Two Generations, One Church: How to Make Peace (Mar – Aug 1994)

By Matt Dabbs

Mark Smith
March – August, 1994

21Jerusalem, 538 B. C. Forty-eight years had passed since Nebuchadnezzar’s army had utterly destroyed the Holy City, carrying all but the poorest of the poor into Babylonian captivity. For the faithful, these were years of penitence and prayer—prayers which were answered when the Medo-Persians defeated the Babylonians, allowing any Jew who so desired to return to Jerusalem and rebuild. After erecting shelters for themselves and an altar on which to sacrifice, they were ready to focus on long-term projects. There was no doubt in anybody’s mind about which project headed the list. The single most important structure prior to the captivity would be the first structure rebuilt. Israel would have another temple. Plans would be drawn up and workers organized. It was a grand occasion. It was also one of the more unusual incidents recorded in Scripture.

When the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the Lord, the priests in their vestments and with trumpets, and the Levites (the sons of Asaph) with cymbals, took their places to praise the Lord, as prescribed by David king of Israel. With praise and thanksgiving they sang to the Lord: “He is good; his love to Israel endures forever.” And all the people gave a great shout of praise to the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid. But many of the older priests and Levites and family heads, who had seen the former temple, wept aloud when they saw the foundation of this temple being laid, while many others shouted for joy. No one could distinguish the sound of the shouts of joy from the sound of weeping, because the people made so much noise. And the sound was heard far away (Ezra 3:10-13).

Interesting, isn’t it? One incident—the laying of the foundation for the second temple. Two completely different reactions—the young people shouted while the old people wept.

While we don’t like to admit it, intergenerational tension is as old as humanity. By virtue of background and experience, youth and age inevitably see things differently. What youth finds exciting, age sometimes finds threatening. What age finds comfortable, youth finds dull. The result is that the relationship between the generations is always delicate. The potential for problems and misunderstandings always exists. To further complicate the modern situation, baby boomers are especially different. The gap between my generation (boomer class of ’55) and that of our parents is wider than any generation gap in modern history. This was brought home to me at a recent workshop on worship styles. Twice during the day we broke into discussion groups. Our purpose was to formulate questions for the keynote speakers. As the discussion proceeded it was clear that two different philosophies existed in our group. One philosophy basically said, “The Bible allows us freedom to change in some areas. If the church is to survive, we must be willing to embrace change where circumstances demand it and God allows it.” To a person, this was the attitude of the baby-boomers. The other philosophy basically said, “The Bible is very explicit about how worship is to be conducted and the Churches of Christ are doing worship right. If the church is to survive, we must resist change for it leads down the slippery slope to apostasy.” This was the attitude of most of the older people in the group. As the discussion unfolded it occurred to me that this group of people, all leaders in the church in one capacity or another, would have a very difficult time working and worshipping together on a consistent basis. Our philosophies were simply too divergent. When the issue is change in worship styles, the young people tend to shout for joy while the old people tend to weep.

Intergenerational tension presents a major threat to the future of the church. If, as a fellowship of God’s people, we refuse to deal with it now, it may very well destroy us 10 years from now. While it may be an oversimplification, I believe the key to peace between the generations is one simple word — respect.

As a starting place, it is vital that we learn to respect one another’s traditions. Some traditions are so widespread and pervasive that they are accepted cross-generationally without question. Other traditions tend to be generation-specific. In fact, each generation tends to define itself, in part, by developing traditions unique to itself. These are neither good nor bad. They simply reflect the natural impulse each generation feels to be different from the generation preceding. Just as my parents’ generation fought to bring kitchens into the church house, my generation is fighting to bring contemporary sounding music into the assembly. It is important to us because it partially defines who we are. Unfortunately, new traditions tend to supplant old ones. At the very least, they compete for limited time and attention. When two generations hold to conflicting traditions, problems are almost inevitable. The solution is respect. One generation prefers the King James Bible. Another prefers the NIV. It’s not that one is necessarily “right” and the other “wrong.” Each generation is simply reflecting its tradition. It is pointless for one group to attempt to change the other in this area, for the attachment to tradition is emotional, not rational. Mutual respect enables the generations to differ without dividing.

Respect is also needed when considering each generation’s contributions. Every member is needed for the body of Christ to function properly. The hand cannot say to the foot, “I don’t need you.” Likewise the eye to the ear. In the modern church the young cannot say to the old, “I don’t need you,” nor can the old say it to the young. The truth is we need each other—desperately. Remove young Christians from the influence of more mature brethren and they will become a cult-like movement that will probably go into error. Remove mature brethren from the influence of the young and they will become a dead church. Neither is pleasing to God. In order for the body to function as it should, every member must work in conjunction with every other member, allowing various strengths and weaknesses to offset each other to the glory of God. In other words, we must respect the contributions of every member, especially when tension exists in the relationship. It is relatively easy for one young person to appreciate the contributions of another young person. The young intuitively understand each other. What’s needed is for young people to appreciate the contributions of the old and for the old to appreciate the contributions of the young. Something which can only be accomplished in an atmosphere of mutual respect.

Respect is also vital regarding each generation’s sincerity. I once had a man question my love for the lost because I wasn’t using the method of evangelism he preferred. He honestly felt the method he was using was vastly superior to mine. I honestly disagreed. His eagerness to doubt my sincerity made it very difficult for us to have a God-honoring relationship. He considered me unspiritual. I considered him a Pharisee. One can question my intelligence, my judgment, my wisdom, my maturity, and anything else along those lines. I won’t react too negatively. I might even agree. However, question my sincerity and I’m ready to fight. I have a great many flaws, but insincerity is not one of them. I assume that other people are as sensitive in this area as I am. It is nearly impossible to have a relationship with an individual who assumes you are insincere. It is also nearly impossible for differing generations to peacefully coexist if they are continually questioning each other’s sincerity. We may have differing preferences regarding worship styles, translations, evangelistic methods, preaching styles, and a host of other things. In all things, we must assume that those whose preferences differ from ours love God, his Word, and his church.

I thank God for the generations that have preceded mine. Their faithfulness helped create the conditions that have made my generation what it is. At the same time, I have no desire to slavishly imitate the traditions of those who preceded me. To attempt such would be unnatural and unwise. For good or bad, every generation longs to build its own unique temple. The spiritual temple built by my generation may not compare with those of previous generations, but it beats having no temple at all. Fighting one another over expediencies will only hinder whatever good might be accomplished.

There is no honor in trumpeting relationships that come naturally. If we love those that agree with us, what do we more than others? God is honored when we work at relationships that do not come naturally. The Jews in Ezra’s day didn’t have identical feelings about the new temple. It could not compare in grandeur with the first temple, causing disappointment among the old. On the other hand, to the generation which had not seen the first temple, its beauty was beyond description. In spite of their differing feelings, the generations worked together as one. Our goal should be the same—to work together as one in spite of the fact that sometimes the young people shout while the old people weep. The key is mutual respect.Wineskins Magazine

Mark Smith

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Profile photo of Matt DabbsThis author published 1577 posts in this site.
Matt is the preaching minister at the Auburn Church of Christ in Auburn, Alabama. He and Missy have been married 12 years and are raising two wonderful boys, Jonah and Elijah. Matt is passionate about reaching and discipling young adults, small groups, and teaching. Matt is currently the editor and co-owner of Wineskins.org.

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