If you know anything about wine you know that old wine is often expensive. This is called vintage wine. So old mellowed wine, from an old wineskin can be very valuable and nuanced indeed. However, there is another kind of old wine that is commonly called vinegar. It is sharp and sour and is disagreeable to drink. The difference between vintage wine and vinegar is the difference between true maturity and sourness. In this case, it is the difference between experienced Christians who are content with how God is forming his kingdom and those who sourly criticize anything new, particularly new wine. That’s just being sour grapes. To be clearer, vintage wine are those experienced Christians, probably found in traditional churches, who are excited anytime they see God moving the kingdom forward. Vinegar are those long time Christians who are stuck in a traditional rut and complain or even attack anyone who is not living in that same deep rut.
Those of us in new wine ministry need to let the lovely old wine be its mature and mellow self; content in how God has pruned his vineyard, mixed his grapes and superintended the winemaking process for this vintage. Mature Christians in traditional settings usually think the old wine is better (Lk. 5:39). Personally, I think the only wise thing to do about vinegar is to avoid drinking it, which makes us sour ourselves.
There is a kind of new wine in France called Beaujolais Nouveau. Beaujolais Nouveau is not the best stuff. It has its own fruity charm but it is certainly not a $200 bottle of vintage wine. It’s similar to what my father-in-law calls Two Buck Chuck. It is fun to experiment with, but you don’t serve it to discriminating guests. The point is that new wine, or new Christians can be raw and unnuanced. But that is OK.
One more extension of Jesus’ metaphor might be helpful here. In Portugal there is a process of making port wine fit for transportation. They take the new wine and pour just a bit of old vintage wine into it. This mature wine stabilizes the new wine, giving it depth and maturity, advancing and deepening the maturation process. Some of us old wine Christians have been called to be blended with the new wine of organic Christianity. Our job, under the Master, is to add maturity and depth to new wine, to make it something it could not be on its own so quickly, yet allow it to have its own character. This is a calling. It is not for every vintage Christian. Sour old vinegar need not apply for this job. Those of us who have been called to this process become part of the new vintage, yet we hope to bring with us the best of the old vintage.
It is important to note that Jesus loves wine. He loves the old vintage wine from beautiful old wineskins. He loves his Beaujolais Nouveau. He masterfully mixes some mature vintages into the new wineskins he is preparing for this day and age. But Jesus is wise enough to keep vinegar far away from new wine and keep new wine out of old wineskins.
For more biblical meditations see: Authority: How Jesus Leads a Church, A Body without a Head, Jesus as Our Capstone, Jesus as the Cornerstone, Building on the Right Foundation and Ministry with Jesus as Lord.
- Are you vintage wine, vinegar, Beaujolais Nouveau or Port?
- Considering who you are, what should your role be in this new wineskin movement commonly called house church/organic Christianity/simple church?
- How should you relate to traditional churches?
- Can you think of any New Testament examples of vinegar getting into the new wineskin? What did the responsible leadership do about it?
- How can we detect when vinegar has gotten into the new wineskin? What should we do about it?