Several weeks ago we purchased a tent. We scored a real bargain on a huge family sized behemoth. Our purchase comes as we prepare to camp over the Christmas break with some close family friends – it’s going to be a great time! Actually, this will be the first lot of camping we have done since we (Jodie and I) started having children. We used to do a lot of camping with friends and family, but over the years (nearly a decade) we have sold our small tent, and most of our camping gear. We are now slowly rebuilding our camping equipment stock.
One of things I love about camping is walking through the camp site and viewing all the different ‘set-ups’ that people have. For instance, our set-up will be very family friendly with a few creature comforts such as a gas-powered ice-box and perhaps a small generator for the recharging of mobile phones etc. (not exactly roughing it!). Almost certainly at the same camp site will be the young couple with a two-man tent and very few accessories, while another group might have all the mod-cons including solar panels for electricity which in turn runs fridges, microwaves and even a TV. Essentially, everyone at the camp site will be ‘camping,’ but we’ll all do it differently according to our needs, experience and budget.
As we prepare for our big camping adventure I am conscious that in many respects, camping is not too dissimilar to worship. We all approach it differently. Personal backgrounds, experiences, personality and even education all contribute to our individual choices of worship style. Over the past decade Jodie and I, along with our young family, have had the good fortune of celebrating God’s greatness with three different churches, each with a distinct worship style and form. As I survey our short worship history, I can see that each of these church families and the construct of worship that they employ have been timely for both our spiritual formation and personal maturity. For example, when we were DINK’s (double income, no kids) our camping set-up was simple; a small tent and limited accessories. Now that we have three children ranging in ages of 9 down to 2½ we have a much larger tent, bikes, toys, swimming paraphernalia…and the list goes on! Our original set-up when compared with the set-up we will erect over Christmas was not wrong; it fittingly met our needs for the time. Likewise our previous worship environments were not wrong; God used them in order to continue His good work in us (Philippians 1:6).
Those of you who know me well can attest that I have not always had the maturity to review my spiritual journey with such pragmatism and grace. I’m learning and growing. I think Jesus’ friend Peter was on a similar journey of growth when he suggested some camping. Matthew records the Transfiguration of Jesus in the following passage,
[17:1] And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves.  And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light.  And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him.  And Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” (Matthew 17:1-4; ESV)
Why not? It seems like a good idea to build some tents and prolong the experience. But Peter, in his zeal to honour Jesus, Moses and Elijah by building tents, also reveals his “weakness and ignorance” (Henry, 1871, p. 243). Simply, no man-made tent could house Moses and Elijah who had both passed through to eternity, and Jesus was keen for the three friends (Peter, James and John) not to tell anyone of the occurrence until he had risen from the dead (Matthew 17:9). I think we all fall into the same trap of Peter’s enthusiasm when we experience God’s tangible presence in our corporate meetings. I am confident that each worship style, whether new or old, contemporary or traditional, can point to a time when God’s presence was experienced in a tangible way by His people. I know that I have personally felt God in a range of worship constructs. The temptation is to then erect a tent in order to capture the moment. God will not be housed by man’s constructs whether it is the Anglican prayer book or a Pentecostal church’s week of ‘prayer and fasting.’
Another interesting point to be considered is Jesus never returns with the three disciples to the same place; possibly Mount Hermon (Green, 2000, p. 185). In fact the next time we see Jesus inviting his three closest disciples to join him in prayer like this is in the Garden of Gethsemane – a place of sorrow and trouble. Ultimately, Jesus requires us to leave the ‘worship moment’ and re-engage with our society. Tents are temporary structures. With time and exposure to the elements, any tent will eventually wear and tear exposing its inhabitant’s to the buffeting of life’s general concerns.
As we prepare for our Christmas camping trip I am starting to see where I have built many tents over the years to house God’s glory. Our current worship experience is not, and never can be, designed to be complete and perfect. That experience is reserved for another time and another place.
Green, M. (2000). The message of matthew: The kingdom of heaven (Vol. 2). Leicester, UK: Inter-Vasity Press.
Henry, M. (1871). Matthew henry’s commentary on the whole bible (Revised ed. Vol. 5). McLean, VA: MacDonald Publishing Company.