gocn-logo-color.gifOver the past year I have been attempting to read through each book from the Gospel and Our Culture Series written or edited by such authors as Darrell Guder, Craig Van Gelder, George Hunsberger, Lois Barrett and others. Thus far my favorites have been “Missional Church” and “Confident Witness – Changing World.”

In additon to the book in this series I have also tried to find writings by each author that were pre - GOCN. One such book is “Be My Witnesses” by Darrell Guder. In chapter ten, titled “Correcting The Church’s Course” Guder offers an excellent contrast between what the church is and what it should be using the images of the Temple and the Tabernacle. He writes:

“With regard to the church’s interpretation of its role in history, I suggest that the church has developed, from early on, a “temple” interpretation of itself, whereas the biblical image of the church is more the “tabernacle” of the Old Covenant. The difference between these two images is profound.

The temple is an unmovable building, a center for religious activity, even a headquarters for a religious elite or massive building housing an organization whose commitment is to its continuation as it is. Temples often are walled compounds, separated from the world without, architecturally symbolizing a chasm between the so-called sacred and the secular. Temples can be places in which religion functions as an arcane discipline, reserved for the initiates. They are built to last forever, to resist change, to maintain their form and activity in as pure a fashion as possible.

Tabernacles, on the other hand, are a unique expression of a people’s faith. The “tent-church” of the Old Covenant was not permanent but moved with the people whenever they followed God’s leading into new territory. The furnishings of the tabernacle, and the acts of worship and community that took place there, constantly focused the people upon their God, his actions on their behalf, his presence in their midst, and his will and direction for their future.

Israel symbolized and celebrated her faith in this tent-church. It carried both the history and the future hope of Israel’s faith within it, and stood as a constant reminder of her identity as God’s chosen people. At the same time, it was designed and equipped to be mobile, responsive to change, and to provide what the people needed spiritually as they continued their pilgrimage from bondage to the promised land. . . .

My contention is that the tabernacle is closer to the New Testament image of the church than is the temple. We have mentioned earlier that Peter refers to the Christian community as the diaspora, the aliens or pilgrims, when describing their situation in the world in his first epistle. The early church clearly had that sense about itself. Its first self-denomination was “the followers of the Way,” which conveys the sense of movement and pilgrimage that we find in Peter and in the tabernacle.

But very early in its history, the church began to adapt itself to the temple mentality. We see this in its architecture, once Christians began to build buildings or adapt other religious buildings to their use. Gradually, the accoutrements of temple worship crept into the church (we really cannot sort out how and when), so that within a few centuries we have altars, priestly orders, and many of the features of the temple-oriented religions that thrived in the Mediterranean world.

As the Christian church became more and more woven into the fabric of society and government in the Western world, its temple self-interpretation expanded and hardened. The church became the central institution in the typical town or village, symbolized still today by the church steeple that dominates the skylines of Europe and America.

The distinction between secular and sacred developed into a system according to which all of social life, even the practices of calendar keeping, was regulated. Rather than being understood as a pilgrim people, following God through history, the church was seen as a great unchangeable and permanent presence in the world, guaranteeing those central and sacred realities that the haphazard course of human history could not affect. In that position, the church exercised great power. But we must regard that power as a threat in many ways to the church’s obedience to its primary calling.”