The definition of insanity is doing the same thing, but expecting different results. Jesus puts it this way:
Then the disciples of John came to him, saying, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” And Jesus said to them, “Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast. No one puts a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment,for the patch tears away from the garment, and a worse tear is made. Neither is new wine put into old wineskins. If it is, the skins burst and the wine is spilled and the skins are destroyed.But new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved.” [Matthew 9:14-17, ESV]
Some may read this passage and say that it clearly addresses fasting. Fair enough. But I think it is a very clear statement that it would be insane for followers of Jesus to expect him to fit into their established traditions. Perhaps one might see this a bit more clearly in his words here:
He also told them a parable: “No one tears a piece from a new garment and puts it on an old garment. If he does, he will tear the new, and the piece from the new will not match the old. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the new wine will burst the skins and it will be spilled, and the skins will be destroyed. But new wine must be put into fresh wineskins. And no one after drinking old wine desires new, for he says, ‘The old is good.’” [Luke 5:36-39, ESV]
Do you see that statement at the end? “And no one after drinking old wine desires new, for he says, ‘The old is good.'”
I think this statement explains why we see so much division in conservative, Evangelical Christian churches in the United States. We have spent so much time drinking old wine–familiarity with our socio-economic classes, familiarity with our racial communities, familiarity with styles of preaching and teaching, familiarity with culture–that most of us will not even attempt to taste the new wine.
For those of us who do, the answer is often “The old is good.”
I feel these words viscerally because I have been searching for a church for a bit over a year now. It has been the hardest and most frustrating experience of my life. It has gotten to a point where I am very seriously considering not attending church services on Sundays at all, but just reading my Bible through the week and meeting my men’s Bible study on Saturdays.
Slowing down to think about it, I think that my frustration is caused by my insanity. Consider this. I was looking at the website of a local church that is a 20 minute casual walk from my house, and on their blog is a post titled “A Small Church.” In that post I could not believe what I found. Some advice on finding a church from Eugene Peterson.
Go to the closest church where you live and the smallest. After six months, if it isn’t working, go find the next smallest church.
Now, I live in between three neighborhoods in Baltimore City called Roland Park, Guilford, and Homeland. I grew up in the Black Baptist Church. I believe it is very likely that I will not find this experience at the church who posted this blog, because not only is it a different denomination, but it is rooted in the community where I live. So, by Christ’s definition, I am completely unwilling to consider it because it doesn’t match the traditions and culture I have become comfortable with.
On the one hand, I could justify myself in all of this by explaining race issues in the church, explaining how I want my children to grow up and experience what I experienced, how there are relatively few places where I don’t have to apologize for being myself. On the other hand, could God be calling me and my family to taste new wine?
In my mind, I have this idea that most people used to attend neighborhood churches. There wasn’t much thought put into selecting a church because you went to the closest church that spoke your language and fit your denomination. It seems to me that there were several practical limitations that made this an accurate description of most Christians’ church communities until relatively recently. A number of technical advances have made the dilemma I am facing somewhat new.
If I can describe my challenge in two words, consumer Christianity, then I’ll say that my own consumer Christianity is only possible because of technology. I can Google churches on the internet and listen to sermons or look at pictures of the congregation. I can look at maps to see the locations. I have a car that allows me to drive a relatively great distance in a relatively short period of time. I can read reviews of the church before I attend. And, unique to the American/Western context, I am not constrained by the traditions of any denomination. All of these factors have made the church, in my opinion and experience, radically pluralistic. It’s as if Romans 1 has become true for us in our church experience. God has given us over to consumer Christianity.
All of this to say, I’m afraid of trying something new. I’m afraid of going to the church that is in the community where I live. I’m afraid of losing my identity by attending that church. I’m also afraid of preventing my children from developing an African American community. I’ve tasted the old wine, and it is good.
Am I willing to taste His wine?