THE NEW TESTAMENT ALTAR

 

                                                                                                                        PART NO. 2

 

The Old Testament altar and what took place there is in many instances a shadow and type of the way we should be ministering to God in the New Testament Church context.

When we consider the purity of the altar, we are dealing with the purity of the individual heart as well as that of the local congregation or fellowship.

 

KING JEROBOAM  1 Kings 12: 25-30

Here is an example of an impure altar caused by wrong motives of the leader.

Background:  The nation of Israel had been split into two.  The southern kingdom of king Rehoboam, consisted of 2 tribes and known as JUDAH centered in Jerusalem and the northern kingdom of king Jeroboam, consisted of 10 tribes centered in Shechem.

 

Then Jeroboam built Shechem in the mountains of Ephraim, and dwelt there.  Also he went out from there and built Penuel.

And Jeroboam said in his heart, “Now the kingdom may return to the house of David (fear):   “If these people go up to offer sacrifices in the house of the Lord at Jerusalem, then the heart of this people will turn back to their lord, Rehoboam king of Judah, and they will kill me and go back to Rehoboam king of Judah.”

Therefore the king took counsel and made two calves of gold, and said to the people, “It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem.  Here are your gods, O Israel, which brought you up from the land of Egypt!”

And he set up one in Bethel, and the other he put in Dan.  Now this thing became a sin, for the people went to worship before the one as far as Dan.

The spirit of fear gripped Jeroboam because he was afraid that he would LOSE CONTROL of the people and the kingdom by them traveling down to Jerusalem to worship.  To avoid that he started his own local church in spite of the Lord not telling him to do so.

I Kings 31,32 states:  “He made shrines on the high places, and made priests from every class of people, who were not of the sons of Levi. 

Jeroboam ordained a feast on the fifteenth day of the eighth month, like the feast that was in Judah, and offered sacrifices on the altar.  So he did at Bethel, sacrificing to the calves that he had made.  And at Bethel he installed the priests of the high places which he had made.

In order to establish the local worship center, Jeroboam recruited priests who were not Levites and attempted to duplicate the same meeting days and form of worship the Lord had established for His people in Jerusalem.  His deviation from God’s divine plan and motive to do his own thing is emphasized in VERSE 33.

 

So he made offerings on the altar which he had made at Bethel on the fifteenth day of eighth month, in the month which he had devised in his own heart.  And he ordained a feast for the children of Israel, and offered sacrifices on the altar and burned incense.

 

IMPORTANT:  A major factor that makes an altar impure is the motivation of the individual who establishes it.

 

Was the ministry God-birthed or was it man-devised?  How much of what is done is from God and how much from man?  What has been and presently is the motivation for what is done in the name of the Lord.

How God responded towards an impure altar is given in CHAPTER 13:1-2:

 

“And behold, a man of God, went from Judah to Bethel by the word of the Lord, and Jeroboam stood by the altar to burn incense.

Then he cried out against the altar by the word of the Lord, and said, “O altar, altar! Thus says the Lord:  “Behold, a child, Josiah by name, shall be born to the house of David; and on you he shall sacrifice the priests of the high places who burn incense on you, and men’s bones shall be burned on you.”

 

THE FIRST PRINCIPLE OF THE IMPURE ALTAR STATES THAT WHEN A PERSON DEVISES AND RAISES UP A MINISTRY ACCORDING TO HIS OWN MOTIVES WHEN GOD HAS NOT ORDAINED IT, HE WILL PERISH ON THE VERY ALTAR HE BUILDS.  Spiritual death is far worse than physical death!

 

1 Kings 13 verse 3-5  At an impure altar, the altar is split apart and the ashes are poured out or rejected, instead of being accepted by the Lord.

When we tithe and give knowingly into an impure alter, God is not obligated to supply the promised return.

Many of God’s people enjoy His bountiful blessings, including financial and material ones giving testimony to His love, grace and mercy in response to their hearts that give from pure motives.

Impure altars never go unchallenged!  The prophet spoke the word of the Lord against the impurity of the altar and invoked the anger of the king.  Jeroboam wanted to  DESTROY THE PROPHET rather than repent and destroy the altar.

THAT ATTITUDE OF A HARDENED HEART IS STILL PREVALENT TODAY.

ANOTHER PRINCIPLE OF THE ALTAR:    WE REPRODUCE THE CONDITION OF THE ALTAR WHERE WE ATTEND, PARTICIPATE IN WORSHIP AND GIVE. THE CONDITION OF THE ALTAR DETERMINES BLESSING OR CURSE.

 

TRADITION

 

The enemy has defiled many altars through tradition.  The traditional way we teach tithing according to Malachi 3:8-10 is that it is a DISTRIBUTION passage, when it is really a PURPOSE passage.

VERSE 8 (a)  BRING ALL THE TITHES INTO THE STOREHOUSE, THAT THERE MAY BE MEAT IN MY HOUSE ….

 

 

Traditionally we have emphasized “Bring all the tithes into the storehouse” (THE PLACE) without honoring the real PURPOSE (THE WHY) of this scripture “THAT THERE MAY BE MEAT IN MY HOUSE’.

IN MANY PLACES THE TITHE HAS BEEN REDUCED TO A FORMULA.

WHO WAS THE MEAT FOR?

 

NUMBERS 18 is one of the passages instructing God’s  Old Testament people concerning the tithe:

 

All the heave offerings of the holy things, which the children of Israel offer to the Lord, I have given to you and your sons and daughters with you as an ordinance forever; it is a covenant of salt forever before the Lord with you and your descendants with you.

The Lord said to Aaron:  “You shall have no inheritance in their land, nor shall you have any portion among them;  I am your portion and your inheritance among the children of Israel.

Behold I have given the children of Levi all the tithes in Israel as an inheritance in return for the work which they perform, the work of the tabernacle of meeting.

“Hereafter the children of Israel shall not come near the tabernacle of meeting, lest they bear sin and die.”

The Levites were to be given the tithe and warned that anyone who was not a Levite but assumed a Levitical position for financial reasons would die.

So while the half-truth that the tithe belongs to the storehouse is taught and institutionalized there are those who are not called who will start storehouses in order to obtain a paycheck and support their families.  The real issue is motivation of heart.  If the motivation for ministry is financial, IMPURITY reigns!

 

NUMBERS 18: 23-24 states:

 

But the Levites shall perform the work of the tabernacle of meeting, and they shall bear their iniquity;  it shall be a statute forever, throughout your generations, that among the children of Israel they shall have no inheritance.

For the tithes of the children of Israel, which they offer up as a heave offering to the Lord, I have given to the Levites ….

The purpose of bringing GOD’S tithe through the storehouse to the Levites was “That there may be meat in My house”.

 

2 CHRONICLES 31: 4-5 corroborates MALACHI 3 in declaring the purpose of the tithe:

Moreover he commanded the people who dwelt in Jerusalem to contribute support for the priests and the Levites, that they might devote themselves to the Law of the Lord.

 

 

As soon as the commandment was circulated, the children of Israel brought in abundance the firstfruits of grain and wine, oil and honey, and of all the produce of the field; and they brought in abundantly the tithe of everything.

From these scriptures it is clear that the stated purpose of the tithe is to support the Levites (plural and not singular) so they might devote themselves to the word of the Lord and feed God’s people with the meat of the Word, causing growth and maturity.

 

WHO ARE THE LEVITES?

 

Numbers 8: 13-19 gives valuable insight into the Levitical ministry:

 

And you shall stand the Levites before Aaron and his sons, and then offer them as though a wave offering to the Lord.

Thus you shall separate the Levites from among the children of Israel, and the Levites shall be Mine.

After that the Levites shall go in to service the tabernacle of meeting.  So you shall cleanse them and offer them, as though a wave offering.

For they are wholly given to Me from among the children of Israel; I have taken them for Myself instead of all who open the womb, the firstborn of all the children of Isreal.

For all the firstborn among the children of Israel are Mine, both man and beast; on the day that I struck all the firstborn in the land of Egypt I sanctified them to Myself.

I have taken the Levites instead of all the firstborn of the children of Isreal.

I have given the Levites as a gift to Aaron and his sons from among the children of Isreal, to do the work for the children of Israel in the tabernacle of meeting, and to make atonement for the children of Israel ….

 

The Levites were to mature people by teaching God’s Word and way.  They were charged with preparing the believers to fulfill covenant purposes and enjoy their inheritance through understanding God’s Word so that the Lord would be glorified.

 

NEW TESTAMENT LEVITES

 

VERSE 19 says they were given by God as “GIFTS TO AARON”.

 

Ephesians 4:7-11 also speaks of “GIFTS GIVEN TO MEN”.

But to each of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’ gift.

Therefore He says:  “When He ascended on high, He led captivity captive, And gave gifts to men”.

(Now this, “He ascended” – what does it mean but that He also descended into the lower parts of the earth?

He who descended is also the One who ascended far above all th heavens, that He might fill all things.)

 

And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors, and teachers ….

Among the New Testament “Levites” are apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers.  Is the purpose of these New Testament ministries the same as that of the Old Testament Levites?

 

Ephesians 4 verse 12:

For the equipping of the saints for the working of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ,

Till we all come to the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect (or mature) man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ;

That we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness by which they lie in wait to deceive ….

It appears the same purpose is stated here, but in slightly different language.  They are both called “GIFTS”.  They both have the purpose of maturing the saints by bringing forth His Word.  Both contribute to helping people walk in a way pleasing to God through the fullness of His covenant, so that there will be no plague or deception among God’s people, and that He would be glorified.

THE PURPOSE IS BASICALLY THE SAME!

 

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

When any one of these five ministry gifts in a local congregation claims the whole tithe for himself, he is doing spiritually exactly what Achan did physically when he took for himself what had been dedicated to God – Joshua 7:1

 

But the children of Israel committed a trespass regarding the accused things, Achan the son of Carmi, the son of Zarah, of the tribe of Judah took of the accursed things; so the anger of the Lord burned against the children of Israel.

When any one of the New Testament ministries individually claims all the tithe brought in without having a commitment to support the rest of the ministry gifts to function operationally, he is doing to his people what Achan did to Israel.

The covenant is transgressed and the altar defiled.

God never intended that one gifting should bring a congregation of people to maturity.  It takes input from all five “gifts” to bring people into the full measure of the stature of Jesus Christ.  TITHES INTO THE STOREHOUSE FINANCE THE FIVE-FOLD MINISTRY “GIFTS”.

 

THE OFFERING

 

In Malachi 3, God said:  “You have robbed Me in tithes and OFFERINGS”, making it quite clear the covenant includes both.

 

The purpose of the tithe is stated quite clearly, but what is the purpose of offerings?

 

The first corporate offering ever taken in scripture was received in Exodus 25:1,2,8,9.

 

THEN THE LORD SPOKE TO MOSES, SAYING:

“Speak to the children of Israel, that they bring Me an offering.  From everyone who gives it willingly with his heart you shall take My offering …

“And let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them.”

“According to all that I show you, that is, the pattern of the tabernacle and the pattern of all its furnishing, just so you shall make it”.

The offering was to build the tabernacle!

One general rule consistently emerges:  OFFERINGS in scripture support BUILDINGS, while TITHES support PEOPLE.

Have our traditions made the Word of none affect?  Does prevailing tradition have us using tithes and offerings totally backwards?

In 2 Kings 12:4,5 king Jehoash (also called JOASH) gave the following instructions:

 

And Jehoash said to the priests, “All the money of the dedicated gifts that are brought into the house of the Lord – each man’s census money, each man’s assessment money – and all the money that a man purposes in his heart to bring into the house of the Lord,

“let the priests take it themselves, each from his constituency; and let them repair the damages of the temple, wherever any dilapidation is found.”

The corresponding passage in 2 Chronicles 24:5-6 makes it even clearer that these offerings were taken according to the commandment of Moses, who had initiated offerings for the temple.

 

Then he gathered the priests and the Levites, and said to them, “Go out to the cities of Judah, and gather from all Israel money to repair the house of your God from year to year, and see that you do it quickly.”  However the Levites did not do it quickly.

So the king called Jehoiada the chief priest, and said to him, “Why have you not required the Levites to bring in from Judah and from Jerusalem the collection, according to the commandment of Moses the servant of the Lord and of the congregation of Israel, for the tabernacle of witness?”

In God’s consistent plan, the temple or meeting place was built and maintained by OFFERINGS, while the Levites were supported through TITHES.

In many places, we have reduced the tithe to a formula and rule, used it for ourselves only in the local congregation, and forsaken other “equipping gifts”, bringing impurity to our altars and making the Word of God of none effect.

Of course, for these principles to work, it is essential that God’s people are committed and faithful in bringing all the tithe and giving offerings as led by the Lord.  It is my observation that across the nations, the saints are not generally faithful and obedient with

the tithe and offerings, resulting in a financial lack to fund the fulfilling of the church’s God-given purpose.

 

I believe that when tithes and offerings are explained and taught correctly, as coming out of our personal relationship with Him, believers will be convinced, convicted and motivated to bring all the tithes into the storehouse and give Spirit-led offerings to pure altars. We have inherited a system which is corrupt by tradition, but we live at a time when God has promised to RESTORE biblical foundational principles.

When leaders purify altars and adhere to His Word then God will truly open the windows of heaven.

 

JUDGING RIGHTEOUS JUDGEMENT

 

MATTHEW 7:1-2   Judge not, that you be not judged.  For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged;  and with the same measure you use, it will be measured back to you.

Jesus is not telling us that we cannot make judgments concerning error in the Body, but rather it is a warning to us about HOW we go about making such judgments.

VERSE 3-5  And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, and do not consider the plank in your own eye?

Or how can you say to your brother, “Let me remove the speck out of your eye”; and look, a plank is in you own eye?

Hypocrite!  First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck out of your brother’s eye.

 

So, before making declarations concerning the failure of others, we must seek the Lord to see if the presence of the same thing is in ourselves.  To judge church altars as impure we must first ask God to show us the impurity in our own lives.  Only then can we judge with the pure motivation of restoration and not be self-righteous hypocrites, which brings God’s judgment on us.

To be effective in bringing individuals to restoration by confronting them with truth, we first must search our own hearts and allow God to show us where we have violated the same principle.    Then we can approach people with compassion and bring restoration rather than offence and destruction.  God honours the motivation to restore with compassion as we become part of the answer, rather than compounding the problem!

 

I plan to write Part No. 3 on this subject and expose the hinderance that opposes the restoration of God’s principles and His blessings.

 

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

 

After having had the privilege of ministering alongside Al Houghton, I obtained his book PURIFYING THE ALTAR.  The stark truths I read prompted me to obtain his permission to copy portions of this book in these studies.

Thank you Al for the boldness to declare the truth in love!

ALL SCRITURAL QUOTATIONS ARE FROM THE NEW KING JAMES VERSION OF THE BIBLE.