The Problem with Wineskins

Have you ever wondered why some Christians seem to get stuck in outdated methodologies? Why they get trapped in traditions that have outlived their purpose?

Traditions are not bad in themselves. But when a tradition becomes more important than the thing it points to, it leads to traditionalism, or the overemphasis of the tradition. This problem dates back to Jesus’ time. If fact, he spoke about it in Luke 5:37-38. “No one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the new wine will burst the skins; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, new wine must be poured into new wineskins.”

In Jesus’ day, wine was an important part of celebrations. It represented joy and often symbolized the happiness associated with the coming of God’s kingdom. Small amounts of wine were typically carried in pouches made of goat skin called wineskins.

Wine is an interesting thing. Simply put, when grape juice ferments, a chemical reaction produces a gas that expands, turning the juice into wine. Jesus reminded his listeners that if new wine was put into dry, rigid pouches, the gas would expand and burst the old, stiff wineskins.

Jesus was actually making a point. Not about wine, but about traditions. He distinguishes between something essential and primary (the wine) and something secondary but also necessary and useful (the wineskins). He’s saying that the new wine of the new covenant can’t be kept in the rigid forms of the traditions of Judaism. It needs to be in flexible forms that allows the Spirit to expand and move. The old wineskins have been stretched to their limit and cannot hold the new wine of his message that God is doing a new thing. He emphasizes that wine is always more important than the wineskin.

The problem of wineskins is very common in churches today. Wineskins are those old traditions, stiff structures and rigid patterns that have become more important than the gospel itself. Here are some ways you can know if your church has a problem with wineskins. Continue reading