By Ken Blue
“1. An elevated place or structure before which religious ceremonies may be enacted or upon which sacrifices may be offered. 2. A structure, typically a table, before which the divine offices are recited and upon which the Eucharist is celebrated in Christian churches.” – The American Heritage Dictionary.
Having been saved and reared in Baptist churches all my life, it never occurred to me that much of what we do is steeped in tradition. We have borrowed these from Judaism and the Catholic Church. One of these is the so-called “altar.”
One way the altar is justified is by placing the tithes and offering on the communion table as an offering from the people; Thus the sacrificial altar. Another defense of the altar is to sing, Is Your All On The Altar Of Sacrifice Laid? Then we plead with Christians and sinners to “come forward to the altar and get right with God.
Thus, we, like Catholics, have come to accept the altar as part of the church furniture, and getting people to it is the goal of the sermon. Coming to it is an act of sacrifice, dedication, and surrender.
None of the church epistles have any suggestion that such an apparatus was to be installed. The idea would probably have been abhorred by the early church.
The following information concerning altars in Protestant churches is taken from Wikipedia Encyclopedia.
“A wide variety of altars exist in various Protestant denominations. Some Churches, such as Lutheran and Methodist will have altars very similar to Anglican or Catholic ones, keeping with their sacramental understanding of the Eucharist. In Protestant churches from Reformed, Baptist, Congregational, and Non-denominational traditions, it is very common for the altar to have on it only an open Bible and a pair of candlesticks. Many of these groups use a very simple wooden table, known as a Communion Table, adorned perhaps with only a linen cloth, and would avoid any suggestion of a sacrifice being offered.
Some evangelical churches practice what is referred to as an altar call, whereby those who wish to make a new spiritual commitment to Jesus Christ are invited to come forward publicly.
Tradition is a powerful thing.
It is so named because the supplicants gather at the altar located at the front of the church (however, the invitation may be referred to as an “altar call” even if there is no actual altar present). Most altar calls occur at the end of the sermon…This is a ritual in which the supplicant makes a prayer of penitence (asking for his sins to be forgiven) and faith (accepting Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior).
Altar calls may also invite those who are already fully members of the Christian community to come forward for specific purposes other than conversion; for example, to pray for some need, to rededicate their lives after a lapse, or to receive a particular blessing (such as the Gifts of the Holy Spirit) or if they are called to certain tasks such as missionary work.”
So, the question is, should Baptist churches have altars and an altar call? If not, how would we carry on business? Tradition is a powerful thing. Should we, or could we function as well without the altar?
Pastor Ken Blue was born in Boswell, Ark. In 1955 he accepted Christ as his Savior. He and his wife Joyce were married in 1955. They have 5 children. He graduated from Midwestern Baptist Bible College in 1969 and started the Open Door Baptist Church in Lynnwood, Wa. where he pastored for 39 years. Because of health issues (ALS) he was forced to resign as pastor. It is his desire to continue to be used of God to help pastors and believers through this ministry.
Tim Haveman says
Pastor Blue, I’m not sure where you are coming from on this one. Didn’t you get saved by going forward at an altar call? And though they might be unscriptural, they certainly are not anti-scriptural. Hope you are doing well. Tim
Ken Blue says
Brother Tim, I went forward in a Baptist church. A man took me to a prayer room where I accepted the Lord. Whether it was an “altar call,” I can’t remember. Nor does it matter.
I believe churches should still invite sinners to trust Christ, regardless of how they do it. If having people to come forward is the best way to accomplish this, so be it. My article was intended to question where and how the “altar” concept and terminology entered Baptist churches. As you well know, many of the brethren are master “gnat strainers” at getting everything just right. So, I thought I would give them something to think about.
Your comment, “… they certainly are not anti-scriptural” may not be correct. However, I think I have heard that argument from an evangelist. Altars, in church may be un-scriptural and anti-scriptural.
I have been criticized up and down the country for having background music, drums, power point, songs on screen, and incorporating some methods from a pastor called “a devil,” by “our gang.” Yet, none of these acts are “anti-scriptural.” If the brethren believe we should not use the word “share” certainly they should be horrified at the word “altar.” That’s where I am coming from.
God bless you Brother
Truman Klecker says
Great post. Thanks!
Tim McGuire says
It is impossible to give an “altar call” in a Baptist church since we don’t have altars. The piece of furniture in the front of some of our churches that is erroneously referred to as an “altar” is properly referred to, if present, as “The Lord’s Table.” Catholics have an altar, because they sacrifice (supposedly) Christ during the mass. Words have meanings, and meaning is important. It is a pity that our ministers do not take the time to teach this simple truth to their congregations. So, we can never give an “altar call.” Some of us “extend an invitation” to respond to the message in some way, whether it is to receive Christ, engage in intercessory prayer, or anything else that the Holy Spirit has laid on our hearts.
This doesn’t address the overall scriptural authority for the manner in which we call people to respond to the gospel.
Ken Blue says
Roger Chaney says
Technically, the church house is a meeting house and not a temple.The Body of Christ is the Church it’s not a building. We do not have to go there and wonder if God will show-up since, when two or more are present in His name, we are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, the fullness of Christ and He is omnipresent. Jesus answered this question in John 4:21-24. It’s not a place it is a position- being in Spirit and Truth! So calling the front of the church the throne of grace, an alter, the mourning bench or the only place you can meet God is all traditions of men. Is it harmful? Possibly. True church membership has declined, I believe because of the emphases on the emotional vs pre membership doctrinal training. At Ridge Baptist Church in Summerville, Sc I feel like we did it the proper way. When a person came forward they were sent with a counselor for instruction to make sure they understood and we had a room of inquiry at the back of the church people could come for instruction and information about Salvation and church doctrines. I moved away from there and I miss that church greatly.
Rick Brooks says
Since the first altars were erected by Noah, Abraham, and the other patriarchs in Genesis long before the Tabernacle or Temple, it seems to me that a look at them might be revealing. The altars first mentions appears to be a place to meet God in worship. Therefore whether it’s a private altar in the prayer closet, a family altar at the kitchen table, or kneeling at the steps leading up to the church platform, it might properly be called an altar because it’s a place of calling on God. I always associated the “altar” in Christian worship with a “meeting with God” as opposed to a piece of furniture borrowed from the Temple. The idea of an altar just seems to me to be a timeless principle rather than an article associated with the Law, or any particular dispensation.
Ken Blue says
Altars were always physical and in a specific location. I am not aware of any such device in the church epistles. I believe the “altar” concept came from the old “mourners bench” during the time of the Wesleys. It was not part of the church for 17 centuries.
“The altars first mentions appears to be a place to meet God in worship. Therefore whether it’s a private altar in the prayer closet, a family altar at the kitchen table, or kneeling at the steps leading up to the church platform, it might properly be called an altar because it’s a place of calling on God. I always associated the “altar” in Christian worship with a “meeting with God” as opposed to a piece of furniture borrowed from the Temple. The idea of an altar just seems to me to be a timeless principle rather than an article associated with the Law, or any particular dispensation.”
A “place of calling on God”? Since under the New Covenant, we have the indwelling Spirit, who is promised “NEVER” to leave or forsake us, and since one of the basic hallmarks of the New Covenant is that the old, physical, visible aspects of the OLD Covenant are obsolete, it strikes me that this idea of a block of wood as a place where I “meet ” God is spiritual adultery.
Jesus paid a high price to establish a NEW Covenant – do we think we were given the precious Holy Spirit inside us, so we could go to a block of wood?
Ken Blue says
You comments are very good and understood. However, one unrelated issue, we are not under the NEW COVENANT. The church is benefisheries of the NEW TESTAMENT BLOOD. The NEW COVENANT was with Israel and has not been installed yet. Thank you for your comment!
I doubt early church faithful would be abhorred by the presence of an altar. The oldest Christian church in the world in Aqaba Jordan had an an altar as confirmed by secular archeologists. First century frescoes in Roman catacoombs show depictions of altars and Eucharist. Indeed many of the other earliest church sites have evidence of altars. God bless but early Christians had altars in their churches and catacoombs. They would not be abhorred.
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