Matthew 9:16-17, "No one puts a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch tears away from the garment, and a worse tear is made. Neither is new wine put into old wineskins. If it is, the skins burst and the wine is spilled and the skins are destroyed. But new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved."
We see that Jesus' way of doing things went far outside the status quo. The norm of the day would no longer be effective or acceptable. Jesus' message was so radical that the Pharisaical system had to be rejected completely.
How do these verses apply to how we think about the church today? I believe they challenge us to think beyond many of our current practices and dare to ask the question, "Why?" In doing so, we will likely find that some of what we are doing is right on target, some needs a little tweaking, and some needs to be rejected outright. This applies both to how we live as individuals and how we live as the church as a whole.
Of course, if we are going to ask challenging questions about the church, we must have some sort of objective standard to aspire to. We need to look somewhere to show us how things should be.
The fascinating thing is that as far as the church is concerned, the new wineskins we are looking for are also very old ones. We see them in the pages of the New Testament. The church we see there is the standard. We learn what the church is, how it should function, and what its purpose should be. We even see many things not to do and/or to do differently (many thanks to the Corinthians for this).
You and I may disagree somewhat on exactly what this means, but I'm sure we would agree on some things. For example, the early church had a deep sense of community. As we look at church life in this country, community is frequently lacking. Regardless of what local church family you are a part of, the community aspect of your church could probably be improved. This may require some large structural changes or it may simply be a change in attitude on the part of the people. The quickest change we can often make is to begin with self.
My hope is that as the church we will look to the very old church and see it as new wineskins. How can we emulate the things we see there most effectively to reach the lost with the gospel, mutually edify one another, and ultimately bring glory to our Lord? Let us learn from the new wineskins of the old church.