Do we need them now? Why do some churches have altars?

Altars are spoken of many times throughout Scriptures, beginning in Genesis and ending in Revelation. Not only are there altars to the one true God, there are references to altars being erected for pagan gods and by pagan people. Archaeological excavations have found multitudes of such structures, varying in size and specific purpose.

Some, tending toward a belief in a natural evolution of religious functions, have speculated that the usage of altars in Scriptures comes from an earlier paganistic view that altars were tables for the gods.1

Many believe that the altar would have been understood as the table for the deity, since sacrifices were popularly understood as providing a meal for the god, though that imagery is not easily recognized in the Old Testament. (IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament, Copyright © 2000 by John H. Walton, Victor H. Matthews and Mark W. Chavalas)

This quote is accurate in stating that such imagery is not easily recognized in the Old Testament, or the entirety of Scriptures, in regards to worship of the true God. Why? Because this is not valid imagery, rather it is a corruption later employed by pagans and counterfeit worshippers. God never portrays Himself as needing anything, much less to eat or need someone to feed Him...

Psalms 50:7-15 "Hear, O my people, and I will speak, O Israel, and I will testify against you: I am God, your God. 8 I do not rebuke you for your sacrifices or your burnt offerings, which are ever before me. 9 I have no need of a bull from your stall or of goats from your pens, 10 for every animal of the forest is mine, and the cattle on a thousand hills. 11 I know every bird in the mountains, and the creatures of the field are mine. 12 If I were hungry I would not tell you, for the world is mine, and all that is in it. 13 Do I eat the flesh of bulls or drink the blood of goats? 14 Sacrifice thank offerings to God, fulfill your vows to the Most High, 15 and call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you will honor me." (NIV)

Acts 17:24-25 "The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. 25 And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else. (NIV)


Noah and his family offering a sacrifice on an earthen altar. (Copyright and origin of painting unknown)

The earliest specifically mentioned altar is found in the account of Noah, immediately following the flood. While usage of an altar may be implied as far back as Genesis 4:3-4, with the offerings of Cain and Abel, it is nothing more than implication. The first, that God clearly defines, comes also with clear symbolism on which all further references build.

Genesis 8:18-21 So Noah came out, together with his sons and his wife and his sons' wives. 19 All the animals and all the creatures that move along the ground and all the birds - everything that moves on the earth - came out of the ark, one kind after another. 20 Then Noah built an altar to the Lord and, taking some of all the clean animals and clean birds, he sacrificed burnt offerings on it. 21 The Lord smelled the pleasing aroma and said in his heart: "Never again will I curse the ground because of man, even though every inclination of his heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done. (NIV)

What had been cursed by the sin of man - literally twice cursed in regards to the sinfulness of Cain in perpetrating the first murder - is such a potent symbol of the depravity of man.

Genesis 3:17-19 To Adam he said, "Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, 'You must not eat of it,' "Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. 18 It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. 19 By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return." (NIV)

Genesis 4:10-11 The Lord said, "What have you done? Listen! Your brother's blood cries out to me from the ground. 11 Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother's blood from your hand. (NIV)

The very ground out of which Adam was formed (Genesis 2:7), the ground to which death would have him and his offspring return (brought about by sin, see Romans 5:12), was the recipient of the curse. Now, in the first specific example of an altar, this mound of dirt, or rock, was where the lifeblood of the sacrifice was poured out. As a burnt offering, it was also then burned by fire, in turn producing an upward rising aroma. Together these things portray so greatly the need of man.

The blood on the ground graphically symbolizes our need of blood sacrifice to cover the curse brought about by sin. That it fell on the ground affected by the first sin (in rebellion against his Creator) and the worst sin (taking the life of one made in the image of the Creator) shows that forgiveness is available for our inherited sinfulness and the willful sins we have all committed, no matter how serious.

The aroma from the burnt offering dramatizes the upward need of our focus. It is to God that we look for this forgiveness, it is to God that we must pray, it is to God that we direct all our cares and needs, and it is to God that we offer all gratitude and praise!

Meggido Round Altar - Canaanite - Circa 2500-1800 B.C.

Altars at Arad (circa 10th century B.C.).

Foreground sacrificial altar: This Israelite altar followed the command to not use shaped stones.
Background: Two incense alars in front of standing stones representing Yahweh and Ashtoreth...
Showed that this was a site of worship in opposition to Law's commands to only worship God
and only at the Jerusalem temple. See link to Arad for more images.

An "high place" altar at Tel Dan, made from natural stone. Also has standing stones similar to Arad (above)

A small horned altar at Karnak Temple in Egypt


The Law of Moses - which increased the burden of man (to further show his sinfulness) - also adds to the symbolism of the altar. In ancient times it would have been easy and natural to use the rocks of the ground as an altar, whether many or few (i.e. Judges 13:19-20; 1 Samuel 14:33-35). By the time of the Law, God, knowing the propensity of man to elevate his sense of self importance in matters of salvation, specifically limited what an altar should be made of.

Exodus 20:24-26 "'Make an altar of earth for me and sacrifice on it your burnt offerings and fellowship offerings, your sheep and goats and your cattle. Wherever I cause my name to be honored, I will come to you and bless you. 25 If you make an altar of stones for me, do not build it with dressed stones, for you will defile it if you use a tool on it. 26 And do not go up to my altar on steps, lest your nakedness be exposed on it.' (NIV)

Just as we defile salvation by trying to mix grace with works (Romans 11:6; Galatians 5:4; Ephesians 2:8-9), so too did works in shaping stones believing that it somehow made them (or the sacrifice upon them) more acceptable to God. The altar was God's workmanship - His dirt!

The entire focus of sacrifices and altars was to point to the need of a perfect sacrifice, namely Jesus Christ. Consider where Jesus' blood was finally shed - on Golgotha. This prominent mound of rock and dirt was the all natural altar that had the blood of our Savior split on it. The cursed ground was covered by His blood.

Students of Scriptures are possibly thinking, "Wait a minute, didn't the tabernacle and subsequent temple have shaped altars?" And they certainly did. These altars, while adhering to still applicable regulations such as not having steps, were based on a different principle. Unlike all other sanctioned altars, they were not to solely portray the earthly condition but rather provide a reflection of heaven.

Exodus 25:8-9 "Then have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them. 9 Make this tabernacle and all its furnishings exactly like the pattern I will show you. (NIV) [Also verse 40 and Numbers 8:4]

Acts 7:44 "Our forefathers had the tabernacle of the Testimony with them in the desert. It had been made as God directed Moses, according to the pattern he had seen. (NIV)

Hebrews 8:5 They [the Levitical Priests] serve at a sanctuary that is a copy and shadow of what is in heaven. This is why Moses was warned when he was about to build the tabernacle: "See to it that you make everything according to the pattern shown you on the mountain." (NIV)

The earthy sanctuary was, by Heavenly command, fashioned as a representation of the perfect one in heaven. This one, no matter how well crafted, was created by man and could never be perfect. In fact, as was shown throughout Israel's history, it could also be defiled by man. For these reasons the focus was never to be this earthy copy, it was to be the unchangeable heavenly original. All tabernacle and temple sacrifices pointed to the need of a perfect permanent sacrifice, which likewise required a perfect Most Holy Place, altar, and implements. The earthly Most Holy Place, a temporary dwelling place for the Name of God, wouldn't do. Jesus, as High Priest and Sacrifice, entered the permanent Most Holy Place, the actual dwelling place of God.

Hebrews 9:11-12 When Christ came as high priest of the good things that are already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not man-made, that is to say, not a part of this creation. 12 He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption. (NIV)

Hebrews 9:23-25 It was necessary, then, for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these sacrifices, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. 24 For Christ did not enter a man-made sanctuary that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God's presence. 25 Nor did he enter heaven to offer himself again and again, the way the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood that is not his own. (NIV)

The need for altars ceased when they had fulfilled their purposes. With Christ's once-for-all perfect sacrifice on this earthly altar (Golgotha), and his subsequent offering of his blood on the heavenly, they were no longer needed as their looked-to fulfillment was now accomplished. This is the same reason that there was no longer a need for an earthly temple with all of its ritual.


A frame marking the size of the altar at Jeroboam's counterfeit temple at Tel Dan.
Notice that it utilized stairs, which God forbid, and likely used shaped stones.

Altar at the high place of Petra.
This Nabatean place of sacrifice was used mostly for animals
 but there is some evidence that there may have been human sacrifices as well.


Does any sacrifice remain? Is there any longer a reason for any altar? The answer is "yes." Returning to the topic of the aroma rising heavenward from a sacrifice, its symbolism is further developed even in the Old Testament.

Psalms 141:1-2 O Lord, I call to you; come quickly to me. Hear my voice when I call to you. 2 May my prayer be set before you like incense; may the lifting up of my hands be like the evening sacrifice. (NIV)

In the first established usage of an altar, Noah's sacrifice was said to have been a pleasing aroma to God. While those witnessing it would equate this with the natural aroma carried by the upward rising smoke, there is a spiritual truth behind this external. The Psalmist understood it, equating his prayers with sacrifice and the pleasing aroma of incense. The Law established, within their sacrificial system, an altar specifically for the purpose of burning incense. Again, being a copy of that which is in heaven, this separate shaped-altar further illustrated the need for a pleasant aroma to ascend into the presence of God.

Exodus 30:1-6 "Make an altar of acacia wood for burning incense. 2 It is to be square, a cubit long and a cubit wide, and two cubits high - its horns of one piece with it. 3 Overlay the top and all the sides and the horns with pure gold, and make a gold molding around it. 4 Make two gold rings for the altar below the molding - two on opposite sides - to hold the poles used to carry it. 5 Make the poles of acacia wood and overlay them with gold. 6 Put the altar in front of the curtain that is before the ark of the Testimony - before the atonement cover that is over the Testimony - where I will meet with you. (NIV)

With the demise of the earthly temple, its priesthood, and its sacrificial system, the only altars that matter are the two in heaven. The one, onto which Christ's blood was offered, never again needs to have blood spilt upon it. Never again is there need of blood sacrifice, as Christ's perfect and completely sufficient act was all that will ever be needed. The second, the heavenly altar of incense, retains the same purpose it has always had. This remaining altar is where the prayers of God's children are offered to Him! This is the final altar spoken of in the book of Revelation.

Revelation 5:8 And when he had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. (NIV)

Revelation 8:3-4 Another angel, who had a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense to offer, with the prayers of all the saints, on the golden altar before the throne. 4 The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of the saints, went up before God from the angel's hand. (NIV)

The entire life of a believer is a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1), truly a life of continual prayer in thought and deed (1 Thessalonians 5:17). This is a living sacrifice as there is no longer any need of a blood sacrifice and we have been permanently made alive in Christ (Galatians 2:20).

Hebrews 13:15-16 Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise - the fruit of lips that confess his name. 16 And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased. (NIV)

1 Peter 2:5 you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. (NIV)

Our lives of prayer and praise ascend to the very presence of God, while the aroma also spreads to the world around us. But we don't smell the same to everyone.

2 Corinthians 2:14-16 But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him. 15 For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. 16 To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life. And who is equal to such a task? (NIV)


Altar at Carmelite Monastery on Mount Carmel in Israel

Two altars: foreground and in "cave". Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth.

Greek Orthodox altar at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem.


So why do some churches still have physical altars, albeit bloodless ones? To answer this question requires a brief overview of church history. The early church, in the generations immediately following the time of Jesus, had absolutely no altars. They rightly understood that Christ fulfilled all requirements for sacrifices and in so doing abolished any further need for the sacrificial altar. It was actually considered a mark of the early church that they had no altars, something thought especially strange to the pagans whose world was still filled with altars.

"Delubra et aras non habemus" [we don't have sanctuaries and altars] - Minucius Felix (Octavius xxxii. i., writing circa 160-250 A.D.) [Consider similar quotations in: Athenagoras, Apology xiii; Barnabas ii. 4-10; Epistle Diognetus iii. 4, 5]

A pagan, named Celsus, writing circa 208 A.D., specifically asked this question...

"Why have they [the Christians] no altars, no temples, no acknowledged images?" (Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 4, Chapter 10)

Celsus used this question to claim that Christians actually concealed who they worshipped, trying to incite the populace against the Christians by fear of the unknown. The lengthy and public response to Celsus is worth an excerpt...

Celsus then proceeds to say that "we shrink from raising altars, statues, and temples; and this," he thinks, "has been agreed upon among us as the badge or distinctive mark of a secret and forbidden society." He does not perceive that we regard the spirit of every good man as an altar from which arises an incense which is truly and spiritually sweet-smelling, namely, the prayers ascending from a pure conscience. Therefore it is said by John in the Revelation, "The odours are the prayers of saints;" and by the Psalmist, "Let my prayer come up before Thee as incense." (Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 4, Chapter 17)

It is not therefore true that we object to building altars, statues, and temples, because we have agreed to make this the badge of a secret and forbidden society; but we do so, because we have learnt from Jesus Christ the true way of serving God, and we shrink from whatever, under a pretence of piety, leads to utter impiety those who abandon the way marked out for us by Jesus Christ. For it is He who alone is the way of piety, as He truly said, "I am the way, the truth, the life." (Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 4, Chapter 20)

These early believers clearly understood that altars and temples were against the true way of serving God as revealed by Christ. They justly recognized the heart of a justified person to be an altar (i.e. a symbolic incense altar), a place were prayer ascends upward.

"Prayers and praises performed by worthy men are the only sacrifices pleasing to God." - Justin Martyr (Lived circa 100-160 A.D., writing circa 138-161 A.D.; Dialogue 117, cf. Apology i. 13, 65-7)


This understanding lost out to compromise over the next two centuries. Churches began to profess a need of the trappings of the pagan religions, albeit claiming that they used them for different purposes. With the decrees of Roman toleration and subsequently Roman adoption of Christianity, the newly institutionalized church desired huge and monumental edifices - symbols of her earthly authority and power. With these temples came an exclusive and powerful division between "laymen" and a professional clergy, soon called priests. The Lord's Supper became a perpetual bloodless re-sacrificing of Christ through the professed real presence of His body 4. That which was occasionally referred to as a "sacred table", to which all could gather in remembrance of Jesus, now became a place of sacrifice 6. Of course, any place of sacrifice by definition is an altar. This reinstitution of aspects of the Law, over time, became the norm throughout the Western (Roman Catholic) churches 7. Eastern churches, while retaining the physical appearance of a table, over time also began to refer to it as an altar.3

Elements of the Protestant Reformation, in an effort to return to the purity of Scriptures, understood the relationship of these new altars with their unbiblical continual sacrifice of the Mass. While virtually all reformers spoke against the Mass, others went further, especially in England. Here they also removed the altars. The Roman church still remembers and decries these actions...

For example, the zeal of the Protestant reformers of the 16th century, especially in England, led them to try to eradicate the Catholic doctrine of the Eucharistic Sacrifice of the Mass, by destroying the altars on which it was offered. (Protestant Reformers of the 16th Century, by Roman Catholic author Frederick Pogorzelski)

It was not to last. Mankind's penchant for formality and ritual, attempting to better the simplicity and sincerity ordained by God, soon prompted churches to restore that which had been removed 5. Charles Spurgeon, writing on ritualism in 1869,2 notes the efforts of a commission to restore ritualistic elements to the English church, including altars. His Scripturally motivated disapproval of the restoration of these innovations shows throughout the whole. Take note of these quoted remarks regarding the Lord's Supper from one Bishop Hooper...

"If we have bread, wine, and a fair table cloth, let him ['the minister'] not be solicitous nor careful for the rest, seeing they be no things brought in by Christ, but by Popes... as the candles, vestments, crosses, altars, for if they be kept in the church as things indifferent, at length they will be maintained as things necessary."

Spurgeon immediately followed this quotation with this commentary...

How truly did Hooper foresee! for at this hour, the tolerated millinery is cried up as essential to acceptable worship.

Later, quoting a Puritan named Mr. Smart, Spurgeon further records...

Our bishops think they seek the Kingdom of God, and the righteousness thereof, when they persuade his Majesty (Charles I) to restore altars, organs, images, and all manner of Massing trinkets, more than ever they were in the time of Popery. Our bishops teach and maintain stoutly that altars, images, crosses, crucifixes, candlesticks, etc., are not repugnant to our religion, nor contrary to the authority of Scripture; [and] . . . would have them brought in again according to the pattern, and after the example of the King's Royal Chapel, and . . . labor with all their might and main that the offense may be spread through all the king's dominions, both cathedral and parish churches."

Rather than the Reformation continuing and all altars finally being removed, the small gains gave way to a return of altars in many Protestant churches. Even those who don't have full altars of the Roman Catholic variety have named their communion table, or the front of their sanctuary (or stairs to the platform), an altar. All too often congregants are told to come to the altar to pray 8, or the offering plates are placed on the table as if a sacrifice on an altar. All this misleads the people into thinking that physical altars are necessary in the church. The Reformation should have continued - needs to continue - all altars should have been removed.

The "altar" at First Baptist Church, 16th Street, Washington, DC (posted on Flickr)

The "altar" of First Baptist Church, Orlando, FL
While not appearing as a traditional church altar, it is still popularly called one.
The photographer who posted the photo on Flickr subsequently referred to it as an "altar".



1. Ancient legends of the flood, corrupted and distorted by verbal transmission, show how the purpose of the sacrifice had become twisted. The sacrifice offered after the flood in both the Epic of Gilgamesh and in the Sumerian version feature libations, grain offerings, and meat sacrifices with a purpose of providing a feast for the gods. The implied intention of the flood hero in the Mesopotamian accounts was to use the sacrificial gifts of food and drink as a means of appeasing the anger of the gods. Similar symbolism pervades the use of sacrificial systems in hosts of other ancient and modern cultures. In the Epic of Gilgamesh, the starving gods (who had been deprived of food for the duration of the flood) gather around the sacrifice "like flies."

2. From Notes on Ritualism published in the Sword and the Trowel, by Charles H. Spurgeon, June 1869.

3. This excerpt from the Encyclopedia Britannica addresses the practices of churches outside of Roman Catholicism.

Altars. Eastern Orthodox churches have maintained the early Christian custom of regarding the altar as a table. They use only one altar, and it is made of wood. Many Protestant churches have reduced the altar to the status of a table, or communion table. Reformed and Presbyterian churches tend to emphasize its aspect as a table, while the Lutheran and Anglican traditions generally favour an altar. (Britannica Online Encyclopedia)

While it's true that many protestant churches have a communion "table", where it is placed at the front of the church is often commonly referred to as an altar, even if it is not the table itself being referred to.

4. The following are a few quotes showing how the Eucharist became a new sacrifice by the fourth century, one that would again require an altar:

"We saw the prince of priests coming to us, we saw and heard him offering his blood for us. We follow, inasmuch as we are able, being priests, and we offer the sacrifice on behalf of the people. Even if we are of but little merit, still, in the sacrifice, we are honorable. Even if Christ is not now seen as the one who offers the sacrifice, nevertheless it is he himself that is offered in sacrifice here on Earth when the body of Christ is offered. Indeed, to offer himself he is made visible in us, he whose word makes holy the sacrifice that is offered" (Ambrose of Milan, Commentaries on Twelve Psalms of David 38:25, circa 389 A.D.).

"When you see the Lord immolated and lying upon the altar, and the priest bent over that sacrifice praying, and all the people empurpled by that precious blood, can you think that you are still among men and on earth? Or are you not lifted up to heaven?" (John Chrysostom, The Priesthood 3:4:177, circa 387 A.D.).

"Reverence, therefore, reverence this table, of which we are all communicants! Christ, slain for us, the sacrificial victim who is placed thereon!" (Homilies on Romans 8:8, circa 391 A.D.).

5. This Christian dictionary definition of altar casually acknowledges a return to the usage of altars. It notes their original Old Testament usages, the silence and non usage of New Testament times and a subsequent revival even to modern times.

Altar. A place of sacrifice, either of animal offerings or of incense, in the Old Testament. In the New Testament the term is found in several places, but not applied to Christian liturgical furnishings. In [later] Christian use it refers to the table upon which the Eucharist is celebrated and from which Holy Communion is distributed. The use of such terms as the Latin ara or the Greek thusiasterion (classic terms for altar) for this table derives from the understanding of the Eucharist as memorial of Christ's sacrifice on Calvary and thus as closely related to that unique event. Modern altars usually stand in a free space so that the presiding minister can stand behind the altar and face the congregation. (Section "Altar", Dictionary of Christianity in America, edited by Daniel G. Reid, Robert D. Linder, Bruce L. Shelley and Harry S. Stout. © 1990 by InterVarsity Press)

6. An excerpt from a book published more than a century and a half ago provides an excellent example of the Roman Catholic understanding of the Mass (and necessary altar) versus the Lord's Supper. The quotation begins after the cover page reproduction.


No object is more essential to the unprotestantizing of our Church, and to the taking away of the great gulf that lies between the gospel, as she teaches it, and its awful perversion and denial in the Church of Rome, than that of getting away the doctrine of our Articles and Homilies concerning the nature of the Lord's Supper, and substituting that of the decrees of the Council of Trent. Our Church, in the "Homily concerning the Sacrament," having in her eye the very corruptions now sought to be propagated among us, exhorts you to" take heed lest of the memory (i. e. of the doctrine of a remembrance of the death of Christ in the Eucharist) be made a sacrifice;--lest applying it for the dead we lose the fruit that be alive." And she assures you that in the Lord's Supper "you need no other sacrifice or oblation" (than that of Christ on the cross:) "no sacrificing priest, no mass, no means established by man's invention." [Homily concerning the Sacrament. Part I.] But the revolutionary effort, which is best known as the Tractarian, directly contradicts this language of our Church, teaching that we do need another oblation and sacrifice; that the sacrifice of Christ on the cross cannot avail us, unless it be applied by what is called the "unbloody" sacrifice of his body and blood upon the altar of the Eucharist; that we must have the mediation of a "sacrificing priest' at that altar, or we cannot partake in the mediation of our Great High Priest before the mercy-seat in the sanctuary in the heavens; and consequently that the Lord's Supper is not a mere "memory" of a sacrifice, but is a real propitiatory sacrifice for sin. This is popery in the essence. This is one of the devices by which, under a mask of gospel phrase, the Church of Rome evacuates the gospel of all that makes it a gospel. This is the hand by which she forges the chains of superstition and priestcraft, and riveting them around the reason and the consciences of men, fastens them down, under bondage, to whatever terms a despotic priesthood may employ.

Now where this doctrine, concerning a real sacrifice and priesthood in the Eucharist, exists, it must have a literal altar in the communion; because that proclaims, and is part of, the very idea of the sacrament which the doctrine maintains. And it must get rid of a literal table; because that declares the very truth concerning the sacrament, as simply a commemorative feast, upon a sacrifice, once offered on the cross which is most absolutely denied.

This view is so well expressed by Gregory Martin, a learned Romish divine of the sixteenth century, and one of the principal hands in the Rhennish translation of the New Testament, that I am content with his words. "The name of altar, both in the Hebrew and Greek, and by the consent of all peoples, both Jews and Pagans, implying and importing sacrifice, therefore we, in respect of the sacrifice of Christ's body and blood, say 'altar,' rather than 'table.' But the Protestants, because they make it only a communion of bread and wine, or a supper and no sacrifice, therefore they called it a table only." "Understand their wily policy therein is this: to take away the holy sacrifice of the mass, they take away both altar and priest; because they know right well that these three, priest, sacrifice and altar, are dependents and consequents, one of another, so that they cannot be separated. If there be an external sacrifice, there must be an external priesthood to offer it, and an altar to offer the same upon. So had the Gentiles their sacrifices, priests and altars; so had the Jews; so Christ himself, being a priest, according to the order of Melchizedec, had a sacrifice, his body, and an altar, his cross, upon the which he offered it. And because he instituted this sacrifice to continue in his Church for ever in commemoration and representation of his death, therefore did he withal ordain his apostles priests, at his last supper, and there and then instituted the holy order of priesthood and priest (saying hoc facite, do this) to offer the self same sacrifice, in a mystical and unbloody manner, until the world's end." [Fulke's Defence of the English Translations of the Bible against the cavils of Gregory Martin. Park. Soc. edit. pp. 515, 516, 240, and 241.] (All square bracketed notations theirs)

7. The following excerpt, from an out-of-print edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica, helps explain how the non-altar table of the early church developed into the Roman Catholic altar filled with bones.

The earliest Christians had no altars, and were taunted by the pagans for this. It is admitted by Origen in his reply to Celsus (p. 389), who has charged the Christians with being a secret society "because they forbid to build temples, to raise altars." "The altars," says Origen, "are the heart of every Christian." The same appears from a passage in Lactantius, De Origine Erroris, ii.

2. We gather from these passages that down to about A.D. 250, or perhaps a little later, the communion was administered on a movable wooden table. ... The earliest church altars were certainly made of wood; and it would appear from a passage in William of Malmesbury (De Gest. Pontif. Angl. iii. 14) that English altars were of wood down to the middle of the 11th century, at least in the diocese of Worcester.

The cessation of persecution, and consequent gradual elaboration of church furniture and ritual, led to the employment of more costly materials for the altar as for the other fittings of ecclesiastical buildings. Already in the 4th century we find reference to stone altars in the writings of Gregory of Nyssa. In 517 the council of Epaone in Burgundy forbade any but stone pillars to be consecrated with chrism; but of course the decrees of this provincial council would not necessarily be received throughout the church.

Pope Felix I. (A.D. 269-274) decreed that "mass should be celebrated above the tombs of martyrs" -- an observance probably suggested by the passage in Revelation vi. 9, "I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God." This practice developed into the medieval rule that no altar can be consecrated unless it contain a relic or relics.

The form of the altar was originally table-shaped, consisting of a plane surface supported by columns. There were usually four, but examples with one, two and five columns are also recorded. But the development of the relic-custom led to the adoption of another form, the square box shape of an "altar-tomb." Transitional examples, combining the box with the earlier table shape, are found dating about 450. Mention is made occasionally of silver and gold altars in the 5th to the 8th centuries. This means no doubt that gold and silver were copiously used in its decoration. Such an altar still remains in Sant' Ambrogio at Milan, dating from the 9th century. (Article "Altars in the Christian Church", Encyclopedia Britannica 1911 Edition)

8. Many examples could be given. The "altar call" is a staple of many churches, to the point of being a test of orthodoxy for some. The first example I found, by a web search, turned up an East Mesa Baptist Church of Mesa, Arizona. Their web site says the following...

Ours is an old-fashioned church. We still sing hymns, preach out of the King James Bible, give altar invitations, and support missionaries around the world. We are not Baptist in name only, but also in practice. (, emphasis ours)

Mass (the bloodless sacrifice) being offered at the altar. Mount of Beatitudes, Israel

Roman Catholic Mass at the Church of All Nations, Garden of Gethsemane, Israel