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Friday, November 4, 2011

New Wineskins; New Wine

Has the Spirit stopped doing new things in our churches? I think not. While I am not that creative, nor am I considered by anyone to be "cutting edge" I realize that there are many new things going on within churches which brings a new life.

Many years ago "contemporary" worship appeared. Many churches had serious problems with it. These were traditional churches whose members were ready to demonize the new forms of worship. So many churches fought the battles of this "new wine in old wineskins." It seems that the familiar is always best is universal throughout time.

I personally remember hearing people say that they would never own an answering machine or a cell phone. Those people supposed that their resistence to the new would stop the technological progress. It didn't and many of them own answering machines and cell phones.

I personally have a hard time with facebook and twitter. I haven't gotten the hang of them yet. There are some things that some people are saying that I just don't want to know. That doesn't mean that this means of communication is invalid. It is merely a personal preference.

Churches which miss the understanding of these parables of patches on old garments and new wine in old wineskins are destined to struggle, at best, or die, at worst. They will try to live in the new world around them while patching their holes with the new members who will not fit into their church.

Many churches die because the neighborhood around them changes while the churches remain the same. The members shut their doors and say that everyone is welcome who resembles those who are already in the building. Visitors come but they don't stay. Some leave because they know that they must become like these people who are already members of the church. Others leave because they know that they are not really welcome.

Yes, I have often heard the stories of people in other countries who stand for hours to worship. I am told that these people would be grateful to worship with our oldest hymns and most stoic of traditions. I have no doubt that this is true. I also know that I am not in those countries and imposing that standard on the people to whom I am reaching is like trying to use unshrunk cloth to patch and old garment.

Jesus statement, of course, dealt with the fact that the change He was bringing was not like the old Judaism that had existed for thousands of years. He was bringing something new that would have to be dealt with as something new. He continues to bring new things which must be dealt with in new ways. His commission to make disciples has never changed but the methods to do so certainly have. The methods of worship and reaching people will bring newness which must be met with adoption rather than resistence. It should not be demonized as evil but as birthing new life into the believers and His church.

Recently, I heard someone say, "The old ways are best." I didn't ask whether he liked washing his clothes on a washboard or riding his mule to work. I didn't ask if he used the same old roads he always used or got on the freeway to travel. I didn't even ask if he still used a hand saw instead of a power saw. I just smiled.

Matthew 9:16-17 (NIV) 16 "No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch will pull away from the garment, making the tear worse. 17 Neither do men pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst, the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved."


Anthony Chia said...

If we just look at the history of God’s people, the Israelites, we will find that circumstances changed, surrounding changed, methods, and ways of doing things changed, but it was NOT necessarily that God would NOT be present or was NOT around the people. On the contrary, as the number of God’s people increased over time, many things had to change, and they did change, without God indicating that it was NOT alright. This we should be clear: It is NOT alright only if it contradicts or goes against the Word, or the overall counsel of the Word. This may sound so simple, yet so many of us, in leadership just ignore it, or substitute it with “what is NOT generally agreeable to me is NOT alright”.

You don’t eat “char kway teow” does NOT mean that it is wrong for us to eat that noodle, made from rice. If you insist we do NOT eat char kway teow when we are at the same table, don’t anyhow say it is NOT in keeping with the Word. You may indicate your preference, but it got nothing to do with the Word; we may just defer to your preference, but it is just we are honoring you, or we are engaging in the spirit of “give and take”, for the sake of unity and harmony. These are the guiding principles: One,”If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” (Rom 12:18). Two, “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” (Eph 4:3). Three, 1 How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity! 2 It is like precious oil poured on the head, running down on the beard, running down on Aaron’s beard, down upon the collar of his robes. 3 It is as if the dew of Hermon were falling on Mount Zion. For there the LORD bestows his blessing, even life forevermore. (Ps 133).

Just that I be a little complete, let me cite a development or two, from the Old Testament: place of worship or offering, used to be much simpler, a stone altar (like those made by Abraham, Noah, etc), then it became more elaborate with altar within tabernacle (like those of tabernacle of Moses and David{David’s one was without burning altar}), and then it got even bigger, as temples (like those of the Temple in Jerusalem); and even the tabernacle of Moses and David were different, but both were acceptable by God. What is important is that what is adopted must NOT irk God; rather it should be met with God’s approval. The point should also be that, God has NOT intended Man to stagnate in the “primitive” with no (technological) progress. Just because there were no electric guitars then, does NOT necessarily means that we cannot have electric guitars in our church. If it were so, why, there was no electricity in those days of Abraham, how? Should we also worship God in the dark or use only natural light? Of course, NOT.

What if my church pastor insisted there shall be no musical instruments to be used, that we are to sing “naked” – without musical accompaniment; must I go along with it? Well, he might NOT be old, but he sure came with an old wineskin; well if you want to stay in the church, yes! The reasons are as given above: unity and harmony in the body is a must if it is to function as a body, if we want the blessing for that body, and even life forevermore. Also, that church cannot begin to be effective for the Lord if it is divided against itself – “…: Any kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and a house divided against itself will fall.” (Luke 11:17b).

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Anthony Chia said...

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But I want the music, what can I do? The old wineskin, we are unable to turn it into a new wineskin, but the Lord can! If it is an old wineskin, no matter how hard we persuade it, it is NOT we are good at it, that we can change an old wineskin into a new one; no, it is always the work of the Lord. So, you are to pray, and work with the Lord on this.

Can I go against the pastor? No, you cannot; you cannot bring your own guitar and play, oblivious to the pastor’s objection. He is the shepherd (well, under-shepherd), you are the sheep. You are his charge and he is responsible for you, and accountable to the Lord. Can I leave the flock, to go to another church, where musical instruments are allowed? You want to leave your shepherd; you got to pray to the Lord about it. You can change church (you got to pray about it), but always remember, “rolling stone gathers no moss”; it is NOT advisable to keep changing churches just because they do NOT, each caters to ALL your requirements.

The above is using musical instrument as a simple illustration, but the concept is the same with other things, like exercise of spiritual gifts and so on. You must seek the Lord in prayer; I continue to emphasise that. But generally, do NOT be too hasty to change church. Often times, we “worry” too much for the pastor, instead of just concentrating on doing our part! The pastor, being the under-shepherd, is accountable directly to the Lord; let him answer for his own stubbornness, if any, to the Lord, you don’t “worry” so much for him. Yes, we do pray for the overall well-being of the local body, the church, we function in, and we also pray for our part that we are functioning in. If you feel you are NOT able to discharge your role effectively, of course, you have a stronger case before the Lord, and you have to bring it before the Lord. Perseverance and longsuffering is always the key area we are all lacking, and so, I always suggest to give such matter time and time again.

Of course, we must return to the issue of new wine cannot be held by old wineskin (this is a factual, practical day to day understanding in those days and in that part of the world, using animal hide wineskins). But we must understand that it is also a parabolic saying, meaning it is NOT that we are in every aspect, an old wineskin when we are likened to one. It is NOT like it is saying we are old, as in physical age. I said that the Lord can change an old wineskin into a new one; but sorry, the Lord does NOT wind back the clock for any man, so that he comes out younger in age; there is just NO such thing. The Lord can literally give a brand new physical heart, but that is NOT the same. Being referred to as old wineskin is actually referring to our reasoning (or mind or heart of the soul; and of course, NOT the physical heart). Now, that is quite possible to be renewed, by the Lord; but you still look old (sorry about that!).

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Anthony Chia said...

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Can God do a new thing with an old man? How old is old? Abraham was really old when God gave him Isaac. Moses, was not 40 years old (the prime time, or at least according to him, when he thought he could take the world, so to speak, and he went and interfered with quarrelling between the Jews), but 80, when God called him to serve Him in getting the Israelites out of Egypt, when he was resigned to merely shepherding in desert. Well, Moses took some persuading before he went, but he was “defeated” by the LORD. This reminds me of how I witnessed my Senior Pastor, just a couple of years before his retirement (and so, he was old in age!), was publicly “defeated” by the Lord with “holy laughter” on the pulpit before hundreds of people, including guests. That incident, I strongly believed transformed my Senior Pastor in a most significant way. Can new wine be held in old wineskin? No, but old wineskin can be made new by the Lord.

Are you turning into an old wineskin? Are you saying I have to adapt to the ways of the world? No, I did NOT say that; what I am saying is that without going against the specific commands of the Word or the overall counsel of the Word, stay relevant for the purposes you are to fulfill for your life and for your church. Bearing in mind we are NOT to go against the Word, the Parable of the Wedding Banquet (Matt 22:1-14) showed the spirit of the matter: notice that the King knew what He had in mind, and He tweaked His plan accordingly, in real-time; and servants under the King must likewise, be prepared to do whatever was required by the King to meet what was on the King’s mind. You cannot insist that as servants, you only want to go to those with greeting cards previously sent out, by post. Hello, e-cards is in use, many don’t do even use cards, just email, or even SMS; get going, just get the OK from the King. Unless the Lord wills your local church to close, if your members are dwindling down to nothing, it is likely you are NOT letting the Lord renew your wineskin.

Of course, we do need to recognize that we may be getting old, and even with renewal of our wineskin, still a time will come when we have to pass the baton onto a younger leader. The greying church must do 3 things: One, the leadership and congregation must be prepared to have their wineskins renewed, and two, leadership succession must nevertheless be considered, and three, younger members must be roped into the church. Renewal of old wineskins is one thing, still ways must be considered for attracting and retaining younger people in the church so that continuity of the body will NOT be cast into doubt. Do NOT wait until it is too late; the smaller the congregation, the earlier, this matter must be looked into.