Should Christians Partake in ‘Lent’?
“Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.”
– Matthew 4:1-2
‘Tis the season for fish fries, festivals, Filet-o-Fish sandwiches (thankfully that jingle is gone… You know the one that goes, “Gimme back that Filet-O-Fish, gimme that Fish!” You’re welcome for that being stuck in your head now), etc. That’s right, it’s Lent season. The 40 days of “fasting, prayer and devotion to God” as some say. This ritual is observed by some denominations, mainly those of Catholic descent. Meaning most Anglican, Orthodox, Lutheran and Methodist churches observe it. These faiths derived from the Catholic line of doctrine. Some Anabaptist and even some evangelical denominations observe this ritual, but why? Why does anyone observe it? There’s nothing in scripture that supports any such ritual, or any scriptural evidence of this practice in the early church or the apostles partaking in anything like this.
The Man-Made History of Lent (abridged)
Here’s some quick history… From what I can find, this practice didn’t really gain steam in the Catholic faith until the 600s. Gregory the Great, regarded as the “father of the medieval papacy,” set the calendar for Lent to be between Ash Wednesday and Easter to set in the calendar the 40 days. Gregory is also the one who began the ritual of smearing ashes on the foreheads of those coming to the church to seek forgiveness. There are some small references to the Lenten season prior to this point, but the point of the season was unclear and the practice was not widespread until the mid- to late-600s. “By the 800s, some Lenten practices were already becoming more relaxed. First, Christians were allowed to eat after 3 p.m. By the 1400s, it was noon. Eventually, various foods (like fish) were allowed, and in 1966 the Roman Catholic church only restricted fast days to Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. It should be noted, however, that practices in Eastern Orthodox churches are still quite strict.”
This ritual, is man-made. Man-made in its origin and clearly man-made in the fact that so many changes have been made from when it first began to today. The purpose of Lent has changed so many times, that it’s honestly difficult to pin down exactly what it means. From what I’ve gathered over my years, it means different things to different people. The “US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB)” says this about Lent: “In Lent, the baptized are called to renew their baptismal commitment as others prepare to be baptized through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, a period of learning and discernment for individuals who have declared their desire to become Catholics. The key to fruitful observance of these practices is to recognize their link to baptismal renewal. We are called not just to abstain from sin during Lent, but to true conversion of our hearts and minds as followers of Christ. We recall those waters in which we were baptized into Christ’s death, died to sin and evil, and began new life in Christ.” The Lent “practices” they allude to are, again, not the same for all denominational observation. According to the USCCB, these practices are “prayer, reading scripture, fasting and giving alms.”
Not once in their explanation of Lent are any scriptures cited – no biblical reasoning for this ritual. But it’s doctrine. It’s taught and expected to be observed by many. “Traditions of man, taught as doctrine.” This is one of those things that Jesus refers to in Matthew 15:9. It is, without a doubt, a “false doctrine.” So, the question… “Should we partake.” Very simply, no. If this ritual is intended to encourage self-sacrifice for 40 days to focus on our baptism, then again… No! We are commanded to do this every time we gather on Sundays as we partake of the Lord’s Supper (Mark 14:24-25, Acts 20:7). It is to be an act of worship (1 Cor 11:17-34), not done in vain or an unworthy manner. This worship is to memorialize the death and sacrifice of Jesus, a death that offers atonement, or a covering over of sins, for those who believe and are baptized for the forgiveness of those sins. Every Sunday when we gather together, we partake of the Lord’s Supper. As we do, we should be focusing on our baptism, what it means, and the blessings available to us in His great mercy. And Romans 12:1-2 makes it clear that our LIVES are to be a living sacrifice, not just something we do for 40 days. If there’s something in our life that is getting between us and God, then it’s an idol. A different topic, for a different article.
The Scriptural Objections to Lent
“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.” – Matthew 6:1
So I hope it’s clear that Lent is a man-made ritual that has gone through many iterations and meanings, and nailing down one specific meaning of the ritual is difficult. It varies from denomination to denomination, and year to year. The basic principle of this, that I’ve found, is: A 40-day period of prayer, fasting, serving others and reading scripture. Multiple Catholic sources I’ve researched say that these are not the “heart” of the season. Rather the heart of the season is centered around “baptism” (for the remainder of this article, baptism will be in quote when referring to the Catholic practice, for their practice is not what is defined by scripture, thus not truly baptism). “In Lent, the ‘baptized’ are called to renew their ‘baptismal commitment’ as others prepare to be ‘baptized’ through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, a period of learning and discernment for individuals who have declared their desire to become Catholics.”
There are several things to cover here, and to save space, I’m going to cite specific scriptures that you may need to get your Bible out for.
Required Fasting, Prayer, Service, etc.
One of the biggest elements to Lent is fasting. Whether it’s from red meat, electronic things (Facebook, cell phone, etc.), sweets, politics, etc. This is probably the most prominent thing you hear about from observers of Lent. And from my research, certain days are set aside as required days of fasting: “Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are obligatory days of fasting and abstinence for Catholics. In addition, Fridays during Lent are [required] days of abstinence. For members of the Latin Catholic Church, the norms on fasting are obligatory from age 18 until age 59. When fasting, a person is permitted to eat one full meal, as well as two smaller meals that together are not equal to a full meal. The norms concerning abstinence from meat are binding upon members of the Latin Catholic Church from age 14 onwards.” These traditions are required. This is doctrine in the church. As I pointed out earlier, this falls directly into the “in vain do they worship me, teaching the traditions of man as doctrine (Matt. 15:9).”
Aside from the false doctrine, taking part in this because others are or to be seen by them is in contradiction to Jesus’s command (above, Mt. 6:1) to practice righteous disciplines (such as prayer and fasting) in private. We’re to do these things of our own accord, one-on-one with God. Man needs not be involved.
“Baptismal commitment renewal”
The Catholic Church does not practice immersion, which is the true definition of the Greek word baptizō used in the Bible. Baptizō has been transliterated to English as baptize. However, man has taken it upon themselves to create their own definition of this word, from which we get sprinkling and pouring (cf. Prov 14:12). Neither of which are authorized or practiced in the Bible at all. The Catholic Church also performs this unscriptural ritual on infants, which again is not supported or authorized in scripture in any way. So, the “baptismal commitment,” in all honesty, makes no sense to me. For the infant did not make a commitment of themselves when they were “baptized.” Someone else did that for them. A child, first of all, has no concept of sin or the ability to turn away from it (repentance), and cannot form a faithful belief. My 4-month-old cries when he thinks he’s been left alone, because he doesn’t believe or have faith that we’re coming back.
On the adult side of things, for adults wishing to be “baptized” into the Catholic Church, there is a long, drawn-out process that includes several things that are not supported in scripture (neither do they support these things with biblical references within their literature), that leads to non-immersion “baptism.”
When we look to scripture (Acts 2:14-41), the process and methods are laid out plainly for baptism. Hear the word (Acts 2:37), believe in Jesus Christ as your savior (Mark 16:16), repent of your sin (Acts 2:38), confess your faith (Acts 8:37) and be baptized for the remission of your sins (Acts 2:38, Mark 16:16). If you want to be “baptized” and make a “baptismal commitment” in the Catholic Church, either someone else makes the “decision” for you, or you must wait, sometimes for years, to be sprinkled or poured on. And that “baptism” is not for the remission of sins.
To conclude this, Lent has become, and really has always been, a time of vain worship to focus on unscriptural “sacraments,” which are defined as “outward acts of inward belief” (also not scriptural, and a topic for another article). So, if you needed more reason to not partake in this “trendy ritual,” there you go. It’s always important to put things of a purported spiritual nature to the test of Scripture (1 Th 5:16-22).
As always, I welcome your questions on this topic. You can always email me at firstname.lastname@example.org! God loves you and so do I!