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Ash Wednesday and the Beginning of Lent

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Ash Wednesday, as the venerable Wikipedia describes it, “is a day of repentance and marks the beginning of Lent”:

Ashes were used in ancient times, according to the Bible, to express mourning. Dusting oneself with ashes was the penitent’s way of expressing sorrow for sins and faults.

I had planned on going to an Ash Wednesday service at a local Roman Catholic Church today but for various reasons, won’t be able to do so.

In 1998 when I became a born-again Christian in an independent fundamental Baptist (IFB) church, the pastor (a former Roman Catholic) bashed Catholicism in nearly every possible way. Even though I finished my schooling in a Roman Catholic school 2 years later, I walked away with a dismal view of Catholicism, its doctrines, and practices.

In 2007, I joined the Presbyterian Church of America (PCA). The PCA is a Christian denomination that still holds to Bible-based preaching but offers a liturgical structure similar to that of the Roman Catholic Church. After nearly a decade of being away from a liturgical service, my first experience back was a little jarring. After years of making the Bible as my only authority for Scriptural practices as an IFB, becoming a Presbyterian had me reconsidering church traditions as a supplement (not a replacement) to the Bible for Scriptural practices. (Let me state here that the Bible’s authority takes precedence over church traditions and church traditions clearly in conflict with Scripture should be modified or discarded.)

An acquaintance on a message board who went from born-again Protestant Christianity to Roman Catholicism once suggested that Catholicism may appeal to me again in the future. The likelihood of my becoming a Roman Catholic again is slim, but in a way, he was prophetic: the structure, reverence, and church traditions within Catholicism have reappealed to me and continue to do so the older I get (in age and in faith).

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The celebrations of Lent (in preparation for Easter, the celebration of Christ’s resurrection) and Advent (in preparation for Christmas, the celebration of Christ’s incarnation/birth) now appeal to me in ways I used to shun in disdain, and even at point, thought was sinful. Since leaving fundamentalism—actually, a more appropriate way to refer to what I left behind is legalism, I don’t view the observances of Lent or Advent as sinful or unnecessary, but in fact, a Biblically based way to set a time apart to refocus exclusively on one’s relationship with God. Yes, Christians should always be focusing on their relationship with God, but let’s face it: the cares and troubles of this world get in the way and Lent and Advent give Christians two seasons each year to reevaluate their relationship with the Lord and readjust their priorities concerning Him. There’s nothing wrong with this and certainly nothing unbiblical about it. (I can’t see Jesus arguing against this practice.)

 

Are these seasons necessary to observe? No. But I wouldn’t discourage the practice, but would, in fact, encourage it for anyone who wants to strengthen their relationship with God.

A lot of people give up material things for the time of Lent (40 days). Some might give up watching TV, using Twitter, the daily latte at Starbucks. As a Catholic child, I used to give up candy, soda, fast-food on Fridays, for example. This year, I will try to give up an idol.

I will give up my idolatry of having children.

My problem is that I’ve made the idea of having children my god. (For a fantastic book on the concept of idolatry, read Counterfeit Gods by Tim Keller.) When my god doesn’t deliver each month, I am disappointed, angry, and throw fits and tantrums. I’ve idolized an idea. It’s time for me to view God as my sufficiency in everything regardless of whether I have children or not. Having children does not make life better; God does.

The point is not to give up the idolatry of a bigger family for 40 days and revert to old thinking. The point is that 40 days is the beginning of establishing a mindset that stays with me whether or not I have children.

On Ash Wednesday, I repent of my idolatry and ask God to change the desires of my heart to seek Him and Him alone. Not just for 40 days but for all eternity.

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  1. Dale H
    March 9, 2011 at 4:38 PM

    Wow. You really hit me with your personal resolution at the end. Didn’t expect that, so thanks. BTW, started following you on twitter when I saw some of your notes about Keller’s books. Appreciated you observations. I’m just finishing King’s Cross.
    Dale

    • Kass
      March 9, 2011 at 7:13 PM

      Thanks for the comment, Dale. I like Tim Keller’s approach in making Christian theology (and ultimately Christ) practical and accessible to everyone. He was on MSNBC’s Morning Joe recently talking about how Jesus is still relevant in American culture: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/21134540/vp/41904205#41904205

  2. Mark B.
    March 9, 2011 at 8:52 PM

    Hi, just happened across your site and had a few questions/comments. As a Deacon in a PCA church, I find it rather surprising that a PCA church observes Ash Wednesday, what do you mean when you say your PCA church has a similar liturgical structure to a roman church? Is not one of the basic tenants of Reformed/Presbyterianism the RPW (Regulative Principle of Worship)which basically says that we only do in worship what we are commanded to do in scripture (NOT whatever appeals to us as long as the scripture doesn’t specifically prohibit it)? Ash Wednesday is a romish innovation supposedly based on Jesus fasting Forty Days in the desert, but does not the New Testament specifically say that all days are the same (no holy days)? Did Jesus not rebuke the Pharisees in Matthew 6 VERY strongly for public displays of fasting? Is not going forward in a service and having a priest mark ashes on your forehead a VERY public display of fasting (or even just attending an Ash Wednesday service, I’m unclear how romish your liturgy is)? In Christ, Mark

    • Kass
      March 10, 2011 at 12:20 AM

      I’m sorry to have confused you, Mark.

      We do not observe Lenten (or Advent) services in my PCA church. I was planning on attending a Roman Catholic Church in observance of Ash Wednesday as a result. (Although it seems to be held in some PCA churches, but I’m sure that’s more of a rarity.) When I said that my PCA church has a similar liturgical structure to a Roman Catholic Church, I mean that the order of worship is similar (traditional singing using an organ or piano, reciting creeds and confessions together, saying “Thanks be to God” after a Scriptural reading). That is what I mean when I compare the liturgical structure of the PCA to the Roman Catholic Church. With the exception of traditional singing, these are not practices performed in an independent fundamental Baptist (IFB) church.

      I hope that clarifies things.

  3. Mark B.
    March 10, 2011 at 10:27 PM

    Thanks, it does. And sorry if I assumed too much 🙂 When I heard “similar liturgical structure to a Roman Catholic Church” in the context of Ash Wednesday it brought to mind the Roman Liturgical Calendar. And thanks for your kind reply to what was, in retrospect, not a great comment to leave in passing on a site I don’t know. In Christ, Mark

    • Kass
      March 10, 2011 at 11:10 PM

      That’s all right, Mark. It probably doesn’t come across very clear to people who don’t normally read the site.

      Blessings to you!
      Kass

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