Saturday, March 5, 2016

Fraternity and the First Name

I remember an incident years ago when a young mother was in my home and wondering aloud what one of my adult children should call her. She wasn't being arrogant or difficult. It was an honest question from an honest person whose own identity was evolving. Still, the question didn't sit well with me. And it would take months for it to hit me. I was old enough to be this woman's mother...which means that she was young enough to be my children's sibling. What should my adult children call her? They should call her, and feel comfortable doing so, "Her First Name." (I am not here arguing that a six year old should address an adult by their first name. There are few things quite as jolting.)

This issue has weighed on my heart for quite some time now. And Brett's sermon last week confirmed to me that there is, indeed, a biblical principle here.

Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, in all purity. (I Timothy 5:1) To put this in right context, this is the beginning of Paul's instructions to Timothy about how the household of God should comport themselves around each other.

To quote Brett's sermon and author Philip Ryken:
1. The clear admonition here is that it is the responsibility of older Christians to bridge the generation gap to younger Christians, and not the other way around.
2. Older men should treat their juniors with fraternity; younger men should treat their seniors with humility. 

And not the other way around.

Having four children who are now adults, I've seen and heard their frustration at not being taken seriously as adults. Sometimes they rant; sometimes they're hurt; sometimes they just give up. But they haven't put me up to this. They do not know I am making this appeal. And I do not make this appeal for them alone but for all of their peers, as well.

Let me give you my take on this group of people. They are millennials. But they are more unique than that. They are Christians. They have been well-educated and well-discipled. They are curious; they are interested; they are interesting. They are often insufferable, to be sure. But they are passionate, and they want to be taken seriously.

And, by my generation, they are taken seriously. Mostly. By my generation, they are treated like adults. My generation converses with them, looks them in the eye, and goes to coffee with them. Some in my generation--and I want to kiss these people--even say, "Hey, please call me 'My First Name.' "

But there's a generation between my generation and my millennials. I'll call them Middle-somethings. If my millennials have been rebuffed, dismissed, ignored, or lectured, it has always been by the Middle-somethings. Is this a pecking order? Brett asked a few months ago. What's going on here? If millennials are going to be treated like junior-adults, rather than simply adults, it's going to be by the Middle-somethings. (My apologies to all the Middle-somethings who have treated my adult children like adults. We have noticed. And we are grateful.)

That's sad because--and here's a hard truth--my millennials and their friends can generally debate a Middle-something into the dirt on just about any topic. Politics, theology, culture. You name it. I've debated these people on the same topics, sometimes quite vigorously. And I find them fascinating. They have earned my respect. And I freely offer my friendship.

Perhaps our view of millennials is not big enough because we fail to take God's view of millennials. And God's view of millennials is the same as His view of all of mankind.

When God created man, He created him after His own image. Man originally had true knowledge, righteousness and holiness. Thus we can say that he was virtually (that is, in effect) prophet, priest, and king. When Adam sinned and fell, we sinned and fell with him. And so all men (except for Jesus Christ) became ignorant, guilty and sinful. And the whole message of the Bible is about what God has done to save some men from this lost condition.*

To unpack that:
Millennials are created in the image of God, just like you. Millennials were intended to function as prophet, priest, and king, just like you. Millennials fell, and Jesus came to redeem and restore them to their original function, just like you.

It would, therefore, be appropriate to remind ourselves that they are struggling to throw off the weight of sin and come into their redeemed function as prophet, priest, and king, just like you. They want knowledge; they want righteousness; they want holiness. And some days they don't. Just like you. Let us, then, extend fraternity to these people. Let us encourage them in their pursuit of knowledge, righteousness, and holiness.

Why would we not?
What good reason could we possibly have for being rude, dismissive, or lecture-ish???

I don't think of my adults and their peers as Suzanne's kids or Tiffany's kids or Sharon's kids or Sandra's kids.
I think of them as Amelia or Grace or Jeremy or Ben.

So here's my appeal. Treat them like adults.
Not adults in training.
Not Brett's and Noel's kids.
In their own right.

When you interact with them, give them the same attention and respect you give to your gal-pals. Offer them your friendship. Offer them your first name.
Don't lecture.
Don't be insufferable yourself.
Don't call them 'girls.' Call them 'women.' Just because they aren't running their own household does not mean that they can't.

They are not juniors.
They are singles.
They are also prophets, priests, and kings in the making.
Just like you.

*The Westminster Shorter Catechism, G.I. Williamson, p.94