Why We No Longer Need Altars in Church
“If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left”
The church is dimly lit. The worship team sings softly, “Oh come to…the altar…the Father’s arms are open wide.” One by one, people begin to walk to the front, near the stage, to a place called “the altar.” What is an altar? According to the Jews, it was a flat table where animal sacrifices were made to God. Why were animal sacrifices made? To remind the Jews of their sins committed.
When an animal was killed on the altar–and it had to be their best animal, a spotless one without flaw–the blood covered up, paid for, or “atoned for” that person’s sins for an entire year (see Leviticus 23:27, Hebrews 9:22).
Unlike the twisting of today’s gospel, where some believe we only get forgiven if we ask for it or confess it to a man in a small room, the Jews got an entire year of forgiveness at the Day of Atonement. Because of religious pride, the selfishness of church hierarchies, and taking Scripture out of context, many churches teach a neurotic Christianity of “I gotta ask for forgiveness daily!” or “I gotta confess all my sins weekly!”
This is silly because even the Jews knew that asking and confessing never forgave anyone. Only blood brought forgiveness and that forgiveness was good to go for an entire year (see Ephesians 1:7, Matthew 26:28).
There’s not a single verse in any New Testament epistle which states, “Ask for forgiveness.” Further, there is only one that says, “If we confess our sins He will forgive us” (see 1 John 1:9), and John was writing this verse to the Gnostics. Those who were not believers, but instead thought that sin was not a real thing–that they had never sinned a day in their life. All you have to do is read the following verse to realize this:
“If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.” (1 John 1:10)
Need more proof? In the same book, John says this:
“If anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father–Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.” (See 1 John 2:1)
It’s funny how context of Scripture clears up the devil’s lies and sets us free from fear.
So what does all of this have to do with us taking the altars out of our churches? Because it was on those altars where the Jewish animal sacrifices were made, and we don’t live according to Jewish ceremonial law. For us, we weren’t even invited to any altars, Jesus was the final sacrifice, and the Cross was our only altar.
Why does that matter? Well, according to Jewish ceremonial law, animal blood never removed any sins, but instead, covered them up–paid them off. Blood bought a year’s worth of forgiveness, but still, the blood didn’t get rid of the actual mistakes. The writer of Hebrews explains:
“It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.” (Hebrews 10:4)
That blood did not take away their sins, but instead, put them back in the black with God due to their sins committed, for a year. Jesus, on the other hand, took away our sins, once and for all so that no more animal sacrifices were needed. Therefore, no altars are needed.
John the Baptist was still teaching Mosaic legalism as he had a message of behavior and attitude repentance, “Stop breaking the Law!” But Jesus had a new message of grace. Jesus had a new message of repenting of one thing…unbelief in Him alone. Just look at what John said when he first laid eyes on the Messiah:
The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29)
Do you see that? John was looking forward to the Messiah whom the Prophet Isaiah talked about in Scripture! The one who would not just cover up our sins but actually take them away for good through His own body! (See Isaiah 53:5). And how did He take them away for good? By becoming the final sacrifice for sin! By volunteering to be the “Spotless Lamb” killed for all of humanity’s failures! This is why John said, “Look, the Lamb of God!”
So when people are asked to come down to the front of the church to the altar, I wouldn’t go so far as to say it is an insult to Christ, but I would say that if you knew the truth about that wooden platform you’d see it’s not needed. The Cross was the last altar! As a matter of fact, it was the only altar for us Gentiles! Jesus finished everything at that location outside the city in regard to our forgiveness of sin–as well as the Jews’! (See John 19:30).
Again, I want to emphasize that Jesus took away the sin of the world for good–ONCE! AS IN, ONE TIME! Past, present, and future sins! He is not bound by time, we are. We are time creatures, He isn’t. God saw all of the sins we’d ever commit and forgave them at Calvary! All we have to do is believe we needed such forgiveness, and we have such forgiveness. He didn’t cover our sins like the animals, but banished them as far as the east is from the west! Because of Jesus’ final sacrifice, the Father chooses to not remember our sins any longer! Look at these promises:
“so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.” (Hebrews 9:28)
“For I will forgive their wickedness and I will remember their sins no more.” (Hebrews 8:12)
“And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” (Hebrews 10:10)
Even the Jews, whom the author of Hebrews wrote, they couldn’t fathom this once for all forgiveness. After hearing about the Messiah from the best teachers around–those who walked with Jesus–they still refused to believe He was the final sacrifice for sin. This is why the author told them:
“If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left” (Hebrews 10:26)
This verse, which was written to the unbelieving Jews–not Christians–has been used for centuries to incite fear in the children of God when all along it was not for us. We are not going back to the temple to kill animals for forgiveness at the altar, they were. This is why the writer said, “You’ve heard the truth of Jesus, so you have no excuse to be making animal sacrifices any longer for your sins.”
“But Matt, I got saved at the altar! I enjoy going to the altar and getting rid of my sins!”
Friend, you got saved when you believed Jesus forgave you. Before you even walked to the front of the church to that altar…you believed. It is belief that saves. It is hearing the gospel with faith, not moving your physical body to the front of a geographical location (see Galatians 3:2, John 1:12).
“But I felt something unlike I’ve ever felt before!”
That’s great! God is not against good feelings! I’m glad your body, soul, and spirit were all clicking together that day with the realization of God’s unconditional love for you, but your walking to that altar did not save you. There was nothing wrong with going to the altar, but you were saved before you took that step into the aisle.
“Matt, I enjoy going to the altar and leaving my sins behind each week.”
So did the Jews who heard about Jesus, only they did it annually. My friend, you have knowledge of the truth, your trip to the front of the church will not bring you any more forgiveness than you already have at this very point. If you want to walk to the front, go ahead, but know that going to the front of a building constructed by man isn’t removing any sin. Your faith did that, one time. Jesus did that, one time.
So today, my friends, know this: The Cross of Jesus Christ was the final altar. It was the last bloody place in which we got forgiveness from our Creator. I’m willing to be misunderstood and even hated in order to get this point across to the believers reading this. Altars are not needed in our churches. The Cross of Christ was the last one. If anything, build an empty tomb and go to that, but not an altar–I say jokingly, of course.
So sure, go to church, enjoy other Christians, fellowship, and worship. You can even go to the front and pray, or do it in your seat, there is no law in prayer. You can even confess to God in agreement over your sins–not for forgiveness–but simply because you agree with Him in all things! That is, if you are a believer. If you’re not, confess you need forgiveness once, and you got it. But why not agree with Him that Jesus was the final sacrifice? Why not agree that the Cross was the last altar the world would ever need? It’s the truth, my friends. It really is.
A prayer for you: Heavenly Father, thank you for the Cross. It was at that Cross my sins were removed by way of perfect blood–for good. I believe that. I know I will stay saved and forgiven forever because Jesus will never die again! Thank you! Right now, I lift up all who are reading this, directly to you. First of all, if there are any praise and worship leaders reading this, or any Christian music makers, help them begin to infuse into their songs, the New Covenant. Teach them they don’t have to say things like, “We are calling down your Spirit!” or “God come fill this place.” Reveal that your Spirit is in every believer in full! Let them know you will never go away! Open their spiritual eyes to the fact that buildings aren’t the places you indwell, as you did in the Old Covenant, but now, we are your temples! And Father, for everyone who goes to a church with an altar, help them to realize it’s not an end-all be-all issue to keep it or remove it. Let them know it is simply a wooden table built by a man–it means nothing. If someone’s faith is weak and they think they need it, just leave it be for now. It’s not a big deal. You’ll teach them the truth over time, so teach us how to show grace in this trivial matter. After all, we know that the Cross, held up high with Jesus on it, was the final sacrifice for sin! We know it was the last true altar on planet earth! Thank you, Jesus. Amen.
This devotional is from 60 Days for Jesus, Volume 3. Get your copy here!