Pastor Donnie Shaffer
Central Church, Louisiana
While teaching a class in our Bible College (MTI) that I have taught at least 20 times, God began to bring alive a concept taught in the book of Numbers. It has to do with what Stephen referred to as the “Congregation in the Desert” in Acts 7:38. The course teaches a simple threefold pattern of the children of Israel, or the “church in the wilderness.” I began to realize the commonality of the word “tent” to all three of these aspects of life in the wilderness.
CAMP refers to the tent that each family lived in, their home life, and could also relate to small group life in the church.
ASSEMBLY refers to the “Tent of Meeting” or “Tabernacle.” This would be our worship service today.
MARCH refers to the action of taking their tents from one place to another. This is an individual responsibility.
There is much to be said about each of these activities, but let’s focus on four things that apply to all three. The Lord gave me four qualities of “Tent Life” that we must adhere to.
Also, let us remember that Jesus exemplified these qualities as He “tabernacled” among us (John 1:14). I think the symbology of the “Tent” can help us define not only the “church in the wilderness,” but the Church today.
1. SIMPLICITY (2 Corinthians 1:12 & 11:3)
Tents are without a doubt a simple structure.
In these verses, Paul speaks of the “simplicity” that is in Christ and with which they conducted themselves in this world. God is not complicated, and neither is serving God. God walking with Adam in the cool of the day was not complicated. Having only one rule to follow was not complicated. The truth is, knowing only good and not experiencing the knowledge of evil made for a very simplistic lifestyle! We need to be careful that we do not create complicated systems and mechanisms in our churches or our daily lives. “Tent life” should be simple.
2. ACCESSIBILITY (Acts 15:16 & Hebrews 4:16)
The tent of David was easily approached.
The prophetic word from Amos that is repeated in Acts 15 is that God would restore the “Tabernacle of David” (a tent). The unique characteristic of this Tabernacle versus the Tabernacle of Moses was there were no barriers, no impediments to the believer coming directly before the Ark of the Covenant, the presence of God. Again, across the board we need to be “approachable,” creating an environment where the presence of God is in our midst, attainable, and available for all to experience. In our small groups, opening up our homes, our worship services, our altars, our outreaches, people should feel drawn into the presence of God. “Tent life” should be accessible.
3. MOBILITY (John 3:8 & Exodus 40:36)
Tents are mobile.
We need to be flexible, not rigid with our structure. The advantage of new wineskins is that they are flexible (Matthew 9:17). This relates not only to our worship services (the big tent), but to our small groups, our family life, and our outreaches. We have to be open to change. “Tent life” is mobile, always open to change.
4. AVAILABILITY (Isaiah 6:8 & Matthew 28:19-20)
We must be willing to take our tent to where it is needed.
Accessibility or approachability says the door is open, come on in! Availability says the door is open for me to go out! Isaiah said, “Send me!” Peter, James, and John would have just kept their “tents” permanently set up on the Mount of Transfiguration. Like Isaiah, the purpose in us experiencing the glory of the Lord (many times in the big tent, assembly; other times in the small tent; and sometimes just in our earthly tent) is to take that glory to others. “Tent life” is more about availability than mere ability.
I believe that God wants a New Testament Church to follow this model of “Tent Life,” and that in everything we do, we need to make sure to keep things simple. We should create a culture where we are approachable. We should be always ready to change and always ready to go when the cloud lifts, to follow the Lord wherever He would lead us.