Building an altar in the home is a tradition that dates back hundreds of years. Unfortunately it’s one that is not practiced as much as it should be in our society today. Many see it as form of legalism, and some would speculate that it’s a form of idolatry. However, it’s really an attitude of the heart and simply creating a place separated for worship, communion, and Bible study. This time helps to reassure the foundation of Christ in the home. It is for the single wo/man, the newly married, the married couple with children, and so on and so forth. Don't think that you not having children disqualifies you from this time. Prepare now so it's just a continuation later on.
An altar is a special place designated for worship unto God. You don’t have to worry about getting a fatted calf or bringing the ninth heifer to the altar to sacrifice for your sins. We know that Jesus is and will always be all you need. The altar in the home should be a place that represents holiness. It’s not the place of holiness, but a place that represents it. It’s a place of refuge and comfort from the trouble of the world. It’s a place where God is glorified and you and your family are edified through prayer, Scripture reading, and edifying conversation.
Deuteronomy 6:1-9 is a great reference on the importance of teaching the commands to your children. Verse 7 instructs us to “impress them on your children.” This means the conversation would have to be consistent, persistent, and intentional. Our teaching doesn’t stop in the home. We’re instructed to teach in our going in and our going out. This means you make every opportunity in life your classroom. For example, take the children outside to teach the principle of sowing and reaping. Use fertile soil in a small flower pot to teach the benefits of planting in good ground. Then get soil that is dry to teach what to avoid. Water the seeds together to teach persistence and patience. Then enjoy the fruit of the harvest with one another. Even better, teach the value of giving by allowing your children to gift what they have grown to someone else in need. Jesus was a master at this principle. He taught while standing beside the fig tree, while standing at the well, in the city street, and on the mountaintop. His life was His mission field, and we must practice this same principle at home with our children.
This special family time, which we refer to as “family altar time,” is special because we designate time for our first ministry--our family. It becomes the place where the family gathers together for the purpose of teaching, edification, loving reproof, fellowship, praise, communion, Scripture reading, and prayer. It’s a designated time just for them, which makes it extra special. No one or no thing can take the place of that time. We oftentimes allow others to come in to our special time, but we do not make a habit of it. We also do not allow for our family altar time to take the place of regular church attendance. I wouldn't recommend planning your family altar time around the same time as the services at your local church. Your entire family needs to attend those services to promote fellowship, social interaction, corporate teaching, corporate worship, and maturity with the brethren.
Before designating a special place in the home for family altar time, we should make sure our heart is pure and our desire is to truly seek God for ourselves and for our family. Make sure you are one with Christ so your family can follow. Command your household to put away any foreign gods, to be purged and purified, and to take off whatever they’ve put on that counters the teachings of Christ as Jacob did in Genesis 35:2. Remove anything in the home that is anti-Christ. Then boldly declare that you and your house will serve the Lord. That declaration is both personal and collective. It tells them that you will serve the Lord, and they must follow.
If you are in a situation where your spouse doesn't want to participate with the family altar time, do it anyway. Add him or her to your prayers, and win him or her over with your quiet, gentle Spirit. Don't be rude or demeaning. Be inviting and thankful for each step he or she takes to participate. If there are children in the home with the inactive spouse, make sure you do not seek to demonize the other spouse for his or her inactivity. Rather use it as an opportunity to pray for the "entire family" without singling out just "your mom" or "your dad." Demeaning the other parent can be counterproductive to the time together that should be marked with love, forgiveness, patience, longsuffering, and gentleness.
In my house we like to have our family altar time at dinnertime. This is our special time around the table where our family discusses our day, reads Scripture, and prays together. As the patriarch of the house, I lead the discussion, the prayer, and the teaching. I have two young children so I seek to relate the Gospel in a way they will understand. As they grow older I will assign them things to study like faith, hope, love, communion, salvation etc. so they can lead the discussion, Scripture reading, and prayer. It is important for them to read, study, and teach so they are prepared and feel comfortable enough to duplicate their actions in their home with their family. Our goal is to teach in a way that they’re able to teach others. My son is old enough to lead prayer, so we allow him to do it. His prayers have grown tremendously since he did it the first time. Seeing that growth means so much to me.
Family altar time is a great time of conversation and edification. Don’t feel overwhelmed by it. Start somewhere. Nowadays the television is the focal point of the home. Family altar time makes sure Christ is the foundation and priority.
Here are some important things to consider for family altar time.
1. The most important subject to teach them is the Gospel! Tell them the bad news is that their sin is more than what they can pay. Then tell them the Good News is that Jesus has paid the price for us. Explain how sin kills, why God is to be revered, and the greatness of Christ. This is the most important lesson to teach. If you have to teach it over and over again, do it. Teach it until they understand it and are able to communicate it to others.
2. Use the time to edify and encourage with Scripture, teaching, prayer, and conversation. It’s not a time of tearing down or trying to expose what someone doesn’t know. Pride shouldn’t be allowed in your altar time.
3. Be consistent. Consistency is key to breaking through. Allow your family, especially your children, to see that you’re consistent in your altar time. They may not like it at first, but they must learn the importance of it. An important part of discipline is teaching, so be sure to teach them the importance of it. Make it interactive for them. It doesn't have to be stale. Have some fun with it. Just remember the importance of it.
4. Don’t allow technology to take over the time. It’s easy to substitute human interaction and communication with a recorded sermon, a children’s video online, or a phone app that reads the Bible aloud. While those things can be wonderful additions, they shouldn’t take the place of your teaching, singing, praying, studying, and conversing. The children will appreciate dad much more than a recorded sermon. Possibly listen to the sermon from your pastor every Friday together. I'm not seeking to make a rule here. Instead, my goal is to point out the importance of more human interaction. Put the phones away, turn off the television, and speak with one another.
5. It’s still possible to make time for your family altar even if your children do not live in the same home. This means you will have to be a little creative. The important thing is to establish a consistent schedule of communication and conversation. It could be a daily video chat, a biweekly conversation over ice cream, or sitting with them during their lunch. Be creative. Just remember the objective is to impress the words of God on their heart.
6. Remember that "family altar time" is simply the designated time for family Bible study, worship, and edifying communication. It's not a time to tear down or ridicule. Spend the time focusing on the fullness of Christ. Children are having less interaction with Scripture nowadays with prayer taken out of schools. Just don't allow for that special time to be taken out of your home. Take this time seriously.
7. Teach the importance of prayer by demonstrating it. Ask your children who and what they would like to pray for, and make special opportunities for them to pray. Teach them to pray for their family, their pastor, their church, missionaries, the sick and shut-in, the unsaved, the neighbors, our government leaders (no matter their political affiliation), and provision.
I pray these things assist you on your journey of starting a special time of edification in your home. For some, this will be the beginning. For others, this will be a continuation. Be encouraged never to stop. Ultimately, be led by the Holy Spirit.
I'm praying for you and your family.
For more information on this subject, please check out one of my sermons on building an altar in the home. Click here.