Friday, 1 December 2017

Blogtext: Make me a tent!


God has right through the history of mankind shown a considerable interest in the making of tents. In his two major contracts with humanity, those we habitually call the old and new covenant or testament, the tent and with that  the concept of a temporary dwelling-place play a significant part. The invisible eternal and everlasting God who knows of no change of light and drakness. who himself is beyond the ever changing conditions of His creation finds a great pleasure in meeting with us in a tent. He even shows us the pattern of it in the celestial realm before asking us to build it exactly according to the image shown.

There is then a permanent pattern for a most temporal structure. The fact that what we build always will be tarnished by the conditions of the world in which we live, and will always therefore be of a finite nature, does not detract from its usefulness as a meeting place between God and man. The very fact of its earthly character speaks a volume. It is generally connected to the "Word becoming flesh". The divine clothing itself in the frail frame of humanity and taking the earthly and presenting it as the embodiment of the divine to all that is earthly. The very User Friendly Interface between the Majesty on high and its subjects below. And the one given meeting point between that which is of the earth and that which is of the heaven.


Moses is commanded to build a tabernacle, a tent, a place entirely made by human hands according to a divinely given pattern. The only thing in the entire tabernacle made by God are the written instructions on the tables of the law! Moses is then the tentmaker of that first visible meeting place where God decides to make His presence known to his people. Everyone knows for sure that this in no way limits Gods presence in the world, but it is for them who need a physical reality in order to believe, that this "chamber of commerce" between the two worlds is made. "God does not live in houses made by men, the whole world is in His hand and he fills heaven and earth with his glory." But nontheless it has pleased God to make himself knowable in this manner. And so this mobile worship center becomes the very life center of the nation and of the people who agree to the covenant stipulations. "You shall be holy, for i am holy."

The instructions given for the building of anything that is even remotely like what God wants to honor by His presence are mandatory. They are compelling and cannot be tampered with or rewritten as it pleases us. No later fancies can redraw the original pattern. If attempted it will not be the house of God, albeit having the form of godliness but without any power. It will be the house of idol-worship. Almost right is always not right. "Then the Lord spoke to Moses, informing him to say to the people of Israel: raise a contribution for Me; from every man whose heart moves him you shall raise My contribution... According to all that I am agoing to show you, as the pattern of the tabernacle and the pattern of all its furniture, just so shall you construct it." (ex 25:1-9)

This tent, this dwelling place, is not for any man to sleep in, but to stand before God in. It is not a place of rest but a place of worship. It has several covering layers, one of which is of rams hides dyed red. Another is of 'sea cows' hide and leather, or 'porpoise' as one version has it. But leather it is. The skill of the leatherworker or tentmaker is in the fitting and sewing together the different bits that make up the whole. Skills learnt over time and with many hours of practice. Skills of value in a world of many animals and many varying needs for things made of the hides of living beings. 


No such tent with leather coverings can be made unless lives have been sacrificed for it. The tent of the presence of God goes with the notion of lives spent totally in order to make the covering of the tent. Some even dyed red to show their character of having been sacrificed. The logical result of sin is death. The forfeiting of life cannot be turned to new life without the giving of some other life, one that is innocent and not deprived of life because of its own sin. Only the guiltless can count towards the removal of guilt.

Who else would make a covering for a tent causing that deep sense of gratitude for the constant reminder that the only safe place for the church of Christ, is found in the sacrifice of His own blood? The church, i e the living body of Christ consisting of many many believers all joined together into a well fitted building is the birthright of him who bought her with his blood and paid for it with his own 'hide'. And behold, the tentmaker of the new covenant can speak of "I bear on my body the marks of Jesus".(Gal 6:17). The same man elsewhere makes the same point over and over: "But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the surpassing greatness of the power may be of god and not from ourselves.. we..are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus' sake, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh." (2 Cor 4:7-11)

Paul the apostle was by virtue of his jewish upbringing gifted with the learning of a trade. He supplied his own financial needs by working in the trade of a tentmaker, a leather worker, one who made tents as well as utensils of hide. He who knew that our bodies are merely a tent in which we live for the time on earth knew all about the making of tents. Of the art of fitting things together, of allowing the oddities of the individual hides to make their mark on the 'house'. "For we know that if the earthly tent which is our house is torn down, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For indeed in this house we groan, longing to be clothed with our dwelling from heave; inasmuch as we, having put it on, shall not be found naked. For indeed while we are in this tent, we groan, being burdened, because we do not want to be unclothed, but to be clothed in order that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life." (2 Cor 5:1-4)


Paul would have been flummoxed by the idea of "training for the ministry" as a source of livelihood. To wit: he that shares the good of God with people may rightfully expect that they in turn share their earthly goods with the teacher, but to be dependant on that means of keep was not on the apostles chart. Nobody would ever be able to say: I have made Paul rich, or Paul has robbed us of our possesions. No! said Paul, I will rather work with my hands, than be paid for preaching that which God has given me freely. "I do not do this on behalf of my own interest, no the love of God constrains me."  Godliness is never a means to personal gain of earthly things. Never.


Are you confused? Here we have spoken of three different tents and it might seem that Teddy is mixing his metaphores. That is so. You are quite right. There are three lines along this matter of the tent, the tabernacle, the temporary abode.


1 It is a shadow of a permanent heavenly tent, a temple which is the Lord himself."I saw in the city no temple, for the Lord God, the Almighty, and the lamb are it's temple." (Rev 21:22) What was ordered by God to be built on earth was to accurately forshadow and prophecy of the divine and everlasting. This could only be done by following the given pattern precisely. Or else we would be preaching another gospel and even misrepresent God and preach foreign gods. This is the teaching of the tabernacle.

2 It is an image of the church of Jesus Christ, that while it meets in buildings made by men is never the building nor the organisation but the living body of all the believers. "Coming to Him as to a living stone, rejected by men, but choice and precious in the sight of God, you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthhood to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ." (1 Pet 2:4-5)  And again this time by the Apostle Paul: "So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are now fellow citizens with the saint, and are of God's own household, having been built on the foundations of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the corner stone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you ar also being built together into a dwellin of God in the Spirit." (Eph 2:19-22)

If you get the impression that Paul has a similar role in the New covenant as Moses had in the Old, you are quite right.

3 It is a way of describing the individual believer. Each in his or her own 'tent' until the greater tent is made ready and all the individual tents are swallowd up by life itself. "Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body." (1 Cor 6:19-20)


Fitted together? By whom are these individual hides fitted? By the tentmaker naturally. He knows the hides and the way of bringing them into unison. How to sow them seamlessly together. How to make the many seem as one. That is the skill of the pastor and teacher who uses the raw matrials in front of him and works to join them in Christ. That is the work of the tentmaker.

Paul is reported in the Acts of the Apostles to have met up with Aquila and Priscilla and as they were all three of them in the same trade they set up shop together, but on the sabbath they rested from work as the law prescribed and shared the gospel of Jesus with jews and greeks. The heart of this tent maker and his double skills are indicated in his letter to the church in Rome. He has never yet met them, he knows them not by sight but he knows them by their Spirit. And he does not presume to be coming to those ignorant but rather to people who were well versed in much of the scriptural truths. So he resigns himself to 'remind' them of what they could already well know. After all he is speaking to people whose faith is proclaimed throughout the whole world.(Rom 1:8)

In Romans chapter 15 Paul shows what the tentmaker understands about the individual 'hides' in the fellowship. "I myself am convinced concerning you, that you are all filled with godness and with knowledge and are able to admonish one another. I have written boldly just by way of reminder." (Rom 15:14f) In his letter to the somewhat more wayward church in Corinth he writes about how to worship God. "What then is the summary of this? When you come together, each one of you, according to the soveriegn and free distribution of the gifts by the Spirit to whom He will, come to serve one another for the upbuilding of the whole by each member in the church." 1 Cor 14:26

The role of the tentmaker becomes clear: each brings his or her portion out of their own life with God. The tentmaker receives all the bits and pieces and stitches them together to form a tent for the congregation of their own contributions. He sows them up, may cut some bits off and may have to add a missing piece himself, but they bring the admonsihing, the encouragments, the insights and revelations which are for the whole church. This is the empowering of the believers to be contributors in part, to the whole. To move from the consumer church of limited dialogue to the church of all-member-interaction is on the cards for tomorrow, but needs a close look now, while there is time to rethink what we are doing as to 'being church'.

But it means that the role of the tentmaker must be both understood and allowed. We seem to be far off that necessity still.


Build me a tent said God. Will we obey?


Teddy Donobauer, Doncaster 1 Dec 2017

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