Sunday, June 08, 2008

Church growth - new wine, new wineskins, same vine

At church today our pastor talked about Mark 2 v 18-22. What really spoke to me was the point about wineskins and new clothes.

In Jewish culture it was well known not to put new wine in old wineskins and vice-versa. If new wine was in old wineskins they would ultimately burst and be ruined and the wine would spill everywhere. It was also well known that when mending clothes (and this is still the case) that you don't patch up old clothes with new material because eventually it would tear even more.

The metaphor Jesus uses in this passage implies that we need to change completely and immerse ourselves in Jesus, we need to put off our old clothes and old wineskins if we want to follow Jesus and put new ones on completely, not just patch up old clothes or put Jesus' new wine into our old wineskins. Ultimately, that will just cause us problems and hold us back.

But as Jason said all this I began to see a different application, which is for me fast becoming a reality.

The church needs to put on new wineskins. We have that truth inside of us as a church, but the way we interpret it and live it out is always changing, the practical ways we live out our faith and the ways people learn and respond, the needs of people in society change and culture changes.

The message of Jesus today, the things God is speaking today to today's people are different from what they were. It is new wine.

The vine from which the wine comes is the same - Jesus said He was the true vine, after all - and the essential truth of Jesus message and who He is remains, but the way this message is relevant has changed, the people this message is going out to has changed. The church is the wineskins, and they need to change them.

Division in the church is rife. The church is tearing itself apart. Traditionalists, Evangelicals (with a big 'E') and emerging church leaders are in disagreement on many things. People say this new interpretation of scripture from leaders like Brian McClaren and Rob Bell is heretical, not of God, not of the Bible.

I have read one blog from a man who is near-obsessed with exposing these alleged heretics, and trotting out Bible verses which supposedly support their view, when never once have McClaren or Bell disputed the essential truth that Jesus is the Son of God who died and rose for our sins, and has called us to follow His example and try and live like Him.

That's the essential truth. That's the vine.

The history of the church is littered with people who were radicals for their day coming along and giving a new, more relevant, fresh perspective on Jesus which was controversial for its time. This generally became accepted as the norm.

What the people who label emerging churches fail to see is that a few hundred years ago their interpretation would have been labelled heretical and they would probably have been burnt at the stake.

What this passage and church history seems to be saying to me is that we need to change and evolve as a church, we need to rediscover the best from what was before and add something new or fresh, something still of God, still speaking the truth of Jesus, but bringing a different dimension, an added dimension, to what has come before.

Its the same vine, the same source. New wine, so new wineskins. The church needs to take the lead, not wait 100 years before changing.

In fact, we need to be constantly looking to change, to grow, to take the best of what has been past and add new things, keep putting on new wineskins.

That's the only way the message of Jesus is going to have any relevance to the world we live in and is going to continue to really impact lives, certainly in Western culture.

New wine, new wineskins, the same vine.