yourself what enabled them to do so?
- We can and must learn from each other.
Something that almost certainly hasn’t been done enough, to the detriment of all, is mentoring. The close relationship of people from different generations benefits everyone. In Hebrews we are told to “consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Heb. 10:24-25). Might I suggest that this should not just apply three hours a week? In order to “stir up one another,” what needs to happen? We need to “meet together” and be thoughtful and intentional about our meeting (“consider how to”).
For most of us younger Christians, we only have a relationship with God because of the faithfulness of older Christians. Don’t you think there is something invaluable about the experience of the person who has known God for longer than you have been alive? But older Christians, I also think we have a lot to offer in our rapidly shifting culture. Perhaps we have some valuable insight about how to reach our lost peers.
About this I have much to say, and hopefully I will over the coming weeks. But we are all in this together! The Devil has done a pretty good job masking his presence and making us fight the wrong enemy. We must “be sober-minded; be watchful. Our adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Pet. 5:8). As long as we are unified, we can overcome!