The spirit of revolution is rushing like a mighty wind throughout the world. People power, the sleeping giant, is now the hottest commodity in the world. The social media revolution that took place in the United States in the 2008 presidential election has also empowered the citizens of countries throughout the Middle East. Even after the Internet was shut down by force, these networks continued to play a major role in recent revolutions.
Our denomination must carefully examine these events and be prepared for unprecedented challenges and changes as we call for revival and reformation. The revolution we look forward to is not an upheaval precipitated by a generation weaned on social media networks, but a movement based on a generous outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Let’s consider again a brief parable Jesus told His disciples.
In Matthew 9 Jesus gave three parables in response to the followers of John the Baptist’s question about fasting (verses 14-17). It’s to the third of these parables we ought to pay particular attention when it comes to our desire for revival and reformation.
Jesus said: “Neither is new wine put into old wineskins; otherwise, the skins burst, and the wine is spilled, and the skins are destroyed; but new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved” (Matt. 9:17, NRSV).*
The day Jesus gave this parable new wine was on the table of ancient Israel. He, the new wine, was surrounded by the glowering eyes and jealous looks of receptacles originally designed to receive and distribute God’s grace to a thirsty world. New wine was there in abundance, but the wineskins, once new, had become so old and stiff with prejudice, so stereotyped with tradition, and so cold with exclusiveness that they couldn’t receive or contain it.
This truth could apply to our church, spiritual Israel. The new wine is the Holy Spirit, for whom we have been praying. The old wineskin is any institution that has become a slave to tradition, bowing before the lords of legalism and criticism. The cure for this malady is a generous dose of new wine. Our institution will have to either adapt or be discarded.
We cannot continue to do business as usual. If the new wine cannot find a suitable receptacle in the one prepared for it, it will be wasted. Every revolution, revival, or reformation in human history is marked by the process wherein the one is necessary for the other.
There is no such ferment in the world as compelling as that caused by the coming of Christ into one’s life. It is impossible for those who receive Christ to go on living in a worldly, selfish, sinful manner. When someone takes a divine draft of the new wine of grace, their life is revolutionized, revived, and reformed. It finds expression in new habits, affections, ambitions, and pursuits. Old things are passed away as the new wine demands new wineskin. The new life expresses itself in new conduct as the old serpent of fear is banished and the convert returns to bask in a paradise of grace through faith in Christ.
Even as an institution we must be willing to say, as did Zacchaeus upon receiving Christ, “If our church has taken anything from anyone by false accusation or by silence in the presence of sin, we will restore it fourfold” (see Luke 19:8). Just as the new wine of an experience of Christ cannot be put into the old container of a selfish character, neither can reformation and revival be forced into the old wineskin of a church that has not recognized and repented of the corporate sins of racism, legalism, and exclusivism, to name a few.
Let’s not be afraid to step up for a taste of new wine!
* Bible texts credited to NRSV are from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. Used by permission.
Hyveth Williams is a professor of homiletics at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary in Berrien Springs, Michigan. This article was published April 21, 2011.