Tuesday, April 24, 2012

New Wine, Unshrunk Clothes, and Lipstick on Pigs

As a "cutting-edge" contemporary service executive producer (or, "staff pastor in a mainline church trying to boost attendance by offering a contemporary option")for over a decade, it was my philosophy to create healthy spiritual change from the inside, a movement in the roots of the grass as it were. I patiently (well at least some of the time) and persistently encouraged new wine to not burst the old bottle. Yet time and again I would see not only the unshrunk cloth be frustrated with its incompatibility with the existing insitutional garment, but the old tired garment would tear leaving it wounded and in need of its own repair. It seems that Jesus' oft-repeated parable in Mark 2:21-22 about wine and wine skins had an insight I was unable to see until a few years after I left that church realizing that it was not going to be the kind of "healthy" I was hoping for. Starting with Moses through Jesus, then the Reformation and more currently, the great Emergence, these words of Jesus seem to carry transcendent and timeless significance. While most readers generally apply this parable to personal conversion and the changes one should make in their own life, I want to suggest a larger and more congregational application. A new and more relevant point of view apparently cannot survive within a pre-existing institutional mindset. Both the perspective and the institution are placed at risk. Unfortunately, too many church planters take their initiative and bury it in an old and tired institutional environment. Their new and improved idea ends up looking like the institutions from which they emerged but with a new leader. Jesus is saying that radical changes emerge from radically new perspectives. Courage must be mustered to analyze what this might mean for a closet full of old garments. The overflowing cupboard of old wine skins does not need yet another bottle of new wine; I believe the whole closet needs to be torn down. To make the body of Christ in America healthy and a more accurate reflection of the Kingdom of God, I would suggest two things: 1. Raze every institutional church to the ground. 2. Make it a capital offense to be a follower of Jesus. Do these two things and get ready for a cataclysmic shift in Christian experience and manifestation! This goes beyond simply renting storefront space in a shopping center and coming up with a cute name (something with "fellowship" or "community" in it). This new kind of wine that tastes like Jesus insists on fermentation and that takes time. Can the people of God take the time and resist the urge to "do" in order to see what the Master requires for us to "be"? If what Jesus says about wine and garments is true (and I'm gonna take a leap of faith and suggest that it is), then there is no way on God's paved parking lot that the people who pledge allegiance to King Jesus and seek to live from a faith-perspective can expect their existing institution to turn into new wine or unshrunk cloth simply because they attend and are highly committed to it. Both parties will lose the battle. It will be-and I have the scars to prove it- putting lipstick on a pig.

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