Not An Improvement, But A Transformation
Chan Gin Kai
He told them this parable: “No one tears a piece out of a new garment to patch an old one. Otherwise, they will have torn the new garment, and the patch from the new will not match the old. And 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. And no one after drinking old wine wants the new, for they say, ‘The old is better.’” (Luke 5:36-39)
When the Pharisees criticised Jesus’ deviation from their brand of Judaism (with all their manmade traditions and definitions), Jesus responded with two short parables, about patching an old garment with new cloth, and pouring new wine into old wineskins.
Back in the days before the invention of polyester, cloth made of cotton, wool and linen tend to shrink, especially when they’re new. So if a patch of new cloth is sewn onto an old garment, the new patch will shrink more than the old, thus worsening the tear on the old garment. Of course the new garment from where the new patch was torn out from is ruined too. So instead of improving the old garment, both garments get ruined.
Wineskins were made from the skins of the sheep, goat or cows. They were used to contain wine, especially for travel, because they were easier to carry than bottles and kegs. While new leather can stretch a little, old leather becomes dry and brittle after years of use. So if new wine were poured into old wineskin, the expansion caused by the fermentation process would expand the brittle old leather and rupture it.
Christ was preaching against syncretism, the mixing of beliefs or religions. With these parables, he made a clear distinction between what he taught and what the Pharisees practiced. One could not adopt his teachings and try to meld them with the Pharisees’ wrong teachings. It was either or, one or the other. His listeners had to give up their old beliefs before they could adopt his teachings.
These parables not only applied to the Jews who wanted to become Christians, but to anyone who has had a different belief. We cannot merge the theology and practices of other beliefs with Christianity.
Neither should we blend philosophy or psychology, self-help mantra or secular wisdom to God’s Truth. No human insight, no matter how astute, should become more important than the Bible. We should of course learn and benefit from the best of academic research and studies, but human wisdom should never take precedence over God’s.
What do we rely on more in our quest to be Christ-like? What do we use more in our role as leaders? Do we rely too much on human wisdom and secular skills?
The greatest danger is melding God’s principles with our own. Do we adopt whatever is easy from the Bible, and blend them with our own beliefs to create something that pleases us more? Jesus did not simply teach us to become better citizens, with more fulfilling marriages and happier families. He did not call for improvements to our practices, but transformation of our lives. Are you improved or transformed?
Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. (Romans 12:2a)
Chan Gin Kai
Gin Kai is a film producer who believes in the power of media to inspire positive changes. He has spearheaded disaster relief and capacity building projects in impoverished communities across Asia. In church, he serves as a mentor to young professionals in the EDGE Ministry. He describes himself as "just a sinner who wants to get right with God".