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New Wine Needs a New Wineskin (by Henry Hon)

I have followed testimonies of the “Asbury revival” and just saw the Jesus Revolution movie. I am encouraged and touched that God is moving again in these days. Watching the movie reminded me of the early years when I was one of those tagged as a “Jesus Freak” when I got fired up for Jesus in 1969. I was in high school when I received the freedom of the Spirit. I dropped all to follow Jesus to live communally. He has been faithful to keep me on the Way till now.

God is not stingy with His Spirit. He has poured out His Spirit without measuring (John 3:34). He will always find an opportunity to move among His people; therefore, significant revivals have repeated themselves over the centuries and in many places around the world. This includes Europe, China, Nigeria, and many other places in recent memories. God is not the One withholding revivals.

So, the problem is why 5-10 years after nearly every revival, the trajectory of Christianity and the secular world do not change. Things are back to the same old same old. History has shown that after each revival Christians became more divided manifested with new denominations springing up from the revivals. Even in the midst of a revival, divisions like what happened between Lonnie Frisbee and Chuck Smith in the movie. I witnessed the destruction of “Christian” competition and division during the period of the "Jesus Revolution.” Can believers once and for all harness the revival Spirit that can spread and increase into the coming Kingdom without losing it and waiting for another generation?

My analysis and solution stem from what Jesus said (This perspective is painting with a very broad brush, and is not meant to be judgmental concerning any of God’s people or the churches where they may be members):

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." [Mar 2:22 ESV]

This “new wine” is a metaphor for Jesus in His resurrected Spirit. When the Spirit was poured out on the day of Pentecost, people said they were full of “new wine” (Acts 2:13). Much like being drunk but without being a waste and depraved (Eph. 5:18); being full of the Spirit is joy and liberation with the loss of self-consciousness. Most Christians agree that the “new wine” spoken of by Jesus is the Spirit of God in His resurrection (viz. the “Spirit of Christ”).

What is the new and old “wineskin?” It is clear in Jesus’ parable that the problem is not with the new wine but with the container for the new wine: wineskins. When it is in the new wineskin, both are preserved. The intact, new wineskin will transport and distribute the new wine. The Spirit will spread further and distribute to all wherever it goes. However, if the new wine is put into an old wineskin, the wine will be “destroyed” or wasted, and the wineskin will burst. According to Jesus, the method to preserve the outpouring of the new wine, a revival Spirit, is to ensure it is contained by a new wineskin and not the old.

It is critical to know the difference between the new and old wineskin if believers are to sustain God’s outpouring as we are witnessing in Asbury and beyond.

The old wineskin can be seen in the context of this parable. Jesus was answering the challenge from both the old-time religionists (Pharisees) and the new ones (disciples of John). What is alarming is that these disciples of John heard from John that the Pharisees were a brood of vipers and that Jesus was the Lamb of God. How quickly they joined with the Pharisees to challenge Jesus. They were offended that Jesus was eating and drinking with tax collectors and sinners. He was mingling and enjoying Himself in an unholy environment with unholy people.

Their opposition had merit. The Old Covenant laws, in multiple instances, commanded God’s people to separate themselves from the wicked (Num. 16:26, Neh. 10:28). In fact, separation from peoples not abiding by the law is a definition of holiness (Lev. 20:26).

The ways and methods of the Old Covenant commanded by God were not just a set of laws; it also included a worship center (temple), uniquely anointed people who represented God (priests, kings, and prophets), a set of liturgies (a specific way of worshipping God), and separation/division from the unholy. That was the old wineskin. God was in that wineskin for centuries. Anyone, including foreigners, desiring God in the Old Covenant must come to this wineskin. It was God’s command! God’s glory could not be found anywhere else or by any other means except through this wineskin.

Both the Pharisees and the disciples of John were in the old wineskin. They measured and assessed Jesus based on the old wineskin and condemned Jesus and His disciples accordingly. Through His incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection, ascension, enthronement and outpouring of the Spirit, the God of the Old Covenant became the God of the New Covenant. Jesus is no longer the God of the Old Covenant. Certainly, He is the same God, but the relationship with His people is now through faith instead of law (viz. “now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings . . . so that all the Gentiles might come to the obedience that comes from faith” – Rom. 16:26). He is now the new wine; the Spirit poured out (I Cor. 15:45; II Cor. 3:17).

His Spirit cannot be contained by the old wineskin because both will be lost. Consider the practices of Christianity over the last 2000 years that have been dominated by the ways of the Old Covenant. Christians are mainly taught to go to a place (church) to worship God. In these worship places, there are those specially anointed to speak for God and lead them. They are to live by a set of laws (e.g., creeds, distinctives/practices, catechisms) and separate themselves from the unholy and ungodly. This includes separating from other Christians deemed unholy due to wrong doctrines and practices. This is nothing but a continuation of the old wineskin. If this is the case, no wonder, however much God pours out His Spirit, the work of the Spirit dissipates, and churches are fractured, spawning more churches: resulting in the destruction of both the wine and wineskin.

So, what is the new wineskin? In Zechariah 4:2-6, Zechariah saw a vision of a lampstand with two olive trees. These olive trees produced oil for lighting the lampstand. He asked the angel what these were, and the Lord answered: “Not by might nor by power, but by Spirit.” The lampstand referred to the Spirit of the Lord. It is the Spirit of the Lord that shines as a lampstand. However, in Revelation 1, when John saw the seven lampstands, Jesus declared that those lampstands were the seven ekklesia (mistranslated to “churches”). The lampstand being the Spirit, became the ekklesia.

His ekklesia is the new wineskin! It is the container of the new wine.

The Greeks founded Ekklesia 600 years before Christ as their invention of democracy. It was the forum for a democratic legislative assembly. Jesus appropriated this specific form of the assembly when He said, “I will build my ekklesia, and the Gates of Hades will not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:18). The Lord’s ekklesia is made up of a diversity of people with contrary perspectives (Jews and Gentiles, slaves and free, Romans and Barbarians, male and female). Yet, they love one another and are one (Col. 3:10-16). Free speech is honored with each one contributing from their perspectives (1 Cor. 14:26). His ekklesia is central to His eternal purpose; therefore, it is called the Body of Christ, the Bride of Christ, the Household of God, the Temple of God, the New Man, the New Jerusalem, and more.

Jesus’ work of crucifixion and resurrection was how He built up His ekklesia (Matt. 16:21). However, it was after the outpouring of the Spirit (new wine) on the day of Pentecost that His ekklesia came into being (Acts 2:47). Clearly, the new wineskin matched the new wine.

The new wineskin was completely different from the old. All believers met from house to house without the need for the temple (Acts 2:46, the temple was destroyed in AD 70). They became priests with direct connections to God without intermediaries (1 Pet. 2:9). There was no special liturgy for worshipping God. They simply ate their food together and broke bread in fellowship with one another (Acts 2:46-47). Each one can speak and teach freely with no one dominating in God’s democratic assembly (1 Cor. 14:30-31). Finally, although diverse with opposing perspectives, they were in one accord with no divisions, and God was glorified (Rom. 15:6-7). This was the new wineskin to hold the new wine.

Alas, many Jewish believers wouldn’t let go of the old wineskin (the old covenant), so they did their best to bring it back (viz. circumcision was still mandatory even to be saved [Acts 15:1]). That pursuit caused divisions in the Lord’s Body, and the Spirit dissipated. Acts 15 and Galatians 2 show how the law of Moses became a dividing factor, and faith in the Spirit were replaced by the works of the law. The last time Paul went back to Jerusalem, myriads (tens of thousands) of believers were zealous for the law (Acts 21:20). The new wine which was poured out on Pentecost was “destroyed.” What was left was a religious zeal desiring to kill Paul.

This struggle between the old and the new in the first few centuries culminated with the Roman Church. Though the Roman Church preached the faith of Jesus Christ, it was basically practicing the Old Covenant: temples, priests, liturgy, and separations “killed” those with a different perspective. Then during the reformation period, the Spirit, new wine, was again moving greatly; yet all the major reformers continued the same Old Covenant practices (e.g., instead of the Holy Roman Empire, “State Churches” evolved). Finally, a masterstroke was made by Satan when he enticed the translators (both King James and the Roman church) to translate the Greek word “ekklesia” to “church” placing the emphasis upon a physical building.

Tyndale, the first translator of the Bible from Greek to English, translated the word “ekklesia” to “congregation.” The Roman Church demanded that he use the word “church” instead of “congregation.” Tyndale refused, and this was one of the major reasons why he was murdered and burned at the stake.

It was not a simple mistake but purposeful because “church” literally meant/means the building for worship. It was not referring to God’s people but to the building. That is why there continues to be confusion using this word since “Jesus is building His church” has a completely different connotation than “what church do you go to?” When the Roman church owned all the churches in Europe, and King James owned all the churches in England, they wanted their subjects to go to “church” (viz. the church building they owned). This was the way to ensure that all their subjects could receive “God’s instructions” from them as intermediaries.

Like the temple in the Old Covenant, every church had a clergy class, liturgies, a body of law, and separation and/or mandatory distinctives. In other words, by simply translating the word “ekklesia” to “church” instead of to “democratic assembly” or “democratic congregation,” God’s people both then and today are constantly being pulled back to the Old Covenant. Now it is hard to break 1500 years of tradition of going to “church.”

History reveals that revival ends when it becomes systematized into churches. The Jesus People Revolution/Revival didn’t start within churches. It started on the streets, in communes, and in coffee houses in Northern California. What the Jesus Revolution movie showed was the beginning of the institutionalization of the Jesus People Revival, starting with Calvary Chapel. Yes, help was provided, but eventually, in the long run, Calvary Chapel and many other churches spawned during that revival are now new denominations (like the disciples of John the Baptist). The new wine has long gone.