Project Sanctuary

ministry

As a teenage Christian in the 1960s, 
I realized early in my studies how important community is to my spiritual and social develop-ment. I knew I had to seek out other Christians whenever possible. Sometimes this meant travelling seven miles by bike to attend our weekly communion services.

I also learned that God’s desire is to dwell among His people. In the Old Testament, this dwelling was the tabernacle, and many years later, the temple. When Jesus came to earth, one of the names given him was “Emmanuel—God with us” (Matthew 1:23).

The sanctuary, or tabernacle, was the portable worship building that the Israelites carried through the wilderness after leaving Egypt, about 3,500 years ago. It was the centre of unity for a diverse and bewildered people, who, a year before its inception had been slaves. I have studied the tabernacle for many years and have built several models.

A wonderful lesson I have learned from my studies is that “we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7). When Israel trusted in God, He met all their needs. When they trusted in themselves, the result was failure and sin, such as the story of the golden calf (Exodus 32).

I received a phone call from Montreal in the early ‘60s. It was my 14th birthday.

Norman Berry, a respected Plymouth Brethren Bible teacher, was on the line. His question was simple: “Would the Gospel Tent teenagers in Nova Scotia be interested in a project called Tabernacle Talks?” The Gospel Tent was an outreach by the Brethren in the Maritime provinces, and I was a part of it in the ‘60s. They held gospel meetings for both children and adults in a large tent.

Berry’s idea was to study the tabernacle for a summer or two in the various Gospel Tent areas. We would spend the following two summers building a model. I agreed to contact teenagers throughout the province and they showed overwhelming enthusiasm.

We started our study of Exodus in July, five afternoons a week, and made detailed notes. I soon realized that the tabernacle is a living, vital organism, sacred in its significance, practical in its service—and it has special meaning for the Christian walk in the 21st century. As Christians, we learn from it the importance of community in our ministry of spiritual healing and social justice. Israel had just left Egypt, after many years of slavery. They were a downtrodden and bitter people, and needed the spiritual healing that only God can impart. The tabernacle provided a centre for their whole lives, including their spiritual, social and civil needs. When we know something of ancient Israel’s struggles, it motivates us to be strong in God’s work. We realize that in all phases of our lives, healing first of all originates with God. Only then can we have a ministry of spiritual help to others.

Since that phone call over half a century ago, I have continued studying and teaching the tabernacle to Sunday schools, teens and adults. I’ve built detailed models to use as teaching tools. When I taught the subject on a regular basis, each class was part of a series, dependent upon the previous lessons for continuity.

My main emphasis was always the spiritual meaning of the tabernacle, as explained and alluded to in other parts of the Bible. The common thing former pupils have told me over the years is that the lessons helped open up to them other scriptures (such as the Book of Hebrews) that they had trouble understanding. I’m currently working on a book on the subject, and am building another detailed model. The tentative title is Project Sanctuary.

This study is not for the fainthearted! The treasures of God’s word require our utmost attention. My prayer is that you will enter with me into the sanctuary and come away, as I have, with life-guiding principles for the Christian walk.

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About John Wamboldt

John Wamboldt is an elder at Saint David’s, Halifax. In 2012, he retired from active duty on session and as superintendent of the Sunday school.