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This year for Lent… I’m giving up Lent

March 5, 2014

lent_with_rough_wooden_crossThis may come as a huge shock to a lot of you but even though I have been a Christian for almost 25 years now and I have never ever really celebrated Lent.

…Give yourself a couple of minutes to adjust to this news, take a walk – get some fresh air – maybe a cup of tea or a cigarette and then come back and continue reading…

Now I have nothing against Lent, or those who celebrate it and I also have nothing against giving things up for a season – in fact I think it can be hugely beneficial for us to stop and take stock of what is actually important in life.

However my only concern with things like Lent is that people start to use it inappropriately. I find it very interesting to observe people’s reactions when I tell them that I don’t participate in Lent. The response is usually ‘Oh I thought you said you were a Christian.’ As if taking part in Lent was essential for me to be able to call myself a Christian. I like to respond with ‘Yes I am a Christian, that’s why I don’t need to take part.’

keep-calm-and-pray-a-hail-maryFor hundreds of years an awful lot of people have slipped into Christianity various traditions and rituals, that (although perhaps meaningful) are not necessary to our relationship with God, and tried to claim that they are.

This frustrates me a little.

Again there’s nothing wrong with taking part in tradition – sometimes it can be quite enjoyable (even more so when we remember why the tradition is there in the first place) but when tradition starts to become something that we consider as a necessary part of our relationship with God then that’s when we’re getting things wrong.

This problem actually took place on numerous occasions in the New Testament, in fact on one occasion the Apostle Paul actually publicly confronted the Apostle Peter about his behaviour.

11 But when Cephas (Peter) came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. 12 For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. 13 And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. 14 But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas (Peter) before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?”

The issue here is that Peter grew up as a Jew and had ordinarily followed certain rules about how one should behave and about what one should eat. So when he was with the the gentiles he was happy to enjoy his freedom in Christ but when the circumcision party (Christians who also were once Jews) arrived he didn’t want to be seen as not obeying old traditions.

LentCrossHere we see that Paul is reminding Peter that because of the all-sufficient achievement of Christ on the cross of Calvary we are no longer bound by “law” (by following certain rituals and traditions and rules) – we now live righteously by faith.

Let me just highlight four traditions that are often seen as a necessary part of Christianity but are in fact unnecessary – they might be helpful and meaningful from time to time but they are not necessary to your relationship with God:

1. Lent – Helpful to give things up and to spend time remembering what Jesus went through in achieving our salvation – but we also need to remember that Jesus cried ‘it is finished’ on the cross – meaning that nothing else needs to be added – no tradition, no good behaviour – nothing – his grace is enough for me (and for you).

2. Confessional Booth – The bible encourages us to be accountable with each other and as such it’s healthy to confess sin (wrong doing) to each other. But this particular tradition becomes very dangerous when we start only confessing sin to a vicar and not to Jesus. The whole purpose of the cross was to bring us back into relationship with God, Jesus dealt with our sin so that we could have relationship with Him. If we start going to a vicar instead of Jesus, hoping that the vicar can deal with sin then not only could we be guilty of idolatry but we are also still lost in our sin.

3. Performing Hail Mary’s – I have seen this used time and time again for long periods of time where believers will pray to Mary asking her to intercede for them because they are sinners. This has a similar result of the confessional booth in that people turn to someone other than Jesus, they turn to someone created instead of creator God hoping that they can deal with their issue of sin. Perhaps it’s because it’s far too scandalous for our minds to cope with the fact that it is indeed creator God who took it on himself to deal with our sin and shame – we aren’t used to that sort of behaviour. We absolutely must not turn to anyone other than Jesus for absolution from our sinfulness. That’s why Jesus said in John 14 v 6: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

Rosary beads4. The use of Rosary Beads – This is where believers will repeat various prayers whilst running their fingers around the rosary beads. This often used to focus the believers mind on important moments of salvation history. I actually think this is often very helpful for people – anything that gets people meditating on Christ and what he achieved has to be a good thing. The only time this starts to become unhealthy is when we as believers start to practise using the rosary beads because we have just done something wrong and in order to show God we are sorry we pray ritualistically.

My other slight draw back to the Hail Mary’s and the Rosary Beads is that it just doesn’t communicate much of a relationship. We have become adopted children to Father God and therefore we need to communicate to Him as though He were our Father (because He is).

With the above two traditions things can get awfully unnatural and robotic. I would be very upset if every time my son wanted to communicate with me he just reeled off repeated prayers that I had heard a million times already.

So as I finish this blog on tradition and Lent let me say that if you are practising Lent then I hope it is doing you good – but don’t forget that it’s not a necessary part of your relationship with God. “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”

  1. John smith permalink

    If Christians believe that Jesus suffered for them, why make your self miserable over lent by giving stuff up? Isn’t the whole point that you get to enjoy life or summit like you said at the end? It just confuses me.

    • Hi John,

      Thanks so much for your comment. I think you’re right a big part of the picture is that we as Christians get to enjoy our relationship with God. However just to clarify I’m not against “giving things up” per se, in fact sometimes giving up things can help us enjoy God more.

      For example I love a good roast dinner, but if I spent my life snacking on chocolate bars that would spoil my appetite for the roast dinner. In that context giving up a mars bar helps me to enjoy the roast dinner far more.

      Another good example is one of a training musician – the best musicians in the world are those who have spent hours behind closed doors working on their craft. Hours of practice and commitment means you give up other things but as you sacrifice you a greater pleasure becomes more accessible.

      I hope that makes sense. Giving things up can actually be very helpful – it just needs to be done for the right reasons.

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