Dr. Phil: Well its 2017 – Not sure what special events you may be looking forward to celebrating this year. . .for my wife and I it is 35 years of marriage, nearly the same in ministry and 28 years since we began ICM Canada. But there is a more significant anniversary this year that you may not be aware of (yet). This year marks 500 years since Martin Luther nailed his 95 thesis’ to the doors of the Wittenburg city church initiating the Protestant Reformation, which for Evangelicals is part of our spiritual DNA.
Having lived for several years in Berlin (an hour up the road from Wittenburg), over the years we have taken many people through the hall where he lectured and his home which is now a museum in the city. As you walk the cobblestone streets, 500 years does not seem that long ago. In spite of the corner ATM machines and other conveniences, many of the buildings are the same as they were when Luther walked those streets. When I was in Berlin last November I was again reminded of how the land of the Reformation has now become a missionfield (more on that next month).
Initially, Luther’s main purpose was not to start another organization or denomination, he just wanted to bring about change in the Catholic church. His was a theological revolution (with some very practical ramifications) declaring that salvation was through faith in Jesus and not through the Church. But alas, as with most movements throughout history, the change was too great for the existing structures or ways of doing things. So the Protestant movement was eventually formed (somewhat to his chagrin, which included a 30 year war, infighting and all sorts of other unintended and messy consequences).
Some 2000 years ago, Jesus described the process this way: You do not pour new wine in old wineskins for they will burst and the wine will be spilt and the wineskin ruined (Matt. 9:16-17). It is not a stretch of Jesus’ analogy to say that structure or the how (wineskin) of implementing change needs to be consistent with the new vision/idea or it is likely that the “new wine” will be wasted.
Our focus as a ministry is to help leaders understand their role as communicators of good theology as well as renovators of old wineskins (the how of ministry). Both are necessary. The process of the solidification of existing structures is inevitable, but if we want to be catalysts in giving this new wine to others we need to have appropriate models (wineskins) in order achieve this. While this is one of the key responsibility of leadership it is often a painful process fraught with dangers (just ask Luther!).
Ultimately, God has been and is on a Mission (John 3:16; Matt 28:19-20). While he understands our natural tendency to make the wineskin sacred (sometime described as “the good ol’ days”), he never allows individuals or organizations to thwart his plans for all of humanity. He is always looking for appropriate wineskins in which to pour his new wine. As Luther 500 years ago, the question in 2017 for us, and leaders we serve, is what side of history will we be on – the one that tries to keep the past ways of doing things at all cost, or being willing to change in order to not lose the new wine? Our answer to this will determine our effectiveness in passing on the Living Water in relevant ways within each of our communities and cultures.