Last week we discussed the differing opinions of John McArthur and Andy Stanley on whether the church should continue to meet, in view of the state’s mandate that they remain closed. We saw that In both cases, their churches fail in following all the biblical parameters of how a church meets. We saw that the Bible teaches that they are to be: 1.) a church that is visible, attendable and available; 2.) a church with intimately related members; 3.) a church where all participate and contribute.
McArthur’s church passes the first prerequisite but fails the last two; Stanley’s church fails all three. The traditional church that has evolved over the years in America bears little resemblance to the one we see on the pages of the New Testament. Attempts at encouraging #2 and #3 are relegated to week-night “home groups,” and they certainly are not the main focus of the church as they were in the New Testament. They are seen as just a secondary, auxiliary ministry of the church.
Today’s traditional church is composed of theoretical, arm’s length theology, preached by a single speaker, to a crowd of sometimes hundreds, even thousands, of passive, inactive spectators. If we took Paul to a modern, typical, “successful” church today, he would say, “This is really interesting, but I thought you said we were going to church?”
What is the solution to this situation? What do we do if we are not satisfied with the experience we are having in our traditional church? Can we modify the structure of the church and the form of worship we follow to more closely resemble the biblical pattern, and then be confident we will experience New Testament church life?
No, we cannot. In the following verses, Jesus called the church a “wineskin,” and the “wine” that it contains is the message it preaches. “And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; or else the new wine will burst the wineskins and be spilled, and the wineskins will be ruined. But new wine must be put into new wineskins, and both are preserved. And no one, having drunk old wine, immediately desires new; for he says, ‘The old is better'” (Luke 5:37-39).
So, we find ourselves with two foundational issues when we search for a church where we can have a genuine New Testament-like, life-giving, corporate experience, as we meet together to worship our Heavenly Father.
First, we are seeking a spiritual family in which the new wine of the gospel of the grace of Jesus Christ is understood and proclaimed boldly and consistently. This is primary. The wine produces the wineskin; not the reverse.
Second, when we find it, it must eventually be contained in a new wineskin, or church, to hold it. Jesus tells us in the verses above that if we remain in that old, traditional church, that old wineskin will burst and both wine and wineskin will be lost to us.
However, the church will remain a suitable place for others for now, as they continue on the journey we all are traveling to the “city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God” (Hebrews 11:10), but that church will no longer be for us.
Those invested in the “old wineskin” will not be initially interested in the “new wine,” and Jesus says in Luke 5 that they will say, “The old is better.” We are all addicted to the old wine—the fruit of the Knowledge of Good and Evil—and are trapped in performance, along with a church that encourages and facilitates it, until God opens our eyes. But when He does, we will no longer be satisfied to remain in a church that neither preaches that new wine clearly and consistently, nor provides a biblical wineskin to hold it. It is relentlessly growing in our hearts.
So, what do you personally do? The Lord will show you as you “follow the peace.” You won’t have to make a decision—you will know. Imagine the following scenario:
You find yourself, more and more, coming to a fuller understanding of what happened at the cross. All your sins—past, present and future—were completely forgiven and forgotten by your Heavenly Father.
Furthermore, if that’s true, you are now completely free from ever having to be obedient to God’s holy law yourself, ever again. “For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death (God’s holy law!). . . in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us (notice that is not ‘by us’ but ‘in us’), who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (Romans 8:2, 4).
The Holy Spirit lives in and through us, and it is His job alone to be obedient, just as He promises He will do (Philippians 2:13). Quit fighting to do His job and repent for having done so. When you try to do His job, that is sin (Romans 14:23)!
As this message increasingly grabs you, the freedom is intoxicating, and you want to continue to walk this way, and to share and experience it with others who have begun the same journey. They, too, want to walk in the light with brothers and sisters in the Lord; confess their sins to one another; and pray for each other.
So, you invite them to your home once a week to explore doing so together. Soon others hear what you’re doing and begin to join you. Someone can play the guitar and begins to lead in a few songs. Someone else often gets some great insights from the Bible and shares them with the group. Gradually the group grows in size, participation and organization. The “new wine” is spontaneously producing the “new wineskin.”
Every week you have communion, because that is a weekly reminder of this new wine of the gospel—the “it is finished” grace of God! You must never forget that. Never can you say, “we understand that now, so we can go on to deeper truths.” You cannot ever go “deeper than” the gospel; you can only go “deeper into” the gospel!
As this gospel of grace is clearly preached to everyone, everywhere, along with this vision of the “spontaneous expansion of the church,” the sleeping giant that is the church will be awakened, energized, and released to literally destroy the gates of Hell!