Where Have All The Altars Gone

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is situated on the hill of Golgotha, meaning "place of the skull". The Church itself is shared amongst five Churches, each having their own section, the five being the Syrian Orthodox Church (originally known as the Church of Antioch), The Coptic Orthodox Church (originally known as the Church of Alexandria), the Roman Catholic Church (originally known as the Church of Rome), The Armenian Orthodox Church and the Greek Orthodox Church.

What is of note, is that these Churches represent all those personally founded by the apostles and all have maintained altars as part of their spiritual service to the Lord Jesus Christ since their earliest beginnings. The Altar shown in this photo is served by the Syrian Orthodox Church, keeping its earliest traditions as they received them from their founder and first bishop, St Peter, the Apostle.

"Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle." 2 Thessalonians 2:15

From the earliest biblical accounts, we read mentions of Altars being erected in the service of God, setting a precedent for the place where a Blood sacrifice would be made.

“And Noah builded an altar unto the LORD; and took of every clean beast, and of every clean fowl, and offered burnt offerings on the altar.” Genesis 8:20

“Then Abram removed his tent, and came and dwelt in the plain of Mamre, which is in Hebron, and built there an altar unto the LORD.” Genesis 13:18

After Abram became Abraham, he still acknowledged the need for an Altar.

“And they came to the place which God had told him of; and Abraham built an altar there, and laid the wood in order, and bound Isaac his son, and laid him on the altar upon the wood.” Genesis 22:9

“And God said unto Jacob, Arise, go up to Bethel, and dwell there: and make there an altar unto God” Genesis 35:1

Moses too, under the Law given Him by God built Altars to the Lord

“And Moses built an altar, and called the name of it Jehovahnissi:” Exodus 17:15

Joshua also continued this practice after Moses

“Then Joshua built an altar unto the LORD God of Israel in mount Ebal,” Joshua 8:30

Samuel the Prophet also built altars

“And Samuel judged Israel all the days of his life. 16And he went from year to year in circuit to Bethel, and Gilgal, and Mizpeh, and judged Israel in all those places. 17And his return was to Ramah; for there was his house; and there he judged Israel; and there he built an altar unto the LORD.” 1 Samuel 7:15

In addition, Solomon, the wisest of all men built altars.

“And the king went to Gibeon to sacrifice there; for that was the great high place: a thousand burnt offerings did Solomon offer upon that altar.” 1 Kings 3:4

The Psalms tell us to praise the Lord before the Altar.

“Then will I go unto the altar of God, unto God my exceeding joy: yea, upon the harp will I praise thee, O God my God.” Psalms 43:4

The use of Altars, in imitation of the true Altar in Heaven did not finish with the Old Testament. Jesus Himself gave instructions, referring to Altars as He prepared the way for the Christian faith.

“Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; 24Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.” Matthew 5:23

The Apostle Paul acknowledges the continuance of Altars when he said that although they had the right to live off the altar, they were also to live off the Gospel of Christ.

“Do ye not know that they which minister about holy things live of the things of the temple? and they which wait at the altar are partakers with the altar? 14Even so hath the Lord ordained that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel.” 1 Corinthians 9:13

Paul also states that the Altar from which Christians partake, those of the old altar within the Jewish tabernacle have no right to eat, as these partook of the blood sacrifices of animals whereas Christians partake of Eucharist/Communion of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross

“We have an altar, whereof they have no right to eat which serve the tabernacle.” Hebrews 13:10

The Book of Revelations also testifies of the Altar in heaven, of which the Altars on earth represent.

“And when he had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held:” Revelations 6:9

Ignatius, a bishop and a student of the apostle John testifies of an altar being part of the Christian faith, confirming their continued use within the early Church.

“Let no man deceive himself: if any one be not within the altar, he is deprived of the bread of God. For if the prayer of one or two possesses such power, how much more that of the bishop and the whole Church! He, therefore, that does not assemble with the Church, has even by this manifested his pride, and condemned himself. For it is written, “God resisteth the proud.” Let us be careful, then, not to set ourselves in opposition to the bishop, in order that we may be subject to God.” //Ignatius, Epistle to the Ephesians //

Many others for about 1500 years also testify that altars were part of Christianity, regardless of which Church or where such as the following

“Does, then, the Eucharist cancel a service devoted to God, or bind it more to God? Will not your Station be more solemn if you have withal stood at God’s altar? When the Lord’s Body has been received and reserved, each point is secured, both the participation of the sacrifice and the discharge of duty. If the “Station” has received its name from the example of military life — for we withal are God’s military — of course no gladness or sadness chanting to the camp abolishes the “stations” of the soldiers: for gladness will carry out discipline more willingly, sadness more carefully.” Tertullian

“It is the universal sacrifice, offered to God by the High Priest, Who offered Himself in suffering for us, in order to make of us the body of such a great Head…. This, then, is the Sacrifice of the Christians that all of them may be a single body in Jesus Christ. This is the mystery that the Church celebrates in this sacrament of the Altar. Wherein it is shown to her that in this thing which she offers, she herself is offered to God”. Augustine, “City of God”

Other evidence also proves that Altars have always been part of Christian worship such as the following;

The local council of Albon (Epiona) in France, 517 AD forbade hallowing Altars, other than those made of stone.

Towards the end of the ninth century, the Nestorians ceased to use wooden Altars, under the instructions of their Patriarch John bar – Algari

Bishop Wulstan of Worcester (1062- 1095 AD) ordered the destruction of all the old timber altars in England.

After Christianity became the official religion of Rome, Emperor Constantine presented to the church of St. Peter an Altar made of silver, inlaid with gold, decorated with green and white jewels and jacinths on all sides. The number of jewels reached 400 and weighed 35 pounds.

This continued until January 1526 when a Monk of the Roman Catholic Church saw the corruption within his Church and began gathering a following to himself and made a public declaration, which included the following words,

“The Mass vestments, altars, and lights may be retained till such time as they shall all change of themselves, or it shall please us to change them: though, if any will take a different course in this matter, we shall not interfere. But in the true Mass, among sincere Christians, the altar should not be retained…”

My first question is this, regardless of what Rome may or may not have done, or are still doing today, by what authority can any mortal man change what God has implemented and declare it not part of a “True Mass”?

Secondly, what should Christians today follow, the words of a fallen Roman Monk, regardless of his intent as that is for Christ to judge, or the scriptures that are supported by history that both show beyond any reasonable doubt that an Altar has always had a place in the worship of God in both the Old and New Testaments?

Unfortunately, today many of the Protestant world have developed a great respect for the Roman Monk in question primarily because of his stand against the corruption of his church, being the Roman Catholics. However, it seems thatvery few have actually studied his teachings and compared them against either the Word of God or the faith and practices of the original Church. Thus Martin Luther's own false teachings are generally overlooked completely, him being the monk in question.

May I conclude with a final thought, in the book of Isaiah we read prophesies concerning the Lord's Day of Judgment where it is written that in the land of Egypt there shall be an altar to the Lord after God smites them and they turn to Him. It then refers to a highway between Egypt and Assyria and they shall serve the Lord together. But in verse 24, the prophesy then adds Israel as the third with them and calls Egypt God's people, Assyria the work of God's hands and Israel His inheritance but where are everyone else. I think we should consider this when we meditate on the fact that they have an altar and the vast majority today don't.

"In that day shall there be an altar to the LORD in the midst of the land of Egypt, and a pillar at the border thereof to the LORD. 20And it shall be for a sign and for a witness unto the LORD of hosts in the land of Egypt: for they shall cry unto the LORD because of the oppressors, and he shall send them a saviour, and a great one, and he shall deliver them. 21And the LORD shall be known to Egypt, and the Egyptians shall know the LORD in that day, and shall do sacrifice and oblation; yea, they shall vow a vow unto the LORD, and perform it. 22And the LORD shall smite Egypt: he shall smite and heal it: and they shall return even to the LORD, and he shall be intreated of them, and shall heal them. 23In that day shall there be a highway out of Egypt to Assyria, and the Assyrian shall come into Egypt, and the Egyptian into Assyria, and the Egyptians shall serve with the Assyrians. 24In that day shall Israel be the third with Egypt and with Assyria, even a blessing in the midst of the land: 25Whom the LORD of hosts shall bless, saying, Blessed be Egypt my people, and Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel mine inheritance." Isaiah 19:19-25

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