A Look into the Past: Refreshments from Above Tabernacle Experiences, Part 3


One day, as my cousin and I were walking along the beach in Belgium, we suddenly heard shouts and groans. When we turned to see what the commotion was all about, we saw an unconscious man, with a huge jellyfish clinging to his left breast, being hauled out of the North Sea. While they waited for the ambulance to arrive, some courageous men tried to pry the ugly gelatinous substance from the victim's body, without success. But help was on the way, and the man was eventually rescued from something that could potentially have been fatal. Had he been alone on the beach, he would, without a doubt, have drowned! The immediate help from others made all of the difference!

As I think about this event, I realize that the church's mission is no different: "And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together , as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another-and all the more as you see the Day approaching." (Heb 10:24-25 NIV) Notice that this Bible text lists the main reasons for assembling together as "encouraging one another" and "spurring one another on toward love and good deeds"!

But did you know that in the early days of the Bible, people did not attend church? The word "synagogue" is not to be found in the Old Testament. In fact, early believers like Noah, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob worshipped God directly, without any kind of formal gathering. They experienced Him personally in their lives.

Only after Israel was delivered from Egypt were plans given for a tabernacle. Even then, the tabernacle was far from being the same as our church experiences. In Moses' day, the tabernacle was surrounded by a fence of curtains which only the priests dared enter. People brought their animal sacrifices to the gate of the court, but never went any further. It was a place for confession of sins and reconciliation with God.

Later, when temples were build to accommodate the tabernacle, courts or porches were included where people could pray or have religious discussions with one another. Just like David, people had the opportunity to meditate on God's grace: "Within your temple, O God, we meditate on your unfailing love." (Ps 48:9 NIV)

However, when the Israelites were taken captive to Babylon and their temple was utterly destroyed, hopelessness consumed them. They began meeting locally to pray and meditate over the Scriptures. When Zorobabel rebuilt the temple, many Jews did not return to their home land, and ultimately synagogues were built to satisfy their need for praying together and discussing the Scriptures.

The first solid evidence of such a synagogue was when a marble slab was found near Alexandria, bearing an inscription that dedicated a synagogue to Ptolemy III, who ruled Egypt from 246 BC to 221 BC.

Interestingly enough, the first mention of synagogue in the Bible is found in the New Testament (see Matthew 12:9). By this time, synagogues were used for regular religious meetings wherever the Jewish people resided.

As the first Christians were Jews, it is quite natural that the first church gatherings followed the synagogue pattern, including prayer, Scripture reading and a sermon. Sounds familiar, doesn't it? This is no different from the worship services conducted by most Christian denominations. When you go to church, you not only find a place to encourage one another, but you also find a place to experience God.

Although this is very important, it should never exclude a personal, daily experience with God.

Interestingly, the word church "ekklesia" in the New Testament always refers either to a local congregation (e.g. the church of Laodicea) or to the church at large. It was never intended to indicate a building, and even less a denomination. To tell you the truth, because denominations tend to divide the unity among believers, and God is against anything that breaks up the unity ("My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me." John 17:20-21 NIV), we have to ask ourselves if Jesus wouldn't discourage denominations if He came to this planet today! Is it any wonder that many believers complain that fellowship is hard to find nowadays, that indifference and cliques have crept into places meant for worship?

May I encourage you, wherever you are, to reach out to at least one person in your congregation. Try to be of continual encouragement for that individual, for this was Jesus' intention when He established His church. If you do, you will, sooner or later, discover that true fellowship is possible, even in this stressful world of ours. If you let God be your guide, your first step could save someone from a catastrophe.

Is it worth the effort? Ask that guy who was rescued from that vicious jellyfish.

"No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us." (1 John 4:12 NIV)

Rob Chaffart

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