As a missionary, it’s probably fair to describe me to some extent with words like ‘pioneer,’ ‘starter,’ ‘catalyst,’ or ‘innovator’. I thrive in situations with limited resources and no clear way forward. I don’t do well with too many rules to follow. I regularly question human authority without ever quite stepping over into insubordination.
It’s been an interesting last few years working with the Church of England, a 500-year-old institution. I have asked a lot of questions, had a few disagreements, had my mind changed on some points, and had my convictions galvanized on others. One thing I’ve learned is that there is a lot of good wine in this very old wineskin, which is why, when Jesus talks about putting new wine in new wineskins, he’s not just interested in preserving the new wine; he’s also concerned about preserving the old wineskin.
Now, I’ve never had the pleasure of sampling those properly old bottles of wine that people pay silly money for. I assume (perhaps wrongly) that their age makes them more than just collectibles, and that the quality of the wine improves with age if it’s correctly sealed in the bottle. To extend the metaphor, then, we are all headed for a glorious wedding feast with saints from every age and culture, and there is surely going to be very good wine at this feast, some of it incredibly ancient.
I know that in the past I have disregarded old wineskins as outdated and useless, well past the best by date on the packaging, but this is not the heart of Christ. If I want to be trained for the kingdom of heaven, I need to be able to bring from my treasure what is old as well as what is new. If I entirely reject the old, I can’t do that. The woman in the Song of Solomon speaks of storing up choice fruit, both new and old, for her beloved. Who am I to scorn what the Bride stores up for her Groom?
So, I can be a pioneer, a starter, a catalyst, and an innovator, but whatever new wine I, by God’s grace, ferment, is not a replacement to the old wine of centuries passed. It must serve as a complement to it. The Master of the feast will sort out those details, and he will help me continue to sort out how this aficionado of new wine fits in with these people with basements full of the old stuff.