Should Evangelicals Observe Lent?

img_4045I know I said we’d talk more about Peter Waldo today, but since then it dawned on me that Lent begins tomorrow. What a perfect opportunity to demonstrate the necessity of the Protestant Reformation.

In the last few years, I’ve noticed evangelicals (including some I know personally) talking about giving up things for Lent. This trend disturbs me, and all the more as I learn the history of the Reformation. I can’t understand why those who have been liberated from the legalism of Catholicism would willingly return to one of its rituals, thinking that a forty day fast would somehow impress God.

As I mentioned in my latest Saturday Sampler, The Cripplegate ran Jesse Johnson’s article on Lent last Wednesday. If you haven’t read it yet. I implore you to at least read the section on the history of the tradition. Johnson explains how a tradition that began as a way to prepare new Christians for baptism degenerated into false spirituality at best and hollow ritual at worst.

Like most Roman Catholic rituals, observing Lent focuses on human works. Penance, fasting and almsgiving enable one to attain greater sanctification, thus becoming yet another means of making oneself acceptable to God. By performing these rites during the six weeks leading up to Easter, one supposedly draws closer to God because of these sacrificial acts of self-denial. The emphasis, as usual, falls on human effort rather than on the Lord Jesus Christ and His finished work on the cross.

Some would argue that Lent teaches us how to practice self-denial. Giving up Facebook, for example, shows us how to die to our addiction to social media. Lent, they insist, helps us develop self-control, therefore making us more godly. Interestingly, the apostle Paul wrote to the Colossians, cautioning them against outward displays of self-righteousness.

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)

Certainly, self-control is a fruit of the Spirit that Christians should exercise, but it’s a result of salvation rather than a means to it. The Reformers all insisted on returning to the Biblical doctrine that faith alone justifies a person. Lent returns us to a system that the Reformers fought long and hard against. It takes our eyes off the finished work of Christ, bringing us back to man-made religion.

As evangelicals, we must honor the efforts of the Reformers, who extricated us from the legalism of Catholicism. Reverting to the demands of Catholic rituals disregards both the Reformation and (of more serious consequence) the Gospel itself. Dying to self for the Lord is so much more (and so much different) than giving up Facebook or rich food for forty days each year. Please don’t sacrifice your freedom in Christ simply to follow a tradition of human origin.

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Perspectives In Titus: A Meaningful Salutation

purple-bibleFor a few reasons, we’ll continue our Titus Bible Study by remaining in verse 4 of Chapter 1 today. Primarily, we’ll do so because last Monday we used this verse to introduce Titus rather than exploring how it fits in with the rest of Paul’s salutation. Its context makes going on to verses 5-9 awkward since we didn’t really examine it last week.

As I’ve just mentioned, verse 4 concludes Paul’s salutation to Titus. This salutation can’t be skipped over lightly because of its rich doctrinal content. Most of this epistle centers around the practicalities of church structure and function, leaving Paul little opportunity to proclaim doctrinal truths, which probably frustrated him just a bit. For that reason, he took full advantage of the chance to pack theology into every crevice of his letter to Titus that he could find. You see, Paul proclaimed doctrine as a way to express his worship of Christ.

Let’s look at the entire salutation, remembering the great doctrines of God’s sovereignty and His election of believers that we saw in our study two weeks ago.

 Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness, in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began and at the proper time manifested in his word through the preaching with which I have been entrusted by the command of God our Savior;

To Titus, my true child in a common faith:

Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior. ~~Titus 1:1-4 (ESV)

Paul has just introduced himself as a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, stating his mission of bringing the Gospel of eternal life to the elect. Notice how he delights in the details of God’s sovereignty? But now he realizes that he needs to finish his salutation, so he greets Titus by calling him “my true child.”

That phrase conveys far more than mere affection. Most commentators believe that Paul led Titus to the Lord. They base their assertion on the fact that Paul uses similar language to describe Timothy (1 Corinthians 4:17) and Onesimus (Philemon 10). The apostle reminds Titus of the spiritual bond they share.

But he quickly erases any thought that he’s spiritually superior to Titus by adding the phrase “in a common faith.”  Here Paul suggests that Christians have a faith shared by both Jews and Gentiles,  common to all believers regardless of their position within the Church. As an apostle who is ethnically Jewish, Paul considers this Gentile convert as his equal

This phrase also may allude to the Council of Jerusalem, where the possible presence of Titus may have demonstrated the erasure of distinction between Jews and Gentiles. If indeed Titus had been present at the Council, this allusion would have served to encourage Titus in the genuineness of his ministry. Such an affirmation would help Titus in exercising his pastoral authority in Crete.

Paul’s epistles often open by wishing the recipients grace and peace, so this occurrence of that phrase shouldn’t surprise us. Since none of the commentators I read said much about it, I will simply remark that grace and peace come through Christ Jesus our Savior. In the previous verse, God is called Savior, implying Christ’s shared deity with the Father. Both Father and Son impart grace and peace.

As we close today’s study, perhaps we can think about the wonderful truth that, by God’s grace, each of us participates in a common faith. By grace, we stand before the Lord as equals with each other. Therefore we must avoid attitudes of spiritual pride, accepting each other in love and humility. As we progress through the book of Titus, we’ll discover how such love and humility plays out.

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Saturday Sampler: February 19 — February 25

blendsArminians are Accidental Hyper-Calvinists, asserts Greg Pickles of Parking Space 23. I’ll resist further comment, certain that you’re already intrigued.

The second half of Rebekah Womble’s two-part series, The World’s “Ten Commandments” (6-10) appears in her blog, Wise In His Eyes. It’s sadly accurate in describing the attitudes of non-Christians. And while you’re on her website, be sure to read Loving Our Single Sisters: “Do’s” and “Don’t’s” for a helpful reminder of what unmarried women need from us.

If you haven’t done so yet, read Deadly Doctrines: Facing Evil Like Snakes and Doves by Tim Challies. I am coming around to his way of thinking in regard to discernment ministry, so I believe his article needs to be read and prayerfully considered.

Praise the Lord! Jessica Pickowicz has revived her blog, A Beautiful Thing. She resumes her series on erroneous practices of  evangelicals with Portraits of Superstition: Jeannie and her Bottle. I appreciate Jess for her courage to confront error.

Sometimes I wonder if present-day evangelicals have any idea why the Protestant Reformation happened. As Rachel of danielthree18 demonstrates in her blog post, Lent, Fasting, and Scripture, Christians no longer need to do anything to impress the Lord.

As a complement to Rachel’s piece,  you may want to read Jesse Johnson’s article, For Lent, give up Lent, in The Cripplegate.

Writing for Ligonier, Derek Thomas offers The Cure for a Lack of Fruit in our Christian Lives. This article encourages me more than anything I’ve ever read on the topic of assurance.

Why does the LORD allow false prophets? asks Elizabeth Prata of The End Time. She puts forth a truly fascinating argument in this essay. Please don’t miss it!

 

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How To Love Gays

Rainbow HeartWhen a teenaged Christian posted a Facebook comment condoning same sex marriage a few years ago, the comment took me aback. Granted, the teen was not from a Christian family and attended public school, so she was heavily influenced by an increasingly liberal culture. And that culture shames those of us who uphold Biblical morality. I believe she considered her post to be loving toward the LBGTQ community.

Yet another friend of mine (a middle-aged man who had renounced his homosexuality in favor of living in obedience to the Lord Jesus Christ) once complained to me that people who told him to accept himself as a gay man were the most  unloving people he’d ever met. “They wanted to keep me trapped in a lifestyle I hatred,” he explained, adding that real love would have affirmed his desire to honor the Lord.

I agree with him. He had found freedom to be the man God called him to be. True, he never developed attractions to women, but he had found victory over his enslavement to homosexual lust. He believed those who sought to pull him back to his old ways were the ones demonstrating hatred.

But, liberals will object, homosexuality celebrates love! They can say that as often and as loudly as they wish, but the “love” they celebrate is eros. It focuses on sexual gratification rather than building up others in Christlike behavior. For them, love demands unquestioning agreement with liberal values. Especially when it comes to LBGTQ issues, thank you very much!

In terms of Christianity, however, the Greek word rendered “love” is apape, not  eros. To clearly understand agape, I refer to 1 Corinthians 4-7:

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (ESV)


God’s love, according to this passage, doesn’t angrily demand rights, as gay activists do, nor does it celebrate anything that contradicts Scripture’s teaching. Homosexual love may equal heterosexual love in terms of romance, but it cannot honor the very Lord who declares homosexuality to be sinful. Until very recently, even non-Christians held to a vague acknowledgment that homosexuality clashed against basic Christian values.

According to my friend who left the homosexual lifestyle, real love gave him hope. Real love called homosexuality a sin from which he could repent instead of an unalterable condition from birth. Therefore, truly loving people trapped by same sex attractions (or any other sin) means proclaiming the Gospel. Jesus died for their sin too!

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I Won’t Conform To The Gay Agenda

be-the-gospelIn some ways, debating the morality of homosexuality seems ridiculous in 2017. Same sex marriage is legal in many countries, and I seriously doubt that will change. Gay activists are well on their way to force society to embrace the LBGTQ community, even when doing so violates a person’s religious convictions. Those of us who take what the Bible says, especially about homosexuality, know that most people (at least publicly) consider us bigots and haters.

Sometimes I think it world be easier to just pretend that I approve of homosexuality, divorce, sex outside of marriage and all the other sins that our postmodern world insists I condone. Facebook world certainly be more pleasant! Frankly, going against the tide of liberal groupthink can weary a person. I don’t enjoy having minority opinions. You probably don’t either.

But when I feel tempted to compromise with the world, the Lord brings Scriptures to mind that stop me. Right now, several come to mind, making me sorry I don’t have more time for blogging today. Let’s look at just one of them, though, to see how the Lord uses it to confront my temptation to acquiesce to popular sentiment.

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. ~~Romans 12:1-2 (ESV)

The world pressures me to condone homosexuality (as well as divorce and sex outside of marriage) as being right and good. One unsaved relative even tried to shame me for letting my faith inform my politics!  But the Lord tells me that His Word transforms me from the thinking of this world (which opposes Him) into a woman who bows to His will. He has renewed my mind so that I embrace what He calls good, acceptable and perfect regardless of what my culture screams.

Homosexuality represents only part of the issue, really. Currently it’s the spearhead of the world’s rebellion against the Lord, so I find myself coming back to it time and again. Consequently, people will label me as a bigot solely on my conviction that the Lord declares it sinful.

Friday, I plan to explain why love demands that Christians face the sinful nature of homosexuality and offer people freedom from its tyranny. That perspective, of course, flies in the face of 21st Century wisdom. Believe me, I fully realize that most people believe that love constrains Christians to champion same sex marriage as something the Lord blesses. But I stand with the Lord, Who liberates all sinners to present our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to Him.

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When Waldo Read The Bible

medieval-crucifixThis past weekend, another Reformation blogger introduced me to Peter Waldo. Waldo lived from approximately 1140 to 1205 in Lyon, France, predating John Wycliffe by over a century. I’m just beginning to study Waldo and his followers, the Waldensians, so I’m not prepared to write about him in much detail today. Nevertheless, I want to make a few remarks regarding him, just to get us thinking.

For openers, Peter Waldo came to faith as a result of having scholarly friends translate the Bible into French so that he could read it. Like John Wycliffe and Martin Luther after him, Waldo began questioning Transubstantiation, Purgatory and the opulent lifestyles of Roman Catholic leaders because those teachings and practices failed to line up with Scripture.  Are you seeing a trend, by any chance?

Clearly, reading and understanding God’s Word prompted the men to challenge Roman Catholic tradition. Rome, on the other hand, maintains that tradition has equal authority to Scripture. Therefore men like Peter Waldo threatened the Roman Catholic system while encouraging people to trust solely in the Word of God.

But notice that Peter Waldo lived over 300 years before the Reformation officially started. John Wycliffe didn’t even write his denunciation of Transubstantiation until the 1380s, and Martin Luther wouldn’t post his 95 Theses to the Whittenburg door until 1517. History generally doesn’t count him as a part of the Protestant Reformation.

Technically, history is right, I suppose. The Reformation began in earnest because of the 1440 invention of the printing press, which allowed the wide dissemination of Luther’s writings and translations of the Bible into common languages. Yet the Holy Spirit, as far back as Peter Waldo (perhaps farther, though I know of no one earlier) faithfully rose up people to speak against the ways Roman Catholicism corrupted Christianity.

So Peter Waldo reminds us of  God’s sovereignty to speak through His Word to give people discernment. Sadly, he and the Waldensians had relatively little influence in Europe (again because the printing press wouldn’t be invented for more than 200 years). But we see that the Lord didn’t leave the world without a witness to the authority of Scripture.

21st Century Christians face growing pressure to embrace Catholicism once again. Dear sisters in Christ, please remember that Peter Waldo courageously stood against Roman Catholicism because of his commitment to God’s Word. His followers endured great persecution for their efforts to purify the Church, as we shall see in coming blog posts. Separating from Roman Catholicism, which refused to accept Scripture as its only authority, cost far too much for us to erase the differences now. I beg you to listen to Peter Waldo and return to God’s Word.

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