Every year around this time the internet is flooded with essays and interviews concerning Lent: Should we observe it? If we observe it, how should we observe it? And so on. Good folks disagree about these issues. But it is a good discussion to be having. I thought I’d chime in on the issue. Hopefully, I can help keep people thinking through the issue.
First, let me clear some ground here. I agree with many of my brothers who despise some of the Lenten practices. There are people who have superstitious views of the imposition of ashes on Ash Wednesday, for instance. Here in Louisville, KY, we even had one church who set up shop in a local business so that you can get your ashes to go. This was a one-stop shop for groceries and a dose of humility and repentance. People who do this sort of thing are, in most cases, viewing the imposition of ashes as some type of talisman that is going to keep God off their backs for a little while longer. I have witnessed people through the years from many branches of the Christian church act as if the religious ritual itself (whether it is the imposition of ashes, fasting, attending worship, going to revival services, or whatever) was an end in itself. After you do the deed, then you are free to live any way you want outside of the time of that special rite. According to what God said through the prophet Isaiah in his opening salvo, he has never taken kindly to superstitious views of religious rituals (cf. Isa 1.10-20. Mind you, the rituals that God is condemning in Isaiah are the ones that he himself set up. These were not manmade rituals. These were God’s own rituals that were being abused by superstitious views.) Superstitious views of the imposition of ashes or even fasting have no place in the Christian Faith. (more…)