Relent? I haven’t even lented the first time.
Having arisen this morning, I was greeted with a couple of Ash Wednesday posts in my feed, and so thought that this might be some kind of guidance. I therefore thought I would just outline a few Presbyterian caveats about why I don’t feel the traditional Lenten allure at all. But please keep in mind that these are Presbyterian caveats, not Presbyterian grumps. All I am doing is explaining why I am more than content to sit this one out.
1. Jesus said that when we fast, we shouldn’t put anything on our faces to make us look all penitential (Matt. 6:16). So when a Christian fast developed back in the day, inaugurated by a service in which people put something on their faces to show themselves penitential, this is the kind of thing that makes me think the devil must still have a functional sense of humor.
2. In the Old Testament, there was one public day out of the year where they were instructed to afflict their souls (Yom Kippur, Lev. 23:27). Everything else about their prescribed calendar was made up of feast days. There was always room, of course, for private disciplines (Num. 30:13), just as there is room for that in the Christian era (Matt. 9:15). But for the life of me I cannot figure out why the advent of the Christ would set us so far back. Deliverance should not be commemorated with long faces. The saints of the new covenant have much greater liberty than the saints of the old covenant, and the saints of the old covenant were free. “But, under the New Testament, the liberty of Christians is further enlarged, in their freedom from the yoke of the ceremonial law, to which the Jewish Church was subjected; and in greater boldness of access to the throne of grace, and in fuller communications of the free Spirit of God, than believers under the law did ordinarily partake of” (WCF 20.1).
And the glory of that liberty should feel, taste, and smell like glory, which means gladness and simplicity of heart (Acts 2:46). It does not mean a couple of months with no chocolate.
3. Carl Trueman wrote a good piece the other day on how rootless evangelicals, attracted to this kind of thing, are not actually abandoning their rootlessness, but continuing to display it. This kind of Lenten practice, when done soberly, is an essential part of a community of true discipline. It is not one more food option under the heat lamps of our great ecclesiastical cafeteria. I heartily commend Trueman’s points, which can be read here and here.
4. I don’t observe Lent, the penitential season running up to Easter, but I do observe Advent, the penitential season running up to Christmas. Where’s the consistency in that, Mr. Lenten-foe?
I celebrate Advent and Christmas because it has been successfully highjacked by commercial interests. Not one person in a hundred knows that Advent is supposed to be a penitential season, and not one person in a thousand doesn’t know that you are supposed to “give stuff up” for Lent. There are obviously some things gone wrong with the commercialization of Christmas, but our national frenzy in that direction is much closer to what we should be doing over the birth of a king than what the uber-pious do in the other direction, celebrating as they do the birth of some killjoy homunculus.
So with admirable consistency, I would seriously consider celebrating Lent just as soon as it is possible to get a great Lenten deal on patio furniture at Home Depot. And I would in fact consider it.