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.
[perfectpullquote align=”right” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Tradition is a powerful thing.[/perfectpullquote]
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.