Wine connoisseurs prefer to enjoy their wine in special glasses. The wine is held up to the light, examined, swirled, smelled and finally, tasted. Why is it that connoisseurs don’t pour their wine into cheap plastic cups such as are found in motel rooms? Although nothing would have changed about the wine, their enjoyment of it would clearly be diminished. The difference is the container.
“No one”, said Jesus, “pours new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, he pours new wine into new wineskins” (Mk 2:22). New wine gives off gas as it ferments. A new wineskin can expand to handle these gases, but an old one cannot. Not only is the burst wineskin ruined, but more importantly its precious contents are spilled on the ground. Wineskins, like wine glasses, are only important because of their relationship to the wine.
The simple point of Jesus’ wineskin illustration is that some behavior is inappropriate. If we were to compare the new wine to our new lives in Christ, then the wineskin could be paralleled to the outward, organized expressions of our faith — what we do as God’s people when we come together (ecclesiology). Just as it was not fitting to pour new wine into an old wineskin, is it possible that some twenty-first church practices may be also inappropriate — even harmful — to the new wine of our lives together in Christ?
If we were airy wraiths who floated though life unaffected by our surroundings, where and how we meet as God’s people might not matter greatly. Since we are not wraiths, such things do impact our lives together in Christ as well as our individual walks with Him. Both the wine and the wineskin, both the precept and the pattern, are important. Without dispute the wineskin exists for the sake of the wine, but without the proper skin the wine spills to the ground and is wasted. It is a false dichotomy to hold to either one without the other. Attention to both is needed. A careful study of wineskins is critical to insure that the wine is enjoyed to its fullest.
We are persuaded that the most appropriate wineskin for the wine of the New Covenant is found in the practice of the early church. Who knew better than the original apostles how best to set up and order churches? The Twelve were hand-picked and personally trained by our Lord Jesus. The traditions that we advocate are those of His apostles, as found exclusively on the pages of the New Testament. Our concern is not that today’s church has added to those original traditions. The problem is that the present-day church is often doing the exact opposite of the New Testament example. In our opinion, this is much like drinking wine from a plastic motel room cup.
Some areas of original church practice have been neglected by the church at large. We are persuaded that a return to the spirit behind the ways of the original apostles would bring a tremendous blessing to the Bride of Christ. Those who participated in the writing of this book have enjoyed these blessings for years, and desire very much to see all who belong to Jesus feast at the banquet along with us.
We advocate orthodox, historic, classic Christianity poured into the wineskin of New Testament church practice as established by the apostles and revealed in the Scriptures. Our goal is to be Christ honoring and thoroughly biblical in every area concerning our church life. On this web site we argue from Scripture for small relational congregations (comprised of scores — not hundreds — of people), the Lord’s Supper as an actual fellowship feast celebrated weekly, participatory worship, elders who lead with the servant love of Christ, government by elder led congregational consensus and the vital importance of regularly teaching people to observe all that Jesus commanded. Our emphasis on small, simple, relational, family integrated churches is coupled with careful attention to order and organization.
Churches that follow the ways of the early church are in a good position to offer the things people are looking for, such as true fellowship, lasting and transparent relationships with folks who are genuine, less church politics, great teaching and growth in the Lord. Many people have testified that they have experienced real fellowship during the church’s weekly love feast in a way never before experienced. Special appreciation has also been expressed for the participation during the time of worship, the opportunities for members to minister using their spiritual gifts, the edification of families to live holy lives, the mutual encouragement and leadership that is not lording over people (healthy accountability).
Easily found in the trash are empty wine bottles — even those in perfect condition. Since wine bottles exist for the sake of the wine, after the wine is gone the bottle is considered worthless. The new wine that all churches have, no matter how or where they meet, is life breathed out by the Holy Spirit. The church is people, a living organism. We as God’s family are to have living relationships with God and with each other as led by the Spirit. Jesus said that his disciples will be known by their love. We are to be involved in each others lives. There is to be confession of sin and restoration. So committed to each other were the Jerusalem believers that they were willing to give up their personal possessions for each other; theirs was an abiding love, true commitment. The wine is invested love, intertwined lives. It is washing each others feet. These are matters of the heart. This book is about the wineskin of early church practice. Those who lack new wine in Jesus are wasting their time studying wineskins. Even the most perfect wine bottle will never produce any wine. Without the wine the bottle belongs in the trash. However, the wineskin takes on vital importance to those who genuinely do have new life in Christ, just as Jesus said.
While we are firmly convinced that God’s best is for all His people to organize their churches according to New Testament patterns, we are not against those who do things another way. We just fear that they may be missing a blessing! We understand that sincere, godly saints sometimes understand the same Scripture passages differently. We hear Paul when he asked, “Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand” (Ro 14:4).
Our studies on the church are only a stepping stone to put us in a better position of being all Christ wants us to be as His body of people. May the Lord be pleased to grant all His people an ever deeper knowledge of Himself and His Bride, and greater effectiveness in our service to Him.