“Do not move an ancient boundary stone set up by your forefathers.” - Proverbs 22:28
“No one pours new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst, the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved." - Matthew 9:16-17
One of the most challenging aspects of the Christian life is to understand those things which are timeless and changeless about our faith and those things which can and must change. There are some foundational issues which are linked clearly to the unchanging nature of God and the gospel of Jesus Christ which must never change. In the Book of Galatians, the Apostle Paul said, “Even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than what we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned” (Gal. 1:8). Paul was clearly establishing that the gospel must never change, and that if it changes, it is really no gospel at all. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Heb. 13:8). If someone tries to proclaim an evolving God, one who learns from His mistakes, or one who is changing with the times, be assured he is a messenger of Satan. If someone tries to tell us that the Bible is also evolving, or that we as a modern people no longer need to listen to its dated and obsolete messages, we can point to Jesus’ own statement, “I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or least stroke of a pen will by any means pass away from the Law until everything is accomplished” (Matt. 5:18). The Bible is not evolving, and neither is its teaching. These are some of the many things of the Christian faith which are never going to change… they are eternal, as God Himself is eternal. I do not say that Satan will make no effort to persuade us to change them—he will! But the true church, the pillar and foundation of the church must stand firm and be unmovable on them. To these we would add the Bible’s clear teachings on marriage, parenting, church life, stewardship, work, etc. The Bible gives us clear and timeless principles by which we must live our lives.
Yet, for all of that, it is true that God is constantly doing new things in Redemptive History, and that He moves on. The most dramatic example of that is yet to come, when God says of the New Heavens and the New Earth, “Behold. I am making everything new” (Rev. 21:5). The most controversial change occurred when Christ came and ushered in the New Covenant, making the Old Covenant obsolete. This change had been clearly predicted by the Prophets, especially by Jeremiah: "The time is coming," declares the LORD, "when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers…” (Jer. 31:31-32). Included in this New Covenant was the ending of ceremonial laws and worship commands which had set the Jews apart from the Gentiles: circumcision, the dietary regulations, the commands not to intermarry with Gentiles, all these things had to change. Especially hard was the ending of the religious life—the animal sacrificial system. Jesus said to the Samaritan woman concerning the change in worship, "Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem…. A time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth" (John 4:21-24).
Jesus prepared for those changes when He taught on the unshrunk cloth and the wineskins in Matthew 9:16-17. The Jews had come to ask Jesus about religious fasting, and Jesus spoke in two parallel parables—the new (unshrunk) cloth being sewn onto an old garment, and the new wine being poured into an old wineskin. In both cases, the old cannot handle the change brought on by the new. The new cloth will move, it will shrink, it will change. It is dynamic, it is not set. If it is sewn onto an old garment that has already shrunk, they are incompatible, and a tear will occur. So also new wine must not be poured into old wineskins, because when the wine ferments further and gives off gasses, the old, inflexible wineskin will be unyielding, and it will burst.
"God’s people must discern in their personal lives and in their corporate lives together as a church what must never change and what absolutely must change to keep in step with God."
God is moving out, constantly doing new things to achieve His ancient redemptive purposes. God’s people must discern in their personal lives and in their corporate lives together as a church what must never change and what absolutely must change to keep in step with God. Some churches change doctrines to keep up with the whims of the world and lose themselves as a result. Other churches, unwilling to change outward forms which themselves were new at one point, remain stubbornly set in their ways and become obsolete to the surrounding world. They are like a snapshot from a moment in time from several decades ago, and soon become an empty testimony to an inflexible attitude that missed a key moment when God said to move out. Every church needs a strong spirit of discernment on both ends of this spectrum—to keep inviolate what must never change, and to have to courage to move when God says to move.