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The current societal shift, characterized by an all-encompassing ethical framework, has rapidly transformed various aspects of our lives, from environmental concerns to matters of science, politics, sexuality, psychology, and religion. The post-2020 era has witnessed an accelerated imposition of new ethical and social norms, often manifested through cancel culture in the media and social spheres. In navigating this evolving landscape, it is crucial to recognize the infiltration of post-truth ethics, characterized by fragmented truths, the abandonment of empirical data and common wisdom, and the endorsement of diverse narratives devoid of a unifying metanarrative.

Regrettably, this post-truth ethos may have seeped into the Christian church. Notably, the marginalization of the elderly even within the church community is becoming increasingly prevalent, mirroring broader societal trends. This trend raises concerns, especially when viewed through the lens of biblical principles.

The fifth commandment unequivocally instructs us to “honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you” (Ex. 20:12) This commandment extends beyond children, addressing all individuals with living parents. It emphasizes the significance of obedience and love toward parents, establishing a positive correlation between such virtues and the prolongation and ease of life. The underlying principle is anchored in the concept of honor, denoting respect and consideration akin to that offered by an inferior to a superior. Honor, respect, and consideration begin in the heart. Reverence for our parents and other authority figures should be a reflection and evidence of our honor and reverence for God in the first place.

The word “honor” translates the Hebrew kabod, which had the connotation of weight, significance, glory, and prestige. It denotes the respect accorded by an inferior to a superior. In question and answer 126, the Westminster Larger Catechism teaches that the fifth commandment encompasses fulfilling obligations owed in various relationships, be they “as inferiors, superiors, or equals.”

Expanding on this biblical foundation, the Reformers, including luminaries such as John Calvin, broadened the application of this commandment to encompass all figures of authority, including the elderly, magistrates, educators, and spiritual leaders. Calvin underscored the threefold expression of honor—reverence, obedience, and recognition—emphasizing that such honor should be conditional on obedience “in the Lord.”

The biblical imperative to honor the elderly remains a timeless and relevant principle.

Noteworthy is the biblical injunction in Leviticus 19:32, urging reverence for the elderly: “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.” Proverbs reinforces this teaching, acknowledging the wisdom associated with age. The biblical perspective recognizes the elderly as repositories of tradition and family history, living archives of societal oral tradition. Historically, the influence of the Christian faith has sustained the respect of elders. Caution is warranted, however, for not every elderly person is inherently wise or exemplary. While age may be associated with maturity, experience, and wisdom, it is not an absolute indicator. Discernment is crucial, because even Scripture provides examples of aged individuals involved in egregious sins.

In the contemporary landscape, a discernible movement against elders has infiltrated evangelical circles. The desire to marginalize experienced voices in favor of newer perspectives is evident, particularly online. This inclination, whether subtle or overt, parallels the Prodigal Son’s demanding his inheritance prematurely.

Scripture, however, urges gratitude for the gifts of God within the church, emphasizing acknowledgment of the grace evident in the lives of those who have traversed challenging paths. Though elders may have imperfections, we are called to cover their shortcomings with respect rather than subjecting them to public scrutiny or mockery.

Distinguishing between addressing heresy and false teaching and exposing fallible individuals to public reproach is vital. While challenging wrongdoing is necessary, the approach should prioritize redemption and restoration over condemnation. The wisdom encapsulated in the statement that “it is not enough to be right; one must know how to be right” by the Brazilian poet Machado de Assis underscores the Christian principle of discipline for the purpose of winning sinners, not destroying them.

The call to honor the gray hairs extends beyond mere acknowledgment to active gratitude for God’s gifts within the church. This entails sitting at the feet of elders with reverence, respect, and deference, setting an example for the younger generation and society at large. The guiding principles should be grace, respect, forgiveness, redemption, and mercy, with the goal of fostering an environment conducive to healthy change rather than breeding resentment and self-righteousness.

The biblical imperative to honor the elderly remains a timeless and relevant principle. As society undergoes rapid transformation, anchored in post-truth ethics, the Christian community must steadfastly uphold the value of respecting those who have walked before us. By doing so, we not only honor our faith but also contribute to a culture of grace and wisdom that transcends the transient norms of the age. We do well to remember that God is the “Ancient of Days” (Dan. 7:9) and that His wisdom is much more ancient than all of ours combined.

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