Is the Church of the Nazarene an “Old Wineskin”?

“No one pours new wine into old wineskins,” Jesus taught some 2,000 years ago. “Otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins” (Mark 2:22).

New wine was from freshly squeezed grapes. Since new wine continues to ferment once placed in a container, Jesus is using a very well understood practice of the time to remind his listeners of the foolishness of placing the fermenting wine into a container that is old and rigid. The wine will continue to ferment and expand whether in new or old wineskins. As such, as the formation process happens, the old wineskins will crack or burst, the wine leak out and all would be ruined.

This short statement has since become one of the more famous sayings of our Christ. What’s the significance of new wine in old or new wineskins for us? There is debate over what exactly is the “new wine” that’s being placed in the “old wineskins.” Maybe that’s a discussion for another day. I’d rather focus on the old wineskin.

Central church is over 100 years old (established in 1920); as is the Church of the Nazarene (established in 1908).  We’ve been around awhile. That could qualify as an old wineskin material. As such, it would be easy to hold tightly to our old wineskin ways, to reminisce of the good old days and all the good old wine (in a Nazarene sort of way) and become rigid, ineffective and useless.

NOTE: The new wine being placed in the old wineskins in Jesus story, wasn’t different from the new wine that had been placed in the wineskins in year’s past (that is the content hadn’t changed). What changed was the old, rigid wineskin. 

As a church, to be effective, we need to be flexible (again not regarding our content), but in our delivery.  Our adaptability to changing times is critical to our usefulness. In other words, the things that worked in 1920 or 1908, aren’t going to work today. My goodness, the things that worked 10 years ago, aren’t going to work today. In the whirlwind world in which we live, everything is changing every couple of years. As a church, we must be supple. Open to new ways of delivering the Gospel message. Let’s not rigidly hold onto the ways of the past. Let’s not hold so tightly to the old wineskin that the message can no longer be delivered.  

The implied message of Jesus that pertains to a 100+ old church is simply this: If the old wineskins don’t work anymore, God Almighty will find new wineskins to deliver the same content. It’s true. Look around. There are empty or repurposed churches everywhere (the church I grew up in is now a doctor’s office). If the wineskins grow old, God will fill up new wineskins. Moreover, what is true for individual congregations is true for denominations too. We are watching in real time the death of denominations. Let that not be us.

Let’s pray that in spite of our age we don’t become an old wineskin. Let’s not hold so tightly to the past, that we have no future.