Luke 5:36-39 and the New v. Old Debate

There are a few statements that can act like a hand grenade thrown into the middle of a church board meeting.  One of them would be, “Let’s quit doing what we have been doing for the last twenty years and start something completely new.”  Jesus alludes to this with one of his parables:

Then he told them a parable. “No one tears a patch from a new garment to patch an old garment. wineskinOtherwise, the new garment would be ruined, and the new patch wouldn’t match the old garment.   Nobody pours new wine into old wineskins. If they did, the new wine would burst the wineskins, the wine would spill, and the wineskins would be ruined.   Instead, new wine must be put into new wineskins.  No one who drinks a well-aged wine wants new wine, but says, ‘The well-aged wine is better.’”

I’ve seen this passage for years and always looked at it from the point of view of doing something new.  A new work of God often needs new structures for it to achieve all that God wants it to do.  This is part of the reason why church planting is usually the most effective way of reaching a community rather than trying to revitalize an older congregation.  New work needs new structures.

What I really never saw until I re-read this passage today as a part of the Bible Reading Schedule was the last sentence.  Here Jesus does not condemn those who do not want the new, but rather like fine wine, he says that the new usually does not have the same appeal as the old for those who are used to the old.  Just think about many (valid, in most cases) criticisms of contemporary praise choruses from people who are used to hymns.  The new is not as full or beautiful or potent as the old.

In this line of thought the new structures can even help preserve and save the old.  It would do little good to try and completely re-imagine a church fellowship with an older, dying congregation that does not want to change or do something new.  The endeavor would likely kill the existing congregation and kill off the attempt at something new–with the unintended result that people might think new ideas simply will not work in that particular community.

However, if a new structure is created, a new fellowship is born, it will draw new people.  AND if that new structure is a cooperative venture with the old congregation, and they are seen as complementary to one another rather than adversarial (read: no one thinks that the new fellowship is just trying to steal the old congregation’s people/resources), then, as we say in Florida, when the tide rises all the boats in the harbor go up.

There will be people that come to the new out of curiosity but would be a better fit for the old.  There will be people seeking a new fellowship that stumble upon the old one.  The two fellowships could work cooperatively with one another, sending people to each other who would better resonate with what is happening at the different fellowships.

Keep in mind, this is not just about styles of worship, either.  It can also be about vision and focus for ministry within a given community.  One fellowship might be firmly committed to helping the local poor and homeless.  The other might wish to tackle modern-day slavery with the Set Free Movement.  One may focus on ministry with Hispanics in the community, another may focus on ministry with the underground church in China.

Either way, different wineskins are needed for different types of wine.  Different fellowships can be needed for different types of ministry, even in the same community.

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