My last post, unfortunately, is going to stand at the top of the list for only a few minutes, while I write this one. If you have not seen the post I wrote just minutes before this on Martin Luther’s “new wine,” you should read that one first, then come back to this one.
Frank Viola commented in Pagan Christianity that Martin Luther was ignorant that new wine could not be repackaged in old wineskins. We discussed in the last post whether Martin Luther really had any new wine to put in old wineskins. If the Lutheran church is an old wineskin, as Frank Viola asserts and as I believe as well, then Luther’s gospel is not new wine, because it has not burst the wineskin or been lost in the bursting. Luther’s gospel is still around and still well-contained in the Lutheran church. In fact, it’s been passed merrily around into virtually every other old wineskin in existence.
The real Gospel of Paul, which I spoke about in my last post, is, however, new wine, and it can only be contained in a new wineskin. It will go bursting out of old wineskins in mere moments. Those who embrace it will never thrive in institutional churches. Longing for the will of God, believing truly in Christ and in all Christ commanded them to do, their hearts are filled to overflowing with the love of God, and they must be with other disciples. They experience no satisfaction sitting in a pew on Sunday morning. The first few times may excite them as they listen to discussions of the Scriptures, but eventually they will cry out, “I can’t just sit here! I have to BE with my brothers and sisters!”
One day a week, or even two or three, will never be enough for them. That love, shed abroad in their hearts by the Holy Spirit, will send them pursuing the unity that they are commanded to give all diligence to maintain (Eph. 4:3). Going often into their neighbor’s house, they will soon be a nuisance to any that do not possess the same overflowing love of God in their hearts. Typically in America, such saints soon give up, become disappointed, or are simply cold-shouldered out of the fellowship of those whose sainthood is merely imputed and not imparted.
Friends, know that you can never preach the Gospel of utter commitment to Christ in the old wineskin of institutional churches. House churches are not much better, though they do more easily burst to allow the flow of the new wine. And if house churches manage to gather real saints, the wine may be caught when it bursts even out of house church restraints.
The new wineskin is not a system or method of meeting. The new wineskin can contain a traditional Sunday morning church service as easily as it can contain a house church meeting. It can contain a preaching session as easily as it can contain an all-member participation church meeting. The new wineskin is people, bound together by Christ, having become a true family in Christ, sharing in all things, and they can easily endure a Sunday morning service, because they know they will walk out of it into one another’s arms, one another’s fellowship, and one another’s life.
Have you experienced house churches that become dead or fail? Most of us who had to leave the institutional church have experienced that. Why do so many house churches stop growing? Why do they seem to become as old and stale as the institutional churches we came out of? It is because they are still serving Luther’s old wine! Friends, it’s not just the wineskin that has to change. The wine must change as well. Nothing you found in the old wineskin was new wine! Remember, that old wineskin was unable to contain it!