This exhortation was given at Christ Church Downtown on February 21, 2021.
As I’m sure you know, last week was Ash Wednesday and the start of the season of Lent. And so very briefly I want to look at the Reformed tradition regarding the church calendar, our practice here at Christ Church, and how to go about differences in these matters.
At the time of the Reformation, the inherited church calendar was bloated and a burden, with 40–60 holy days and dozens of fasting days. The Reformed solution to this problem varied. Some ditched the calendar altogether, while the majority retained what are called the five evangelical feast days: Christmas, Good Friday, Easter, Ascension Day, and Pentecost.
Both groups used similar criteria for their pastoral decisions regarding what to celebrate.
First, they acknowledged that Christians are free in Christ to observe or not observe special days or seasons. As St Paul wrote, “One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.”
The second criteria was that of edification. Will this practice largely help or hurt our people in their faith? Each congregation has different needs, different contexts, and this takes wisdom.
At Christ Church, our pastors and elders believe that the practice of Ash Wednesday and Lent is often not beneficial. You of course are free to do Lenten devotionals with your families, but it isn’t a practice that has been intentionally cultivated here.
There are a few reasons for this, such as the fact that the Jews had only one day of fasting under the Old Covenant, so it would be odd to have forty days of penitence under the New Covenant. Or concerns to obey Jesus’ instructions when he says to wash your face and fast in secret.
But given that within our own denomination and town there are differences of opinion regarding this, here are two principles as you go about conversing with friends who differ.
First, honor them and recognize their freedom in Christ. Don’t cause unnecessary division. If your brother or sister is doing well in the Lord, not showboating while observing Lent, genuinely thank God for that and ask Him to bless them. Don’t clash over days or seasons.
On the other hand, if your friend is clearly using the outward devotion of Lent to cover up for obvious sin: with wisdom, call it out. If for example they won’t hold down a job or are failing at their grades, and yet want everyone to know of their Lenten piety – ask them if they’ve ever considered giving up their laziness for Lent… and do it kindly.
Our sinful hearts love to make up works to do while neglecting the more foundational and simpler works commanded by God.
And when I say this I mean everyone, whether you gave something up for Lent or not.
Here are some resources that provide more information.
Holidays in the Reformed Tradition
Video: Ash Wednesday and Lent – Douglas Wilson and Ben Merkle
The God of Lent – Douglas Wilson
In Which I Do Not Relent – Douglas Wilson
Rejoicing in Lent – Douglas Wilson
Wedgeworth on Lent’s History