The Need of New Wine and New Wineskins
Mark 2:21-23 reads:
21 “No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. If he does, the new piece will pull away from the old, making the tear worse. 22 And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, he pours new wine into new wineskins.”
Let me suggest that this new and changing world we now live in demands new wineskins. It will not be good enough simply to pour the new wine of the Gospel into the old wineskins. The radical nature of postmodernity compels us to re-examine the radical nature of the New Testament. And the more we wrestle with both the Scriptures and our culture, we realise we need new wineskins for every new culture we are called to engage.
Jesus warned against trying to re-use the old wineskins. We face three choices:
• Maintain the modern church – ‘The old is good enough’
• Change the Modern Church – ‘Pour new wine into old wineskins’
• Start radically new churches – ‘New wineskins’
For the church to recover her missional integrity in any culture will require nothing less than a radical transformation resulting in new wineskin churches.
Through our journey, we have come to realise that the way of Jesus is the wineskin. In him, we experience new wine and new wineskins. Jesus is the way to life and he is the way of life. He never wrote a book, nor built a building, nor initiated an institution, but he did gather a new community of believers, lived with them, and commissioned them to carry on his mission in the same way (cf. John 13-17; 20:21-23). The greatest challenge facing the church in the post-everything world is to rediscover what it means to live the way of Jesus in community (ekklesia) and on mission (apostolos) in the world. Jesus is not modern. Jesus is not postmodern. And his body (the church) is neither modern nor postmodern; neither Eastern nor Western. His community is a way of life that must be radically contextualise and translated into any and every culture.
The new focus of church must be on discipling God’s people to become faithful followers of Jesus without having to become “modern” Christians or be initiated into modern religious institutions. Postmodernity calls the church to undergo a systemic paradigm shift that goes to the root of ecclesiology—one that questions all the assumptions of the Christendom model.
In Acts 15:19, James said,
“It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.”
In the same way, we should not make it difficult for postmoderns (or any other group) who are turning to God. What is needed is not patched up wineskins, but the new wineskins to hold a radically contextualised Gospel. We need to be open to the work of the Holy Spirit in creating new church and mission structures that can carry the life-changing truth of the Gospel into the new and changing world of twenty-first century Australia. To do this effectively, we must form missional communities in the same way that Jesus established the missional community of the twelve. Jesus never intended us to engage in mission alone and in isolation from other members of his body. Such communities must enter and engage the many cultures and subcultures of Australian society in a culturally sensitive and appropriate fashion in much the same way as missionaries entered traditional cultures in Africa or New Papua Guinea. They must lay aside the religious language of the church and learn the language of the people to whom they minister. They must adapt to the new culture and yet bring the transforming power of the gospel into contact with that culture.
The aim must be to establish new believing communities that are culturally appropriate and not simply clones of the churches that we come from. Such communities may look and feel odd because they fit the new culture and not the old church culture with which we feel so comfortable, but that is to be expected. In adventuring with God in this way we must above all commit ourselves as the people of God to the God who is eternal, unchanging and yet not taken by surprise at the emerging context in which we find ourselves at the beginning of the twenty-first century. We must also trust God to lead and to guide us in the task of fashioning new wineskins suitable for the emerging post-Christendom, post-denominational and post-institutional society in which we now live.