What Could New Wine Look Like in Your Community?
A Lot Like a Mustard Seed Tree…
A Message from New Wine Director, Dr. Paul Louis Metzger
New Wine is an apostolic ministry. It is ‘sent out’ to provide education and consultation in support of the transformation of individuals and communities to reflect Jesus’ upside-down kingdom community described in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). What could New Wine look like in your community as we partner together for Jesus’ sake and by God’s Spirit?
New Wine loves metaphors—like new wine and new wineskins (Matthew 9:17). Here’s another organic image to consider—a mustard seed tree! Here we are climbing on Jesus’ shoulders for inspiration, since Jesus loves metaphors, too. He loves to use parables to speak of God’s kingdom. Jesus employs parables because of their elasticity to talk about the mysterious kingdom of heaven that takes root, grows, and flourishes here on earth. Parables do not function like theological tomes, but word pictures. They describe rather than define. In the same way, it is best to describe New Wine rather than define it. In what follows, I will describe what New Wine mustard seed communities would look like as signposts of God’s kingdom work in partnership with you.
Please allow me to quote Jesus’ parable of the mustard seed before going on to describe New Wine’s mustard seed community work:
The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches (Matthew 13:31-32; NIV).
Like a mustard seed, the kingdom of heaven starts small. However, in time, it grows up to be the largest of plants, indeed, a tree that provides rest for the creatures of heaven. Jesus’ mustard seed community did not have pomp, worldly power, and prestige on which to draw, like Caesar and the Roman Empire. It did not have any monuments, like the Temple in Jerusalem. As an apostolic and missional movement, Jesus’ upside-down kingdom prizes relationships and mentorship centered in Jesus’ person, work, and teaching. Its organizational work serves the organic and relational endeavors of discipleship and mentorship.
I referred to Jesus’ kingdom as “upside down.” Why is that? Consider Jesus’ Beatitudes recorded in Matthew 5:3-10: since when are those who are poor in spirit viewed as citizens of heaven, and since when do the meek inherit the earth? Jesus’ way of looking at the kingdom of heaven is counter-intuitive and upside-down! The Beatitudes set forth in Matthew 5:3-10 reflect key qualities of Jesus’ kingdom and those who are participants in his mustard seed community. They serve as the point of reference for the kind of apostolic leaders New Wine seeks to develop through our work of education and consultation for the sake of transformation. One can see these key qualities as core competencies that describe rather than define New Wine’s endeavors. These qualities are on display in the lives of various people to whom God has entrusted us at New Wine to mentor and stretch as new wineskins. We pray that such qualities will continue to manifest themselves in our mentorship work as New Wine moves forward in cultivating and nurturing mustard seed communities.
We focus our energies in education, consultation, and transformation around affirming and equipping followers of Jesus in light of the eight Beatitudes disclosed in Matthew chapter 5. I wrote about these Beatitudes in my volume Beatitudes, Not Platitudes: Jesus’ Invitation to the Good Life (Cascade, 2018) and hosted interviews on this subject for New Wine Tastings’ Beatitudes series at our YouTube channel. New Wine is blessed to have a variety of academics and practitioners who collaborate to provide education and consultation. We are developing a range of courses on pressing theological-cultural topics. The courses make available online content, written materials, and facilitation and training with mentors. One of these courses will make use of my Beatitudes book, the chapters on the church as a cultural community which includes discussion of the Beatitudes and Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s own reflections on them in Exploring Ecclesiology: An Evangelical and Ecumenical Introduction (Brad Harper and Paul Louis Metzger, Brazos/Baker, 2009), as well as the video series on the Beatitudes. Contact us for information on the diverse courses.
Please allow me to speak briefly of how Jesus’ Beatitudes address our current cultural setting in compelling ways. In no way is this brief sketch intended to be exhaustive.
We live in tumultuous times. So many powerful forces are competing for people’s attention and allegiance. The church in the U.S. often falls prey to political operatives that hijack the gospel message. Jesus speaks prophetically into our current situation through these ageless Beatitudes, which are by no means platitudes. What is needed are mustard seed communities that will flourish in various settings as a counter-cultural force in service to Jesus’ counter-cultural aims. These communities will operate as a reform movement, manifesting the qualities of the Beatitudes, and seeking to foster core competencies that reflect them. When the kingdom of heaven dawns in our midst, its light grows these qualities through God’s Spirit in Jesus’ people. Here are aspirations bound up with the Beatitudes, which New Wine seeks to foster in and through God’s Spirit in mustard seed disciples and communities:
We will become poor of spirit, which involves humility (Matthew 5:3). Poverty of spirit, which John R. W. Stott refers to as spiritual bankruptcy, must characterize Jesus’ people. It runs counter to what a white missional outreach pastor said with sorrow: “The church in North America is white, right, and afraid of anything not us.” New Wine repents of this posture and seeks to operate with a different heart-set and mindset. Trying to prove we’re right, talking over people who disagree with us, rather than taking the posture of a listener who wants to learn, is detrimental to our growth and witness. A dialogical posture must shape our engagement and pursuit of life-giving rather than life-taking truth. Poverty of spirit is essential to this endeavor. Proving we are right must give way to making relationships right, which involves a sense of deep need for personal transformation on our own part.
We will mourn and lament the broken state and fallen condition of our own souls and our society (Matthew 5:4). All too often, a culture of celebration predominates and caters to the haves over against the have nots, as Walter Brueggemann and Soong-Chan Rah have argued (See Rah’s book on Lamentations titled Prophetic Lament: A Call for Justice in Troubled Times for the commentary series I edited for InterVarsity Press). Poverty of spirit leads us to mourn our condition and fills us with a sense of urgency to operate according to Jesus’ upside-down kingdom mission. We will take to heart that God comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable.
We will become meek (Matthew 5:5). Meekness is strength under control. It is like a horse that is bridled to race toward a goal. The Spirit bridles us so that our aims and longings serve Jesus’ aims in society. It involves laying down our lives for others rather than laying down others’ lives for us. It is not about making America great again, taking back America, going back to the religion of the founding fathers, or anything like that. As my mentor Dr. John M. Perkins shared, “If we go back there, I’m still a slave.” As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. envisioned, we need to foster the beloved community, where love conquers hate and indifference, and fosters equity and justice.
We will hunger and thirst for righteousness (Matthew 5:6). In a culture that gorges itself on affluenza, we desire to whet the appetite for equity and justice. Righteousness entails personal and social wholeness. We find in Scripture the following holistic framework: God is just; God justifies the ungodly; and God makes Jesus’ people just. It was G.K. Chesterton who said that Christianity has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult and left untried. So, it is with righteousness. It is not about mass-producing a bunch of pious patriots. God’s passion for righteousness orients us to love God with our whole being and our neighbors, which includes those least like us and whom we least like, as ourselves. It also involves caring for the orphan, widow, and the alien in their distress.
We will become merciful (Matthew 5:7). God’s righteousness is not about getting even, but about making whole. Such holistic righteousness involves mercy. Those who are spiritually bankrupt and who sense their spiritual poverty will not come down hard on others in need but offer the hand of friendship and support. As we find in Matthew 12, Jesus will not break bruised reeds or snuff out smoldering wicks. He does not break the backs of the downtrodden. What angers Jesus is spiritual hypocrisy and religious pride that tramples and oppresses those who are most vulnerable. Jesus’ mustard seed community(-ies) will always identify with those who cry out for mercy. After all, if we realize that we have been forgiven much, we will love much and care for others, just like Jesus cares so mercifully for us.
We will become pure of heart (Matthew 5:8). As we cry out from a keen awareness of our own spiritual bankruptcy, desire God’s righteousness, and experience God’s mercy, we will become pure of heart. Such purity of heart does not seek to take the toothpick out of someone else’s eye before taking the redwood forest out of one’s own eye. Like Isaiah of old, a prophet and prophetic movement longs to see God and cries out for mercy in experiencing the vision (Isaiah 6). Such sight will illumine one’s soul and lead to pure speech and action that brings Jesus’ pure love to bear on a society with a heart clouded by intolerance and hatred. Those who are pure of heart will join Bob Pierce, the founder of World Vision, in praying, “Let my heart be broken by the things that break the heart of God.”
We will become peacemakers (Matthew 5:9). Peacemakers are not the same as peacekeepers, which much of the time merely seeks to keep tensions in check. Peacemakers are those who mine conflicts for relational gold. They seek to build and restore relational bridges of trust through Jesus in contemporary culture wherever possible. The deep core of Jesus’ upside-down kingdom values disclosed in the Beatitudes compel us to pursue diverse connections, as we promote the common good for the highest good, the Triune God. We go through our convictions rather than around them or stop short at them in search of common ground. Whether we are talking about religious strife, tensions between faith and science, racial divisions, divisive political partisanship, and a host of other polarities that stand in the way of building the beloved community, we pray that God will make us instruments of Jesus’ peace. Such peacemaking endeavors also foster healthy organizational structures that promote collaboration rather than divisive forms of competition, top-down leadership models, and silos of isolation. New Wine seeks to cultivate spaces of peace that reduce the overstimulation of hostile noise in society. New Wine promotes dialogue and discourse that foster mutuality, safety, and security for diverse unity as a reflection of Jesus’ kingdom shalom.
We will identify with Jesus and be persecuted for righteousness (Matthew 5:10-12). In no way, shape, or form do I wish to promote a persecution complex. All too readily, Christians in the United States claim to be experiencing persecution. We often confuse the loss of Christian privilege with persecution and easily become paranoid. As in the first century, we need to learn how to navigate our increasingly pluralistic society in a way that promotes Jesus rather than Christian America and Christian privilege, which negatively impact our Christian testimony. The early church miraculously grew while enduring real persecution. They suffered for embracing Jesus’ cross and embodying holistic righteousness. They were martyrs without having a martyr’s complex. They rejoiced and were glad that they belonged to the same community of faith as the prophets of old who identified with God’s Messianic kingdom.
New Wine cultivates core competencies and strategies that reflect these ideals and values and instills them in mustard seed communities locally, regionally, nationally, and beyond. Our conferences, forums, journal issues, newsletter, other publications, and video offerings serve as resources for this aim. Our education and consultation work provides solid nutrients for healthy forms of mentorship. One of those structures we are building is a certification program that will turn disciples into disciple makers who plant the seeds and multiply the mustard seed communities.
We look forward to partnering with Jesus’ followers in various locales who embrace these values and who desire to see New Wine’s apostolic work take root, grow, and flourish in their midst through God’s Spirit for Jesus’ sake.
Prayerfully and expectantly yours,
Paul Louis Metzger, Ph.D.
Founder and Director,
The Institute for Cultural Engagement:
New Wine, New Wineskins