There’s been a lot on the telly and in the newspapers this week about Lent. Amongst the really important matters of state affecting our nation – parliamentary by elections, votes on Brexit etc reported by the BBC is the fact that Theresa May has given up salt and vinegar crisps for Lent.
The other day I saw a link on a news website. A course called:
Athiesm for lent – I was intrigued – how does that work? philosophical mumbo jumbo
I’m going to talk about Lent. It might challenge some of our thinking. But being challenged is good! Judge for yourself. You may have already given up something for Lent – and if you’ve done that with faith in an attitude of worship I don’t want to undermine that at all.
When you look at newspapers, at tv you realise that the concept of Lent has almost become a secular concept. Most of the major daily papers have had articles on giving up things for Lent. With no Christian angle to it at all. Leaves the question –
Why is the world interested in Lent? Why are people with no interest in going to church, no interest in a personal relationship with Christ interest in a religious observance?
Firstly it seems it’s based on some concept that giving up something is going to be good for your soul, maybe it will make you a better person. That giving up salt and vinegar crisps for 6 weeks or not using facebook for 6 weeks will somehow make you a better person. There’s a name for this philosophy and it’s not Christianity – it’s asceticism What is asceticism? a greek philosophy – the belief that a person can attain a high spiritual and moral state by practicing self-denial,
Secondly if like Theresa May you give up crisps or you give up chocolate or sugar or alcohol or something else that is bad for your health then you’ll be more healthy. So giving up something for Lent is seen as something as a detox for the body.
Thirdly the world still has a hankering for a bit of legalistic religion. If I give up something then God (whoever he or she might be) will owe me. Or the universe will owe me.
A lot of this is quite faulty thinking when we put it alongside the teaching of the bible. Because the unwritten goal in all of this is self-improvement. The whole point of the gospel is that we’re helpless without God.
There is a great opportunity here – not to say well done that you are adding a bit of christianishness to your life, but to say – the marvellous truth is that when you recognise something is missing – its not your efforts but God who makes a difference.
So that’s the world’s view of Lent. What about the churches view. The problem is when we look into our bibles we don’t see much about Lent there.
The church view
The problem is when we look into our bibles we don’t see much about Lent there.
So I looked at my bible I looked at my books – nothing about Lent.
So when you’ve exhausted all those possibilities there’s only one place to go. What about Wikipedia.
solemn religious observance in the liturgical calendar that begins on Ash Wednesday and ends approximately six weeks later, before Easter Sunday. The purpose of Lent is the preparation of the believer through prayer, doing penance, repentance of sins, almsgiving, atonement, and self-denial
I want to suggest that these are not all biblical concepts –
there is no liturgical calendar in the NT. There are no special days for special things. In fact the New Testament says this in Colossians 16Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. 17These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.
These were OT concepts now you don’t have to do all these things because you have the reality of relationship with Christ.
23Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value
So special days were in the Old Testment as a foreshadowing of Christ – but now they lack any value.
It mentions doing penance – penance is punishing yourself to pay off your debt to God. You have done something wrong so you pay penanace. I suggest It is actually anti-gospel. This is minimizing the death of Christ. It’s saying the death of Christ is not enough.
The Wikipedia purpose
The whole purpose of these things according to the Wikipedia definition is to prepare the believer – for what? To prepare you to be worthy to worship at Easter. So the concept is – is you give things up, if you pray, if you repent, if you do penance if you give to the poor, if you deny yourself, then you will be worthy to worship.
Prayer is good – but not to make us worthy, repentance is good – but only when we have something to repent of not just because it’s a particular time of the year, giving to the poor is good. Even self-denial is good when done with the right motives – but remembering its balanced by the fact that scripture says god gives us all things richly to enjoy. If we think it’s wrong to enjoy good things we are affected by Greek philosophy. I would say this –enjoying things with thanksgiving is more worshipful than giving things up because you think you ought to.
Prayer is good, fasting is good, giving to the poor is good. But the point is that it should be done, with faith, in worship, with a good conscience – not as part of a religious calendar or ceremony.
So if you don’t want to give up anything for Lent – brilliant. As a Christian I have fasted from food – gone without meals to give time to pray, but never because it’s Lent.
If you want to give up something for Lent – brilliant – as long as it’s done with faith, as long as it’s done as part of worship and offering yourself to God