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[This article is an excerpt from a sermon by Chuck Smith.]
“And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; or else the new wine bursts the wineskins, the wine is spilled, and the wineskins are ruined. But new wine must be put into new wineskins.” Mark 2:22 (NKJV)
Jesus didn’t come to reform the religious system of the day: the new does not mix with the old. It seems to me that one of the hardest things to guard against is fermentation in new wine. The history of the church is the history of new movements of God that gradually become formalized, they begin to ferment, (which is a process of rotting) and then they get set in their traditions and in their ways. God then has to set them aside, He is wanting to still work in the lives and in the hearts of people, but they’ve built up their walls, they’ve got the whole thing formulized and formalized. God can no longer move in that closed-in system. God wants to do a fresh work in the world. He wants to do a fresh work in the body. What does He have to do? He has to go outside of the “old skins”, outside of the old systems and He starts something entirely new. Study church history and you’ll find that is the way it’s been. You don’t find revivals of denominations, it just doesn’t happen. The old systems get so rigid and formalized, and because they are bound by their traditions there has never been any real successful reformation of a church yet in all of church history.
Now, in spite of what Jesus said, and what history proves to be true, it is interesting how many people think that they have the formula whereby they can pour the new wine into the old skins. People are always trying to figure out a new way to pour the new wine into the old skins without losing it all, or destroying it. Jesus said not to do it and yet we continue to try. For years, I did my best to pour some new wine in the old skin (the denomination that I was in) and all I did was I created waves, I was marked as a rebel, and I was ostracized. The leadership was fearful, so they tried to isolate me and insulate me from the rest of them so that I wouldn’t be a threat to the old system. Their messages were clear, “Don’t rock the boat”, “Don’t create any waves”and “We like this the way it is”, even though the church was dying. If you were running a business and you began to lose customers right and left, you would do what you could to change things, to bring customers back. Unfortunately, this is not so with the church. It begins to lose its “customers”, then the church is empty. Do we change? Can we change?
I remember coming in as the new pastor of a church. I built a whole new pulpit around the old one, and I had picked out some brand new platform furniture with care. That Sunday morning when some of these saints came in and they saw that new pulpit, fire began to simmer, smoke began to curl out of the tops of their heads. They were so upset, “How could you?” they yelled. I said, “Come here, I want to show you something.” I took them around behind the pulpit and I showed them that the old pulpit with the cruddy old doors was still there. It’s amazing how set in their ways people can get, and how rotten they can get as things begin to ferment. One of the hardest things to do is to guard against that digression from the freshness and the vitality of the spirit, to lamenting for “the way it was”. We begin to worship a past experience of how God moved in a special way. Now we want to recapture that, so let’s go back and let’s put another tent up and maybe it’ll happen again.
We try to figure out how God worked, and we want to follow the old formula. It stands to reason God isn’t going to work today like He worked when we had a bunch of hippies around here; we don’t have any hippies around anymore. Let’s all let our hair grow and let’s get beards and we’ll go barefoot and get bells on our cuffs again; maybe God will work again like He worked when we had the hippies. Well, God moves on, He doesn’t get stuck in archaic methods and means. You can’t confine God to a method, but we are so prone to do that. There are churches today that are going on with services like they had a hundred and fifty years ago when God moved in a special way in Wesley’s life. They don’t deviate, from the sacred patterns of the marvelous revivals under Wesley. Life moves on, culture moves on, people move on and the church stays in its old rut. There are only two differences between a rut and a grave, and those are the length and the depth. The rut of the dying church soon becomes its own grave.
Jesus was interested in attracting the sinners, He stayed current, He was up-to-date. He didn’t come to reform the old religious system that was rotten, and dying. We say, “Isn’t that glorious how that Jesus established the church, went outside of the dead religious system and established the church that we might have this living relationship with God?” But what did the church do? It immediately began to develop its own traditions, its own hierarchy, its own rottenness, its own forms, and its own deadness. But the Spirit is ever alive, ever fresh and ever new. We make the mistake of trying to confine ourselves to methods, to a program, or to “this is the way Chuck did it”. No, no, no, life moves on; let’s move on with it. Blessed are the flexible, they will not be broken. He’s going to have to create a whole new skin, which He will call His church, and in that skin He will pour His new wine. He’ll go outside of the religious system and He’ll start a new work by which many will come into a living relationship with a living God.
You see the basic problem with the church today is it’s locked into its traditions and it can’t change. People are very slow to change. Jesus said, “…no one having drunk the old wine immediately desires the new; for he says, ‘the old is better’” (Luke 5:39). You may say, “I don’t want a new system, I don’t want choruses, I like the old hymns, they’re better. I want the old way, it’s better. I like the way my dad and my grandfather worshiped, it’s better.” You see, you don’t like the new at first, it’s different and it’s sort of disconcerting, it makes us uncomfortable. I’ve lost my security because my security has been in a form, my security needs to be in Jesus. My security was in a successful formula, but my security needs to be in Jesus.
Don’t find your security in a pew, find your security in Jesus. Be open for what God wants to do, and be open for a new move of the Spirit. It may be different from what we’ve experienced before. Let’s be open, open for the Spirit, free for the Spirit to move however He desires. For if we are not, as times change and the needs of people change, we’ll find that we will be just sitting here watching the dwindling numbers, wondering what happened. Where did all the people go? They slowly died off because God is moving in a new way and we weren’t prepared for it, because it didn’t fit the way we were always doing things. I feel an urgency to what I am saying because in the history of the church, when God has moved in a special way, a man has the privilege of being used as an instrument of God, and people have been blessed because God worked through that instrument.
But then as time goes on, he dies and people don’t give the new man, the new instrument a chance. If he dares to change anything, then he’s in big trouble because that is not the way that the former pastor did it. I hope that when I die, the memory of me will die and that you will be open to the Spirit, so that if God works in a different way you’ll be ready and moving with the Spirit. Don’t get locked into the old ways, protesting that, “This is the way it should be done”, and “We’ve always done it this way.” Don’t get bound to a program, be free to let the Spirit move.
And after I go, if I find that there’s some hall or gymnasium and it’s got the Chuck Smith Memorial plaque on it…if I’m still alive I’ll dynamite it, but if I’m with the Lord, I’ll ask Him to send an earthquake. Keep centered around the person of Jesus; He’s the One that brings us life and a relationship with our God!