Friday, June 1, 2012

Altering My Concept of Altar

Is your all on the altar of sacrifice laid? / Your heart does the Spirit control? / You can only be blest, / And have peace and sweet rest, / As you yield Him your body and soul.
Is Your All on the Altar?

    I tend to have an issue with the song above, because when I hear altar of sacrifice, I think of sacrificing lambs, birds, and cows on an altar dedicated to the Lord. However, if I actually sacrificed an animal on my church´s altar, I´m pretty sure that people would be upset. Something about blood in the sanctuary. In my mind, Christians don´t need animal sacrifices because Jesus is the ultimate sacrifice, so therefore, altars aren´t needed in churches. More specifically, that type of altar isn´t needed in churches.

    The Nazarene church not only has an altar, but wants it to be used, specifically in prayer, as a dedicated area to kneel before God and humble yourself before Him. And I just keep thinking that I can pray anywhere in the world and in any position (since God will still hear me) OR thinking of sacrificing a little dove. So for my sanity in church services, I decided to research altars and hopefully alter my view that they´re pointless since you don´t sacrifice animals on them and nothing is stopping you from praying in other places.

    What is an altar?

     One type of Old Testament altar is the altar of sacrifice. In the Bible, an altar was a mound of earth or uncut stones that held sacrifices to God upon it. Exodus 20:24-25. Later, it was a temple table dedicated to sacrifice. God was not pleased when His people began to offer defective animals to Him. (Malachi 1:6-14). But Jesus paid the price for our sins and His blood is the permanent atonement. So this type of altar isn´t needed in the modern church.

     Another type of Old Testament altar is an altar that is a sign between God and people. (Joshua 22:26). Altars were built to remember an encounter with God, to express thanks, and to worship. They can represent that we return to our commitments we made to God, victories, and so much more. But these were altars that were built, not just something that we mosey on over to and pray at. Altars were supposed to cost the builder something (money to buy it, time and effort to build it). 1 Chronicles 21:22-26.

     Another type of Old Testament altar is the altar of incense. Here, incense was burned for the Lord, symbolizing our prayers (Exodus 30:1-10). Psalm 141:2; Revelation 5:8 and 8:3-4 describe how our prayers can be an incense to God. This altar is described in Isaiah 6:6 and Revelation 8:3-4 as being in heaven.

    In the modern world, the word ¨altar¨ can refer to the table that holds the articles of communion. Some churches have begun to call this the ¨communion table.¨ (see Church Architecture Definitions). Personally, I prefer the term ¨communion table;¨ it is more accurate in my mind. We don´t sacrifice animals on this table, nor do we burn incense.

    But then there´s the concept of a ¨kneeling altar.¨ This altar isn´t mentioned in the Bible; it´s of American origin. This is the main altar that I have an issue with. If such a large emphasis is placed on the kneeling altar, do we become dependent upon it? Will we think that we can only pray to God there? I mean, people don´t *have* to pray at an altar to get saved, so why emphasize it so much? If I went to the altar to pray, when it didn´t hold special meaning to me, would I have gone to the altar to look holy or to be more holy? Here is a link for a sermon on altars (it´s a pdf). Sermon: Why Build Altars?

    I started my research expecting to prove that the altar didn´t have a place in the modern church. I learned that I was partially right, but partially wrong. There is no need for an altar of sacrifice since Jesus. We don´t build our own altars ourselves, but the altar of incense? If prayers are incense, is an altar of prayer an altar of incense (and therefore a Biblical altar)? Maybe there still is a reason to mark gratitude, commitments, and prayers by coming to an altar.


  1. I think the word picture of our heart being an altar is good as well. What do I need to sacrifice to God on the altar of my heart? What attitudes, people, possessions need to come under God s will? Mom

    1. That is a nice picture and ties into the concept of ¨living for Christ/dying to self¨