The altar, priests, professional clergy, Christian temples (cathedrals & church buildings), incense, and a Jewish, synagogue-style pattern of worship are stuff of the Old Testament. After Constantine in the 4th century AD, the historic Orthodox Church wanted to align itself with the religious patterns of the day, many of them pagan. It adopted a religious system that included all of these things and which the Roman Catholic Church then went on to canonize.
At the time of the Reformation, Luther reformed the content of the gospel with the message of salvation by faith. However, he left the outer forms of ”church” untouched. That is why we still have the same church formats: forward-facing, pew-style rows of seating; stand up, sit down, front-led worship; the central and dominating figure of the pastor; the Hymn Sandwich (sermon, prayer and offering sandwiched by songs); a passive audience-style congregation that cannot obey the leading of the Holy Spirit, and very little in the way of fellowship.What about the Charismatic churches? Didn’t they break away from all that? They don’t have an altar. They don’t use incense. They don’t have priests.
However, there is no getting away from the fact that the basic format and church system remain the same, no matter who has got hold of them. In the words of Wolfgang Simson, prophetic author, apostle and Kingdom instigator:
‘The Free-Churches freed the system from the State; the Baptists then baptised it; the Quakers dry-cleaned it; the Salvation Army put it into a uniform; the Pentecostals anointed it, and the Charismatics renewed it.’
However, the altar of super-structure has stayed the same and been worshipped at for centuries. And whether there is an actual altar or not, a stage, a light show, or impressive architecture, God is making some radical ‘altar’ations to get His church back in the way He wants it. It is after all, His Church.
So what kind of radical alterations does He want to make? Let’s start with some basic instructions and information He gave for His New Testament Church:
‘When you meet together, each one has a hymn, a teaching, a disclosure of special knowledge or information, an utterance in a (strange) tongue, or an interpretation of it.’ (1 Cor.14:26 Amp)
Also, we are told in Ephesians 5:19 (Amp) to ‘Speak out to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, offering praise with voices (and instruments) and making melody with all your heart to the Lord.’
This is how believers in the early church met. They didn’t need special buildings or regulated formats. God expected them all to be active contributors in praise, in encouragement, prayer, song, sharing, exhortation, teaching, tongues, interpretation, and testimony, as they sensed the leading of the Holy Spirit.
I have been to meetings like that. In fact, we meet like that regularly with a community of believers in a home where we eat and fellowship together, pray together, worship together, get to know one another, seek the Lord and listen to Him together, and where we all have a chance to contribute something God gives us. These gatherings are led by the Holy Spirit as He wills. God always says something. It is always relevant to us all in some way. It is always refreshing, stirring, challenging, comforting, uplifting, enlightening, exhorting, instructional, helpful, and sometimes all at the same time! Our times of praise are spontaneous and anyone can introduce a song, known or unknown, written by God in their hearts that same week, or given on the spur of the moment. Anyone can pick up a guitar or a drum and be a creative part of the beat or melody as they love God and listen to his heartbeat. And throughout the week, we continue to stir each other up and encourage each other with what God has spoken.
God wants all His people empowered in this way, learning to listen to him corporately and individually, not passive members of a mostly man-made, man-led ‘service’ based on an Old Testament, paganised, Romanised format which has been rehashed unto weariness by every one of the some 40,000 denominations that exist.
Of course, this cannot be achieved in Church-As-We-Know it (CAWKI). If God’s instructions cannot be fulfilled in Church-As-We-Know-It then church must change, for it is in disobedience to its Creator and Lord. Therefore, radical alterations are essential to change the very super-structure that keeps us from obeying the King. In fact, it is not just radical alterations required, but repentance and transformation of heart and thinking in order to relinquish back to God what is truly His – not the Church as we know it, but the Church as He wants it.