New Wine And Old Skins

Here’s an interesting article, reprinted below, on how people will stick to what they believe or think even in the face of contrary facts or circumstances. As I’ve watched people react to challenges and controversies Something Newover the last couple of months, and to God bursting old wine skins as he brings forth new wine, I can believe it!

Isaiah 9:6-8 tells us that God’s Kingdom, from the incarnation onward, has been and will continue to be ever advancing. As such, God is constantly fermenting new wine — and providing new wine skins to contain it — as his progressive plan of redemption moves forward from one spiritual generation to each successive spiritual generation (which can include individuals of all ages!). God’s active and ever expanding intervention in history is clear, and his tendency to discard the old while bringing in the new is repeatedly seen in Scripture.

Yet it never failed to fascinate me, as a graduate student in church history back in the 1970s, to see how — time and time again — most Christians reject God’s new wine of new anointing for new generations. Instead, they choose to stick with their old wine and old wine skins.

This shouldn’t be a surprise. As Jesus explained:

No one puts new wine into old wine skins; or else the new wine will burst the wine skins and be spilled, and the wine skins will be ruined. But new wine must be put into new wine skins, and both are preserved. And no one, having drunk old wine, immediately desires new; for he says, “The old is better.” (Luke 5:37-39)

History teaches and Scripture shows that it is the entrenched leaders — with a strong self-interest in preserving the old wine skins — who resist new wine the most. They know that the old wine skins of their often fossilized, anemic and introspective but “safe” churches (or alternatively their voraciously large infrastructures that need continual feeding as they, in turn, are consumed with sustaining their finely tuned and well-programmed “ministries,” with them at the apex) have become rigid and inflexible and can’t contain dynamic new wine. But they are trapped, because the old wine skins that ensnare them have also become their source of validation, prestige and income.

In contrast, they also know that new wine is bubbling, fermenting and evolving new flavors that they can’t anticipate or control. Having become all-to-often fat, dumb and lazy drinking from their old wine skins, they will fight to “protect” their churches and their positions from that new wine.

Those entrenched leaders once may have been good shepherds and been part of the new wine given to their own generation, Oppositionbut over the years they drifted into an attitude of entitlement and are now more interested in protecting their self-serving positions of income and pride. To do this, history shows, they almost always resort to the same ploy: Appeal to the human tendency within their congregations to want to keep things the same, appeal to our desire to protect the comfort zone of the familiar, and appeal to personal loyalty over the challenge of change. This allows them to get away with outright lies and deceptions as they don their best “pastor faces” and tout self-serving but soothing words of comfort and security. And they are very good at it.

Throughout church history, self-serving leaders nearly always try to silence — sometimes even by death, if they have succeeded in gaining that power also — those who dare bring new wine to a new generation. Although they will succeed for a season, history also teaches that they ultimately can’t stop the advance of God’s Kingdom. Eventually, the old wine runs out and the old wine skins crack and crumble, and they are left presiding over the ruins of the past.

As the article I’ve reprinted below shows, I guess this is all just human nature. Fortunately, God is sovereign even over our ingrained tendencies to avoid change or unpleasant facts, and our susceptibility to being misled by the allure of the status quo by entrenched leaders who are protecting their own self interests.

In our age, God is changing direction as the old wine looses it’s flavor with this new generation. His new wine is challenging the “church”, as we have made and known it, and he is beginning to restore his intent that we “be the church” rather than “go to church”. As such, he is shaking things up and calling folks out of the comfort zones of their structured, programmed, ruler-focused churches.

God is beginning to create pockets of individual hospitality and real, ongoing fellowship where we minister one to another, rather than “going to church” to “receive” ministry from some special people on Sunday mornings. He is pronouncing the end to podium-focused, scripted ministry that’s delivered to us from the front of the “church”, where we “fellowship” for an hour each week (or, if we are in a really good church, maybe two hours!) with the backs of the heads (including, of course, an occasional hand shake and maybe even a hug when the pastor tells us we’ve gotten to the time in the service for folks to greet each other!) of those sitting in the pews in front of us (or, if we are a “spirit-led” church, the movable seats in front of us!).

God is morphing his true church into authentic but messy, and Godly but diversecommunities of believers. And he is restoring  leadership that is enabling, rather than controlling or self-interested, and that serves rather than fleeces. After all, Eph. 4 says that the primary job of pastors and teachers and other church leaders is to equip God’s people to do works of ministry — rather than being the ones who do all of the ministry themselves.

I Cor. 14 admonishes that we all — each and every one of us — should come together with a song, a teaching, a revelation of what God is saying to us, and our other spiritual gifts so that we can minister to each other. In otherwords, we are the church! There is no place in the New Testament that even hints at “going to church”, as opposed to “being the church”, or that supports the expectation that some special class of Christians are to perform or even direct most of the ministry that God wants to see take place among us.

This is not theoretical for me. Lately, I’ve dramatically shifted the focus of my ministry in the local jail. Before, I was the “teacher” who delivered to the men “God’s Word for the Day”. Don’t get me wrong, it was good stuff and during that season it was powerful and brought forth much fruit. But several months ago I started sensing that we were entering a new season for a new generation and that God was looking to do things differently.

God’s new wine, I felt, was for me to begin training and equipping the men to “be the church” in the jail, rather than having them come to some special room to hear or watch me and others conduct church services once a week. So that’s what I’ve been doing. New wine is springing froth as the men learn they are the church and are called to minister one to another, rather than waiting for ministry from some professional “leader”.

Every night, they have dinner together (as able) where they fellowship and celebrate, while sharing food, what God is doing in their lives. Following the meal, they transition into ministering to each other with a song, a teaching, a revelation, a prayer, and various other gifts that God is birthing in each of them individually for the building up of Christ among them collectively. Other “not yet” Christians are being drawn to God in their midst, and daily men are being saved. I still meet with them on Sunday, but now my job is not to minister, but to simply equip them to minister. Because this is God’s anointing for this season, I don’t have to urge or push or struggle to bring them forth in ministry — rather, they are running forward and the testimonies of how God is moving among them are amazing.

On Monday, I was with a group of men in the jail and one of them pulled me aside afterwards. He had just learned that is wife had suffered a heart attack and a stroke, and might not live. Normally, I would try to do the proper “pastor” things to comfort him, and I did share some things that were helpful. But more importantly, I urged him to go to the other men in his dorm who were meeting together and “being the church”, and to share his grief and worries and needs with them so that they could come beside him and minister to him. That’s what he did — and I’ve heard that there’s powerful ministry coming forth from those men within the jail (rather than from the outside) to pray, and encourage, and comfort, and just generally love and stand with him.  That’s the church!

Trying to get the leadership of my former church involved in helping to provide new wine skins for this new wine proved nearly impossible. They dragged their feet for month after month on some very simply things that they first said they’d do, then they said they wouldn’t do, then they said maybe they would do it after all, but then again maybe not, etc., etc. — like providing simple “ministry” credentials and some liability protection that would have allowed others to go into the jail and join with me in equipping those men and also begin equipping some women inmates. What was needed was not much and likely would have cost no money, but the entrenched leadership had no heart for it and felt threatened by it because they just didn’t “get it”.

The Kingdom of God nonetheless advances, despite such momentary setbacks.

New wine is always challenging because it requires new wine skins. But that’s OK, because I want to be where God is fermenting and bubbling and evolving new flavors for a new generation. His Kingdom is continually advancing through history, and I chose his Kingdom over old skins!

For those with a willing heart, God’s able exchange our wrinkled, rigid old wine skins for new skins so we can participate in the wonder and joy of his new wine for this new generation.

(c) Copyright 2009, Fulcrum Ministries. All Rights Reserved.

See my follow up blog, New Wine Sucks, if you want more thoughts on this topic.

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People Sometimes Seek the Truth, but Most Prefer Like-Minded Views

July 1st, 2009

We swim in a sea of information, but filter out most of what we see and hear. A new analysis of data from dozens of studies sheds new light on how we choose what we do and do not hear. The study found that while people tend to avoid information that contradicts what they already think or believe, certain factors can cause them to seek out, or at least consider, other points of view.

The analysis, reported this month in Psychological Bulletin, published by the American Psychological Association, was led by researchers at the University of Illinois and the University of Florida, and included data from 91 studies involving nearly 8,000 participants. It puts to rest a longstanding debate over whether people actively avoid information that contradicts what they believe, or whether they are simply exposed more often to ideas that conform to their own because they tend to be surrounded by like-minded people.

“We wanted to see exactly across the board to what extent people are willing to seek out the truth versus just stay comfortable with what they know,” said University of Illinois psychology professor Dolores Albarracín, who led the study with University of Florida researcher William Hart. The team also included researchers from Northwestern University and Ohio University.

The studies they reviewed generally asked participants about their views on a given topic and then allowed them to choose whether they wanted to view or read information supporting their own or an opposing point of view.

The researchers found that people are about twice as likely to select information that supports their own point of view (67 percent) as to consider an opposing idea (33 percent). Certain individuals, those with close-minded personalities, are even more reluctant to expose themselves to differing perspectives, Albarracín said. They will opt for the information that corresponds to their views nearly 75 percent of the time.

The researchers also found, not surprisingly, that people are more resistant to new points of view when their own ideas are associated with political, religious or ethical values.

“If you are really committed to your own attitude – for example, if you are a very committed Democrat – you are more likely to seek congenial information, that is, information that corresponds with your views,” Albarracín said. “If the issues concern moral values or politics, about 70 percent of the time you will choose congenial information, versus about 60 percent of the time if the issues are not related to values.”

Perhaps more surprisingly, people who have little confidence in their own beliefs are less likely to expose themselves to contrary views than people who are very confident in their own ideas, Albarracín said.

Certain factors can also induce people to seek out opposing points of view, she said. Those who may have to publicly defend their ideas, such as politicians, for example, are more motivated to learn about the views of those who oppose them. In the process, she said, they sometimes find that their own ideas evolve.

People are also more likely to expose themselves to opposing ideas when it is useful to them in some way, Albarracín said.

“If you’re going to buy a house and you really like the house, you’re still going to have it inspected,” she said. Similarly, no matter how much you like your surgeon, you may seek out a second opinion before scheduling a major operation, she said.

“For the most part it seems that people tend to stay with their own beliefs and attitudes because changing those might prevent them from living the lives they’re living,” Albarracín said. “But it’s good news that one out of three times, or close to that, they are willing to seek out the other side.”

More information: “Feeling Validated Versus Being Correct: A Meta-Analysis of Selective Exposure to Information” appears in volume 135, No. 4 of Psychological Bulletin. The co-authors: Albarracin; Hart, Inge Brechan and Lisa Merrill, of the University of Florida; Alice H. Eagly, of Northwestern University; and Matthew J. Lindberg, of Ohio University.

Source: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

One response

  1. I do agree that the Church today is not succeeding in our mission for the Kingdom. It has mostly become about programs and meeting people’s felt needs. Mature Christians are starving for more depth instead of the ususal pablum that is served week after week and we are not making obedient disciples of new Christians. While the seeker friendly emergent Church emphasizes deeds, they are failing to teach orthodox Christian doctrine. There really is no growth in the American Church. Some churches are growing, but not through new converts, but rather through church transfers of the already converted. The structure of the American and Western Church is pretty much based on a corporate model with a hiearchy of leadership. The congregation pretty much is passive. Many pastors suffer from depression and feel inadequately equipped, but this is their vocation and they lack training and experience in anything else. The Church does a pretty good job within its walls, but is ineffective in the community for the most part. Now there are individuals and para church ministries that are dependent upon volunters that are really ministering the grace and love of Christ and being the Church. Yet, the churches themselves are for the most part not organized to go out.
    I don’t know what the answer is; maybe in home churches. There is resistance to this move being that professional ministry has become a vocation and livlihood. Also, I am concerned about the Word being exegeted correctly and sound orthodox doctrine being taught. And I am also concerned about accountablilty (that’s why I prefer to not be in a non-denominational churches which are often centered around a charasmatic leader who is no accountable to anyone outside his congregation). The EPC which I am about to join requires all senior pastors to have an M-Div. from an accredited University or Seminary.

    These are just some thoughts. I don’t know the answer, but do know that the Church must always be about having orthodoxy (correct glory or doctrine), orthopathy (correct motives or affections), and orthopraxy (correct practice); all three aspects need to line up with the Word of God and the Church must always be in a state of reformation.


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