New Wine Sucks

As God brings forth new wine in a new generation, there’s a fundamental dynamic that can’t be ignored. To put it bluntly, new wine sucks!

In my younger days, I was an amateur wine maker. So I know what Jesus means when he says, “no one, having drunk old wine, immediately desires new; for he says, ‘The old is better.'” (Luke 5:39)

Old wine is mature and settled, having aged into mellow but nonetheless complex flavors. It is comforting and tastes good.

New wine, as sugar is turned into alcohol through fermentation, is cloudy with yeast and metabolic wastes. It off-gasses carbon dioxide. It is raw, definitely not clear, has a yeasty taste and aroma, and it is anything but subtle. It tastes bad — very bad!

So that’s the challenge, isn’t it? Those who have drunk deep of the old wine of God’s prior anointing for a passing generation are often quick to highlight the yuck factors — of which there will be many — in any new anointing for a rising generation. (By “generation”, I’m not necessarily referring to chronological age. Rather, I mean successive spiritual generations that come and go like seasons as God progressively advances his Kingdom. They can include individuals of all ages.)

Even if some in the passing generation are bold enough to actually try the new wine of a rising generation, they typically react with confusion or disgust because it doesn’t taste right to them.

Few who have tasted old wine will be able to endure the raw, messy process of the new wine’s off-gassing and cloudy fermentation. Nor will they enjoy the post-fermentation stage when things have calmed down and the dregs are settling out, but the wine’s subtle and unique flavors have yet to develop.

Bridge of TruthMost in the rising generation are attracted to new wine because they have never experienced the old. They can approach it without bias and drink freely without nostalgia. They don’t know that it’s raw or messy. They simply are thirsty for God, and they want what God is doing.

So what is the new wine for this rising generation? I don’t know because it’s still fermenting and bubbling and hasn’t fully acquired its own flavors. Yet as I minister to this new generation, I’m seeing new life and God’s anointing as we get away from podium oriented “church” and start being the church by everyone ministering one to another according to Acts 2:42 and 1 Cor. 14:26 (see my prior blog on New Wine and Old Skins). Certainly, however, that isn’t the whole picture and I sense that God is going to be doing much, much more — and that’s exciting!

Among the rising generation, a brave few have tried sipping some of the old wine but simply don’t like it. It is too subtle, settled and staid. They want the dynamic excitement of fermenting wine and regale in the joy of God bubbling forth and developing new flavors.

Here’s the danger, however:  Many leaders in the passing generation will innocently but naively seek to incorporate the new into old wine skins because they simply don’t know any better, while others will see an opportunity to attract new members and support for their plateaued or even declining churches and existing ministry infrastructures. Some leaders within the rising generation will seek to lead others into the refuge of old wine skins because they’ve grown weary of the challenges of God’s new move, or are tempted by old-wine leadership opportunities that open up in old-wine churches as the passing generation dwindles away.

All of those responses, unfortunately, involve trying to put new wine into old wine skins by those who are attracted to the better tasting (at least to them), stable, settled old wine or the familiarity of old wine skins. They think they can transform new wine into nostalgic old wine, or conversely preserve the old wine skins, if they can only get the new wine into those old wine skins.  When this inevitably doesn’t work (as Jesus says, you can’t put new wine in old skins without bursting those skins, while consequently also losing the new wine as it spills out), some pastors and ministries will try to force things by claiming that the new wine needs to nonetheless conform to the mature “covering” of their old-wine leadership.

In my experience, the ploy of being a “covering” is a myth touted out by failing leaders trying to hold onto, or expand, their self-interested positions and prestige. For example, during the old-wine outpouring of the charismatic movement, I saw “covering” used time and again as a way for insecure men to suppress gifted women who simply wanted to minister as God gave them the grace to do so. (No matter what someone may think about elders needing to be men, there are no scriptural grounds for denying women the right — beyond fulfilling the office of an elder — to fully engage in ministry using the gifts God gives his people.) Covering, in that context and in so many others, is a concept that is often used to justify control and abuse.

Even if you believe that the concept of spiritual “covering” by church leaders is valid, those who are truly leading as opposed to controlling don’t need to resort to such arguments.

“Covering” has come to mean many things and is seldom defined by those who seek to impose it. To the extent it means “control” or “ruling” over an individual believer, or some leader being an intermediary between God and man, it violates the Biblical admonition that each believer stands fully before God as part of Christ’s royal priesthood. The challenge for such leaders is to produce any New Testament verse which says they are the “covering” of another brother. Simply put, there are none.

There are various jurisdictions, for sure, that are ordained by God and must function with proper leadership under defined areas of responsibility. One such jurisdiction is the church, along with the separate jurisdictions of self government, civil government, family and the like. Authentic New Testament church leadership understands this, along with the foundational doctrine of the priesthood of all believers under Christ. They know that their jurisdiction is limited solely to the church and that their role is to engage, equip, bring forth and joyfully release each believer into his or her God-given calling — rather than “covering” and controlling God’s people.

This myth of “covering”, history shows, is one of the biggest temptations for any new move of God. Do we let old-wine peddlers entice us with their dried-out, rigid and often leaking wine skins simply because they can’t adapt to God’s new wine? Or do we press forward with God’s new wine, which initially is messy and tastes bad, but comes with fresh, flexible wine skins and appropriate leadership that can see, hear and embrace God’s new move as they value his Kingdom over settled comfort, position and pride?

Money or Life?I plead with this new generation to be wise. Many old-wine “pastors,” “teachers”, and self-appointed “spiritual” muckity mucks — to mix my metaphors — morph over time into wolves in sheeps’ clothing. It’s not that they have evil intentions, but their once-pure motives when they were bringing forth new wine to their generation are now colored by their accumulated needs and self-interests — and not the progressive advance of God’s Kingdom.

The new-found “concerns” and offers of “help” by such leaders only seem to arise once the new wine finally begins to settle out and gain some value, or in reaction to the threat of new wine bursting their old wine skins. Having been disengaged — or having maybe even outright opposed the fermentation process — their late-in-the-game or defensive overtures are often little more than desperate attempts to preserve the status quo (and thus their own status). In effect, having excused themselves from birthing and weaning new lambs into God’s Kingdom, they now want to fleece God’s sheep to advance their own agendas.

To use yet one more metaphor: Having refrained from helping to organize the parade, and maybe even having tried to block it, they nonetheless seek to jump in front and lead it once it starts heading down main street.

I’m seeing this in my own community. For the last several years a precious group of twenty-somethings have been mentored and equipped by a dear, older brother who has been willing, at great personal sacrifice to his own wealth and health, to embrace the new wine of God’s new anointing for this new generation. Although he’s previously invested many decades of ministry in the now-old wine skin of the charismatic movement and attends an old-wine skin church, he nonetheless wants God’s Kingdom more than personal gain. As a result, he has been able to bring forth much fruit in the lives of this rising generation by working to equip and release them into their own gifts and callings.

Now that those young men and women are showing health and potential, the other staid, disengaged “old-wine” elders in his church — who don’t have a clue about the new wine that God is bringing forth and have been generally hands off with the rising generation (and with ministry in general!) during the last several years — now are worried. This new wine is starting to bubble forth and many aspects of their old wine skins are being challenged.

Predictably, they are now making their move to “cover” and control this group — which is functioning more like an authentic church, as they fellowship and minister one to another within their own ranks, than is the larger “official” church. It is almost funny to watch how the old-wine leaders are trying to “come beside” and “support” (but really isolate and neutralize) the one man who has been an engaged, equipping leader. Their motive, I believe, is not one of true pastoral care for those young men and women — because if it was, then where were they over the last several years during the messy fermentation stage? — but rather one of panic as they seek to preserve the status quo of their old wine skins and thus their own status and privileged positions.

Engaged LeadershipThose from my spiritual generation who grew up with the old wine but nonetheless want the new wine — even while it still tastes bad — can be used by God as spiritual fathers and mothers to mentor this rising generation. Unlike the parade jumpers, they are fully engaged in the Kingdom of God and people’s lives. Unlike the parade jumpers, they seek to serve in the background and without fanfare and never with the goal of hogging the limelight or imposing old wine skins on God’s new anointing. And unlike the parade jumpers, they find joy in seeing the rising generation come forth into its own anointing, and are patient with the messy process of fermentation.

Such leaders, more than anyone, understand that God develops new, unique flavors for each generation that will, in its time, attract many new sons and daughters to himself.

Be wise and cautious, little lambs.

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

3 responses

  1. Dear Jim,
    In reading your article, I agree with you, but now my mind is whirling away.
    I am reminded of the Story of Ruth and Boaz.
    Boaz and his fellows were stamping out the grapes. Naomi had convinced Ruth to go down to where they were pressing out the grapes knowing that the men would soon tire themselves out with the work. ruth had been instructed to go to Boaz while he is sleeping and put her feet touching his under his blanket.
    If he offered to cover her with the blanket, then Ruth would know if he would be a “covering” for her. Would he take up the responsibilities of a ‘near kins-men’ (?) If he offered her the covering..then the answer was yes. If he shooed her away or anything else….then the answer would be “no!”
    Boaz did the noble thing and became the father of Obed, who was the father of David….(Or am I getting my stories off a bit ?)
    The church is a covering for us. One step below Christ, Two steps below is the pastor, three steps below is the husband, and four steps below is the wife, and so on.
    Of course not every Church has smaller cells within the church.
    Some churches stop right at the beginning. some have teachiing groups that operate on Sunday ie: Men’s Bible Study, Women’s Bible Study, Sunday School for the smaller children ( birth – Junior high/middle school ages) High Schooler’s bible Study and so on.
    But each does offer a covering to the particapants, in a way (of sorts) Some churches go the whole route, not only do they have cells for Sunday, but they offer scades of programs. But are these just busy-ness for busy-ness sakes (?)
    Home groups are where the rubber meets the road, and the homegroup leaders have the joy and work of explaining what sunday’s message was and what it means in a day to day walk with Christ.
    But I know what you mean. I miss the ‘Spirit lead” Church. I miss the anticapation of wondering “what is God going to do?”.
    I long for such a church becasue I have far more needs now that I am older, ,and the church I am in now, just doesn’t pray freely.
    (KWIM) Someone has to start praying and then it just sort of stops…..(sigh!)
    I’ll stop now, before I begin to sound like a fisher’s wife, full of complaints, and not a good word to be had by any.



  2. Fay —

    I don’t see anywhere in the New Testament where our “covering” goes from Jesus, to the church, to the pastor, and then to us average Joe’s. There are no intermediaries between us and Christ.

    If you have some citations on that (I mean this sincerely, not as an argument), I’d like to hear it. There is the passage that says that the husband, within the limited and defined jurisdiction of the family, is the covering of the wife. But even there, the husband’s covering, again within the sphere of the family, is Christ himself, and NOT the pastor or even the church.

    I DO SEE, however, that God has ordained church leaders (primarily elders) who have a specific, defined and limited jurisdiction to protect the church as a whole and also to bring forth others into ministry. As they function and serve in their limited jurisdiction of the church, they are to be honored and respected. But their authority derives from producing fruit (see Paul’s several defenses of his role and relationship with local churches — which was rooted in and confirmed by the fruit he bore among them rather than being some imposed divine right divorced of proper function).

    Nor do church leaders have authority outside their jurisdiction — such as self-government, the family, civil government, or other spheres of authority and influence (to the extent they don’t impinge on or harm the church).

    Nowhere do I see that church leaders have jurisdiction over the individual believer (except in areas of church discipline to protect the church as a whole, but even that is relegated ultimately to the whole church and not the elders — see Matt. 18). Church leaders are to equip the saints, look over their wellbeing, bring forth the fruit of equipped saints who in turn do works of ministry, etc, but never are they to be a blanket covering outside their own domain of the church itself and their obligation to function within that domain of the church in an equipping mode. They do not have jurisdiction over our responsibility for self government (again, unless we fail at self government and it threatens the church as a whole).

    For those who have been fed some doctrine of “covering” in a way that violates the Biblical framework of separate, defined jurisdictions based on fruit and function — or who have been taught “covering” to justify leadership control and rule over individual believers rather than servant equipping — I urge you to provide any New Testament support. I simply don’t think it exists!

    “Church”, in its New Testament sense, is ministry one to another — by each of us — as we in turn are equipped by servant leaders who honor and function within their defined area of responsibility. No more, no less.

    “Covering” has become a curse used to control and dominate, rather than serve and release.


  3. I was at a meeting yesterday evening for a grassroots initiative in our city called “Charlotte Awake”. It is a multi church, multi denominational outreach initiative that emphasizes the royal priesthood of all believers and encourages people to actively minister in our community. One of the leaders of this ministry quoted Leighton Ford who said (and I paraphrase) that the first reformation was the release of the Word of God. the second reformation is the release of laity. I feel fortunate to be part of the church where the elders are mature Christians whose function is to guide the congregation, encourage spiritual formation and the development of our God given gifts to be used for the sake of others. As a single woman in the church, I do see the elders as a sort of protective covering.


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