Thursday, June 12, 2008

New Wine/New Wineskins

Alas, grading has smothered all my creativity these last 10 days! However, I have emerged to two new writing projects. The first is a paper for an international conference of Baptist theological educators in Prague (- sounds exotic!) I present a paper on "Promoting a Subversive Spirituality: New Wineskins and New Wine in Mission and Evangelism."

I am just getting wound up about it! The title refers to an amazing text in Mark 2:22. Jesus is criticised that his disciples fail to fast like serious spiritual people. But he counters that they are like guests with the bridegroom. Fasting is inappropriate and absurd. Jesus is creating new relationships, forming a new community with new spirituality. And trying to fit this into old methods, old formulae, old forms of spirituality is as ridiculous as pouring new wine into ancient wineskins:
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. (Mark 2:22).

The more I ponder this, the more challenging it becomes. New wine, bubbling, fermenting, calls for new forms. Jesus invites participation with him, the Father, and the Spirit in community, in kingdom, in new living. But every generation who understands and experiences the gospel afresh runs the danger of trying to fit it into old forms that cannot do justice to its freshness! Can you identify old wineskins in the way we do and think church that owe more to human entropy than to divine energy?

Its a huge topic, especially when you focus on mission and evangelism! As always, I welcome your prayers and input on my journey. What do you think?

3 comments:

Jonathan Dodson said...

What is the second writing project? Yes, it is a good text to ground missional thought.

Hope all is well!

rbirkey said...

Michael,

This topic is of special interest to me. It reminds me of a time in my life, when I was a younger man in the late 1960's and early 70's, in a suburban Chicago church struggling with what this very passage and principle meant for us at that time.

You may be aware of a book on this topic called: "The Problem of Wine Skins" - Church Structure in a Technological Age - by Dr. Howard A. Snyder.

We found this book to be very helpful and informative. It helped us as a church push out into experimenting with new forms of church structure and ministry. I personally benefited greatly from that time in my church experience.

Today, I feel that this topic is even more important than it was in the 70's. Society and culture were definitely changing in the 70's, but we are now clearly living in a post-modern, and post-christian era. The church MUST change or become completely irrelevant to the culture and world we live in. We need to be willing to shed the old wine skins to make room for the new wine of God's Spirit and what He wants to do in our world.

We must be willing to put everything but the Gospel on the table as it were, and say to the Lord, the Head of the church... "What stays, and what goes?"

If we do not, the new wine of the Spirit will burst the old wine skins.Perhaps that is what really needs to happen anyway!

I can think of a number of old wine skins that I think must go:
- The church as a building
- The concept of a "Senior Pastor" and the pedestal complex that comes with it
- The minimalization and almost complete ignoring of the Person and role of the Holy Spirit
- The Gospel as being just a ticket to Heaven. What about Sanctification?
- Modeling our church organizational structures on western corporate business models
- Anything that permits the Christian life to be understood in such a way that it is indistinguishable from the prevailing culture around it.

I am sure I can think of many more!

wsuriano said...

Randy:

It would be great if you could flesh out some of your thoughts, especially the "church as a buidling." I gather from your comment that you don't have a problem with the church meeting in a building for worship, etc., but that the church cannot think of itself as truly fulfilling its mission is that's all it does. The church must be an integral part of the community as well, reaching out to all parts of it all the time. We don't satisfy our church mission simply by telling people, for example, that they should join us for our Sunday service. We minister to those people in their homes, in their places of work, indeed, in their lives. We love them into the Kingdom by reaching out to them, not by waiting for them to reach out to us.

Great stuff here, Randy.