I’m having a hard time really understanding why I’m starting to hear my brothers and sisters talk about celebrating Lent. Oh, I know that fasting and alms giving and the putting away of things that distract from our spiritual focus is a good thing any time of the year. I love to hear that Christians are clearing material clutter and temporal time-thieves to make more room in their houses and spirits for the spiritual. But choosing a time prescribed by the Catholic church and calling it a name designated by Catholicism and thus associating the good things prescribed by the Lord Himself (fasting, giving alms and living sacrificially) with “Holy Days” like Maundy Thursday and Ash Wednesday; with the smearing of ashes on the forehead; and with the obligatory abstinence from meats—all things that are the doctrines of men—that observance seems to be very much like what Jesus was condemning in Matthew 15:9.
“But in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.”
To me, problems with speaking of “what I am giving up for Lent” or “I’m loving the concept of Lent” are several:
- I give the impression to those who hear that I am okay with religious rites and observances created by men. (There is just a whole lot more to Lent than sacrificing some practices or substances that distract from the spiritual.)
- More specifically, I give credence to the teachings of those who would fall into the category of people described in I Timothy 4:3, who are “forbidding to marry” and commanding to “abstain from meats” and who are described by the Holy Spirit as having “departed from the faith.”
- I sacrifice chances for evangelism when I mention to my friends what I am “giving up for Lent,” when I could be speaking with them about why I love my friends who are being sacrificial, but at the same time kindly explaining the reasons I don’t practice Lent. I might even engage my friends about I Timothy 4:3 in a respectful and inquiring tone. God is good to open doors of evangelism when we are faithful to plant the seeds.
- Perhaps I do not mean to be, but it seems to me that I am implying that the new covenant or the new testament, given by Jesus and activated at His death, leaves something to be desired; that the sacrifices of Romans 12:1,2 and the answer of a good conscience that results from baptism as described in I Peter 3:21 somehow leave something to be desired. I want to be very careful that I do not insult the gift of grace that so completely provides all that I need in Christ.
- My children, and perhaps others around me, may become genuinely confused about what practices in my walk of faith are Biblical and which are borrowed from the traditions of a false religion. I have some very dear friends who struggle every day as they try to reclaim a family member, who was once a simple New Testament Christian. They love his soul. They want him to remember that the burning of incense, worship of Mary, smearing of ashes, rosary, papacy, etc…of his new religion are all innovations and/or traditions of men. But now it is likely too late. I surely do not want to contribute to any such departure in the hearts of my children.
- We would not know about Lent if we were reading only the Bible for our guide in religion. We would know about giving to the poor and making sacrifices to walk with Christ and about fasting, but there are many components of Lent that are unrelated to anything we read about in the Guidebook.
May our hearts constantly rejoice in the perfect law of liberty (James 1:25). May we bask in the fact that we are thoroughly furnished in the New Testament to every good work (II Timothy 3:16,17). It’s all-sufficient. It’s all we need. But we really need to be in it every day–for strength, for clarity, for comfort and for hope.