And all the craftsmen among the workmen made the tabernacle…These are the records of the tabernacle, the tabernacle of the testimony, as they were recorded at the commandment of Moses, the responsibility of the Levites under the direction of Ithamar the son of Aaron the priest. Bezalel the son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, made all that the LORD commanded Moses; and with him was Oholiab the son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan, an engraver and designer and embroiderer in blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twined linen.
All the gold that was used for the work, in all the construction of the sanctuary, the gold from the offering, was twenty-nine talents and 730 shekels, by the shekel of the sanctuary.
From the blue and purple and scarlet yarns they made finely woven garments, for ministering in the Holy Place. They made the holy garments for Aaron, as the LORD had commanded Moses. (Exodus 36:8-39:1, ESV)
This lengthy step-by-step description of how the Tabernacle was made shows that it indeed followed the instructions given to Moses based on the model Moses saw on the Mountain, the heavenly version of what was being built on earth (Exodus 25:40; Hebrews 8:5; 9:23-24). And God used these skilled craftsmen to accomplish the job. They must have felt very privileged to be included in this holy enterprise. No doubt craftsmen of cathedral projects have felt the same way. But are we supposed to be building such structures today?
It would seem in principle that it is not wrong to spend amazing amounts of the peoples’ money on such buildings as we long to honor God with everything we have and show Him to be glorious. But we have not been so instructed as Moses was to do such building. The church building we most frequently erect is decidedly not a temple or sanctuary, despite how much we use those terms. The people of God are the temple, not the building. We are the intersection of heaven and earth because the Holy Spirit indwells us. People meet God in us, not a building. The way into the Most Holy Place has been opened by Jesus and His sacrifice and we are living testimonies that the sacrifice availed for us.
We hope that in the building we erect for the purpose of meeting, if such a thing is deemed wise, people will meet the living God in us and the building itself will not be a deterrent to that. If we can make it attractive or suggestive of the glory of God, and the Spirit so directs us to invest in that, we have freedom to do so. But we must count the cost of such architecture and décor to make sure that it is not something that puts us in debt, prevents us from really ministering to the needs of our community, or even distracts from realizing that the people are the church, not the building.
If we think about how the Tabernacle functioned in ancient Israel, it did give a sense of how glorious the God of the universe is, though even in its beauty it could not approach that fully. But it also created a mystery about God and how things functioned inside, hidden from all but the high priest. It mostly communicated that you could not approach this holy God without following His precise instructions. Humans are too intent on creating their own path to God, believing that we have that capability and that God is okay with that, even endorses it. Just the opposite is true.
“If God had wished to overcome the obstinacy of the most hardened, He would have done so by revealing himself to them so plainly that they could not doubt the truth of his essence, as he will appear on the last day with such thunder and lightening and such convulsions of nature that the dead will rise up and the blindest will see him. This is not the way he wished to appear when he came in mildness because so many had shown themselves unworthy of his clemency that he wished to deprive them of the good they did not desire. It was therefore not right that he should appear in a manner manifestly divine and absolutely capable of convincing everyone, but neither was it right that his coming should be so hidden that he could not be recognized by those who sincerely sought him. He wished to make himself perfectly recognizable to them. Thus wishing to appear openly to those who seek him with all their heart and hidden from those who shun him with all their heart, he has qualified our knowledge of him by giving signs which can be seen by those who seek him and not by those who do not. There is enough light for those who desire only to see, and enough darkness for those of a contrary disposition.” [Blaise Pascal, Pensées, 79-80]