Is It Wrong For Old Men To Listen To Young Men?

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I was born to godly parents and was thankfully raised within a very conservative Christian home. I am thankful for my heritage! Upon the advice of my godly parents and seasoned pastor, I attended Tennessee Temple University where I was privileged to spend some time under the ministry of Dr. Lee Roberson. I will ever be appreciative of his emphasis on living the Spirit-filled life. I am thankful for my heritage.

I graduated from Bible college at the age of 22 and assumed my first pastorate in the western suburbs of Philadelphia. I still marvel that this church actually voted for a 22-year-old to be their “senior” pastor. The church frequently used the Bible term “elder” to describe its spiritual leadership, and the awkwardness was immediately apparent. The vast majority of the people in the church were older than I was, and they were looking to me for spiritual guidance – this 22-year-old “elder” who was serving as their “senior” pastor.

It took a great deal of humility for this church to be directed by someone so young and (dare I say?) cocky. The ladies’ Bible study was directed in that church by a very godly, seasoned grandmother who had somewhat of a stellar reputation in that area. My wife sat in those Bible studies and learned a great deal. I listened to men on our board, and I too learned a great deal.

Even today, I try to learn from men who have “been around the block.” My beloved predecessor, Tom Crichton, would be a case in point. The man who planted the church that I now pastor, and served as its only other pastor for 37 years, has much to say. On those rare moments when he offers advice, I want to listen. I love my heritage.

The Bible has much to say about our response to the older generation. And I personally believe that these Scriptures should weigh heavily upon our thinking. The Bible, for example, states that the older women are to teach younger women (Titus 2:3-5), not the other way around. We all know how Rehoboam divided the kingdom when we failed to take the counsel of the older men under advisement (I Kings 12:8). We must never forget to “rise up before the hoary head and honor the face of the old man” (Leviticus 19:32). Growing up in the fundamentalist movement, I am certainly aware about the dangers of removing the ancient landmarks that our fathers have set (Proverbs 22:28).

I, too, believe that in some circles age discrimination has been practiced in churches. The older people who have paid the bills have not been listened to with regard to changing styles of worship and philosophy. Some of the older members have lamentably left their church, believing that the church of which they have been a part for so many years has left them. In short, I am saying that older people deserve an audience. I love my heritage!

I believe, however, that God intended the discussion between the older and younger generation to be a dialogue, not a monologue. The older generation was to lay stones so that the younger generation would ask questions (Joshua 4:21). The stones that were laid were intended to inspire discussion, not curtail it.

Christians, regardless of age, are people who are supposed to be easily entreated (James 3:17). We are supposed to be swift to hear (James 1:19). The fact that we are to instruct the younger generation in no way implies that the younger generation has nothing to say to us.

Several guidelines are suggested to aid this conversation. First, when the younger generation addresses the older generation, they should do so with a respectful tone. Some younger fundamentalists have legitimate questions. We should receive those questions with the right spirit. Questions phrased with the right spirit stand a better chance of being answered in the right spirit. The wrath of man (regardless of whether it comes from the questioner or the responder) never works the righteousness of God (James 1:20). Not every person who questions a practice is in rebellion. The questioner may simply want to know the Biblical substantiation behind a course of action.

Second, when we are asked for Biblical substantiation, we should be able to provide it (1 Peter 3:15). Some of the standards that we possess have Biblical foundation. Others may simply be a matter of taste or preference. If it is a matter of taste, we should have the courage to say so without twisting Biblical passages to support man-made ideas.

Third, some younger Christians may honestly search the Scriptures and come to different conclusions (Romans 14:6) than their older forefathers. Such disagreement should not be considered rebellion nor should it necessarily be considered a move toward worldliness, carnality, or new evangelicalism. The younger generation may come to a different understanding of how to apply certain Bible passages. This application is different, though not necessarily carnal.

Finally, if we are wrong we must admit it (James 5:16). If the younger generation points out that we have been in error, and if in fact we have been in error, we must admit it. We gain respect when we confess sin. But whoever covers his sins will not prosper (Proverbs 28:13). It is always healthy to do inward inspection. Every person, every movement, and every institution should be characterized by honest evaluation. This evaluation does not harm the individual or institution that performs it; it rather produces health. When we think that we are incapable of wrong simply because we are in authority, we do great harm to those who are looking to us for answers.

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