The world is awash in "isms." We have racism, feminism, criticism, Communism, sexism, terrorism, anti-Semitism, and many other isms that create schisms and societal aneurysms. We expect a fallen culture to exhibit these symptoms of sinful thinking, but the church of Christ should be free of such divisions (1 Corinthians 12:12-26).
My wife and I are currently exposing and battling a case of elder abuse. From all appearances, it seems this 92-year-old gentleman was thrown out of his home like a worn-out shoe, his soul battered by financial manipulation and deprivation. His own family member deceived and plundered this elderly relative with no regard for the dignity and honor of a life well-lived.
Although the term abuse may be a little strong, there is a kindred attitude creeping into the church today, known as ageism. It is the gradual disrespecting of the wisdom and experience of senior saints, while exalting the "fresh, new, dynamic energy" of youth.
Where would you expect to hear the following statements?
"Dust off the old people, too."
"If the old people don't like it, they can leave."
"They're going to die off anyway."
How about these commands:
"You shall stand up before the gray head and honor the face of an old man, and you shall fear your God: I am the LORD" (Leviticus 19:32).
"Gray hair is a crown of glory; it is gained in a righteous life" (Proverbs 16:31).
"Now Elihu had waited to speak to Job because they were older than he" (Job 32:4).
"Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father" (1 Timothy 5:1).
"Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders" (1 Peter 5:5).
You would expect the first set to be culled from a world that doesn't value its older citizens. The latter group comes from the bible and, you would think, should be echoed in the church. Sadly, the first lines were spoken by evangelical, bible-believing church staff members. I read a book about a church that made changes in order to attract a younger crowd. There was, of course, tension and conflict in the church until the older folks were made to see the error of their ways, except for one poor, pathetic soul. Notice what group was pegged as wrong and inflexible.
Many American churches are like the Tower of Pisa: They started out vertical but are leaning more toward the horizontal, having been founded on weak, unstable soil. Instead of orienting their focus on God, they are starting to align more with people, eroding their foundation with business models, pop psychology, false "doctrine-vs.-unity" philosophy, and seeker-friendly cultural adaptation.
One of the sad trends in American culture is the gradual, subtle devaluation of human life. This manifests itself at both ends of the spectrum: Pre-birth and post-bloom. Babies and Boomers are becoming disposable, or inconvenient at best. Ironically, many churches wave the pro-life, anti-abortion flag while waving goodbye to seniors.
It's disheartening to hear seniors belittled or patronized at church business meetings. They are often the men and women who built the church structurally, financially, and spiritually. Their years of experience and study contribute to the ongoing growth and stability of the church. They are generally the most dedicated, doctrinally sound individuals, maintaining the ancient landmarks in a changing society.
This mild form of elder abuse is not practiced in every church, but the trend is growing. Not only are caring people offended, but the God Who commands respect for gray heads cannot be pleased when anyone, no less a senior saint, is marginalized. It's time the youth of the church run to, not from, those who move a little more slowly, talk a bit haltingly, and tell stories over and over. Maybe they're worth retelling, because the people who tell them are worth hearing.