Summary: Words that have gone out of style in the church but need to make a return as "Comeback Words."
“For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear.” 2 Timothy 4:3
Intro: There are certain words in the life of the Church that have always had significant meaning. But as with most fashions many of these words come and go out of style. Today we are going to talk about some very important words that we should pray that they make a return as “Comeback Words.”
The first word is I. Altar.
“And Noah builded an altar unto the LORD; and took of every clean beast, and every clean fowl, and offered burnt offerings on the altar” Genesis 8:20
The appearance of the Hebrew word “altar” or “mizbeach” (Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance from the primary root: “zabach” slaughter the flesh of an animal) is surprisingly not found in the bible until Genesis 8:20.
It is however, certainly implied in the actions of Cain and Abel, who each brought choice gifts of their best and presented or offered them unto the Lord that an altar was used by the pre-Flood patriarch.
The Levitical laws (see Leviticus chapters 1-7) later more clearly described and defined the building of altars and their use to present grain, fruits and sacrifice animals for many different reasons including an offering for sin.
King Solomon knelt before the altar and cried out unto the Lord asking God to be merciful to his people. “When Solomon had made an end of praying all this prayer and supplication unto the LORD, he arose from before the altar of the LORD, from kneeling on his knees with his hands spread up to heaven. I Kings 8:54 The altar was not only a place of sacrifice but also a place to pray.
In the New Testament the practice of animal offerings were part of the early covenant relationship between God and man for the forgiveness of sin had continued for thousands of years even until John the Baptist came and identified Jesus with the words: "Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world." John 1:29 The choice of John’s words was deliberate and on purpose. There is a big difference between the offering of bulls and goats which had to be done over and over again and God providing his own Son to be an effective, sufficient sacrifice once and for all sin. Jesus became our sacrifice and his death satisfied the holy justice of God.
Let us jump forward to a more modern understanding of the altar that came about in the late 1800’s. Studies on Revivals and the Great Awakenings teach us the origin of the "the old fashioned altar call." (See Steven Gertz article “When and why did the custom of conducting altar calls begin?”) Evangelist began to reserve the front row of seats for those who were “anxious” to come to the altar to pray. After the sermon there would be a challenge to respond to come forward to the Lord's side. Those who were anxious about their souls were invited to walk down the aisle and set in one of the "anxious seats" where pastors, counselors or laypersons who were trained in evangelism would meet them and lead them through some simple scriptures and to the altar to pray.
Charles Finney an early revivalist explains his view: "Preach to him and at the moment he thinks he is willing to do anything . . . bring him to the test; call on him to do one thing, to make one step that shall identify him with the people of God. . . . If you say to him, "there is the anxious seat, come out and avow your determination to be on the Lord's side," and if he is not willing to do a small thing as that, then he is not willing to do anything for Christ."
This method of evangelism by invitation was used by the early greats such as Dwight L. Moody, Peter Cartwright, Sam Jones, Billy Sunday, John R. Rice, and Billy Graham. Hundreds and sometimes thousands of people came forward to the altar of decision. The invitation to the altar had come to stay. Or so it seemed up through the late 1960’s and early 1970’s the growth of the church and invitation evangelism seemed almost unstoppable.
But then something happened, something that church historians can not exactly agree upon. The idea of a person walking down in front of everyone else became distasteful, revolting, and unattractive, to many even repugnant. Thus an important word “Altar” became less and less important in the life of the church.
There is one word. An important word. That we should pray to make a comeback and that is the word “Altar.”