I’ve given up cannolis for a season. Doesn’t that sound like a good Lenten sacrifice? In reality, however, I’ve “given them up” merely because the cold weather prevents me from going to either Quincy Market or the North End (Mike’s Pastry being the place to get a cannoli, you understand), and I’ve been on this involuntary cannoli fast since October. All this to say that I don’t observe Lent.
As a growing number of evangelicals observe Lent, some evangelicals take the position that it’s a matter of Christian liberty. They appeal to Romans 14, which admonishes us against judging each other’s convictions. And, to a certain extent, perhaps they have a valid point. If they observe it with an attitude similar to my attitude in wearing hats to church out of reverence, how can I–indeed, how dare I–pass judgment?
Having made that allowance, I have a difficult time understanding why evangelicals, who are (whether they acknowledge it or not) products of the Protestant Reformation, would lapse back into a Roman Catholic tradition. To be candid, it grieves me that they revert to this practice with the attitude that it enhances their relationship with Christ. Paul’s heart-wrenching appeal to the Galatians comes to mind:
2 Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? 3 Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? ~~Galatians 3:2-3 (ESV)
The evangelicals who observe Lent would most likely say I’ve misapplied that Scripture because they don’t consider the practice as a means to salvation. Perhaps they don’t. Yet something about a Protestant observing this tradition strikes me as being off-base. Instead of abstaining from a favorite food or hobby for 40 days (not counting Sundays), why not live in obedience to the Lord throughout the year?
Lent, these evangelicals claim, serves as a reminder of Christ’s humility in sacrificing Himself for us. Okay, but why should that reminder be so shallow as giving up a food or habit between Ash Wednesday and Resurrection Sunday, knowing full well that we’ll resume the practice as soon as we leave the church parking lot after Easter services? And shouldn’t Bible-believing Christians remember His humility at all times? What’s the purpose of this fast? Again, I can’t help wondering if people believe (at least secretly) that their Lenten self-denial in some way commends them to God.
Thinking about Lent reminds me of Paul’s words to the Colossian church:
20 If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations— 21 “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” 22 (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? 23 These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh. ~~Colossians 2:20-23 (ESV)
When the Lord called us to die to self as a condition of following Him (Luke 9:23), He meant actual death. And spiritually, Christians must die to the demands of our sin natures (Colossians 3:5-10). The superficial self-denial of Lent comes no where near the demands that following Jesus requires, but rather usually inflates our egos with the false assurance of self-righteousness.
If a Christian observes Lent with a true attitude of wishing to honor Christ, I will not judge his heart. But I suspect that most evangelicals who are climbing back to Roman Catholic traditions observe Lent almost as a sacrament. That being the case, I have difficulty accepting Lent as something consistent with the faith that our Reformation forefathers suffered and died for. Further, I believe Paul would have opposed it, much as He opposed the ascetic practices that threatened the Colossian church. Let us die to sin, and be ready to die for Christ, rather than indulging in a 40 day fast each year.