It’s the most neglected of parables—perhaps because we Adventists don’t like the questions it raises. I’m referring to Jesus’ saying,
“And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost, and so are the skins; but one puts new wine into fresh wineskins” (Mark 2:22).
In Jesus’ day, the way to keep grape juice for off-season use was to pour it into an animal skin—the skin removed whole with the head, tail, and four legs tied off. There it would ferment, and as it fermented it created alcohol and carbon dioxide, the latter of which swelled the soft leather container. (Sorry, grape-juicers, but it did in fact ferment. Sugar inside the fruit, yeasts on the skin: it happens whether you believe in it or not.)
But after you drank the wine, you couldn’t use the container for that purpose again. It couldn’t expand any further.
Jesus wasn’t offering food-storage advice. He was illustrating the inflexibility of the old Jewish faith: the old traditions, rituals, beliefs, and organizational structures couldn’t be repurposed for new ideas.
Jesus was the new wine, and he required new wineskins. The result was the Christian church.
Our Adventist denomination has, it seems to me, too many of those old wineskins: inflexible people, inflexible ideas, inflexible policies, inflexible doctrines. Even when the church wants to change, it finds it difficult: there’s too little elasticity. The church has too much to lose to risk the slightest bit of expansion of its ideas, and if you’re a leader who sees the need for change, you can’t say so.
The message of the gospel is that God is good, and his mercy is vast. Yet at this point in Adventist history, mercy and grace to those who are different (such as those who love someone the church doesn’t approve of) is too dangerous to talk about. Some church leaders have recently used their sermons to lecture people about conformity, at the end asking us to leave if we don’t agree with them!
Not long ago a friend who works near the top of our church organization thanked me for Adventist Today. “You say what I wish I could preach,” he said.
For Adventist Today to share the new wine, we need wineskins: magazines, websites, writers, artists, and editors. Right now we are in our year-end fundraising campaign. Our AT board has raised a $48,000 matching fund. Give today, to double your gift for this ministry!
Executive Editor of Adventist Today
9 December 2023
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