It’s an oversimplification to say there are only two kinds of Christians in the U.S. today, but let me try to make a case for that view nevertheless.
On the one side, there are “Charred Stone Believers,” most of whom are Baby Boomers like me. The “charred stone” imagery reflects the cynical words of Nehemiah’s critics: “Do they actually think they can make something of stones from a rubbish heap—and charred ones at that?” (Nehemiah 4:2)
I meet these charred, burnt out Christians all the time. They typically came to Christ during the Jesus Movement or charismatic renewal, with exciting dreams of God restoring the church to its New Testament glory. Although they’ve had some great spiritual experiences from time to time, they’ve also been burned by disappointing circumstances and unfaithful leaders.
Instead of seeing the glorious end-times church they once envisioned, my fellow Boomers often feel like their Christian lives are now piled on a rubbish heap of broken promises and unfulfilled dreams. As Nehemiah’s detractors pointed out, burned stones must be “revived” if they’re going to be of any value as building materials (NKJV). Some of these charred believers have dropped out of church life altogether, while others have resigned themselves to sitting on the back row, with little ongoing ministry in the body of Christ.
However, I’m also beginning to meet another category of Christ-followers, which I call “New Wineskin Christians.” This new breed comes primarily from younger generations. Feeling little sense of obligation to attend “church” in the traditional sense, they would much rather BE the church. They’re rightfully bored and unimpressed with our focus on Sunday morning meetings instead of 24/7/365 spirituality.
Young generations like the Millennials are looking for reality and community, not showmanship and hype. Life is about transformation and relationships rather than endless programs and pointless activities. They are yearning for a sense of purpose, but they’re skeptical that their purpose can be fulfilled within the four walls of a church. They’re usually more motivated by the prospect of being salt and light in the marketplace.
Of course, there are phony new wineskins too, just as Satan always tries to counterfeit the work of God. An authentic wineskin is something organic and flexible. It stretches as the new wine ferments and expands. In contrast, some of our modern church wineskins seem more like plastic imitations. If you’ve ever tried to put fine wine into a plastic bottle or Styrofoam cup, you get the picture.
Authentic wineskins are the creation of God, birthed by a move of His Spirit in people’s hearts. Fake wineskins are man-made knockoffs.
Thankfully, God is faithful to raise up genuine New Wineskin Christians in every generation. In fact, once upon a time, those of us who are now charred stones were enthusiastically heralding that we were God’s new wineskin.
Don’t get me wrong. I believe there is hope for the future—both for the Charred Stone Believers and the New Wineskin Christians. Through His resurrection power, God can revive the charred stones, making our later days even better than our former days.
It’s also important for the New Wineskin Christians to recognize their need for the charred stones—not to control things, but to offer perspective and wisdom. Having gone through the fire, we’ve learned a few things along the way. Like the aged Simeon and Anna in the temple (Luke 2:25-38), God wants to use us to affirm and bless the new breed of Christ-followers He is birthing. As the old saying goes, it’s not time to retire, but to re-fire.