“So he answered and said, ‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and will all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.’” Luke 10:27

Congregations have always been called upon to make distinctions between themselves and others. They will form fellowships with churches of like faith and practice but when differences arise those same congregations will often have to take a stand and separate from former fellowships. This has been the way of local churches since error first crept into the first century church.

Historically, distinctions were over defense of the truth, at least on the surface. Bible preaching churches have been the same in behavior, sense of mission, and traditions with a few denominational distinctions sprinkled in for flavor. Within my lifetime, this general “sameness” has eroded while following the cultural drift and generational foment that began when I was a child. No longer does a common doctrinal statement guarantee that a person will feel “at home” in a given congregational worship. What happened? It is not God who has changed, nor His Word. What is left is that there is an imbalance in our culture that has led to an imbalance in our churches.

What seems to have happened is a division between “traditional” and “contemporary” church, somewhat illustrative of the summation of godliness found in Luke 10. The two great components of the Law are described. A godly man will love the Lord with everything he has and is. The natural outworking of such an all-consuming love for God is that he will love his neighbor as himself. This truth is trans-dispensational. The Old Testament contains the Ten Commandments, of which the first five detail commands related to loving God and the second five relate to loving my neighbor.

Divisions among churches are always praiseworthy when the steps of separation are taken for the sake of the clarity of Scripture (2 Corinthians 6:14; 2 Thessalonians 3:6). However, my suspicion is that many reasons for divisions and distinctions among congregations today are driven by something less worthy. The distinctions may be driven by strong personalities, as was found among some fundamental Baptists of the twentieth century. The party spirit of 1 Corinthians 1 was alive and well in the form of notable pulpiteers and their devotees.

Distinctions have been far more subtle events since the days leading into the twenty-first century. What was the sixties mantra of “don’t trust anyone over thirty years old” has now become a deep cultural divide between old style “corporate” thinking and new style “experiential” feeling. My father’s “Greatest Generation” was known for its corporate thinking. Now, my children’s generation is looking for a sense of fulfillment in something that moves them. If you will allow me the liberty, I see the distinction between the two as a distinction created by personal imbalance in observing the principles laid out in Luke 10:27.

God identifies local churches as His body. Up until today, churches have always been multi-generational. Now churches are being formed with specific demographics in mind. What happened to the idea of using God’s model and fighting the culture by educating the people?

For the older, “Steady Eddie” generation of Christians, a key principle would be found in James 4:17, “Therefore, to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin.” Their concept of Christianity easily lends itself to structure, they are the “keepers of the flame,” they value long-term thinking, they join a local church and develop church identity, they are regular attenders and regular givers. They plug into responsibilities and are not reticent to be an officer that has visible expectations and responsibilities in order to be an example for others. They come to church even when it isn’t “fun.”

If they are not careful, their “keeper of the flame” thinking can become “keeper of the watch.” They can quickly substitute a program for spirituality. Their balance is tilted to loving God with a deficit in loving their neighbor.

The rising generation of Christians is interested in other priorities. They tend to give to causes rather than tithing. They plug into group identities more than to church membership. They want to make a difference though they do not embrace the whole truth of God. A key principle for their generation is found in 1 John 3:10: “In this the children of God and the children of the devil are manifest: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is he who does not love his brother.” Theirs is a constantly changing world of gadgety electronics, connectivity, and fear of obsoletism. Their thinking emphasizes the short-term, yet they are people-focused rather than program-focused.

The rising generation is to be commended in their constant striving for new ministries and willingness to step out on new ground. They may not always know how to do the job right, but they are great at identifying ways to connect with people, and the need for discipleship. Where they must be extremely careful is in offhandedly devaluing truth that was discovered by their forebears in the faith. Without the personal discipline of structure in loving God, their love for their neighbors will be ineffectual in the long run, and perhaps for eternity.

Our generations have much to learn from one another. Fleshly imbalance and chronological distinctions are superficial to a church’s mission. Our values must include precision if we are to love God and include heart if we are to love our neighbor. Trust and obey.