No Justification for Lent, No Matter How Hard Defenders Try

Here we are again, rapidly approaching the misguided season of Lent. Lent is the made-up celebration of fasting for 40 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter, not counting Sundays. It’s supposedly modeled after Jesus’ time in the desert where He spent 40 days fasting., although He went without food, water, and shelter for 40 straight days, no breaks.

So at best, Lent is really a time for the believer to score spiritual points with himself, because the day is completely made up and not commanded in Scripture. In fact, there isn’t an ounce of Scriptural support for the practice. Furthermore, can anyone honestly say we are following Christ’s example in the wilderness as we remain in the comfort of our own homes, with plenty of other foods and beverages to sustain us, when He had none? The sacrifices made by the typical observer of Lent are really nothing but silly tokens compared to Christ’s sacrifice and make a mockery of Christ’s actual sufferings in the wilderness.

But alas, here we are, approaching the Lent season and all kinds of writers are doing their best to justify observing the event. Yet, when you look at what is being asked of participants in the man-centered ritual, it becomes obvious to ask the question of Lent observers: “Really, you only do those things 40 days of the year?

For instance, the Rev. Sam Murrell, an Anglican priest in Little Rock, AR, writes:

Lent is one of my favorite times of the year because it forces me to take a close look at myself and my relationship with Jesus Christ. Lent reminds me of my need to rely on Christ’s grace and that I shouldn’t think too highly of myself.

The obvious question arises: Really, you only do those things 40 days of the year? It seems to me that those things listed should be done on a regular basis. In fact, those of us who believe in the ordinary means of grace would recognize the need for those things every Lord’s day when communion is served. (Full disclosure, I believe communion should be weekly, just as the preaching of God’s word is weekly, although my current congregation doesn’t practice weekly communion…yet.)

Murrell continues:

In preparation for Lent, worshipers are exhorted to fast and abstain from things that hinder their walk with the Lord. It should be a season in which we attempt to lay aside every weight and the sin that too easily captivates our hearts and distracts us from running the race set before us (Hebrews 12:1).

I just can’t imagine the writer of Hebrews thinking that passage is only relevant for the made-up Lenten season. The way Murrell presents it, we are only suppose to abstain from sinful things for 40 days of the year. Wow! Sign me up to be an Anglican! We can live it up 325 days of the year and only have to worry about sin for 40 days of the year (sarcasm alert). What does Hebrews say:

Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.

Notice the lack of reference to the church calendar? There isn’t one and the laying aside of the sin that easily ensnares us it to be done daily for then entire race, not just yearly. Murrell is searching for justification of the ritual and coming up empty. He shifts from stating what believers do traditionally during Lent and decides to add to it, revealing his hand, that Lent, has no real biblical support. Here is his suggestion:

I propose that instead of subtracting something trivial from your life like caffeine or candy, consider subtraction by addition. What do I mean? Consider temporarily adding something to life that requires you to give up some of your time in order to pursue it. For example, this year try to do something that will bring glory to Christ for the full forty days. Something with a kingdom focus.

Again, are you really going to do that for only 40 days of the year? Should we not be doing that on a regular basis? Should we not remove those things that hinder our walks with Christ daily? Should we not serve Christ daily? Should we not have a kingdom focus daily?

It’s like the proponents of Lent, and the church calendar, are admitting that they only expect Christians to be Christians when they have come up with a day to remind them that they are Christians, all the while ignoring the real day that the LORD has actually given us, The Lord’s Day. The only legitimate church calendar has 52 holy days on it, the first day of the week. Sunday is the holy day we are to observe. Any other such day is manmade, and not supported in Scripture. Yet, those who practice Lent, keep trying to convince us of its validity and fall dreadfully short.

Here is a portion of my earlier post on Lent to help remind us why we, as Protestants, should not give heed to the day.

The Bible alone is sufficient for all the we need in our spiritual growth. God has very clearly given us means of grace by which we can grow spiritually, the preaching of God’s word, the sacraments of baptism and the LORD’s supper, and prayer. Anything else is an addition of men. Such additions are condemned by most of the Reformers (Even Lutherans originally condemned the practice of Lent, but have now been drawn back into it).

Here is what R. Scott Clark wrote:

In other words, the very practice of Ash Wednesday and Lent are simply made up observances and this is the problem. It is not that one might not learn something valuable by abstaining from this or that for 40 days or that there is no value in gathering on Wednesday 40 days before Easter to remember the suffering and death of our Savior. The problem is that the human heart is an idol factory (Calvin). Once it is given license to create and impose Christian observances, it never ends. What begins with good intentions becomes a form of bondage. This is not a new problem. The Apostle Paul opposed this very thing in his epistle to the Colossians:

If you have died with Christ to the elementary principles (στοιχεῖα) of the world, why, as if you were living in the world, do you submit yourself to decrees, such as, “Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!” (which all refer to things destined to perish with use)—in accordance with the commandments and teachings of men? These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in a self-made religion (ἐθελοθρησκίᾳ) and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence (Col 2:20–23; NASB95).

In the case of Ash Wednesday and Lent we have the very thing against which the Apostle Paul warned: “will worship” (ἐθελοθρησκίᾳ). Christians have added and imposed upon other Christians the very sort of abstinence and man-made religious practice condemned by the Apostle. The elementary principles (στοιχεῖα) to which Paul refers are not observations about nature (as some commentators think) but rather he is most likely referring to the fundamental principle of law. Someone was seeking to put the Colossians back under the law of abstinence as a mark of piety and Paul was not having it. This is typically the Lutheran explanation of the passage so it is striking to see leading (even confessional) Lutherans doing what their own tradition tells them they ought not.

Clark also points out that the practice was not adopted until the medieval period when the Roman Catholic Church had a holy day for almost every day of the year. And this is the problem. Many may think that it is harmless in celebrating something that has been celebrated over the past 500 years or so, but we should never bind someone’s conscious over man-made tradition, which Colossians clearly condemns.

In conclusion, let us lay aside those things that come about via the traditions of men, and hold fast to the holy days that the LORD has ordained for us. We have one holy day every week of the year. Those are the holy days we have been given.

9 thoughts on “No Justification for Lent, No Matter How Hard Defenders Try

  1. Hi, Tim. Long time, no talk. 🙂

    I won’t give you a lengthy spiel like I know you are used to from me. I’ll give you just a couple of (hopefully brief) things to consider:

    I went back and looked over your past entries and it appears though at one time you celebrated Christmas, you have since rejected the notion. I commend you for your consistency. If you reject the very notion that anything “made up” by men can be beneficial to our faith or commended to us to be observed, then indeed you ought to reject all calendar observances of any sort. Do you likewise reject Easter celebrations? If the statement of a practice in Scripture is the only standard you will accept, then you are completely spot on. This is not meant to be sarcastic in any way: I commend you.

    I just wonder where these basic notions stem from. Is it necesarily “idolatrous” for men to engage in “man-made” practices to pursue and further their faith and devotion? I can think of plenty of “inventions” that have been of benefit even to Protestants: church buildings, seminary education, systematic theology, revival preaching, Vacation Bible School, church dinners, etc. I’m not sure what your ideal church service or church organization looks like, but there is little Scripture spells out with explicit detail: so man is left to fill in the gaps. Is your church led by a pastor? Do you follow the traditional order of singing songs followed by the preaching of a sermon? Do you worship on Sunday None of this is spelled out in Scripture. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

    What do you say to a person fasting on one’s own, without any organization of the church? Certainly this is a biblical practice, practiced both by the Apostles (e.g. Acts 13:3) and taught by Christ (Matthew 6:16-18). If a man decides to fast on his own, for the benefit of his faith, at what point does this become a “man-made” activity, a “work,” or an “idol”? Or is the problem only when it is “imposed” by a church?

    Why would you presume that a person engages in such fasting for the purpose of “scoring spiritual points” rather than out of ardent devotion and heartfelt desire to pursue the Lord more ardently? Do folks go on marriage retreats just to “score points” with their spouse or do they go out of a desire to increase their intimacy with one other? If a couple goes on such retreats, do you question their commitment to each other the rest of the time? Why don’t they just have that same level of intimacy all the time?

    Finally, I wanted to point out that the practice of Lent is not a medieval “Catholic” invention, but is attested to much earlier and was far more widespread. Irenaeus of Lyon, writing c. A.D. 190, refers to a period of fasting leading up to Easter, already an generations-old practice in his time (as recorded in Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History V.24). The First Council of Nicaea (A.D. 325) referred to a definite forty-day period of fasting (τεσσαρακοστή, the Greek name for Lent) as part of an established church calendar.

    Sorry; I fail at brevity. The peace of the Lord be with you; and may you too pursue Him with renewed devotion as we approach the Passover.

    Like

    • Hi Joseph, yes, you need to reeducation yourself on the meaning “brief.” Sorry, couldn’t resist.

      Practice of holy days: The LORD’s day. 52 holy days of the year. We get to first day worship by necessary inference. That being the case, I do not practice Christmas. I do preach about the incarnation for the weakness of the lessor brother, and will say Merry Christmas. But I believe the emphasis should be on the LORD’s day worship and not other holy days.

      As for Easter, I observe it every LORD’s day. That is part of the necessary inference, Christ rose on the first day of the week, therefore we worship on the first day of the week looking forward to the new heavens and new earth in which the first day points to.

      You write:

      I can think of plenty of “inventions” that have been of benefit even to Protestants: church buildings, seminary education, systematic theology, revival preaching, Vacation Bible School, church dinners, etc.

      Church buildings are not a part of worship and are modeled after synagogue worship of the first century. They are practical, but not necessary.
      Seminary education– this fits into the understanding of studying to be approved (2 Timothy 2:15).
      Systematic Theology — I lean more to Biblical theology.
      Revival preaching — despise it. I believe all true revival comes via the preaching of God’s word by normal ordinary pastors. But there have been some itinerant preachers whom God has used in a mighty way, Whitefield being one. But basic revival meetings, as done today in the footsteps of that great heretic Charles Finney, I will have nothing to do with.
      Vacation Bible school — try to discourage at every turn. Would rather train dads to lead their families in family worship and to make sure their children are in church, with them, on the LORD’s day. This is part of Shema.

      Fasting on their own — agree with it completely. It’s the public notion of it, like that found in Lent, that I think is wrongheaded. Fasting is a means of grace, just like prayer.

      OK, hope that helps.

      Like

  2. Sorry I can’t respond, but I’ve given up the internet for . . . oops! I was sure that this year I’d set a new personal best and last at least a week! Always making an ash of myself.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Timothy, I agree with you that Sundays, the first day of the week , we should go to church, and through the sinfulness of man( humans) there are hardly no more church twice on a Sunday. I miss that, and as someone is reading this the argument is already pounding in my ears, the Bible does not
    say that we have to go twice every Sunday. And they are right, but the bible does say that you should
    be examples of Christ. In the older times say an 80 to 100 years ago it was expected to sit in church for at least 2 to three hours, why was that, because the sermons were that long, and to break it up, they sang in the middle. Was that over done? Oh, I do not know, studies have shown that you can hear and retain about twenty minutes of a lecture or if you wish a sermon. And for people who say I can be a good Christian but I do not have to go to church. To those I say hock wash, for to be a Christian you have to follow the examples of Christ.
    Now with the observance of Ash Wednesday, I never observed it, and I am not about to start now, I
    could not find it in the Bible in observation of Ash Wednesday. That to is a farce in my mind. That is
    to me a sign for let us find an excuse in the observation and the preparation of Easter. Really? Every
    day should we not do this, did not Jesus day say, “Be prepared for the second coming of Christ” for neither the son knows, only the Father knows when the hour is upon us.
    As for the Easter celebrations, I have nothing to say against celebrating Easter, for in Europe where
    I spent growing up half of my childhood years we had two Easter days and we went to church both days. Personally I think that it is good so that we can remind our inner self, of why Jesus was born
    in the first place, and it sounds awful to write this but He came here to die a horrible death to save us from eternal hell, and that we may receive salvation. Now when people read this they may say that whatever we do we have salvation. To that I say, No No No It is not ours to earn, because we can not earn salvation, it is given to us through the Grace of our Lord Jesus, and only if we are truly sorry
    for our sins. That my friends is the short version, Oh there is more, and I would encourage everyone
    to read the Bible, for there you will find the answer. Sjouke Jukema

    Like

    • Hi Sjouke,

      Thanks for the discourse. Yes, I think that two services on Sunday would be grand, but I’m not going to lead my church in that direction since most of them are old, and don’t get out after dark. I try to make up for that with Bible studies during the week. AS for Easter, as I’ve said earlier, we do celebrate Easter every Lord’s day, just by the simple fact that we worship on Sunday, the first day of the week, the day He arose from the dead. But I also celebrate it with my congregation when it rolls around.

      Blessings

      Like

  4. Timothy, I do agree that older folks are having problems in the dark driving, and the evening services
    should not happen then. There are always afternoon services starting at say 2:30 for an hour. As for you’r celebration of communion we differ in our opinions. As I came from the oldest North American
    denomination, and that is nothing to brag about I may add, in my heart I maintain that it should remain
    something very special. When you have it say every week, I am afraid it becomes more of a habit, other then a special occasion. The denomination I always thought had the right balance where we had communion six or seven times of the year. Right now since the church and the denomination closed at the end of 2016 I was forced to look at another denomination and I thought I had found it
    in the Presbyterian church, but now I am not so sure, since I had a big disagreement with the minister
    preaching on one of his sermons, and now they had a service celebrating Ash Wednesday which I also disagree. For the most part it is not bad, but these items I have mentioned rubs me the wrong way. Anyway this denomination is also celebrating communion once a month and I find that to often
    too. Maybe it is me, but here I find that as I sit there to be served, I keep trying to find the real reason in celebrating communion, and before we do that we have to examine ourselves, that is the true
    way to partake. We will talk again about this for I am not convinced that we should celebrate communion every week of for that matter once a month. I am going to research it some more, and
    see if I can get an answer. Sjouke

    Like

  5. Friends,

    I’m late to this conversation. I was going to give up blog comments for Lent until I saw Timothy’s poster. Too funny! Yes, I do agree that Lent seems to be too Catholic, and if something is worth doing (or not doing) during “Lent” it’s worth doing/not doing all the time. BUT… here’s a reminder from Romans 14 that we should keep in mind when considering this issue:

    “One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. He who regards one day as special, does so to the Lord. He who eats meat, eats to the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who abstains, does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God. For none of us lives to himself alone and none of us dies to himself alone. If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.”

    It is for freedom that Christ set us free. Let us always be careful how we handle disputable matters.

    Like

Comments are closed.