Monday, March 9, 2015

Needed: Spiritually vibrant elders

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Hippocrates, the Greek physician from whom we get the Hippocratic Oath, said that there are seven stages of life, and the next to last starts at age 56. He called that person, Old one. And that stage, he said, is marked by perfection of judgment and reason. Hey, all of us over 55 could tell you that. The last stage starts at 70 and Hippocrates called that The End. But wait! He said it is the uttermost, highest, best and last, and is marked by the exercise of wisdom and honor with no obligations. I figure when I make it to 70 I will have 25 or 30 years to just sit around and exercise wisdom with no obligations. My grandkids will say, “What are you doing, Granddad?” And I will say, “Just sitting around, exercising wisdom. You feeling it?”

No. There is no move toward fossilization of the elderly in the church, at least not according to Scripture. There is no encouragement for the seniors, the seasoned saints, to just check out and move to Florida and spend their twilight years playing golf or checkers or collecting shells. In fact, the Bible teaches just the opposite. That’s why when Paul writes to Titus and begins to address the needs of different groups in the church, he addresses the older men and the older women first. You would expect a modern letter to a church to start with the young people, or even the children, and to say, “You are the future of the church.” In one sense that is true, simply because the current graybeards will be replaced one day by new graybeards. But if a church is going to thrive and even survive into the next generation, it will be because the older men and the older women in this generation have done their job. They are vital to the health and the legacy of the church.

Paul says older men are to be “sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness.” Maybe he stressed these characteristics because of a tendency we older men, and sometimes older women, have to gravitate toward one of two extremes. We can tend to either be sentimental old fools, or crusty old cranks. The sentimental old fools live in the past and are not really engaged in the present. They’ve checked out, for the most part. The crusty old cranks are obstinate and set in their ways and hard to reason with because they “know what’s right” and nobody can tell them anything. Don’t be that guy.

Older women are to be reverent in behavior, or as one scholar puts it, “practice the presence of God.” From that platform, they have something good to teach the younger women.

If older men and women are not biblically strong in their beliefs, the church will suffer, for these are the ones who are to lead the way. When the older generation is leading the church into a ditch, and the younger folks who are sound in the faith stand up and try to bring correction, even respectfully, they are often rebuffed and sent on their way. That’s part of the reason why there are literally thousands of churches filled with graybeards and their wives, slowly dying, wondering where the younger men and women are. They were run off, and so they went looking for churches that are still vibrant in the truth.

Older men and older women: it is not the end yet. Don’t check out. Stay engaged, for you are vital to the health and the legacy of the church.

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