New Wineskins

There can be little doubt that all around the world those who are citizens of Heaven, pilgrims in this world, have a sense of impending change. Whether it is called revival, or an acknowledgement of the apostolic movement or some other movement, or a return to some perceived ideal of an age-gone-by, many are speaking about, and are aware of a spiritual movement that will bring change.

In reality such a mood is birthed by the realisation that things are not as they should be. Injustice, unrighteousness and turmoil abounds. Of great concern is that in places – like the church – where justice and righteousness are expected to be found they are often unacceptably absent.

This produces dissatisfaction in the hearts and minds of many who begin to long for righteousness, justice and peace. Prayer begins, repentance follows and God reveals himself in, what is to us a new way – new to our experience more than new to this earth because God’s absence in the old order is our experience. The fact is that God’s presence is not found in Pharisaic systems or cultic religion, but in spiritual brokenness and repentance.

Societies in general, and specifically world events, are indicative of the slide towards a greater evil and should stand as a warning that the light of the world – the church – is dim. In reality we are at a place where, not only does society reflect the absence of the presence of God, but much that is called Christian fails to display God’s Holy presence. The light is not shining because there is no oil.

Throughout history, when the salt lost its savour, when the light ceased to shine, the Holy Spirit stirred the hearts of men and women to seek God’s face. The outcome was Spirit movement upon the earth to produce awakenings that would bring change.

Wineskins

The message of Jesus concerning wineskins invariably becomes prominent at such times. There is a sense that change is afoot. As the Holy Spirit stirs hearts those hearts sense a wind is moving and change is coming. Not everyone who sees the need for change however, does so from spiritual insight but more often from self awareness and preservation. Such people endeavour to be agents of change for their own sake and for change’s sake.

They begin by identifying problems with the old, and then posit a form that is called “new” and people are encouraged to embrace this change as the ‘new wineskin”. Whether the term wineskins is used or not, many ‘solutions’ to current problems revolve around changing external practices or structures.

Unfortunately, this pursuit of change – rather than the pursuit of Spirit movement – is the vehicle that ensnares so many and drives them into a renewed form of cultic religion. I believe that “seeker-sensitive church”, “purpose-driven church”, “passionate-worship church”, “cell-church”, “emergent church”, “simple church”, and “market-place church” are, in principle, remodelled cultic religion.

Let me qualify what I am saying here: I am not saying that a cell-church or a market-place church is not a part of Spirit movement but that the movements themselves are not. These are nothing more than ways of doing things that, in my opinion, do not even warrant being identified as new wineskins.

The question, “what is a – or the – new wineskin?” though needing to be addressed, should be preceded by a more important question, “What is the content of the new wineskin”? For me this is the issue. If we begin by talking about wineskins we will fall into the trap of external change. External change that is Kingdom change is simply the visible response of an invisible work. This is so in salvation and it is so in transformation, reformation and renewal. External change that is not brought about by Spirit movement is simply human endeavour trying to keep a sinking boat afloat.

Contents of the Wineskin

The content of wineskin is wine. If one puts one’s lips to a wineskin and drinks deeply from it and finds it contains nothing but water, one is going to be disappointed. If one embraces a new wineskin only to find its contents are unsatisfying then they will be disappointed. I believe that much of what has been promoted as new has, over time, proved to be disappointing because it is not a new wine but a repackaged old wine.

To push the boundaries of this metaphor, wine is made from a primary ingredient – grapes. It is processed a particular way and – depending on how the grape has been grown, harvested and fermented – a wine is produced. So, if new wine is to be had, the same process is necessary with the same ingredients, the only difference is the time. New wine is produced now, old wine was produced earlier. So, Spirit movement in each generation could be called new wine and the new generation’s expression of church could be called a new wineskin.

Another aspect to be kept in mind is that the wineskin – the church – lost its freshness within a few centuries of its birth. Since the reformation the church has been continually changing into a new wineskin; a process that has been happening over many centuries.

Every time a revelation has been restored to the church it has been paralleled by religious change that produces a ‘new’ cultic religion to capture the next generation. The god of this age offers cultural relevance and religious appeasement that act as ‘gates of hell’ hindering the advancing Kingdom of God.

Some current expressions of church are largely cultic religion – religion that conforms to the demands of its surrounding culture – and the various forms mentioned earlier can simply be adaptations so that this societal religion will continue to be acceptable to that culture (note for example the modern gospel of relevance).

We are in a place of change, the new wineskin is emerging, but only as a result of the new wine that is flowing. In a nut shell the primary ingredient of this new wine is the same as it has always been, the gospel of Jesus Christ. God chooses the preaching of the word of the cross (1Cor 1:18-25) to be the means through which His grace flows by the Spirit, who imparts faith into the life of the hearer (Eph 2:8); so that they can receive the revelation of God’s righteousness and His wrath (Rom 1:17-18), be empowered to repent (2Cor 7:10) and be baptized for the forgiveness of sin (Act 2:38) so that the gift of the Holy Spirit – God’s abiding presence – can be received.

The New Wineskin

If, as I propose, these various ‘new’ models of church are not new wineskins, what is?

C Peter Wagner has been a strong voice identifying what he calls “the new wineskin of the apostolic movement”. To me this is a good summation of the new wineskin, though I would caution that not everything that calls itself apostolic fits this new wineskin.

A new wineskin should be primarily about God and the gospel rather than about how we do things. The reformation was primarily about the gospel and salvation by grace through faith rather than by works or cultic religion – a new wineskin in its time. The Methodist movement established a new order which to my mind was apostolic in nature and linked to The Great Awakening which was very much about the birth of the evangelistic grace – a new wineskin in its time. The Pentecostal/Charismatic movement was a new wineskin for the acts of the Holy Spirit in the church and the prophetic was about hearing the Word of God.

Each of these I would call new wineskins because they focus on an aspect of the wine of the gospel. If you compare them with current trends which focus on human endeavours rather than the New Wine there is really no comparison. Nor is there any justification to consider them anything other than man’s best efforts to reorder cultic religion. They may have been instrumental in shifting the religious population from one centre of worship to another, but the fundamental change associated with Spirit movement is missing.

For too long we have measured Spirit movement in terms of numbers when it has always been what Jonathan Edwards described as, “a remarkable change of disposition, created in the heart by the Holy Spirit, and showing itself in unselfish love for the things of God and in a burning desire for Christian conduct in other men.”

The new wineskin of the apostolic movement is one of “divine order”. It is foundational for the church as implied in Matt 16:18,19 and stated in Eph 2:20-21. Matthew 16 refers to the apostolic revelation of Jesus as the Christ and Ephesians declares that the people of God are built into God’s household, established on the foundation of apostles and prophets with Jesus as the cornerstone. This is a strong link to our metaphor of wineskins. The wineskin is the building and the wine is the indwelling Spirit of God.

Conclusion

In concluding I want to express my concern with some of the ideas being disseminated concerning wineskins. Too much emphasis is currently being placed on the wineskin and not on the wine.

A person does not need to be a prophet or spiritual or even born again to recognise that something is wrong with the church in its cultic form. To talk of people leaving the church and seeking for new or modified structures so that people will stay or return to a revamped church or transfer to a new structure, is to have minds that remain conformed to the patterns of this world.

No structure or system can satisfy fallen humanity indefinitely. The nature of lust and pride in man is insatiable. It looks a lot like this:

If I am not elevated within a system or structure; if I am not being affirmed or noticed; if my perceived needs are not being met, then there is, in my mind, a problem with that system/structure. So, I will become critical of that system. I may fight for change in that system or move to another system or structure that I hope will offer the affirmation I require.

Many proposed changes today are system/structure based usually involving location change, time/day change and forms of service. Instead of being in a cathedral or a decked-out factory we should be in a home or a bar. Instead of sitting in rows we should sit in a circle. Instead of a pastor we should have a facilitator. Instead of hierarchy we should have democracy. All of which target structural change rather than Spirit movement.

Changing systems/structures will have little impact because that’s not where the problem lies. Interestingly, when the problem is addressed, when the new wine of the Spirit is poured out through the preaching of the word of the cross, the system/structure will change, though probably not as we imagine1.

The New wine and new wineskin is in fact a return to what Jesus prophesied in Matthew 16:18-19:

[My paraphrase]

Upon this foundational rock:

  • the apostles (Eph 2:20) – of whom Peter is representative;
  • the apostolic revelation of Jesus Christ (1Cor 3:11) – which Peter declares and;
  • the actual presence of Jesus in the form of the Holy Spirit (Act 1:8)

I will construct/assemble and build up my company of called out people The Church (Eph 3:9-10); and the gates of hell – the barrier of Satan (Satanic powers of evil) erected in the path of God’s advancing army to close them off from entering into the victories of conquest (Eph 6:12) – will not be superior in strength nor will it be resilient or detrimental to God’s church; it will altogether fail to be a viable force of opposition.

And to you – the apostles – will be given the keys – power, authority and strategies– of the Kingdom of God (Mtt 10:1; 2 Cor 10:1-11).

  • The power, authority and strategies of the kingdom is given to apostles, with the intent that they will lead the army of God into battle
    • to bind – take strongholds by force and bring them into submission (2 Cor 10:5); and
    • to loose – to release people and places from satanic control or bondage (Is 61:1-16, Lk 4:18,19);

And in so doing the strategies and victories that you establish on earth will be acknowledged and honoured and therefore will be deemed to exist as fact in heaven.

If we are to speak of new wine and new wineskins we should start at the beginning and move through to the end. First comes the cornerstone of the word of the cross and the presence of God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ in the Holy Spirit; from Him flows the divine apostolic order which in turn births the new wineskin of the bride of Christ. Finally, the outcome is a victorious movement against the gates of hell bringing down everything that exalts itself against the knowledge of God.

  1. When God changes the hearts of a generation their form of worship reflects that generation. Changing the form to win the heart is doing things mans’ way and will never produce changed lives.

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