"No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. If he does, the new piece will pull away from the old, making the tear worse." (Mark 2:21)
All three Synoptic Gospels record this analogy to answer the question why the disciples of Yeshua do not fast like the disciples of the Pharisees and John the Baptist. Yeshua adds a parallel analogy to strengthen His argument:
"And no one puts new wine into old wineskins, otherwise the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost, and the skins are as well, but one puts new wine into fresh wineskins." (Mark 2:22)
CONTEMPT FOR THE OLD FORM AND STRUCTURE
The charismatic and renewal movements have adopted these verses to castigate old structures of congregations, including denominations. They are cited as the authority to reject old worship styles as well. In the new streams of congregations, new worship styles and new models of education are the new wine and new wineskins. The new wine and new wineskins are good and the old wine and wineskins are bad. Some say that the new work of the Spirit cannot be put into old wineskins. This leads to the arrogant supposition that the new churches and streams have superseded the older churches and streams. One of my theologian friends noted that this arrogance can be traced to the original supercessionism - that the Church has replaced Israel (old wineskins). Messianic Jews embrace the New Covenant and apply Torah. Some regard this is an obvious mistake of putting new wine into old wineskins. I recently came from a large leadership conference where this use of the analogy of new wine and new wineskins was pervasive.
THE MEANING OF WINE AND WINESKINS
I have argued that the picture of new wine and new wineskins is not a diatribe against the old wine and old wineskins. Rather, it is an argument for appropriate behavior according to the times and circumstances. The goal of putting the wine in the new wineskins is not to drink the new wine, but to age the wine so that the new wine will become old wine. If one is going to immediately drink the wine before it ferments, it does not matter what wineskin one puts it in. A new wineskin is necessary because it has the required elasticity to stretch as the contents expand during the aging process. The version in Luke 5 even says that "no one who drinks old wine wants the new, for they say the old is better." (v. 39) This is as if Luke is warning exactly against the wrong interpretation we have just described. Therefore it is not appropriate to fast while Yeshua is physically present, but when He is absent, fasting will be part of the life of believers. Fasting is not forever eliminated. It is true that with the coming of the Kingdom circumstances have changed and require new wisdom to integrate old and new. Things cannot be done just as before, as if He had not come. However, the new ways do not sweep away all that is valuable in the old. When new revelation comes, it has to be integrated with the wisdom of those upon whose shoulders we stand. If it does not build upon and integrate with past revelation and practice, how can it be recognized as true revelation?
THE ANALOGY OF SHRUNKEN CLOTH
I think the analogy of shrunken cloth makes this even clearer. In Mark's version, one must shrink the cloth before sewing it to the old garment. Obviously, the patch is applied to make the old garment useful. The new cloth does not replace the old garment. Jeremiah, who writes about the New Covenant, says in Jeremiah 6:16:
"Thus says the LORD, Stand by the ways and see and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is and walk in it: and you shall find rest for your souls."
What does it mean to shrink the new patch? It means to prepare it so it can be rightly integrated into the old garment. Again, this is appropriate action for the circumstances. Indeed, the concern is to see the patch fulfill its useful function. That is, to preserve the older garment! Hardly anyone who jabbers on about new wine and old wineskins ever emphasizes the verse on the un-shrunken patch. Why? It would destroy the arrogant interpretation that does not honor forefathers. This is a great disrespect for the past. It makes people feel rootless, denying that God has worked in past generations and has by grace given revelation and practice that is worthy of preservation.
APPLYING THE ANALOGY OF WINESKINS AND SHRUNKEN CLOTH
So just how does the passage apply? In the Matthew passage, we are to preserve the old wineskin and the new wine. So it would appear that new wine in new wineskins is always added to the storehouse that is also the repository of the old wine and old wineskins. Yeshua refers to this when he says,
"Therefore every scribe who has become a disciple of the kingdom of heaven is like a head of a household, who brings forth out of his treasure things new and old." (Matthew 13:52)
So here is a text about appropriate behavior according to the situation. Here are some examples of application.
With the coming of the Messiah, the rules have to change. Yeshua makes these new rules through his apostles. It is no longer possible or appropriate to bar gentiles as unclean when they embrace faith in the God of Israel through the Good News of Yeshua. They can be part of the Passover Seder in its most pronounced meaning, the bread and wine that represent the Body and Blood of Yeshua.
With the gift of the Spirit, our relationship to prophecy changes; now each person can hear the voice of the Spirit and become a prophetic person. We are not subject to prophets in the same way, but we still do recognize prophets.
We still pray the old Psalms, but must add prayers and praises that incorporate the fullness of the meaning of Yeshua and the benefits of the New Covenant.
Sometimes there is a creative new response to a move of the Spirit in a particular locale. If a pastor seeks to bring this new move of the Spirit into his congregation without adequate preparation, it can burst apart his congregation. It may be unfamiliar, strange or threatening. Many people have an immediate aversion to that which is unusual to them. However, if the pastor shrinks the cloth, that is, he prepares a right integration; he can eventually incorporate the best of the new move without destroying his congregation.
I have seen congregations destroyed. I have seen others incorporate new ways and lose very few. One example is Holy Trinity Brompton Anglican Church in London. The congregation drinks the old wine from the old wineskin: the great old Anglican Evangelical liturgy and communion service. However, all who desire are invited to stay for a spontaneous Holy Spirit meeting. The old hymns and new charismatic songs both find their place. More and more people have embraced the new.
This has important implications for Messianic Jewish communities where we seek to integrate both old and new with wisdom. The spontaneous new in the Spirit should always characterize New Covenant communities. However, the old wine is important too. A sense of rootedness in the Feasts and ancient biblically grounded liturgies add depth and meaning where we honor what is good in our heritage.
Let us be done with interpretations that support arrogance in response to history. Let us rather respect and honor all that is good.
|Let us know what you think - why not comment to this article. The authors of these articles are often involved in intense ministry and are thus unable to respond to most comments. As is normal with print and online magazines, Tikkun reserves the right to publish only those comments we feel are edifying in tone and content.|
Also in this issue of the newsletter:
|A Father's Heart for a Soldier Son|
|Marty Shoub: Portrait of the Artist|
|Asher Intrater: War in the Heavenlies|