For new wine, new wineskins
by Sharon Robertson, Lt. Colonel –
Ten years ago the Western Territory was challenged to earnestly seek the mind of God in order to develop a vision statement that encapsulates and articulates the combined vision of more than 300 corps, outposts and institutions in the Western Territory.
Whether or not you were a part of that process, whether or not you remember the words, the message of that vision is as true today as it was then: We are not yet the Army God wants us to become; through self-examination we must be driven back to our roots, re-examine our origins, accept personally our unique, God-given mission and at the same time continually be challenged to deep change that will resonate at every level, in every unit and in every soul…change—not for the sake of change, but that we may be ever more effective in our efforts to serve God in the here and now.
In Matthew 9:14-17, Jesus was confronted by the disciples of John the Baptist, who challenged him because Jesus’ disciples did not engage in some of the traditions of the religious leadership:
Then John’s disciples came and asked him, “How is it that we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?”
Jesus answered, “How can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while he is with them? The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; then they will fast.
“No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch will pull away from the garment, making the tear worse. Neither do men pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst, the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.”
No one recognized better than Jesus the need to examine even those practices that have become revered tradition. Jesus did not urge his questioners to abandon a religious practice that in the past had been helpful to them. On occasion he himself indicated that fasting could be a beneficial tool to aid the worshiper to focus on communion with God. But the value of fasting was not in the practice itself—the value of the ancient religious exercise was in using it effectively at the right time and place to accomplish the right purposes.
Jesus also reminded his questioners that you can’t pour new wine into old wineskins. It wasn’t that there was anything wrong with the old wineskins; they were right for their own time and still useful for their own purposes. Nor was there contamination in the new wine. The basic formula was right, the ingredients fresh and if there were to be a wine supply to meet the needs of the future, new wine was essential! The problem was in the packaging! The old packaging was wrong for the new product. In the process of fermentation the new wine could not be controlled, contained by the old, less flexible skins. The old wineskins, unable to withstand the pressures of the process, would burst…the wine would run out…and both would be worthless. The vintner could not accomplish his vision if he could not accommodate the requirement to change to new packaging.
In this passage Jesus gave us a powerful metaphor for change. If we are to function effectively in today’s world, if we are to meet the needs of the multitudes in Christ’s name we must be willing to change, to abandon what is not working, to value tradition only as it enhances our ability to stand out from the crowd as servants of God ready and willing to act in his name. We must be willing to look at the packaging, the way we do business, how we are stewarding our resources, our methods and—in particular—at our own willingness, as individuals in authority, to face up to issues of control, to be willing to trust both God and our fellow officers and soldiers whom God has chosen to accomplish his purposes.
If God’s vision for the Army in the new millennium is to be accomplished, we dare not risk trying to preserve the new wine of his ever-new, ever-sweet, ever-invigorating blessings into the inflexible wineskins of centralized authority and paternalism which were adequate—even effective receptacles in former days.