Why Bother with Lent?

Typically, evangelicals are shy about Lent. The 40 days prior to Easter—Sundays excepted—are known popularly as a season for giving up chocolate or other extras in order to show God how much we love him. With such impoverished notions, it is no wonder that Lent has fallen on hard times.

So should evangelicals bother with Lent?

Whatever the popular conceptions, the season can encourage gospel-centered piety. But, before considering Lent’s value, let’s briefly discuss the benefits of the church calendar, in general.

Some evangelical traditions reject the notion of the church calendar wholesale, believing that the Lord’s Day is the only God-given measure of time for the church. Some Puritans discarded all special holidays on this principle. But, no matter our efforts, we organize our lives according to some seasonal calendar that’s not prescribed by God (semesters, financial quarters, and months, for example).

Recognizing this, the church’s liturgical calendar seeks to order time around the major events of our redemption in Christ. During these seasons, we encourage certain theological emphases, spiritual practices, and corresponding emotions to instruct and train the church in godliness. Of course, the calendar does not limit the celebration of a truth or the experience of a particular emotion to one season or day. For instance, observing Easter Sunday as a joyous and festive holy day does not deny that every Lord’s Day celebrates Jesus’ resurrection. Rather, a joyous Easter Sunday anchors and gives shape to all other Sundays throughout the year. So it is with the liturgical calendar.

Five Benefits

That said, let’s explore five benefits to observing Lent.

1. Lent affords us the opportunity to search the depths of our sin and experience the heights of God’s love.

With Good Friday approaching, visions of Jesus’ gruesome death remind us of the dreadful reality of sin. Here, our individual and corporate brokenness is on display as the Lord of glory dies under the weight of our just judgment, inspiring personal introspection. Though self-examination can turn into narcissistic navel gazing, such abuses should not foreclose on a godly form of self-examination that encourages humility, repentance, and dependence on Christ.

But for such introspection to remain healthy, we must hold together two realities that converge at the cross—our corruption and God’s grace. If we divorce the two, then our hearts will either swell with pride and self-righteousness, losing touch with our sinfulness, or sink into anxious despair and uncertainty, failing to grapple with mercy.

Confident of God’s grace in Jesus Christ, we are free to probe the inner recesses of our hearts, unearthing sin’s pollution. God’s grace liberates us to explore our soul, facing its filth, rather than suppressing or succumbing to its contents. With David, we are free to pray,

Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting! (Ps. 139:23-24)

Searching us, God discovers nothing unknown to him (Ps 139:1-3), but discloses the secrets of our hearts, allowing us to know ourselves. Under his tender scrutiny, God exposes, not to shame, but to heal. Thus, turning inward, we are led upward to find consolation, hope, and transformation through Jesus Christ. Certainly, such piety isn’t the exclusive property of any church season, but Lent provides a unique setting for this self-examination.

2. Lent affords us an opportunity to probe the sincerity of our discipleship.

Jesus bore the cross for us, accomplishing our salvation, yet he also bestows a cross on us (Mt. 10:38-39; Lk. 9:23). Following him, Jesus guarantees unspeakable comforts and uncertainties (Jn. 16:32-33). Frequently, these uncertainties test the genuineness of our discipleship. Consider the following examples from Jesus’ ministry.

In Matthew 8:18-22, two people approach Jesus, proclaiming their desire to follow him. One, a scribe, offers his undying devotion saying, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.” Jesus responds by instructing the scribe about the rigors of following him, explaining that foxes and birds enjoy more comfort than he does. Perceiving selfish ambition, Jesus reminds the scribe that following him is not a means for advancing in the world, but rather involves forsaking it. We don’t know how this scribe responded to the challenge, but Jesus leaves us with the question, “Will we follow him when it is inconvenient or only when comfortable and to our advantage?”

The second, a disciple, requests to attend his father’s funeral before going on with Jesus. Jesus takes the opportunity to reveal the disciple’s heart, unveiling his ultimate affections. He says, “Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead.” Remember, Jesus warns us that we cannot love father and mother, or anything else, above him (Mt. 10:37). Obviously, Jesus does not forbid loving our parents or attending their funerals, but he does insist on being first in our hearts. Jesus is not a commitment among other commitments, but rather the commitment of our lives. Therefore, as Augustine points out, we must take care to order our loves properly, ensuring that our affections are set on Christ and not another.

In this way, Lent provides opportunity to question and examine ourselves, exploring the integrity of our discipleship.

3. Lent provides us an opportunity to reflect on our mortality.

Pursuing eternal youth, our culture seems to live in the denial of death. But ignoring death does not erase its impartiality—everyone who draws a first breath will take a last one. It is a certainty we can’t escape (Heb. 9:27). Fortunately, death is not the last word. For all who belong to Christ, there is a promise stronger than death—we will die, but Jesus will return to raise our bodies, wiping the tears from our eyes and making all things new (1 Cor. 15:12-28; Rev. 21:1-8).

The most difficult moment I face each year, as an Anglican pastor, is to apply the ashes, in the sign of a cross, to the foreheads of my wife and children on Ash Wednesday. It is an intimate and haunting moment. Echoing the words of Genesis 3:19, I say, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” It is jarring. Every year, I cry.

Yet the ashes are applied in the shape of Jesus’ cross—the only means for escaping the dust of death. When God raised Jesus, he raided death, destroying its power. Jesus’ resurrection marks the death of death and welcomes us into a living hope (1 Pt. 1:3). This is our consolation and joy in the midst of our mortality.

Lent provides an unmistakable opportunity for disciplined reflection on this neglected certainty and God’s radical solution.

4. Lent gives us the opportunity to move towards our neighbor in charity.

Long misunderstood as a form of works-righteousness, Lenten fasting is not about scoring points with God, but rather emphasizes simplicity for the sake of others. By temporarily carving away some comforts or conveniences, good gifts from God himself, we hope to de-clutter our hectic lives, allowing us to focus. Simple living allows us to reserve time for others while also serving to curb our expenses. It is fitting to allocate these savings, along with other gifts, for charitable purposes, especially directing those funds to the poor and marginalized.

So search your heart and go simple. Consider fasting from types of food, technology, and/or sources of entertainment. Live frugally, and do so for the sake of charity. Find a cause, or better yet a person, and give sacrificially. And, in so doing, may you know the joy of Jesus who gave himself fully to us.

5. Lent prepares us to celebrate the wonder and promise of Jesus’ resurrection on Easter Sunday.

Here, Jesus trampled down sin and death, defeating the Devil (Heb. 2:14-15). After a season of depravation, highlighting the grim reality of our broken creation, Jesus’ resurrection floods our grief with life and light. In other words, Lent prepares us to join the disciples in their joy and bewilderment on that strange morning long ago (Mt. 28:8; Mk. 16:8; Lk. 24:12). Our Easter worship is a dress rehearsal for our Lord Jesus’ return when he comes to unite heaven and earth, making all things new (Eph. 1:10; Rev. 21:1-8).

And so, I invite you to a holy Lent. Take up the opportunity to dwell upon the grief of our broken world, the sin within your heart, and the deep love of God that exceeds these realities. Reflecting on the hospitality of God, consider the needs of your neighbor, especially those without life’s basic needs. And, most importantly, in the gritty details of Lent, don’t forget—Easter is coming!

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    • Matthew

      Hi Ted,
      Rightly observed, Lent doesn’t stand in competition with the cross. It’s designed to lead us to Christ crucified for all these blessings.

      Maybe an analogy would be helpful. Imagine a Gospel Coalition conference (something else the Apostles didn’t practise) called “The Cross and Christian Discipleship”, with publicity that says, “This conference will afford us the opportunity to search the depths of our sin and experience the heights of God’s love. This conference will afford us an opportunity to probe the sincerity of our discipleship. Etc.” That’d be ok, wouldn’t it? Because the conference wouldn’t be competing with the Cross, it would be leading us to the Cross. Why can’t Lent do the same thing?

  • http://www.TheTitusMandate.org Ted Bigelow

    But Chuck – the apostles didn’t practice Lent or teach churches to do so.

    So let’s make this post “get in line” with the apostles, shall we? Let’s replace the word “Lent” with words the apostles did use – “The Cross” – and see where that takes us.

    1) Lent The Cross affords us the opportunity to search the depths of our sin and experience the heights of God’s love.

    2. Lent The Cross affords us an opportunity to probe the sincerity of our discipleship.

    3. Lent The Cross provides us an opportunity to reflect on our mortality.

    4. Lent The Cross motivates us to move towards our neighbor in charity.

    5. Lent The Cross prepares us to celebrate the wonder and promise of Jesus’ resurrection on Easter Sunday.

    • Chuck Colson


      Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Consistent with many protestant traditions, it seems you affirm practicing only what the apostles directly prescribe in the NT. Lent is extra-baggage. Why lug it around?

      Anglicans approach church traditions, such as Lent, from a different angle. Church traditions, not “repugnant to the Word of God”, are maintained as good and helpful vehicles, leading us to Jesus’ death and resurrection (Art. 34 of The 39 Article of Religion if you are interested). Like other spiritual disciplines, the church calendar leads us to God’s means of grace in the word, sacraments, and prayer.

      That said, I believe it is appropriate to say, “Lent affords us the opportunity to . . .” Lent doesn’t accomplish anything of itself per say. But it certainly can guide us into God’s external means of grace, leading to a deeper appreciation and appropriation of the cross in our lives.



      • http://www.TheTitusMandate.org Ted Bigelow

        Hi Chuck, thank you for your kind reply,

        You say Lent does a lot of really great things for the Christian. OK, you have your opinion. But should I accept your confidence in Lent’s benefits?

        Others proponents of Lent teach that it is the time for new converts to prepare their souls for baptism. Still others teach it’s a time to give up pleasures (some even advocate abstaining from sex with one’s wife). Some say it is a season of daily fasting while others say that should only occur on Wednesdays and Fridays. Some say no meat on Annunciation and Palm Sundays but that fish is God’s will on those days. Some say no to chocolate, but others, like my beloved, prefer St. Valentine for a day and think Lent is downright legalistic.

        These Lenten sacrifices you have only mentioned obliquely and made them optional. But other respected teachers in different Communions are quite clear that not following them is committing real sin, like lying and stealing. Who to believe? The Anglicans, the Orthodox, the Catholics? They all differ and there is no text to exegete. Lent isn’t optional baggage that low-church evangelicals have jettisoned because they are misguided and always looking for a cheaper flight to heaven. Instead, we simply see that it isn’t taught in Scripture and wish not to rely on the opinions of men.

        I believe that Christianity is built on the foundational teachings of the apostles and prophets with Christ’s teachings as the cornerstone of all that should be taught, and no more. So what did they teach concerning Lent and things like it?

        Jesus taught that fasting was to be done so no one would know you were doing it: “But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face so that your fasting will not be noticed by men” (Mat 6:17-18). One thing I’m sure of. An apostle would never put ashes on someone’s forehead where someone might see it and conclude they are fasting. They wouldn’t want to injure either person spiritually.

        Paul wasn’t real big on marking seasons and calendars:

        “But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how is it that you turn back again to the weak and worthless elemental things, to which you desire to be enslaved all over again? You observe days and months and seasons and years. I fear for you, that perhaps I have labored over you in vain” (Gal 4:9-11).

        Nor was Paul in favor of abstaining from chocolate:

        “If you have died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world, why, as if you were living in the world, do you submit yourself to decrees, such as, “Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!” (Col 2:20-21). “These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence” (Col 2:23).

        Lent is, bottom line: performance.

        If it’s done well the participant will justly feel good about their performance and likely encourage others to do it too. If the participant fails to perform well enough they will have guilt and shame, the likes of which will never be repented of at the cross.


        Because if you can repent of a poor Lenten performance at the cross, who needs Lent anymore? Cool, huh?

        And that, my friend, is why we need to strike out the word “Lent” and replace it with the apostolic words, “The Cross.”

        • Josiah

          Pastor Bigelow,

          I wonder if you replace “Lent” with “daily Bible reading” how your argument would be the same/different. In other words, should we enjoin daily Bible reading on people? It seems to be a hugely beneficial spiritual practice, yet I am unaware of a New Testament command that requires daily Bible reading. I mean, someone could argue that the bottom line with daily Bible reading is performance. If you can repent of poor Bible reading performance at the cross, who need Bible reading anymore?

          I am not suggesting, by the way, that we shouldn’t enjoin people to daily Bible reading–just that there are potentially spiritual practices that are beneficial and not repugnant to the Word of God.

          • Josiah

            Ack, poor editing. My last line should read:

            there are potentially spiritual practices that are beneficial that are not commanded directly in the Word of God, and are not repugnant to it. That does not preclude, of course, the idea that some spiritual practices could be repugnant to the Word of God. I simply wonder whether a period of corporate prayer and fasting is really a violation of God’s Word.

        • Chuck Colson


          Obviously, we disagree on a multitude of issues that will not be sorted out on a blog.

          Personally, I believe in the value of time, liturgy, and ritual, and the role they play in encouraging a gospel-centered piety. If you have interest in pursuing that discussion, you may find James K. A. Smith’s two works – Desiring the Kingdom and Imagining the Kingdom – a helpful starting point. Smith provides great insight into human beings and how formation happens.

          And, as you indicated, I hope you, and your wife, enjoy St. Valentine’s day! And, I must confess – given the present discussion, the irony is rather thick.

          Peace in Jesus,


    • http://www.covenantcaswell.org John Carpenter


      excellent answer! Thanks for it.

    • JD


      Are you just trolling or do you seriously claim to know that the Apostles didn’t practice lent?

      If you’re serious… how do you even claim to know? Do you think just because Lent isn’t in the Bible then the Apostles didn’t do it? If so, you need to realize that the Apostles did, said, taught, and passed along a *ton* of stuff that is not in the Bible. Note first of all that the Scriptures themselves say that even Jesus himself taught many things that aren’t recorded in the Scriptures. Those things weren’t lost necessarily. The Apostles passed much of their teachings along by mouth. In fact, very little early Christian teaching was written down. The huge majority of it was taught orally.

      There is a ton of historical evidence that one thing Jesus passed along outside of Scripture (and the Apostles then passed along similarly) are fasting traditions. The Apostles certainly seem to have passed on some sort of Lenten fasting traditions to their disciples after them. We know this because all of the ancient Christian traditions have such fasting as part of their sacred calendar, from Rome to Armenia and from India and Ethiopia. All the historical churches (both catholic and orthodox) were each started by different early Apostles and disciples as the Church scattered. You think they all got this wrong? Do you seriously think they all somehow and invented it themselves after developing under separate rule and even languages, separated by thousands of miles? Are you kidding?

      All of the historical churches developed so similarly because the holy Apostles taught followers of the Way to hold to the traditions they had taught them, both by written word and by word of mouth. (2 Thess 2:15, 1 Cor 11:2) The right churches in early Christianity had the right teachings, some by way of the holy traditions and others by way of the holy scriptures. Most churches had a mix of both… writings and Scriptures were much more rare than today.

      Remember, if a doctrine doesn’t have tremendous support in Scripture that doesn’t mean the doctrine is false. Truth exists outside Scripture. Jesus is “the Truth.” The Truth exists in people and in the church traditions from long ago too. The last thing we should actually want is a church that relies *only* on Scripture. Scripture is notoriously hard to understand at certain parts, as the many divisions in Protestantism show. The holy Apostle Peter also warned us about this in 2 Peter 3:16. He noted that Scripture can be twisted easily at many points and can become incredibly destructive. Therefore, a Church based on early Christian tradition and early Christian scripture should be ideal.

      • Jeremiah

        JD, are you aware that the 40 days set aside for Lent are completely based on a mistranslation From Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History?
        The following is a quote taken from catholicedudation.org

        “The dispute is not only about the day, but also about the actual character of the fast. Some think that they ought to fast for one day, some for two, others for still more; some make their ‘day’ last 40 hours on end. Such variation in the observance did not originate in our own day, but very much earlier, in the time of our forefathers” (Eusebius, History of the Church, V, 24). When Rufinus translated this passage from Greek into Latin, the punctuation made between “40” and “hours” made the meaning to appear to be “40 days, twenty-four hours a day.”

        So at the very most the early church had various periods of fasting, only 1 or 2 days before the celebration of Christ’s resurrection and that not solidified but different in different churches.

        • JD

          Hi Jeremiah,

          That’s interesting, but I’m not only talking about the Roman Church. *All* of the ancient Christian traditions have a lengthy period of fasting as part of their sacred calendar, from Rome to Egypt to Armenia and from India and Ethiopia. They did not all rely on Rufinus’ translation of Eusebius (many couldn’t even read it if they tried). Nonetheless, all the historical churches (both catholic and orthodox) historically have practice(d) a lot of fasting. (though what is fasted from sometimes varies slightly, and the Roman Church has significantly changed its canons lately to reduce the amount of fasting and allow most foods most times). Most of historical Christianity fasts at least from meat, dairy, and alcohol nearly half the year. Fasting traditions are apparently one thing that Christ’s disciples passed along to the churches they planted.

      • http://johngreenview.wordpress.com John Thomson


        The point is, and if you read the comments opposed to Lent you will see this point made, the gospel (and Scripture)is opposed to Lent in principle and explicitly so. Colossians 2/3 could scarcely be clearer. Personal fasting on occasion that one may give oneself to prayer is one thing, prescribed fasting is a different matter.

        Also, the only tradition that has any authority is apostolic tradition. By the end of the first century the whole of Asia had forsaken the Pauline gospel.

        • JD

          John, the gospel is most definitely not opposed to Lent. Even Jesus himself taught his disciples how to fast. You say it should be “personal” and not prescribed, but even in the Scriptures we read of the whole church fasting together in Acts. That is a prescribed fast, my friend. Prescribed is the wrong word though (both for then and for now). The fasts are simply agreed upon by the Church and then practiced by her.

          Fasting has been a part of the gospel since the very beginning, and the historical evidence in favor of some sort of a pre-Easter fast is massive. I’m not sure what part of “Colossians 2/3″ you think is so clear regarding the evils of Lent. Do you think Paul was referring to fasting in vs. 21 when he asked, “Why, as though you still belonged to the world, do you submit to its rules:“Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!?” He wasn’t. Again, even Jesus taught fasting. Fasting is good. Paul was referring to year-long legalism, for instance the rules against alcohol or dancing that many Baptist churches institute.

          The whole of Asia did not forsake the gospel in the first century only for Luther and Calvin to discover it later. Instead, it is the Protestants that have distorted the Pauline epistles and have twisted the faith and the Scriptures into knots, just as Peter warned in 2 Peter 3:16.

          • http://johngreenview.wordpress.com John Thomson


            I would argue that the prima facie reading of Col 2/3 undermines all attempts to make Christian sanctification and maturity a matter of church calendars, rituals and regulations.

            Col 2:16-23 (ESV)
            Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God. 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- “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” (referring to things that all perish as they are used)-according to human precepts and teachings? 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.

            These external and rudimentary means belong to religion of ‘the flesh’ (as the law was – it addressed man ‘in the flesh’ Cf Roms 7:5; Gals 3:3 ). They belong to spiritual infancy for they focus on things in this world and things merely to do with the body. True spirituality essentially focuses not on the visible, tangible and aesthetic but on the invisible and unseen. The spiritual is the opposite of the material (1 Cor 9:1) and natural (1 Cor 15). By material and natural I mean that which belongs to this world. I do not mean the ‘spiritual’ is non-physical though it includes this but that which belongs to a heavenly world, and the world to come.

            Thus the great way of new covenant maturity in Christ is the focus of faith on things above.

            Col 3:1-4 (ESV)
            If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

            Rites, rituals, regulations do the opposite of this thus Christianity has but two ‘physical’ ordinances – the breaking of bread and baptism.

            Re fasting, we must understand that NC fasting is quite different from OC fasting. Jesus makes this plain when he is asked about fasting by the disciples of John (OC believers).

            Matt 9:14-17 (ESV)
            Then the disciples of John came to him, saying, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” And Jesus said to them, “Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast. No one puts a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch tears away from the garment, and a worse tear is made. Neither is new wine put into old wineskins. If it is, the skins burst and the wine is spilled and the skins are destroyed. But new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved.”

            Fasting seems now to undergo a transformation in the age of gospel joy (the presence of Christ made designated religious fasts incongruous as the OT showed Zech 8:19). Further private fasting would be secret and not advertised (in spirit). Indeed as we read the NT it seems as if some specific circumstance/problem/difficulty created a concern of heart/heaviness of spirit that naturally expressed itself in a fast. This is in principle different from liturgical fasts where the fast drives the spiritual concern rather than the spiritual concern occasioning a fast; it is the difference between law and grace, external and internal religion.

      • Phillip Mayberry

        JD- can you give me a quote from the early church fathers’ actual words- let’s say before the mid-third century, that supports your claim that the Apostles practiced Lent? How about any of the Anti-Nicene fathers before the 250’s? I’ve read all these men thoroughly, and have found nothing personally, but perhaps I overlooked some things. That should give you plenty of data to pull from, if there truly is a ton of evidence. I’m genuinely interested to see if there is any data behind the claim itself, or if this is a redaction from Eusibian and post-Eusibian documents.

        • JD

          Hi Phillip,

          I don’t have the first three centuries of early church fathers in front of me at the moment, and don’t really have time to go through them all and find relevant quotes. However, my point is that *all* of the ancient Christian traditions have a lengthy period of fasting as part of their ancient, sacred calendar, from Rome to Egypt to Armenia and from India to Ethiopia. They did not all rely on Rufinus’ translation of Eusebius that Jeremiah mentioned above. Many couldn’t even read it if they tried. Nonetheless, all the historical churches (both catholic and orthodox) historically have practice(d) a lot of fasting throughout the year. (though what is fasted from sometimes varies slightly, and the Roman Church has significantly changed its canons lately to reduce the amount of fasting and allow most foods most times).

          The historical evidence indicates that fasting traditions are apparently one thing that Christ’s disciples passed along to the churches they planted. We don’t have a ton of writings from the extremely early Fathers; there are a lot of aspects of Christianity we can’t read about in their writings that are important nonetheless.

          • Phillip Mayberry

            Thanks for the reply, JD. Did you know that one of the issues at the Council of Nicea was settling on the date of Easter? There’s your explanation about the post-Nicene standardization of Easter, and the rise of Lenten tradition in a standardized way among geographically diverse churches.

            It’s not good enough for me to just read naked claims that “all the ancient churches practiced such and such”- even if they did, it would not alter my practice. After all, the tradition of the church is not an infallible guide, otherwise the church in the Bible would be our guide as well. Churches are more or less pure at any given time in history. Just imagine if we used the OT church habits as instructive, EVEN when they departed from or added to God’s prescribed ways. Apostasy doesn’t take long to happen- sometimes only as long as it takes Moses to climb a mountain and receive the Law…

            On top of this, I find that, upon closer inspection, many of the claims to support a historic “Lent” fall apart. The fact is that we DO have a lot of material from the early fathers- volumes of it. I’ve gone through the first 2 ½ centuries looking explicitly for materials which would support extra-biblical traditions like this one, and found… nothing.

            So you see- it irks me to read claims like the one you made: especially accusing others of “trolling” and “being ignorant of the practice of ‘all’ the early churches”- when in point of fact you yourself have no evidence to show that you are not the one in ignorance in this matter. The “ton” of evidence you speak of is no evidence at all- and the idea that the Apostles practiced Lent? Well, to make that argument you have to overlook the silence about the matter for hundreds of years, and then speculate that the Apostles did what post-Nicene Christians did… based on no hard evidence at all.

            I think it would be good for everyone to slow down and review the history behind this matter: look into the early church itself (not what people speculate about the early church), and review the reasons why many of the Reformers and Puritans returned to its simplicity in the area BEFORE you make a determination about whether this is a good or bad thing. I think you’ll find that those we respect among the Anti-Nicene fathers would say things like this about Lenten traditions: “We were enjoined by Christ himself to put no faith in human doctrines, but in those proclaimed by the blessed prophets and taught by Himself” (Justin Martyr).

            • JD

              Thanks to you too for the reply, Phillip. You asked, “Did you know that one of the issues at the Council of Nicea was settling on the date of Easter?” One of the issues at Nicea was settling the calculation of the Easter date so all the Church would use one calendar. However, the Church did not create Easter then nor did all of the historical churches create their Easter-season fasts then. All of the historical, Apostolic Churches were already practicing such things. At Nicea they simply tried to unify the details of their common practices (as far as calendar and time calculations going forward were concerned).

              You said, “After all, the tradition of the church is not an infallible guide, otherwise the church in the Bible would be our guide as well.” The church in the Bible and the church outside of the Bible are the same Church. Our God is the God of the living, whether passed on or here now. We are guided by both the holy Scriptures and the Church. The holy Apostles taught followers of the Way this truth, teaching them to hold to the traditions they had taught them, both by written word and by word of mouth. (2 Thess 2:15, 1 Cor 11:2) The Bible is not infallible, only God is infallible. Some Bible manuscripts differ at certain points… they can’t all be infallible. The Scriptures are divinely inspired, well preserved by the Church, useful for equipping us, and are our guide along with the Church herself and, most of all, the Holy Spirit.

              You said, “The fact is that we DO have a lot of material from the early fathers- volumes

              of it. I’ve gone through the first 2 ½ centuries looking explicitly for materials which would

              support extra-biblical traditions like this one, and found… nothing.” We have a lot of material, but we do not have much material relative to the entire universe of Christian thought. In other words, there are a lot of topics that are important in Christianity that the still-existing writings of the early Fathers do not mention. A “Lenten” fast is only one of them. Order of worship isn’t mentioned, for instance, but all the churches had orders of worship they were following (liturgically, by the way). Indeed, no corporate fasts are specifically mentioned by the ante-Nicene Fathers that I know of, but we know that the Church was fasting corporately even from its very beginnings from the Scriptures themselves; the in Acts fasted corporately. Just because the still-existing writings of the Ante-Nicene Fathers don’t mention something doesn’t mean it wasn’t happening.

              You said “… you yourself have no evidence to show that you are not the one in ignorance in this matter.” Actually, I have tons of evidence. Go visit any of the historical churches of Christ and ask them about their Easter practices and how old they are. They each have genealogies and historical evidence going back 2,000 years often even to the original Apostle that brought Christianity to their region of the world. Again, these are churches that developed separately for the most part except for occasional councils. The ancient practices and beliefs those churches themselves have in common, not only Rome but from Rome to India and from Greece to Ethiopia, are excellent historical evidence for what the Church taught from the beginnings before it spread so far and wide.

              You said, “to make that argument you have to overlook the silence about the matter for hundreds

              of years, and then speculate that the Apostles did what post-Nicene Christians did… based on no

              hard evidence at all.” Again, there is silence on many important Christian matters if we only look at the writings of the pre-Nicene Fathers. That doesn’t mean those matters weren’t important. It means we only have some writings preserved from back then.

              The ante-Nicene Fathers aren’t silent on everything though. And much of what we do have from them seems to fit better in historical (Orthodox and Catholic) Christianity than in your tradition anyway. So I wouldn’t rely on arguments from them if I were you, neither arguments from silence nor from their words. For instance, see:

              Lactantius (A.D. 250-325)
              “We cannot attain to immortality by a delicate and easy course of life. Rather, he can arrive at the unspeakable reward of eternal life with only the utmost difficulty and great labors.” (Ante Nicene Fathers, Volume 7, pg.200)

              “The spirit must earn immortality by works of righteousness.” (Ante Nicene Fathers, Volume 7, pg.127)

              Irenaeus (130-200)
              When, therefore, the mingled cup and the manufactured bread receives the Word of God, and the Eucharist becomes the body and blood of Christ, from which things the substance of our flesh is increased and supported, how can they affirm that the flesh is incapable of receiving the gift of God, which is life eternal…?

              I think you’re looking at the wrong place if you’re trying to re-enforce your Protestant traditions by way of the Ante-Nicene Fathers.

  • David Crawford

    Following the church year allows me the ability to keep focused on what is most important to me. The apostles also had the eucharist at every service and gathering so why don’t evangelical church’s follow ? Sometimes because people use a symbol to deepen their faith does not mean it is wrong.Follow the spirit of lent instead of becoming a Pharisee to reject all.

  • http://www.prolifetraining.com Scott Klusendorf

    Ted, Perhaps I’m missing your point, but are you suggesting that whatever the apostles didn’t practice or teach is impermissible for Christians today? Arguments from silence are generally fallacious, aren’t they?

    • CG

      I think a more charitable reading of what Ted is saying is that we should be extremely cautious about adding religious traditions that Christ and his apostles didn’t practice or prescribe.

    • http://www.TheTitusMandate.org Ted Bigelow


      As you can read in my reply to Chuck, the Lord and His apostles are shockingly clear about Lent.

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  • Ken Stewart

    But Scott, in identifying one potential error (i.e. whatever the apostles didn’t practice or teach is impermissible), you have left yourself wide open to another (i.e. that developments beyond apostolic teaching or practice need not be measured against any known criteria).

    As for the first, the Paul’s letters of the NT actually insist upon conformity to what he had taught (note: 2 Tim. 1.13,14; Titus 1.9) as a measure of trustworthiness.

    Thus, those who want to make the case for Lenten observance need to demonstrate that such practices (and the ideas behind them) are consistent with apostolic teaching. The push for conformity with the post-apostolic church and its practices, however, is a minefield unless one enters it with a criterion of what constitutes validity.

    • http://www.prolifetraining.com Scott Klusendorf

      Ken, How does it follow that rejecting arguments from silence entails anything goes?

  • Terry

    I disagree with this substantially. By making the kinds of arguments that Colson makes, it shows that his estimation of liturgical practices moves beyond the realm of the Regulative Principle and into accepting tradition as worthy liturgical practice. The biggest reason to avoid lent, specifically ash Wednesday, overshadows any of the benefits mentioned. Plain and simply, we have no Biblical prescription for such a ritual and to place meaning and validity into such a thing is dangerous. I know we don’t all fall into one denomination here but this is precisely what sets apart Baptists from other denominations. We come from a tradition that relies very heavily on distilling the clearest prescription of Biblically warranted doctrinal truth. The historical posturing of the free church was one that emphasized and sought a pure practice of that which is evidenced in the New Testament, no more and no less. This driving principle was foundational for the General and Particular Baptists during the Reformation and by it they sought to free themselves from all of the oppressive chains of tradition that had become so tightly wrapped around the gospel. Even with the best intentions, for Baptists to adopt these type of non-prescriptive ceremonies as valid or significant for spiritual worship is flirting dangerously close to sacramentalism, and it is virtual betrayal of what established our churches in the first place. Falling back on these practices is not worth any of the supposed benefit. We can remember and consider all of that which surrounds the death of Christ but I think it is very dangerous to observe rituals which we have no biblical warrant for.

    • Drew

      “The biggest reason to avoid lent, specifically ash Wednesday, overshadows any of the benefits mentioned. Plain and simply, we have no Biblical prescription for such a ritual and to place meaning and validity into such a thing is dangerous. I know we don’t all fall into one denomination here but this is precisely what sets apart Baptists from other denominations. We come from a tradition that relies very heavily on distilling the clearest prescription of Biblically warranted doctrinal truth. The historical posturing of the free church was one that emphasized and sought a pure practice of that which is evidenced in the New Testament, no more and no less.”

      Like altar calls? Or asking Jesus into our hearts? Or singing the first, second and last verse of a hymn? Wearing a cross around our neck? Jesus sticker on the car? Communion once a quarter, maybe twice a year?

      Don’t be afraid of church tradition. Not everything leads to Rome. There are many “traditions” in all the denominations that have no clear prescription from scripture – nor do we have restriction.

      • Dave Graham

        Well said.

        I would also add Christmas festivities and any teaching or practice involving technical Trinitarian terminology. And don’t forget about theological blogging. Peter, James and John will have none of it.

        • Terry

          Dave my response to you is the same as my response to Drew. Let me again point out the fallacy of confounding individual christian liberty with corporate liturgy. I certainly agree with you that we should not adopt some kind of liturgical blogging ceremony. However, the other issues you raised really don’t jive with the Regulative Principle. We deal with and express trinitarian theology because it is biblical. We commemorate the birth of Christ because the accounts of his birth prescribe such rejoicing and good will. Are we guilty of practicing non-biblical liturgical rituals during advent? Yes absolutely, I am in favor of limiting such rituals as well. But again let me make clear that there is a huge difference between commemorating an event which is biblically warranted and practicing a ceremony which is not. Especially a ceremony that is steeped in sacramentalism and penance and reflected a historically dangerous view of the gospel.

          • Dave Graham

            If we celebrate Christmas on December 25th every year in our congregation, how are we not practising a “non-biblical liturgical ritual”? What is the “huge difference” between commemoration of Christmas and commemoration of the way of the cross? Does not Scripture indirectly justify both?

            Is the issue here simply the regulative principle? Or does it proceed from an unwillingness to concede that Lent can be appropriated without accepting its Catholic theological interpretation?

      • Terry

        This is such a misguided response. First of all your assertions are not equal. First you assume that I believe or practice all of these things. I don’t believe that altar calls or asking Jesus into our hearts are precisely biblical. Although, there is biblical warrant for calling our hearers to respond to the gospel. As far as music, we have explicit biblical prescription for this liturgical practice. Paul tells us to “speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord” -Ephesians 5:19 As far as the crosses and stickers that can be a matter of individual conscience but to elevate such a practice to corporate liturgy wouldn’t be good, although I admit that I’m not sure what that would look like. And as far as the timing of communion, again you raise an important question Jesus gives us a clear prescription of how to perform the Lord’s Supper but he did not tell us how often we should do it. Only that as often as we do it we proclaim his death. So, I think we can infer that the more we perform communion as a body the better.

        You’re biggest issue in all this seems to be making the leap from individual freedom of conscience to a kind of loosey-goosey corporate behavioral attitude. I think we must seek bibilically warranted answers to both this issue and all the issues that you raised.

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  • http://theresoundingdeclaration.blogspot.com/ Matt

    That’s basically what I stated too. http://bit.ly/Wuj4pH
    There’s a lack of spirituality in the Western church, and if anything, Lent provides a refocus for a set period of time (40 days), for believers to re-commit to Christ, while purifying and meditating on their current lifestyle and devotion to holy living and incarnational activity.

  • David Crawford

    There is absolutely no proof or apostolic edict in the bible for celebrating Easter yet we do. The Holy Spirit was to teach us all things even some that were not evident at the time of the apostles.How we think on the trinity and the divinity of Christ happened over the course of years. Look at the spirit in your heart not your disdain of what you don’t practice. In the new testament every time the church got together they broke bread. Oh that the Baptists had listened.

    • Terry

      When it comes to celebrating Easter, I believe we have much clearer warrant in scripture for commemorating the death of Christ. Certainly communion is the constant expression of that, and Christ instituted it as such. Commemoration of Easter doesn’t involve some type of ritual or ceremony that has ties to Catholic conceptions of penance. Easter is simply a gathering of believers on Sunday to worship as we normal do but on that day we commemorated the foundations of our faith. Ash Wednesday and Lentian fasts are ordinal and move beyond commemoration and into supposed spiritual practice.

      • David Crawford

        Any spiritual practice that brings us closer to the Lord should be encouraged. What each individual or denomination chooses is between them and the Lord. Who is anyone to speak ill of something they freely choose to do for the Lord. Put away the law and seek your freedom in Christ. By telling me what I should not do you speak for yourself. But I seek the Lord in all that I practice with his grace and love.If you don’t want to observe Lent then don’t. But don’t try and put a stumbling block up for those who choose to.

        • Terry

          I’m sorry David but what you’re saying is false. You are right to say that any spiritual practice that brings us closer to Lord should be encouraged but where we disagree is in esteeming Lent or Ash Wednesday as a valid spiritual practice which actually brings anyone closer to the Lord. If it were valid and normative means of becoming spiritually closer to the Lord then we would have biblical prescription for it. The fact is that we don’t. To say that God expects us to worship him in ways not prescribed in the Bible is to call into question the very authority and completeness of scripture. This is an extremely dangerous train of thought and it will lead you into all kinds of heresy. This is precisely what defines the the errors of most cults and heretics. Just examine how this works itself out in the Mormon church for instance. The only “stumbling block” that I an putting on you is scripture if you can’t accept the constraints of scripture then I am very worried for you. You would know nothing about the Lord but by his Word and to deny its fullness and finality as your whole counsel of worship is beyond disappointing.

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  • Allie

    How interesting that you used a picture of a forehead with ashes. Perhaps we should take into consideration Matthew 6:16-18: “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”

    • http://theresoundingdeclaration.blogspot.com/ Matt

      The picture was not a picture of fasting (the context of Matt. 6:16-18), or how to fast, but of the observance that we are but mere mortals (made from dust) and will return to dust (symbol of ashes), but through Christ (ashen Cross), receive immortality.

  • tyler

    why would you ever reject, let alone blaspheme, an opportunity to redirect your life to the Cross and resurrection?

  • Pamela

    This is a thought-provoking blog post on the practice of giving up something for lent.


  • jeremiah

    Is anyone aware that the 40 days is based on a mis-translation of
    Eusebius’ Church History? That the original fast was just a day or two before celebrating the Lord’s resurrection.

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  • Ken Stewart

    Scott: You have asked: “How does it follow that rejecting arguments from silence entails anything goes?” My answer to you, and to others who in this discussion are urging the propriety of Lent and customs associated with it, is that you have not named the criterion which will ensure that these practices meet the standard of apostolic teaching. What you dismiss as an argument from silence is wrongly labelled as such. Those who raise the question of apostolic support for a practice are not making the mistake of asking whether the apostles would have approved of the combustion engine or computer chips. They are asking whether the apostles would approve of a practice or teaching [in this case, Lent) as a legitimate extension of their own teaching. Such a concern seems to me to be validated by 2 Timothy 1.13,14 and Titus 1.9. Can such an insistence be abused? Yes indeed, and in favor of a kind of primitivism. But then so can the insistence that post-Apostolic developments are presumably the actual intention of the Apostles be abused.

    • Chuck Colson

      Thanks for clarifying your question, Ken. Certainly, I cannot speak for all Lenten traditions, but for Anglicans, especially of the reformed variety, tradition is always under Scripture. Scripture is the criterion of evaluation, but not in the narrow sense of the so-called Regulative Principle. Traditions were maintained in the Anglican church that were “not repugnant to the Word of God” (see Article 34 of the Thirty-nine Articles, if interested).

      When a tradition, like Lent, encourages a gospel-centered piety, as I hoped to demonstrate in the article, then it is retained and celebrated. In other words, Lent’s commendation lies in that it encourages faith in Christ, radical generosity, and calls us to avail ourselves of the external means he gives for growth in godliness.

      Hope that helps.



    • http://www.prolifetraining.com Scott Klusendorf

      Ken, Thanks for your reply, but it still strikes me as an argument from silence, one I’m not persuaded by.(For the record, I’ve not argued for Lent in this forum, only questioned what seems to me fallacious reasoning against it.) Instead of arguing from what the apostles didn’t say, why not simply contend that Lent intrinsically or contingently violates the gospel because…(and list your reasons.) That’s more persuasive to me than a fallacious appeal to silence.

  • http://johngreenview.wordpress.com John Thomson

    I’m afraid Lent like many other church traditions is simply an example of Judaizing the church. To observe it is not an escape from law but an embracing of law (observing days, seasons, rituals and regulations). It has an appearance of wisdom but is simply human traditions that are of no value whatsoever in stopping the indulgence of the flesh (Col 2).

    I have written about this at length elsewhere for those interested.


  • Jerry Thames

    Really excellent review which I have never seen covered like this before. The article should be given out several weeks before so that parishioners have time to reflect on it entering I into this calendar event. Thank you for sharing

  • http://theoldadam.com/ the Old Adam

    Here’s an excellent list of 9 things that every Christian ought ‘give up’ for Lent:


    • jeremiah

      Old Adam, are you promoting Lent?

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  • Tony Parton

    I wish that as Christians we made more of Pentecost. The Lord presented us with the Holy Spirit as a conduit between man and the Lord. We have our prayers translated intercesionally by the Holy Spirit and brought before the Lord as a pleasing aroma. Now if that isn’t reason enough to give gifts of good Christian trade craft, then I think I’m missing the point. We are told to do Lent and yet Pentecost just slips us all by??? That’s messed up!!!
    I am not giving things up for lent. It is not commanded in the Bible and we should be living to please the Lord through the Mortification of sin anyway!!! If Coffee causes you to sin, Give it up. The same is a good rule for Chocolate and all vices. If we spent more time making Christ our focus we would fulfil the scriptures message where it said that the Lord is most Glorified in us when we are most satisfied with him.
    God bless you all, Loadsa Love!!!
    Your brother,


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  • http://scripturalpatterns.blogspot.com/ Timothy Beirne

    This Lent I’m asking our Heavenly Father to give us a renewed spirit of intercession, even as He said, “And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication. They will look on me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for him as one grieves for a firstborn son (Zechariah 12:10).”

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  • Glenn Ferrer

    First, thanks for sharing such a timely and encouraging article. I liked reading all the comments as it shows me which area to pray for. I am former devout Catholic and every lent for me is special as it brings me closer to our Lord Jesus. Then, I become a Born-again Christian in a Pentescostal Church. My relationship with God has been stronger ever since. However, I still observe Lent. Of course I withdrew from ceremonies that does not give glory to God and not are based scripturally. But it is a time when I go to a Catholic or Anglican Church, hear from Lenten Messages, pray, and at some times minister to church goers and friends. The reflections and revelations given to me by the Holy Spirit is new and different (good different that is). I also am blessed with the Solemnity of the ceremonies which I think they should be, knowing we are remembering the sacrifice and death of our Lord.

  • Big Ben

    I’m quite sure there were no offering bags either, or pews or organs, or nice individualised communion cups …. for that matter, in the first century.
    Like in the Sermonon The Mount, the point really is not about whether religious things were being done or not, but the spirit in which they were done. So the right question to be asked is not ‘to Lent or not to Lent’, but if we do it, have we done it in the right spirit.(which includes not castigating those who do not)
    And if we don’t practice lent, let’s not be so quick to judge those who do.

  • Mark

    I have to say Ted and Terry both make some very good points, and I’m inclined to agree with them. Their arguments got me thinking however, about the observation of Christmas.

    There is nothing in the Bible prescribing it, (Birthday’s/anniversaries not being mentioned) and it being more a practice handed down through tradition and Catholicism.

    Charles Spurgeon said “I hold it to be one of the greatest religious absurdities under heaven to think that there is any religion in keeping Christmas day.”

    Tedd and Terry, would you say that your arguments hold over to Christmas as well? Do you observe this holiday?

    • Terry

      I would say that in a strict sense no. To explain this let me examine the difference between Christmas/Easter and Lent. What is principally problematic of Lent is the ceremonial and ritualism that accompanies its observation. In other words there is an implicit spiritualism and sense of religious duty that accompanies Lent. Given its extra biblical source this is a problem. However, in the case of Easter or Christmas, as evangelicals we don’t typically practice(or at least we shouldn’t) any kind of liturgical rituals with an implication of religion. Our observation of Christmas and Easter is merely reflective of important events in the history of the life of Christ and no spiritualized duty is prescribed. We do have many traditions and trappings that surround Christmas and Easter but thankfully these are not liturgical in nature(anymore). Rather these traditions that we observe are either cultural or familial, with no emphasis on religious duty. This is I think why we typically recognize the legitimacy of observing Christmas and Easter as opposed to something like Lent or even a full practice of Advent.

  • Mark

    “Any spiritual practice that brings us closer to the Lord should be encouraged.”

    David, this is a very dangerous generalization to make. It’s sloppy and subjective. There are a great many spiritual practices that I have witnessed which are unbiblical, foolish, and even ridiculous, but those committing them have claimed ‘it brought me closer to the Lord’. Well, okay then, don’t let me judge…

    We must discern the usefulness of all things according to light of Scripture. Perhaps a better statement would be to say “Any spiritual practice in agreement with Scripture that brings us closer to the Lord should be encouraged.”

  • Sweaty Teddy

    As I read the above article; what I got out of it is: Lent will NOT save you, but we should use this time, these 40 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter to reflect on Christ’s death and our pitiful selves to see and realize how wonderful Easter Sunday truly is. And since we use secular calenders to denote ‘time’ why not use a ‘church calender’ as well.
    As a non-Catholic but a member of the Southern Baptist denomination, I don’t read into anywhere in this article that says we HAVE to celebrate Lent to be a Christian. But the season of Lent, despite it’s beginnings for me is a awesome way to spend some time in some sort of ‘order’ to reflect on my unworthiness and Christ’s great sacrifice.
    We are free! Fast if you want or don’t. Get ashes on your forehead or don’t. Give alms to others or don’t. Just spend time reflecting like you would before partaking the Lord’s Supper. My 2 cents.

  • http://johngreenview.wordpress.com John Thomson


    We are free… yes but Paul says we must stand fast in our freedom. He does not wish the Galatians to go back to law rites and rituals. These are not freedom but slavery. Nor are they spiritual aids. Paul says ‘they are of no value in preventing the indulgence of the flesh’ (Cols 2).

  • Michael Plato

    What is going on here? Why is TGC now posting articles advocating the observation of Lent? I left the Anglo Catholic church in part because of this sort of pietism and unbiblical moralizing.Is the stations of the Cross coming next? After all, that allows us to “enter in” to the crucifixion with Jesus, and shouldn’t that produce an even more heightened mystical effect than entering the wilderness with Him? Because mystical experientialism is what the “Lent effect” is all about.

  • Phillip Mayberry

    Protestant Reformation? What was the point? My heart soared to learn that once there were leaders in the Church who fought with all they had to return to the simplicity of the Gospel, and renounce the trappings of tradition. To be a servant of Christ was enough for them! Today, men who advocate the practice of things which Christ has not commanded seem to have forgotten that they are called to be Servants to Christ; not His Advisors. Disfiguring your face via the imposition of ashes is an explicit example of making the Word of God void by your tradition which you have handed down. Because these things have absolutely zero ground in the Word of God, they arise from only two possible sources: the imagination of our deceptive heart or the suggestions of Satan. What will you do when Jesus Christ looks at you, naked and bare, as a teacher in the Church, and therefore subject to stricter condemnation, and asks why you taught the sheep to do that which He had not commanded? Whatever cleverly devised reasons may be employed for the celebration of Lent, the fact remains that, from the viewpoint of Jesus Christ, it is NOT commanded, and is beyond the Word of God, and therefore falls under the category of “Unauthorized” (Leviticus 10:1-3). Beyond all that, why do people feel the need to “spice up” their marriage to Christ by the adultery of going beyond what He has given us? Has our Husband not provided enough religious practice by His own divine prescription to satisfy us? Are the prescribed means of grace not enough? Is His love, celebrated in simplicity on each day equally, not enough to “bring us close to Him”? If not, what He has given us is deficient- and that’s really the point. To add to the Word of God ANY tradition or spiritual practice which He has not given us is a severe commentary on His Wisdom. To think that we can improve upon His Word is an insult to His Omniscience and the completeness of the Religion that He gave us. Has He not told us what pleases Him, or has He left us to speculate? My heart is grieved to read this sort of thing on TGC…

    • http://pablobutterworth.blogspot.com Paul Butterworth

      Phillip, you said:

      “My heart soared to learn that once there were leaders in the Church who fought with all they had to return to the simplicity of the Gospel, and renounce the trappings of tradition. To be a servant of Christ was enough for them!”

      However, I think you might be surprised what traditions that Reformers kept. Luther used to cross himself and the Lutheran understanding of Communion was so similar to the Catholic view that it even shares “-substantiation.”

      I must admit, my heart is grieved to see the regulative principal used as a bludgeon to attack your brothers and sisters who believe differently.

  • http://www.covenantcaswell.org John Carpenter

    First, as the Puritans would be quick to remind the author, every “Lord’s Day” (Sunday) is a celebration of the resurrection. That’s why we meet on Sunday. Every Sunday is a Resurrection Sunday. Christians celebrate Easter 52 times a year.

    Second, all of the supposed benefits of Lent should characterize the ministry of the church throughout the year. Confining them to just 40 days (before a day the church is supposed to celebrate once a week, not just once a year) is detrimental to the Christian life, not an advantage.

    There are good, gospel-centered reasons the Puritans rejected the liturgical year. Evangelicals would do well to review them and then give up Lent for Lent.

    • Chuck Colson


      Yes, the puritans, along with Anglicans, believe every Sunday is the Lord’s Day, celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ. This is also why the Sundays during Lent are not part of the 40 day fast!

      Additionally, if you re-read the article, I think you will see that the church calendar does not seek to confine the disciplines or benefits of Lent to that season. It simply brings certain things into the foreground for a few weeks, especially sin and our need for redemption.

      That said, some puritans – what Hughes Oliphant-Old calls the “left wing” of the movement – desired to throw out all special holy days (no Christmas, Easter, Good Friday, etc). It is important to acknowledge that the Puritans had many disagreements among them about the application of the regulative principle. They struggled to answer the question, “What does it mean to be biblical in the principles as well as the details of worship?” Obviously, it was easy with regard to the principles, but much more difficult when it came to the fine details. For instance, what were they supposed to do at a wedding or funeral? The NT had little to offer with regard to detail, and they had many disagreements and arguments historically.

      Some may have had good gospel-centered reasons for rejecting the church year, John. And, some had good gospel-centered reasons for continuing to keep it. That both camps continued to encounter difficulties and disagreements in the application of their principles should perhaps chasten the strength of our assertions on the matter today.

      Grace & Peace,


  • Thomas McIntyre

    Great article Chuck. Keep posting!!! Always good to hear from you.

  • JD

    Beautifully said, Chuck. Thank you. Fasting corporately, as a Church, has been part of Christianity since the very beginning. So we should fast, together, and if ever there is a time for all Christians to practice a fast and then feast together it is the Resurrection season!

    Yet another purpose of fasting is to learn discipline, to gain control of those things that are within our control but that we too often allow to control us. This allows us the resurrection to have more of an impact on our lives. In our culture especially, food dominates the lives of many people to a negative extent. In Christian orthodoxy, non-essential foods, sex, and alcohol are alll fasted from on certain days. Obviously food and all of those things control the lives of way too many people; this has been the case for all of human history. Fasting is a tool Christ practiced as our example and then gave us to allow us all to better control ourselves in important areas and thereby cooperate more with God Spirit.

    Speaking of which, still another purpose of fasting is nothing less than unity with God. See Mark 2:18-20. Because God, in Christ, was with the disciples in the flesh there was no reason for them to fast. Once he was gone from them, then there was need to fast. We are fasting to enter the presence of God. Fasting (for the right reasons, humbly before God) gives ease of prayer and a closeness to him that cannot be attained any other way.

    • Terry

      It seems to me that trying to separate Lent from its ritualistic and ceremonial context is a bit duplicitous.
      Of course none of us who disagree with the practice of it have any problems with personal or corporate fasting, but it’s dishonest of you to strip lent, and its component ritual of Ash Wednesday, down into a simple corporate fast. In this case we are not merely dealing with an example of a church choosing to enter into a season of fasting for the sake of seeking God or his will. We have a systematized and ritualized ceremony, Ash Wednesday being the primary liturgical expression of that ritualism. That is where we take issue with its observance. It is impossible to take such an observance and ritual and separate it from that historically recognized setting and if you do so you really aren’t practicing Lent anymore you are just fasting. In short, Lent as an ordinance or ceremony is biblically and spiritually unwarranted. Fasting, simply considered, is both biblical and spiritually beneficial.
      This doesn’t even begin to address the sacramental and sacerdotal context of Lent. Predominantly, its historical and present associations have promoted wrong ideas about the Gospel. You can try and take Lent and redeem it and put all these good ideas into but the majority of history and those who presently practice Lent do so with a view to bad gospel theology. When you proclaim it, no matter your intentions, you take an unwarranted ceremony and send mix signals to the world about what you believe about the gospel. You can try and clarify to an individual church what you intentions are with such a man-made tradition but human nature will run its course and twist its meaning into something you don’t intend. History shows that this was the principle cause of Rome’s apostasy. They elevated extra biblical traditions and practices to the place of normative spiritual practice and thus traditions became infused into the gospel. The reformation was an awaking and turning from this.
      On a side note I have to say that, apart from its unwarranted ceremonialism, Ash Wednesday has got to be just about the worst way that I can think of to start a fast. Considering the fact that Jesus very clearly told us not to begin fasts precisely in such a way. “And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” (Matthew 6:16-8).

  • Phillip Mayberry

    Greetings JD-

    Let me start where we agree: “the church in the Bible and the church outside of the Bible are the same Church”- absolutely. However, the difference is that when the church in the Bible added traditions outside of what was commanded, God reprimanded them (often severely), whereas now he suffers churches to fall into apostasy without present reprimand. We Protestants say that “these things happened to them as an example, and were written down for our instruction” (1 Cor. 10:11). In other words, God’s rebukes to the One Church in the Bible are sufficient to prevent the same mistakes today, and answer the question of what He thinks of something He has rebuked in the past- since He doesn’t change. One of the things He has commented on in the past is innovation in worship.

    I know that SOME of the churches practiced Easter (not Lent)- I know this because I’ve consulted the actual evidence. Just as I know that SOME of the early writers believed in works righteousness (in blatant denial of the Scriptures), and even the consubstantiation of Irenaeus’ Eucharist. To admit differences in practice is totally different than claiming that “all the churches were doing something”. I speculate that “all” of them began to celebrate Easter after its date was standardized.

    That being said, how in the world can you KNOW such things as “there were lots of things not mentioned by the early Fathers that all the churches were doing”??? How do you KNOW? Who told you? How do they know? While the absence of evidence indeed doesn’t prove these things WEREN’T happening, it is even more of a stretch to prove that they WERE, based again on zero evidence. Still worse, though, is your claim that “we have a ton of evidence” when now you admit you have none except oral tradition (which is easy to falsify and invent, and which we can’t help be suspect of consequently).

    By the way- our church has a direct line to the Apostles, and our tradition is that I’m the head of all Christendom, and that Peter willed ME to be the head of the whole Church in this age, and the next Pope. Don’t believe me? Just come to our church and ask us. We’ve got the oral tradition to prove it! :)

    I’m not trying to re-enforce my Protestant traditions with anything or anyone outside the inspired text- the only Protestant tradition that I’m interested in is the one which subjects all human tradition to the authority of the inspired Word. Insofar as men of any age line up with it, I’m happy. I could just as easily quote blatant denials of the statements of the fathers you quoted by other fathers- which is tempting… but that would confuse the point. The fact is that men disagree because they are fallible, and therefore should not be followed authoritatively- that’s the Protestant Position. You hold to a different position- and God will have to sort out whose position is His position. In the meantime, I’d urge you not to overstate the clarity of your position by making blanket statements that can’t be substantiated by observable facts- such as “EVERYONE practiced (something I have no evidence for ANYONE practicing)”…

    And thanks for demonstrating that your position is one which blatantly denies the infallibility and sufficiency of Scripture, and speculates rather than utilizes the existing early sources. I’m happy to agree to disagree along these conceded lines.

    I must say that THIS argument/discussion we are having is one that actually makes sense, and I also want to thank you for being consistent in the application of your preconceptions. You clearly believe in the AUTHORITY of tradition- which makes it consistent for you to hold to the subject at hand. Protestants do not- and they are the ones who are holding the position inconstantly, while their forerunners so adamantly rejected the authority of tradition. The long and short of it is that, as you have proven, the practice of Lent, for better or worse, leads directly to Rome.

    That being said- I wish you all the best, and I sincerely thank you for entertaining my questions, and for answering so thoroughly.

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