A Letter to Younger Men From an Older Man
Greetings – ‘Grace (you like that word don’t you?) and peace (I like this word) in Jesus our Lord and Saviour.’
We continually thank God for you, and are prayerful for you. We count it a privilege having so many of you with a passion to build God’s church. Our peers from other churches and movements groups regularly tell us that the percentage and calibre of gifted young people in C3 is a phenomenon. We can so easily take it for granted – they certainly don’t.
I concur with their envy.
Like every father we always want the very best for those we feel and are responsible for. We want them, we want you, to grow in the knowledge of God, and on your way to avoid some of the traps for young people we were susceptible to, and at times succumbed to. Fortunately they weren’t life threatening, but they weren’t without their damage either.
Hence this letter to you – I write to you from a place of experience as an older man, with a vivid memory of being a younger man.
There is little like the passion and zeal of young men – we love it. And there is little like the passion and wisdom of older men – you’d do well to love it. You have something we had (more of), and we have something you don’t yet have (much of).
I refer on the one hand to idealism, and on the other to pragmatism. The world is a better place with both; impoverished with only one.
Every generation has its own expression of faith and its own foibles in that expression – we certainly did, you certainly will. When we met with Jesus, or rather when he met with us, our generation was characterized by a faith that took risks and stepped out. (Granted, we were the ‘hippie’ generation). We gave up the little we had, and did audacious, idealistic and not always wise, things. Seldom did we wait for perfect circumstances, seldom did we wait.
We were so ‘on the go’ we hardly had time for much reflection of our faith. It felt like, still does, we were on the shores of the lake Jesus frequented and heard him calling us to leave all and follow him. We did, hardly knowing what we were doing, much less where we were going, glad for every minute of it, and to this day not regretting a moment of it. Some of us are still ‘going’ and ‘doing.’
Our Theology was reading the bible, praying, worshipping and serving in whatever sphere we were able to in our churches. We used to listen to tapes, yes tapes, and I’m sure to this day our Pastors held their collective breathe in regards some of the teaching we were listening to from afar.
And that was part of the problem – it was from afar, from men and women who knew little of our world, nor really cared for us – fulfilling the maxim of, ‘many teachers and few fathers.’ We heard many messages but saw few lives. Messages don’t disciple people – encourage yes, teach yes, but disciple, no. We probably learnt more from the life – the lived out Christ life – from our Pastors. They may not have been great preachers but they were great communicators.
Those we listened to made pronouncements that were variously fascinating, speculative, and occasionally cause for controversy. Seldom has time shown kindness to all their teaching, although some things have stood us in very good stead.
My/our observation is that some of you are less inclined to take big risks and ‘launch out into the deep.’ The world may be a more risk-adverse place, given to reflection (make that – fear) more than to action, or at very least a ‘long’ reflection and therefore hesitant action. There are no doubt social and intellectual reasons for this, one of which may be ever increasing state/government legislation that feeds the very fears it says it is alleviating. Some call it the ‘nana state.’ Another reason I postulate is ‘politically correct speak,’ which demands a certain carefulness of expression (not always a bad thing in itself) regardless of actual sentiment or even the truth in some cases. Muzzled speech is a training for muzzled living, because a fear of worrying or offending has become prime in communication. A hesitant communication is the breeding ground of a hesitant life.
This, it seems, is how the world may be influencing some of the thinking and living in our young men. Great young men – you.
The current fascination with theology and in particular its Evangelical/Reformed expression is becoming a reason, or a trigger, for angst, uncertainty and argumentativeness. Normally wonderful young men (and women) are finding cause for criticism of churches and their leaders that they would barely have entertained had they not picked up some books or heard some voice not their fathers. (And we can and should assume that not everything your ‘fathers’ hold to is absolutely correct/buttoned up theologically – this is next to impossible. But this isn’t the ground for following their/our example. Living godly and consistently in Christ is.)
You would be mistaken to suppose that I don’t think books to be wonderfully valuable – I probably read more than most of you. The difference is that life and experience preceded a fascination with theology, and when I did begin reading more I was settled in a living faith, more the result of being filled with the spirit than being filled with books.
Life and experience have enriched my understanding of theology – even, made sense out of it. I read volumes, and enjoy it like others enjoy watching sports. (We both have our couches.) But it doesn’t do what it once would have – given me the capacity to be arrogant, argumentative and un-teachable. (I already had those capacities by the bucket without inflaming them with knowledge beyond my wisdom.)
Recently a young man joined a few of us for a meal. He barely stopped talking, except to eat, informing us of his passionate commitment to Calvinism and all things Reformed. Not once did he stop to think the men at the table, considerably older than him, had anything to add to his ‘parroted’ beliefs. I can only surmise he was so nervous he couldn’t stop talking. His disrespect for us was as impressive as his commitment to his theological position. (I’m sure I did much the same though, years ago when my wisdom was as short in supply as my hair now is.)
We are also seeing an increased anxiety about doing God’s will, because people find it difficult to get past expressions of ‘authenticity’ that do more to bind than to loose. To make this worse, yes I know this will sound strange; you have sincerity in your faith, entirely laudable but equally a trap for young players. Sincerity is a dangerous quality if not balanced by truth. In fact there are moments when truth will trump sincerity and ‘authenticity’ because it is asking you to change a way of being and doing.
We wonder if we have done, thought, acted the right way, and have strayed from the ancient truth that the just shall live by faith – faith in God, faith in the faithfulness of Jesus, not faith in our faith in God, or faith in our ability to live right and be accepted on that basis. It is a subtle temptation but often the domain of young men, precisely because you want to do right and love God correctly.
In the attempt to think right we can so easily fall prey to over thinking and this is turn stops us from living out our faith with all the rough and tumble necessary to grow. Second-guessing every move you make is the same as paving a way into despair – many have done it before you and many will do it after you. Take a risk, fail with impunity. The world won’t end, God won’t shift, and your future won’t go up in smoke.
It is never long before we end back at Paul’s words – ‘knowledge puffs up and love builds up.’ Experience is more to be gained than knowledge but experience is costly, and can be unnerving. It, unlike the attempts, poor attempts, of some Christian thinkers refuses to be ‘pigeon-holed.’ Systems, even systematic theologies, are an imposition on the tone and indeed the messiness of scripture.
And we should be alert to the fact that if equally Christ honoring theologians differ on certain points then we are always going to differ, and the blood and fury of being ‘right’ is a dangerous right.
In his study of Heresy, Alister McGrath notes that the early church had more diversity and difference of interpretation than we’d care, even dare, to believe. The fundamentals were the same but interpretations, often localized in their emphasis, were quite diverse. And the church grew and it was robust. It did quite well before Luther, Calvin and the Reformation came bringing their own localized corrective to what was either missing or exaggerated.
Many of the great divines held to biblical truths that were then and now disputed – at least in their extremities. This should be warning enough to place your selves at the foot of any one school of thought. Paul argued that being sectarian is being worldly – see 1 Corinthians 3:4; 4:6-7. It is defined as worldly because it discounts God’s gifts in others, his church, and because it is normally accompanied with a disputative spirit.
At various moment of your life the dynamic of truth will cause different aspects to be in focus – one day the will and responsibility of man, and another the sovereign will and purpose of God, one day the grace of God and another the faith that is proven by the works it produces.
Having a robust discussion is one thing, but discounting or rejecting your church leaders is another. It is ill advised and likely to cause a fracture in the foundations of your growth. It is like a rabid dog – it always come back to bite.
Scripture, that which you appeal too, is quite adamant when it commands younger men to learn obedience, which in turn leads to grace and growth. See Luke 2:51 – referring to Jesus obeying his parents in spite of their lack of understanding. He submitted to their priority over his life until such time as he left their domain. That is Jesus we are talking about. Humility suggests, if it was good enough for him it is likely to be the same for you.
It is easy to think that elders don’t really understand when in fact they understand you better than you understand yourself. They have already been you, minus the iPad but including the ‘bearded look.’
1 Timothy 5:1 tells us to, “Never speak harshly to an older man.” 1 Peter 5:5 goes a step further than general instruction about attitude when it declares, “You younger men must accept the authority of the elders.”
Scripture asks of young men to obey and learn in humility so it is a sad day when scripture is disregarded in favor of ‘so called’ biblical argumentation.
Paul stated that his goal in instruction was that we would all be better acquainted with and living in love – 1Timothy 1:5. The goal of our faith is not knowledge nor orthodox thinking but love.
Hebrews 13:17 says, “Obey your spiritual rulers, and do what they say. Their work is to watch over your souls, and they are accountable to God. Give them reason to do this with joy and not with sorrow. That would certainly not be for your benefit.”
I/we appeal to you to remain teachable, and open to correction so that the life of Christ can mature in you – not apart from your fathers, but with your fathers.
Some people are fatherless due to sad circumstance, and it is a very well documented fact the effect fatherlessness has on young men. But to make yourself fatherless is unwise and deleterious to your future.
Your future is bright, you will do more than we did, and C3 will prosper due to your efforts – as long as you are able to learn from those who have gone before you, who in turn had to learn from those that went ahead of us.
Humility adorns us – arrogance disrobes us.
Yours in the journey
© Simon McIntyre -2014