The Foolishness Of Generational Warfare In The Church

Text: Malachi 4:1-6

In the name of Jesus.  Amen.  

In college, I interviewed for a youth director job at a church.  In the interview, I was asked how I would conduct myself as a youth director.  I recall saying something to the effect, 

As a youth director, I will be sure to make the Bible and church relevant to the youth!

Looking back, I am ashamed to admit that what I did was insult the church leaders and pastor.  Furthermore, I also snubbed my nose at two thousand years of church history.  You see, I had this idea that the Bible and the church were irrelevant and that my youthfulness would be an asset to the old and outdated church.  However, I was severely misguided; I was foolish.

Dear friends, over the last several decades, the church has had many generational fights.  For example, young church leaders in America are often conditioned to view the older generation in a negative light, as if they are out of touch, irrelevant, and stagnant.  However, the older generation often views younger men and women as untested, ignorant, cocky, and impatient.  And so, the lines get drawn in the sand: older people are viewed as out of touch, and younger people are viewed with suspicion. As a result, many American Churches live in this tension of young people trying to drive off older people as they fight for the control of the church. At the same time, many older people will develop a cold shoulder to those younger as they try to maintain control of the church.  Indeed, there is a human tendency in every generation to function as if the church is just for them, while believing that their generation is better than all other generations.    

In our reading from the Old Testament Book of Malachi, though, it sure seems that Malachi comes to the rescue of the older generation.  Through the Prophet Malachi, it is declared, 

Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers., lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.

As you heard, Malachi mentions Elijah, and what we know about the time of Elijah is that the leading sin of the culture was not quarrels in families but estrangement from God.  In other words, the sons of the day were degenerate descendants.  The generation during the time of Elijah had left the piety of their fathers.  

So, clearly, Malachi is awarding a point to the older generation – right?  Older generation 1; younger generation 0! … No, this is not the case.  

Dear friends, it is easy for us to connect favorably to a particular generation.  For example, we could say here at St. Paul’s,

The 1950s, when this new church was built with a new pastor - Pastor Ruthenbeck. They were the good ol’ days.  We should get back to those times.  

Others of you may say, 

Nonsense, things were so much better in the 80s and 90s with Pastor Jenks. 

Some of you may respond and say, 

Who was Pastor Ruthenbeck or Pastor Jenks?  During the first two decades of the 2000s with Pastor Bertsch, that was the time.

 And finally, some of you may say, 

Right now is the time!  The present time is so much better.  We have Pastor Roth, who says he is as old as the dinosaurs, and we have young Pastor Richard.  We have the best of two generations.

And around and around we can go, comparing each generation of the church to the other.  Through this comparison, though, we can become divisive and competitive, dividing the church into a thousand pieces and missing the whole point of what Malachi is saying to you and me today.  

Dear friends, please listen very carefully, Malachi was not upholding the older generation as better because it was older.  Older does not automatically mean better or more faithful.  There is heresy and foolishness in every generation.  If you and I wanted to, we could go through every generation of this church and find failure.  No generation is superior based on being young or old.  That is a foolish kind of talk. And so, if you think your generation is better than the younger generation because it is old – repent.  And if you think your generation is better than the older generation because it is young – repent.    Every generation is sin-sick and in need of Jesus.  

So, back to Malachi, what was he getting at, though?  Now, it is true that the generation of Elijah was degenerate – estranged from God – it is also not true, though, that Malachi is calling for us to adapt to the older generation simply because they are older.  Malachi is pointing out the need of the sons to be united to their fathers not by getting the fathers to love their sons a bunch more but instead; the sons needed to repent of their rebellious sins and return once more to the heart of their fathers.  You see, during the time of Elijah, that generation abandoned the fear, love, and trust of God for pagan idols.  Unlike previous generations, they left the faith.  And so, Elijah was calling that generation to repent and return to the faith of their fathers and grandfathers.  In other words, the goal is for the heart of the fathers – the fathers’ disposition and affections – to be placed back into the sons so that both generations would faithfully abide in the fear, love, and trust of God.  

I am not sure if you have heard this or not.  Over a decade ago, the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod had a Synodical President that remarked, “This is not your grandfather’s church.”  While there was much dispute over what this Synodical President meant by these controversial words, we can say clearly today that St. Paul’s Lutheran Church is still ‘Grandpa’s Church.’  In fact, in preparation for this summer’s youth trip to Wisconsin, the youth are having T-shirts made with a picture of the first president of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod – CFW Walther.  On the T-shirt, the youth will have some sort of phrase written to indicate that they are still attending Grandpa’s church.  You see, the loyalty of the youth to CFW Walter and the first Lutherans in America is not a loyalty to a nostalgic time.  Instead, it is the same loyalty you adults have – an appreciation for the disposition and affections of CFW Walther and that first generation of Lutherans in America.  

Baptized Saints, hear this loud and clear.  We are anchored in this church.  However, that anchor is not connected to the Great Generation, the Baby Boomer Generation, Generation X, the Millennial Generation, or the Zoomer Generation.  Furthermore, the anchor of this church isn’t connected to Pastors Ruthenbeck, Knuth, Vogler, Jenks, Bertsch, Roth, or Richard.  But instead, our anchor is connected to Christ and His Word and Sacraments.  And so, every generation that abides in Christ is worth respecting.  When we uphold CFW Walther and the first Lutherans, we are not upholding them but admiring their fear, love, and trust of God.  

And so, there is no such thing as divided and competing generations in the church because Christ cannot be divided, and He is not in conflict with Himself!  Hear this: there is only one baptism, faith, confession, and doctrine because there is only one Christ.  If there is any generational division in St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, someone has left the disposition and affections of our Lutheran forefathers - someone needs to repent.  Indeed, we need to return to the piety of our Lutheran forefathers who not only rested but confessed Christ in the face of adversity and death. 

As that young youth director, I failed to understand that the church’s theology is not continually evolving.  The church is not seeking to find new doctrine or develop a new product. If the church were, then the innovations of the youth would be needed!  However, since the church already possesses all that it needs in Jesus and His Word, the goal is not to discover insights ‘from’ the youth but to pass down God’s Word ‘to’ its youth.  Yes, hear that loud and clear: for the older generation of this church, the goal is to pass down the Gospel that was once passed down to you.  Ideally, older people are called to pass down the church’s theology and practice because they do not look down on those who are younger but want younger Christians to abide in Christ like they are and like their grandparents before them.  And those who are young, well… they are called to gladly receive, knowing that they are receiving good gifts from the previous generation that abides in Christ and His gifts.  

Baptized Saints, hear this loud and clear: Christ is bigger than every generation.  He is the alpha and omega.  He is not fragmented into each generation, but rather, each generation from every tribe and every language receives forgiveness, life, and salvation from Him.  If you are older in this church, you are rooted and abide in Christ.  If you are younger, you are rooted and abide in Christ.  Together, you are inserted into something much bigger, older, and more supreme – Christ and His Word.  And thus, every generation is united.   The old and young are one – together in Christ.     

In the name of Jesus.  Amen. 

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