Lent…if borrowed should be returned.
It is expected that our Catholic friends (Roman and Anglican) should make much of their church calendar. It is not surprising that much of the Methodist church also follows the calendar, given their Anglican origin. Ash Wednesday and Lent are clearly part of their traditions. But equally clear is the absence of any requirement, expectation, or anticipation in Holy Scripture for these practices. It is true that many from a Reformed and Presbyterian position believe these practices fall in the category of Christian liberty. And certainly such practices are no cause to break fellowship with those who have their hope of salvation resting in Christ and Christ alone. But, it is troublesome that these practices are being embraced in conservative Presbyterian churchs with such delight…almost as if a pearl of great price had been found. That other parts of the Christian community disagree with us is no surprise, but that we disagree with our history, theology, and ourselves is troublesome.
Historically we have had a very simple church calendar—The Lord’s Day Fifty-two times a year. And we have believed, and hopefully will continue to believe, that the simplicity of the gospel is best reflected in such simple patterns, making use of the ordinary means of grace. Calvin comments that while it is true that some of the church fathers speaking about fasting “sometimes came across sane and wise”, for we cannot disagree with a biblical use of fasting. But some later, making use of these comments, have “furnished the occasion of the tyranny which afterward arose” Calvin 4-12-20. Calvin proceeds to call the idea that Lent’s season of fasting is a revelation from heaven, a sheer hallucination. Calvin, Knox, the Westminster Fathers, and the vast majority of conservative and reformed Presbyterian history are all on the same page. And while we do not give them the authority of Holy Scripture we ought to be hesitant to take them lightly especially when the questions arise not from Scripture but from traditions other than our own.
It saddens me to see the growing excitement over such high church traditions in our churches while simultaneously diminishing the ordinary and historical practices. Special holy days seem to be filling the void left by the diminished use of a regular evening worship on the Lord’s Day. Seasons of prayer and fasts are sought after while little is done to promote the ordinary routines of prayer meetings. As I wrote recently, more preaching and more prayer are the places we need to live if we long to be visited by reformation and revival. It is the place our church needs to live.
Please know that I am not on a crusade to wipe out all traditions and practices that are not my own. My crusade is to wipe out the mindless and sentimental borrowing from other traditions. And, I am really not even on a crusade to convince all of my PCA brothers that they ought to return to the paths of our fathers in these matters—though I would be delighted if that happened. My crusade is mostly about encouraging the congregants of our church to give some thought about these things before being drawn into them—sentiment and sincerity do not make a practice sound. Ask yourself:
1) Where is the biblical mandate?
2) Why did our Reformed and Presbyterian Fathers not practice these traditions? As you think about this question you might profit from this article recently posted of Facebook titled “why I don’t observe lent”.
3) Why does this practice, that grew up in the Roman and Anglican Catholic traditions, find its way into Presbyterian churches so much more in our day than in days past…what is it about now that makes this more likely? Why in this day of “don’t call wrong wrong or right right”, do many find the blending of traditions easy?
And so saints of Fifth Street, have a hamburger for lunch and give your attentions to the things of Christ to which He has called you; making preaching, praying, the sacraments, and our life together as saints the place where you place your hope for our personal and church sanctification.
Pastor Steve Simmons