Hebrews Study #7: “Old Wine In New Skins?”
“You Keep Me Hanging On,” Dressing Up Bondage as the Gospel
By Richard Allen – March 27, 2023
I’m sure that this Blog title has a few of you scratching your heads saying: “You have it backwards, it’s not Old Wine in New Skins, but New Wine in Old Skins.” So let me agree that you are Biblically correct. What I am trying to point out is a subtle difference in what has happened to many of our mainline denominations who have resurrected Old Testament Law, Priesthood, Vestments, Furniture, Sacrifices and Liturgy, and poured them undiluted back into the Church of Jesus Christ. The Church is supposedly under a New and Better Covenant, so it’s actually sad when you think about returning to a priestly sacrificial system where “no one ever has assurance that they are truly forgiven and restored, because Jesus’ work in atoning for our sins is never really finished.” In reality, what these mainline churches have done, to use the words of a great Motown hit from my teen years is: “Keep Me (the worshipper) Hanging on!” Pretending to be under Grace, they make others obey the Law. This isn’t what Jesus meant when he said: “It is finished!”
Let me explain. In Galatians, the Apostle Paul makes clear that the Law with all of its furniture, sacrifices, ceremonies and priestly functions was only meant to be a “schoolmaster” to lead the Old Testament saints until Christ. That word we translate schoolmaster is an interesting word, it was the word used to describe a learned and trusted servant who had full authority over the children of a wealthy man. One day the children would inherit the family fortune and estate as adults. But while still children, they had no status as heirs, rather they were under the tutelage and instruction of this appointed schoolmaster until they came of age. Paul makes this very argument, telling Jewish Believers that under the Old Covenant, they were in bondage to the Law, the Temple, the Priesthood and all the Ceremonies and Regulations, because they were Children. But now that Jesus had come and fulfilled all of the Law, Ceremonies and Sacrifices, AS FULL HEIRS THEY NO LONGER NEED A SCHOOLMASTER! Galatians explains it thus:
“Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made, and it was put in place through angels by an intermediary. Now an intermediary implies more than one, but God is one. Is the law then contrary to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law. But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. So then, the law was our schoolmaster until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ, have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise” (Galatians 3:19-29).
Let me remind you again, as the writer of the Book of Hebrews makes clear, “where there is a change in the Law, there is a change in the priesthood” (Hebrew 7:12). By reinstituting all of the props from the Old Covenant (which God Himself says were fulfilled in Christ), these mainline denominations place themselves under the law, and have become a hybrid, “part Judaism and part Christian,” a grotesque contradiction that accomplishes the purpose of neither Covenant. It would be like an adult still wearing a diaper or drinking milk, which in fact, is the argument the writer of Hebrews makes to these Jewish Christians who want to go back again under the “schoolmaster” (Hebrews 5:13).
Jesus had a similar dialogue on this very subject with a Samaritan Woman. She had her own version of the Law, Priesthood, Temple and Holy City and wanted to know “so where is the right place to worship God? We in Samaria worship on Mount Gerizim, you Jews worship in Jerusalem.” But Jesus tells her that under the New Covenant, true worshippers would have “the Law written on their hearts,” so the worshipper could worship God “in Spirit and in Truth” and not by location, temple, priesthood, gender or sacrifice. Here’s what Jesus said to the Samaritan Woman:
“Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshippers will worship the Father in Spirit and in Truth, for they are the kind of worshippers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshippers must worship in Spirit and in Truth” (John 4:21-24).
Jesus clearly stated that New Covenant worship is now in “Spirit and Truth,” yet there were those almost from the start, who wanted to compromise the message of “freedom in Christ” by absorbing the Gospel into Judaism. Let me add, there has been a long debate among Jewish scholars arguing: “If not for the abrasive, antisemitic teachings of Paul, the Apostle, the Christian Message of ‘forgiveness of sins’ and ‘salvation by grace’ would have been incorporated into Judaism.” Christianity would just have been another sect within Judaism. Jesus denounced this error, making it clear that you can’t place the “joy of salvation” (i.e. new wine), into the old structure of Judaism, with all its laws, rituals, and VEILED HOLY PLACE, DENYING ACCESS to GOD (i.e. old skins). Jesus tells us, this just won’t work:
“And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is destroyed, and so are the skins. But new wine is for fresh wineskins” (Mark 2:22).
In the first Century A.D., the faithful teaching and ministry of Jesus’ Apostles kept the “Judaizers” at bay, and delivered a pure gospel, unfettered from the Law, the Temple, Priesthood and its Sacrifices. But after the Third Century A.D., the Church itself, having the “new wine of salvation” poured into the “new wineskin,” allowed the “old wine” of Judaism back into the “new wineskins” (structure) of the Church, creating a Hybrid of Judaism and Christianity. It’s safe to say, “if the Apostles Peter or Paul would visit St. Peter’s Basilica today, they would not recognize any part of the service.
With priestly garments like the Old Testament Levitical Priests wore, as well as “Altars” paced at the front where earthly Priests (also mistakenly called Pastors or Ministers) pretend to offer real sacrifices to placate and atone for sin, these Churches remind us of the earthly priesthood and temple that the writer of Hebrews continues to tell us, had been fulfilled and done away in Christ! They also teach us that the People of God are back under the Law, and the Veil that separated God in His Holy Place is now firmly back in place and God’s people no longer have full access by faith into His presence (Hebrews 6:19). With God once again “walled-off”from His people, human mediators and priests are needed to minister salvation (for a small fee) to the faithful. This brings me to my subtitle: “You Keep Me Hanging On!” As the lyrics of a Motown classic from 1967 read, I can still hear Diana Ross sing:
“Set me free, why don't cha babe. Get out my life, why don't cha babe. 'Cause you don't really love me. You just keep me hanging on. You don't really need me. But you keep me hanging on.”
By inserting the old wine of “bondage to the Law,” a “never ending priesthood,” a “never-fully-atoning-sacrifice” and an “endless litany of rituals and performances” between God and His People, these “hybrid churches” have mixed the old wine (law) back into the new wineskin of grace! God’s people are “kept hanging on,” never fully forgiven, never given full assurance of salvation, but once again being enslaved within a sacrificial system that cannot “save them to the utmost” the way our Savior Jesus can. The early Church also dealt with attempts to reinsert Judaism back into the Gospel of Jesus. In the only Church Council of the New Testament, the Apostles and Elders were confronted with this same error by so-called believers from the party of the Pharisees, trying to put the people of God back under the Law of Moses:
“But some believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees rose up and said, ‘It is necessary to circumcise them and to order them to keep the law of Moses.’ The apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider this matter. And after there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, ‘Brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us, and he made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith. Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? But we believe that we (Jews) will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they (Gentiles) will’ ” (Acts 15:5-11).
There’s also a small monetary charge to the people for these human priestly functions, one that has made many human mediators rich in this world’s goods, but poor toward God. I hope to explore this subject more fully in future Blogs: “Supper or Sacrifice?” We’ll look at how the simple ordinance of the Lord’s Supper morphed into an elaborate ceremony that these churches actually perform, and “re-sacrifice” Jesus, the Son of God, over and over just as was accomplished at Calvary once for all. I’ll need to quote several of their own confessions, councils and decrees to show where they’ve strayed from the truth. It’s not a pretty picture, but it will be worth our effort in our pursuit of the “Truth.”