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One hundred thirty years ago, a Presbyterian pastor in New York City felt that the Spirit was leading him to launch a new church called the Gospel Tabernacle. This church in the heart of Manhattan grew into a movement of Gospel Tabernacles across America – known as The Christian Alliance. Soon this movement of churches merged with the missionary sending organization founded by the same pastor and became The Christian and Missionary Alliance – the denomination with whom HarvestDowntown is aligned.
A.B. Simpson was the pastor who launched the first Gospel Tabernacle and he understood that the church building did not define the church body. He strongly believed that the local church existed to be an outpost for the Kingdom of God. He was known for his “mantra” that the message of the church should be a singular yet fourfold. He proclaimed Jesus as the only Hope for mankind as our Savior, Sanctifier, Healer, and Coming King – still the singular message of the Christian and Missionary Alliance. Therefore, the early churches of the Alliance were all called Gospel Tabernacles because they were intended to be temporary housing for the good news of Jesus.
These Gospel Tabernacles began to pop up near train depots and crossroads – generally among the immigrants and poor that felt disenfranchised by the mainline churches. Some of these churches still exist to this day, albeit under different names. Sadly, the demise of most of these churches was predicated by their unwillingness to target the poor, underserved, and under-resourced people groups in their cities. Others followed their Italian, Polish, German, Irish, and Welsh members to the suburbs of their city and became large megachurches that have served as multiplication centers for many other churches.
What if HarvestDowntown was a Gospel Tabernacle?
I would suggest that we continue to serve as a Gospel Access Point within our city – a Gospel Tabernacle. We proclaim the authority of Jesus as King and Lord over every aspect of our lives. We continue to invite everyone to enter a relationship with Jesus as the Savior of the world. We encourage every believer to submit to the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit commissioned by Jesus Himself. And, we believe that Jesus is still our Healer and wants to heal us of our sickness, disease and infirmities. We are committed to proclaiming this Gospel of authority, redemption, salvation, and healing to our city.
A.B. Simpson chose the term tabernacle because he wanted the local church to recognize the temporary nature of buildings and anything built by human effort. To this end, many of the first Gospel Tabernacles were actual canvas tents. Our Gospel Tabernacle is a building built by human hands that will not stand for eternity – it certainly has a longer shelf-life than a canvas tent, but time is certainly relative. As we have undertaken many restoration projects at HarvestDowntown, we have become increasingly aware of how temporary this Gospel Tabernacle truly is.
As a Gospel Tabernacle, or Gospel Access Point, we use our building to create a sense of community. We attempt to use our space as a community center – a place to which our neighbors sense that they are always invited. We love to have athletic teams use our space for their end-of-the-year celebrations. We have seen various businesses and neighborhood associations use our space for larger meetings and gatherings. We merely require that the organization to not be inconsistent with our philosophy of ministry.
As a Gospel Access Point, we believe that the Message proclaimed within our walls should always be Jesus as our Savior, Sanctifier, Healer, and Coming King. We will always worship Jesus as our Lord and Master, and our building serves as a worship center for the body of Christ to worship Him as Lord. We are so committed to being a worship center that we have made our facility available to multiple churches that are equally committed to serving as Gospel Access Points within our city. It has been wonderful to be a temporary home for church communities as they fledge their wings in ministry to our city.
Finally, if we truly believe that a church is to be an access point for the world to meet Jesus, then we must view our facility as a missional center. We have continually asked ourselves, “How can we use our building as a bridge to our neighbors and our city?” We have opened our doors at Christmas and Easter to engage the city in a conversation about who we believe Jesus to be. At Christmas, we welcome our neighbors in a discussion about the incarnation and the humanity of Jesus. At Easter, we offer our neighbors our perspective on the divinity of Jesus and His sacrifice for humanity.
We truly are a Gospel Tabernacle within our city.