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New Wineskins

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Background The Principle   The Practice The Protection
Because
worship-styles and structures usually express the spiritual life of a church, the process of spiritual renewal of the Christian church as Christ's Bride (being prepared for His coming and completion of her given mission) requires a continuing willingness to change, so as to become in practice more and more reflective of a Christianity as defined in Holy Scripture.
 
 
Today, across the world of Christian church worship, different styles, usually identified with particular denominations, characterise Christian liturgical-practice or worship, usually as a reflection of their individual history and spiritual perspective.
 
 
Jesus, in response to the entrenched opinions of religious leaders of His time, taught a basic truth of why His own spiritual ministry did not fit into their existing methodology.
 
The Lord
Jesus told the religious leaders a parable:
 
 
"No one tears a piece from a new garment and puts it on an old garment.
If he does, he will tear the new, and the piece from the new will not match the old.
And no one puts new wine into old wineskins.
If he does, the new wine will burst the skins and it will be spilled, and the skins will be destroyed.
But new wine must be put into fresh wineskins.
And no one after drinking old wine desires new, for he says, 'The old is good'."
Luke 5:36-39.
 
This statement is not an allegory, an artificial story, in which each detail carries a symbolic meaning. It refers to two common practices in Christ's time which He used to illustrate one point: newness in spiritual content needs to be matched by appropriate change in its associated structures.
 
Background    
It has
been fashionable for many years to assume that Christian worship-style and associated structures took their earliest form from the Jewish synagogue at the time, for these Christians were mainly of Jewish background, and their foundational religious documents at the time were the same, our Old Testament. However, this view fails to adequately take into account the first church's Jerusalem experience and the status of the ongoing relationship of the Holy Spirit to this issue.
 
 
Understandably, the cultural trends within which Christianity spread soon affected church practices and structures. Already in the third-century Christian clergy within the Roman Empire began to be considered as a distinct class from ordinary Christian believers, similar to the status of pagan priests.
 
 
The 16th-century Protestant Reformation of European Christianity tended to move the gravitational centre of the church meeting from the service of the sacrament, as it had become, to the preaching of the sermon. The evangelical movements of the eighteenth-nineteenth centuries and the Pentecostal-charismatic movements of the twentieth to twenty-first century have, to a lesser extent, moved this centre to a more or less shared balance between sermon preaching and worship singing, with the sacrament as a special worship event.
 
 
From this base a later tendency has developed of the church service being a managed production in song and sermon with technological enhancements to stimulate and motivate faith, and increasingly again the congregation is tending to become simply a sing-along audience of beneficiaries.
 
Is
this what church services are meant to be?
 
 
Even where there is an awareness of spiritual renewal, the natural affect of human culture on any congregation's worship, such as in-vogue music styles and platform performance, needs a continuing vigilance to prevent a subtle deviation from the purpose of the church meeting. Unless the following are clearly in mind, this natural effect will move it from direct encounter with God (in which the reverent 'fear of the Lord' is always a factor in the joy of His presence) to an audience-increase-orientation to have 'successful' meetings, in which spiritual reality is traded for a happy camaraderie.
 
The Principle    
The
central principle upon which all management of adjustments of church worship-styles and structures should be based is the essential nature of the Christian church.
 
 
The church is more than a collection or religio-social-association of Christian believers. Its spiritual identity and therefore its collective practice of that identity has no relevance at all to the Jewish synagogue of the first century, for to the church alone – the Holy Spirit was given!
 
 
This fact is why the church is described, in its local identity (1 Corinthians 12), as the Body of Christ. The Spirit who anointed the Christ for His mission was given to those in whom His work is to continue, and this is not a class of clergy, it is His Body.
 
 
The distinction of those with leadership gifts of the Holy Spirit is described in Ephesians Four as being for the specific purpose of equipping the ordinary Christian for the work of the ministry as part of Christ's Body:
"to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ"
Ephesians 4:12.
These
'saints' are not dead ones. It simply describes the spiritual nature of those born-anew by the Spirit of God. The congregation of believers is itself the Body of Christ in order to continue His work, and the existence of any clergy or other form of leadership is given simply to serve this purpose.
 
This
perspective is mirrored in the statement of Peter –
"Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit..."
Ananias and his wife had not intended that their pretence would deceive God. After all, their deception was 'partly' true. They had simply let the congregation, the people of God, believe an untruth about their action: the people to whom the Holy Spirit had been given.
Acts 5:3.
This
perspective is again mirrored in the manner in which the apostolic journeys of Paul are initiated –
"the Holy Spirit said, 'Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them'."
They were not set apart from their previous duties for a particular mandate given to the leadership. No plan is given! No mission program or objective is entrusted to the leadership in order to set these two free from their earlier obligations.
The Holy Spirit had done that personally internally in these two as individuals.
Acts 13:2.
The Practice    
1. The Holy Spirit's Rights  
Although
the preparation for a church-service or worship-meeting deserves the very best of human ability and effort, the act of ministry itself is in finality the prerogative of the Holy Spirit alone, on behalf of whom there is no proxy. Yes, special responsibilities pertain to various levels of responsibility, but the effectiveness of Christian ministry to really change people lies only in the Holy Spirit whose authoritative leadership necessitated Christ's absence, for He was given to Christ's disciples to take Christ's leadership role, and the ministry of the Spirit is based only in those born of Him.
John 14:26;
15:26; 16:7.
 
The Holy Spirit's ministry is not based in any organisational structure, no matter how inspired its setting up may have been. It lies in the intimacy of a personal relationship, of which Jesus said (to a member of the top religious synod of His day) concerning the behaviour of the wind –
"The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes.
So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit."
Accordingly, for a church meeting's ministry to be fully Christian it must always be open to the unplanned move of the Holy Spirit through whomever He may choose to use at the time.
John 3:8.
 
Thus the open door to congregational participation in every church service is intrinsic to the essential nature of the Christian church in its meetings, and any control of this by the leadership can only be toward the protection of that authentic character, or it contradicts that character. In other words, the authoritative nature of ministry does not derive from leadership-approval but from the nature of the Holy Spirit's direct relationship to God's people, which is the essence of the nature of the church.
 
2.
The Jerusalem Church Example
 
Although
most of the first Christian were Galileans (Ac.2:7) and Jerusalem was a dangerous area for them, the Lord Jesus had instructed that their mission to all nations would be –
"...that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His name to all nations,
beginning from Jerusalem."
Luke 24:47
This
was not a racial prioritising as some have twisted. It simply set the establishment of the Jerusalem experience of these first Christians as the 'mother' from out of which the world would then be reached.
 
 
This first congregation of Christians met in Solomon's Porch, attached to the outer court of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem (Ac.5:12). Here, the first expression of the public worship of Christians found its form from the spiritual impact of the Pentecost event.
 
 
The initial character of this first church is recorded for more than historical interest. It is an example of a spiritual community in which the character of Christ was being practically demonstrated –
"There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need."
Acts 4:34-35.
This
behaviour was not from a protocol of rules, as was made emphatically clear for us in the tragic case of the public rebuke of Ananias and Saphira (Ac.5:4). It was a voluntary expression of the life of this first church.
 
 
This welfare program was not the work of a diaconate. That structure was only created as a management facility when the need arose later as the church's quality of caring declined into discrimination (Ac.6:1).
 
Was
there no management originally by an ordained ministry, a clergy class?
 
 
As spiritual shepherds only; whose internal duties were simply to nurture and protect the life and ministry of the congregation!
 
Note:
The Lord Jesus had included a public invitation to ministry when He publicly interrupted the priestly water-pouring-ritual in the temple with the following words –
On the last day of the feast [of Tabernacles/Booths], the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out,
"If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. Whoever believes in Me, as the Scripture has said,
'Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.'"
Now this He said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive,
for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.
John 7:37-39.
This
is a clear statement that the ministry of Jesus would continue in 'whoever believes' by the gift of the Holy Spirit. Ministry therefore belongs to the congregation and not the clergy. Clergy exist for the sake of the congregation's ministry – to nurture and protect it, or leadership have no valid existence.
 
 
Unfortunately, ministry has traditionally been seen as the special preserve of the clergy, into which a congregation may contribute if it meets some required standard. This inspired ministry does not refer to support or participation in the church program! This half-truth is a seriously damaging view which has hindered the work of the Holy Spirit through God's people and consequently delayed the full restoration of Christianity.
 
The
ministry of the of the Christian church is the ministry of the Body of Christ, the fellowship of believers in all its variety of gifts, or it is not fully Christian.
 
The Protection    
There is a good maxim that – in the church's life, what Satan cannot stop he will attempt to infiltrate.  
 
This is first illustrated after Pentecost in Ananias referred above –
Peter said, "Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit
and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land?..."
Acts 5:3
 
Their open-hearted liberality in practical love which had so united this first congregation, became a subtle target for Satan's activity. If it had not been stopped by the leadership at its beginning through Peter's rebuke it would have subtly corrupted the congregation's motivation, grieved the Holy Spirit, and endangered the church's character and growth.
 
This
is where leadership responsibility in the church has direct and immediate responsibility, and this requires a spiritual sensitivity that is based neither on tradition nor on doctrine.
 
 
Unless the devotional character of a church's leadership is directly attuned to God's heart in adoration, the leadership of a congregation will tend to be led by reputation and previous behaviour. Yet, it always remains the prerogative of the Holy Spirit to interrupt, to correct, to rebuke, in whatever way He may choose.
 
 
The Apostle Paul was aware of this when he wrote –
"If a revelation is made to another sitting there, let the first [speaker] be silent."
1 Corinthians 14:30
 
As cited above, the spiritual sensitivity and openness of the leadership of the church in Antioch, Syria, from which the great missionary journeys of Paul began, was derived directly from –
"While they were worshipping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said ..."
Acts 13:2
 
This leadership function is the vital protection that a spiritual shepherd is required to provide so that the false may not be mixed with the true. Failure in this has repeatedly allowed the discrediting of congregational participation in public ministry, and seriously hindered the spiritual restoration of the character of Christian churches to that founding character as given to us in Holy Scripture.
 
The
last word is the last word of Christ's illustrative parable.
"And no one after drinking old wine desires new, for he says, 'The old is good'."
 
 
Aimed at leaders, this statement of the Lord carries a corrective caution concerning the responsibility to not let the past personal experience or tradition determine the future. The easier route is always to do as has been done, to simply repeat what has previously been satisfactory. But this is not good enough for the Lord or for His people.
Very sadly, this responsibility of 'protection' is often debased to 'control' thereby limiting the work of the Spirit to that which the leadership has previously understood, ignorantly grieving the Holy Spirit in limiting His work to eldership-approved-actions: which is actually a denial of His direct and immediate authority!
 
Freshness in the immediate guidance of the Holy Spirit (which is not advisory support but authoritative) is the proper place of leadership's role toward the congregation under their care. The promotion of continuing adjustment in all styles and methods to continually match the vital continuing growth of understanding in their experience of the church's own nature.
 
These are not convert-recruitment-techniques or spiritual-marketing-tactics! This is the necessary counteraction of passivity or of a 'maintenance of the status quo' mind-set.
Love
for God produces love for His people – which looks beyond the present, to the enhancement of individual lives in the richness of God's grace:
"that you, being rooted and grounded in love,
may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth,
and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God."
Ephesians 3:17-19.
Within
the leadership therefore, the love of Christ for His people motivates for all that the Lord has for His heritage in the earth, with whatever adjustments this may require in the methodology of their meetings.
1 Corinthians 13.
Christian Church Denominations What Really Happened at Pentecost? The Structure of Church Ministry

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