The Tradition of Lent

Where do we draw the line when we practice a tradition that may be in conflict with scripture? Could the personal beliefs we think are good, comforting, and Biblical really not be? Could the things we believe and traditions we practice actually be a sin? 

As time goes on, many in the Christian faith spend time ignoring the real meaning of some scriptures and alter them to fit their emotional needs and cultural norms so they can have their faith and still be a Christian (which they are not according to Scripture). With that thinking, what it really means to be a Christ-follower becomes cloudy, with increasing gray areas and that makes salvation easier to obtain and maintain.  

Today, there also seems to be an increasing trend not to “test everything, hold on to what is good and resist evil” (1 Thess. 5:21) and go with what your heart or emotions tell you to do. 

The start of Lent season is what prompted me to think about traditions and ask some questions:  Do we follow them, and what do they really stand for? So, I decided to test the tradition of Lent and its meaning. 

Lent tradition: As you may know the first day of Lent starts six weeks before Easter. Participants have a cross drawn on their forehead with ashes, they give up something (fast) and do penitence for forty days. Actually, the Bible never mentions Ash Wednesday or Lent and it even prohibits some of the ritualistic behavior of Ash Wednesday. Scripture tells us not to make a big deal of fasting, tithing, praying and making sacrifices because those activities are a private affair between us and God, not a corporate one for all to see. (Matthew 6:16-18, for example.) 

How did Lent start? According to the Catholic Church it started around 325 AD. And the placing of ashes on the forehead is a tradition with roots in the Old Testament. “I turned to the Lord God, to seek help, in prayer and petition, with fasting, sackcloth, and ashes.” (Daniel 9:3). “Ash Wednesday is the beginning of Lent, a time when Catholics are called to prayer, to fasting, and to almsgiving, which means donating money or goods to the poor, and performing other acts of charity. The ashes are rich in symbolism. They are a call to repentance, a physical sign that we are sinners in need of forgiveness.” (Quoted from GROUNDWORK, Biblical Foundation for Life). Lent is a time to begin a season of fasting and penitence generally as a means to try to gain favor with God. 

A problem with the Lent season is that you try to earn favor with God by giving something up, but we can never earn Gods’ favor. In the beginning the purpose of giving something in the Bible was to give up nourishing food — something that your body relies on for life. The practice of giving up something necessary and life-sustaining would cause one to focus on God and rely on Him solely to sustain them. Today, Lent is practiced by usually giving up a luxury or something you don’t mind giving up. And Lent is a tradition of man, not of the Bible. Practicing Lent traditions are not a sin, but to do so when commanded by your church or faith as a way to gain favor with God….is that not idolatry? 

God’s commands are binding; man made tradition is not. Traditions, no matter how ancient they may be, only have value if they are grounded in God’s truth and point us to Him. Tradition must be under the authority of God and His Word. Any tradition that contradicts God’s Word or distracts us from it should be discarded. Some traditions may be a way we practice our faith, but our faith is founded in God’s truth, not fallible human tradition.

What I learned from this study is to: reevaluate any religious tradition I follow, make sure they are not condemned by scripture, not think that by following traditions I can get closer to God or win His favor by practicing them, not practice a tradition in order to show off or bring attention to myself or how spiritual I am, and if I practice a spiritual tradition, take it seriously. 

Could traditions be a sin? I think yes, if they are done outside the approval of God!

Do I practice the Lent Season tradition? I did in the past. Many years ago, when I was in the Methodist Church, I would get the sign of the cross on my forehead at the Ash Wednesday night church service and give up something minor and not really important to me. The ashes were washed off and soon forgotten and the fasting commitment went by the wayside soon after. I guess one of the reasons I did not take it very seriously is because my pastor did not take Lent seriously. We were never taught the reason for it, the tradition behind it, encouraged to study the meaning behind Lent, or why it was important today. Or, if we were taught about Lent, it was such a shallow teaching I don’t remember anything about it. During that time, and even now, I observed many people that practiced Lent not taking it seriously, giving up silly things like sweets, or a TV program they like. 

So no, I do not practice any of the Lent traditions. Instead, I focus on what scripture tells me to do if I want to follow Jesus’ teachings and commands to the best of my human ability and be the follower He has called me to be.   

There is even debauchery tied into the (mostly Catholic) Lent season where traditionally, in the days leading up to Lent, merrymakers would binge on all the rich, fatty foods—meat, eggs, milk, lard and cheese—that remained in their homes, in anticipation of several weeks of eating only fish and different types of fasting (was called Fat Tuesday). This information is just one of many denominational versions of the Lent season. 

To learn more about how to act and what specifically to do during Lent, Ash Wednesday or other Lent traditions that are practiced just “Google it” because I did not find that information in  the Bible. 

Scripture does tell us to follow certain traditions; however, they are to hold to traditions taught by the Apostles as explained in 2 Thessalonians 2:15 So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter. What are those traditions? To find out go to the Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges Commentary; And remember what we are told in Colossians 2:8 See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.

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