Having spoken to elders, Peter now turns to the young with words of counsel. The first thing I notice is that while we are quick to identify the ‘office’ or role of elder in our talk of church polity, we have no similar title for the young (I’m not sure that ‘youth group’ counts here). Which raises the question: are there times in Scripture when ‘elder’ simply describes those in the congregation who are chronologically older, and who have, because of their years of experience, the potential for contributing wisdom to the body? Further, is it possible we should be expecting more from the mature among us–or that the mature among us could be contributing more to the life and health of the church?
But I digress, as Peter wants to direct our attention now to the young. They are, he says, to be submissive to those who are older. Note that Peter says this submission is to be in the same way–which looks like his way of taking us back to Jesus (see 2:21 and then 3:1 and 3:7). And if that’s the case, it turns his remark from possibly causing a “Why should I?” into a “I get to…”.
What does submission by younger to older involve? Several ideas come to mind: making space, listening, agreeing with a suggestion, soliciting input–actions and attitudes like these. Can the young among us offer such to the older ones? And what happens when they do?
Submission is complicated because at times–and there’s no easy way to say this–elders can be grumpy. But I wonder whether part of what we hear when ‘the older generation’ lets loose comes from the fear or frustration of being ignored; I wonder if part of what happens when young people set out to individuate from the previous generation is that they throw off the counsel of their elders without pausing to reflect on its source. Distance between the two is a likely result in either case, and lamentable. Is it avoidable?
One last observation from the way I’m reading Peter here–namely that it’s the young ones being asked to make choices; it’s the young who are invited to take the initiative. In a day when we think and hear that much of the privilege lies with those who got there first, Peter’s perspective surprises. It also just may hold out hope for a smooth(er) course for the church.