Let Youth Be Youth

Let youth and youth’s counselors be reminded that the book of Proverbs is still in the Bible.

It’s hard not to go overboard on youth. A delightful age it is, with bright eyes and bright ideas, with endless vitality and drive. And often there is great enthusiasm and sparkling idealism. Also, the honesty and openness with which youth commonly looks at issues are most refreshing. It’s just plain fun to tune in on their discussions. No wonder adults often say that in some sense they always want to be young.

An unattractive image – Very obviously this attractive image of youth is not the only one we see today. There is another and it is not attractive. It is one of sickly radicalism, senseless destructiveness, disrespect for authority, strident and ill-conceived demands, simplistic answers to complex problems, drugs and music fit for drugged minds, supposed-to-be students expending themselves on everything except trying to get an understanding in depth of the acute problems of society and civilization.

How has this unattractive image of youth today come into being? There must be many answers to that question. A most obvious answer lies in failures in the home. A little over twenty years ago the principal of a public school in a respectable middle-class community told the present writer that fifty percent of the homes represented in his school were in some sense broken. What such a fact means for tlle lives of the youth issuing from such homes is something to ponder. Another answer to our question lies in the fact that there are adults who find in youth a quite accessible vehicle for the furtherance of their own ideas as to how things ought to be. The influence of radical theoreticians like Herbert Marcusse on today’s youth is another factor in the total picture.

But there is little point in trying to assemble all the reasons for the development of the unattractive image of youth seen in our time. Rather, we would point out one factor in the picture that should be rather evident. When youth and those who work with youth forget that youth is youth, the image of youth is bound to suffer deterioration. In fact, to forget this seemingly obvious point is to betray the interests of youth. To fail to reckon meaningfully with this simple factor, either on the part of youth or on the part of their counselors, is to invite shattered expectations, deep frustration, alienation and rebellion in the lives of the young. Youth is a transitory and transitional stage of life. In this stage the notions, feelings and attitudes of childhood are giving way to adulthood. It is the period of life in which the process of putting away childish things is going on, to borrow St. Paul s language. Therefore the attitudes and judgments of this stage of life should be regarded by all as being tentative, subject to further change, growth and development. To project fairly definite and broad-range programs of action from such tentative attitudes and judgments is to accord to such tentative attitudes and judgments an importance and a decisiveness which are simply not in harmony with the unsettled and developing character of youth’s intellectual and emotional life. Following is some sage counsel to youth found in Plato’s Laws: “You are young, my son, and as the years go by, time will change and even reverse many of your present opinions. Refrain therefore awhile from setting yourself up as a judge of the highest matters.”

The biblical pattern – The point we are stressing can be made most cogently by saying that the young should see themselves and their counselors should see them as the Bible sees them. The Bible does not downgrade youth. We have only to recall the familiar words of Paul to Timothy, “Let no man despise thy youth” (1 Tim. 4:12). The words of Ecclesiastes 11:9 are most relevant here: “Rejoice, O young man, in thy youth, and let thy heart cheer thee in the days of thy youth, and walk in the ways of thy heart, and in the sight of thine eyes.”

It is especially the book of Proverbs that has much to say of and to youth. Let youth and youth’s counselors be reminded that tile book of Proverbs is still ill tile Bible. This great book of wisdom treats youth as youth, and the thrust is quite clear. This book in God’s Word is preeminently the book of Wisdom. Its wisdom is the wisdom of life and living. The two dominant marks of this wisdom of life and living are: first, a profound reverence for God as the fountain of truth and wisdom; and second, a profound regard for God’s moral law. Furthermore, Proverbs makes unmistakably clear how this wisdom is transmitted. It is transmitted from those who are older (parents especially) to those who are younger. The main channel by which this wisdom of life moves is from elders (parents 01′ their surrogates) committed to this God-given moral wisdom, to respectful and lovingly obedient sons and daughters. The words “son” or “my son” occur forty-three times in Proverbs in a definite instructional setting. In all there are fifty-seven instances in which instruction in wisdom of the younger by the older is specifically or implicitly expressed.

This plain thrust of the book of Proverbs need not be taken to imply that there can be no movement of wisdom from the younger to the older. Manifestly no transmission of wisdom is possible unless there is open communication marked by a good measure of mutual understanding. And such open communication means two-way movement to some degree. The tender words “my son” surely suggest a relationship of love, openness and understanding. But it is unmistakably clear that the divine wisdom taught in the book of Proverbs demands that the main channel for the Row of this wisdom of life is as we have described it. To ignore or to fail to do justice to this plain teaching of God’s Word is to betray both the God-given role of the parent (or his surrogate) and the true interests of youth.

In any viable and fruitful relationship between adult and youth it is not easy to set the precise boundaries of th is channel in which the wisdom of the Spirit flows. Certainly it would be foolish to set rigid lines which would hold in every instance of adult-youth communication. As any youth counselor knows, rigidity and youth are not good friends. The openness that comes with mutual loving understanding and esteem must be present if both the older and the younger are to find enrichment in Christian wisdom and discipleship.

But the biblical pattern is clear and should always be observed. It appears to the writer that we have a recent illustration of adult-youth communication that deserves careful analysis in the light of the biblical norm we have been discussing. The reference is to an article entitled “Concerned Youth Challenge Synod” appearing in the September 1970 issue of The Young Calvinist, and to a related editorial with the heading “Cheated, Neglected, Yet Hopeful” in the same issue of the magazine. We want to thank The Young Calvinist for making this material available.

The facts in the case – Some half dozen young people appeared at the 1970 Synod of the Christian Reformed Church meeting in Grand Rapids last June. They handed out a prepared statement which expressed their concern on six matters and which also proposed positive suggestions to Synod as to what should be done in these six areas of concern. The six matters dealt with are Racism, Male Chauvinism, Conscientious Objection, Liturgy, Edifice Complex (erecting expensive church buildings when pressing social problems cry out for money and solution), and Youth.

It was proposed that the young people present their case to Synod at one of its regular sessions, but this did not find favor with the delegates. The young spokesmen did not accept an invitation to address the delegates at a luncheon meeting, and settled for distribution of their statement and talking about it with the members of synod. The Young Calvinist. tells us that a later release concerning the prepared statement on the six matters was signed by sixty-seven young people, who, we are told, were or had been students at Calvin, Dordt and Trinity colleges.


1. These young people are to be commended on their concern for social justice. An age that reveals great patches of callousness with regard to the needs of the poor and underprivileged (a callousness which church people can easily share) must often be reminded of its social responsibilities. We Christians are called upon to “work that which is good toward all men” (Gal. 6:10) in love for our neighbors.

2. Some may fault these young people for going directly to Synod and bypassing the usual channels for getting a mattter before this major assembly. The writer is not disposed to regard this as a weighty consideration. These young people could well point to Article 28b of the Church Order and see their statement as properly brought to a major assembly as one of those “matters which concern its churches in common.” The Synod of the Christian Reformed Church has tended to be rather gracious in handling direct communications bearing some burden for the church. These young people had such a burden. It must be added, however, that the point of this second observation is qualified by the next comment.

3. The spirit in which this document was brought to Synod deserves notice. The later release signed by sixty-seven young people stated that departure from the church by young people “will escalate dramatically if you refuse to deal decisively with some of these points of consideration…. If you do not take steps to halt the prostitution of God’s love by the church, we will be forced to consider leaving the institutional church to return to meaningful involvement.” A press conference statement said this: “now that Synod has adjourned, it remains to be seen if these concerns will be implemented in their respective churches and communities. We will continue to work on the local levels, and plan to be back next year with additional support, including thousands of signatures.” This is clearly not the spirit in which church members go to the elders with a matter. This is certainly not the spirit in which youth should go to the elders of the church. This is the spirit that says: “You do as we ask, or else.” The threat to “be back next year with additional support, including thousands of signatures” means these young people want to turn their expression of concern into a pressure-group action. This is wholly out of accord with good order in the church and is certainly out or accord with the attitude youth should display toward their elders, as Proverbs makes so plain.

4. The young people who came to synod asked that the “church’s institutions and publications, in dealing with the church’s youth, should avoid a paternalistic attitude.” One wonders just what this means. Does it mean that the church fathers should not act as fathers to them? Does it mean that they reject their own status as youth? Is this in harmony with God’s Word? It could mean only that they did not wish to be ignored because they are young. But there is more here than that. They expected Synod to give serious consideration to their document and to act on its recommendations, with the threat that, if Synod failed to act, stronger demands would be made in another year. In short the petitioners rejected any consideration for their youthfulness and demanded that their statement be considered solely on its merits. They wish to play in the big league and so the standards of big-league play should be applied, by their own request.

5. If the writer of these lines sat on a committee of Synod that had the assignment of acting on the document of social concern submitted by these young people, he would find it most difficult to deal with it along with its specific recommendations. Why? Because the argumentation is so often a matter of unsupported and unsupportable generalizations and assertions. Some of the arguments have the sound of well-worn popular incantations. The document makes plain that these young people are keenly concerned about the church and its role in the relief of pressing social maladies. Let the church be well apprised of this concern. But the candid reaction of this writer to the argumentation in support of this expression of concern and its accompanying recommendations is that it just doesn’t do the job. Let’s have a closer look.

6. Under racism the statement declares: “Careful observation shows this disease to be extremely prevalent in the Christian Reformed Church….” Following are five counts which are supposed to give evidence of this extreme prevalence of racism in the CRC. The first of these is as follows: “The refusal of white Christians to allow black Christians admission into a particular Christian school.” The reference is obviously to the regrettable situation involving a Christian school in the Chicago area. It must be pointed out that the issue in this instance was not racism. The schoolboard involved did not feel it was safe to admit black children to a particular Christian school because of the extremely hostile attitudes toward black people on the part of the almost wholly non-Christian Reformed community in which the school is located. The assertion in the young people’s statement is therefore quite inaccurate.

A second alleged evidence that racism is “extremely prevalent in the CRC” is this: “The extensive lack of minority membership in the church, and almost total lack of minority leadership in the church and its related institutions.” Even superficial awareness of the history of the CRC against the background of its national origin should label this “evidence” as flimsy and unconvincing.

A third “evidence” speaks of “subtle racism in church and church-related publications (depiction of Caucasian features on all people except those depicted as slaves).” This “evidence” hardly deserves comment. A number of times in recent years The Banner has carried on its cover pictures of people with non-Caucasian features, and they definitely were not pictured as slaves.

A fourth “evidence” refers to alleged racism in “our church-related schools” and specifically “inculcating such racist attitudes as that black people are intellectually inferior, cursed by God, or fail in society more often than whites because of inherent sociological reasons.” I asked the senior young people of our church if they had heard such things said and taught in either the church or the Christian School. With one voice they quickly said “No.” And we live in the South.

7. The section entitled Male Chauvinism is completely unsatisfactory. Not one syllable here reflects biblical teaching on the subject of the place of women in church and society. Rather we find the subject dealt with by the use of the words, phrases, arguments and cliches that are current in a secular society.

8. Under Conscientious Objection we find argumentation from a reading of “historical circumstances (U.S. selfish intervention throughout third world countries and the possibility of a nuclear holocaust in every U.S. engagement)” to a position of full-blown pacifism that “a Christian can be opposed in conscience to participation in all wars now.” There is no hint here of the primary importance of biblical givens in determining the grave moral choice of being “opposed in conscience to participation in all wars now.”

9. The section under Liturgy charges “the church remains stagnant” with “structural emptiness” and “antiquated traditions” in its worship services. As a result “more and more people” are deserting the institutional church. “This crisis,” we are told, “can be corrected through a direct, personal involvement of everyone in the worship service.”

Four positive suggestions are made to achieve this broadest possible participation. Among these are a call for the writing of songs to contemporary music. meaning thereby “rock, folk and classical;” and the request for initiation of action bringing in “new modes of worship such as informal discussions, movies, and plays.” Here too one looks in vain for any suggestion of regard for biblical data in determining the form and content of divine worship. The “direct, personal involvement of everyone in the worship service” that takes place in the preaching of and the listening to the Word of God seems to be forgotten. At this point it is well to take note of the frequent complaint made by many who have been “turned off” by the institutional church. This common complaint is that the church no longer gives the worshippers what it should give and what they wish to hear, namely, a message from the authoritative Word of God.

10. There is a strange discrepancy between the petitioners’ challenge to the church to engage in a proclamation and application of the Word of God that is “dynamic and relevant to all of life” and the total lack of scriptural content and orientation in the petitioners’ statement of social concern. Pointing out this discrepancy in no way means that the call for a more dynamic and relevant ministry of the Word is out of place. And we ministers should take note of the charge that sermons are “often only moralistic and sentimental.” Is the ministry of the Word in the Christian Reformed Church losing its powerful, arresting Reformed character with its call to total service to the Savior and Lord of life? These questions must be asked and faced. At the same time the patent discrepancy referred to above is there, and it is eloquent of many things that are distressing to the soul. And it makes the word “challenge” in the caption of The Young Calvinist article seem out of place.

11. The editorial “Cheated, Neglected, Yet Hopeful” has in it a fine note of appreciation for the efforts of these young people. We would expect to sec this fine note of sympathetic appreciation in the evaluation of a sensitive youth counselor. At the same time one cannot help registering his disappointment that the editor did not use the impact of his influential position to point out some of the faults and weaknesses of this presentation. When after “dozens of hours…spent in ‘research’” (editorial) spokesmen of our youth produce a prepared statement that has such serious shortcomings in substance and spirit, then their complaint of being cheated and neglected should have been dealt with in a manner somewhat different from that of the editorial. The content and spirit of their effort would suggest that they have cheated themselves by not remembering their youth, and they have neglected their own best interest by not absorbing into their thought and being more of the riches of the Spirit’s wisdom found in God’s Word and our Reformed confession and vision. These riches of the Spirit should above all form om youth and infuse their intellectual life unto effective and responsible leadership in a sorely troubled society. 1t is the failure to see these treasures of the Spirit shining though in this episode that leaves me more than a little troubled. But I too am still hopeful. I believe there are many of our youth who can do a better job.

Rev. Edward Heerema is pastor of the Christian Reformed Church of Bradenton, Florida.