Monday, June 15, 2009

New Wine

In Matthew 9 Jesus used the "wineskin" illustration to help his hearers understand a very important truth about the gospel.  Put simply, one doesn't put new wine in an old wineskin because the old wineskin can't contain it.  It will very quickly begin to crack and leak.  And the new wine is lost.  Jesus' coming and his message could not be contained by the old "wineskin" of Judaism.   The emphasis on forgiveness and transformation made possible by His death and resurrection were too much for the legalism of the Pharisees.  If the precious "new wine" of the gospel was to be saved, then a new "wineskin" would have to be created.  The church became this new "wineskin."

The principle to be learned from this is the message of the gospel must be packaged in a way that preserves its integrity and makes it relevant to those who hear it.  The packaging "wineskin" can be modified, changed or even replaced, but the "new wine" message of salvation cannot.  In recent years this principle has been freely used to restructure how we "do church." Missionaries who return from the field for itineration are normally surprised and at times shocked by these changes, as the church works hard to find new methods (new wineskins) to connect the message(new wine) with the needs of a rapidly changing society. 

While understanding and application of this truth has given the church strength to move forward in very difficult circumstances, there can still be problems when a good is pushed to an extreme.  In this case there is a danger that method (wineskin) can become message (the new wine).  One example is the lack of "pentecost" in the pentecostal church.   The baptism in the Holy Spirit and the operation of spiritual gifts just doesn't "fit" well with new versions of "doing church."  Many now believe it will offend and confuse people.  Others see it as awkward and embarrassing.  In most pentecostal churches it is still a part of the doctrine, but no longer a part of the practice.  It just doesn't work well in the church services.  Some are now questioning whether the pentecostal experience is important for a relevant "new wineskin" church.  When this happens, the "wineskin" becomes the message and the "new wine" is lost.

It is difficult to maintain a pentecostal emphasis in the midst of a society dominated by science and technology.  But it is not impossible.  Adults and young people in every cultural and in every society continue to crave an authentic experience with the supernatural.  Rather than sacrifice the "new wine," the church must be inspired to create "new wineskins" to keep the power of the Holy Spirit in its ministries and programs.  We strive to do this in El Oasis de Esperanza.  It is not easy.  We are constantly challenged to find new ways of doing this. It is still exciting to see people baptized in the Holy Spirit and flowing in the gifts of the Spirit.  At this point belief and experience join hands to equip the believer for the tremendous challenges of living life victoriously and sharing their faith courageously.