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In defense of Lent

Local News: Holy Trinity Anglican Church will be holding an Ash Wednesday service tomorrow at 6 p.m. in the chapel of St. Anthony Catholic School (1585 Mannsdale Rd, Madison, MS 39110). Childcare will be provided. For more information, go to www.htacms.org.

Recently, The Aquila Report, a popular Reformed news site, published two articles by Presbyterians criticizing the custom of observing Lent, a traditional pre-Easter 40 day period of fasting (or giving up something significant in one's life). We will explore the articles’ objections and attempt to answer them.

1. D.G. Hart’s qualms over Lent

The first, written by D.G. Hart, an elder in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, is titled “Playing with Lenten Fire”, a provocative title showing how significant the issue is to Hart.

For Hart, one of the biggest problem with Lent is the matter of “liberty of conscience”. That is, the church has no right to tell people to abstain for a season from things that are good in themselves.

Another problem Hart has with Lent is its history within Roman Catholicism and the implicit belief that spiritual disciplines like fasting and self-denial merit God’s favor. “If.. Lent is to remind us of Christ, then we should also be reminded that nothing we do to attack sin can compare with what Christ accomplished in his own suffering and death,” he said.

The final problem Hart identifies is what he regards as Lent’s tendency to make mortification of self a 40-day a year exercise rather than a daily, 365 day a year exercise.

2. Ronald Barnes’ qualms over Lent

The second article, much longer, was written by PCA Pastor Ronald Barnes and is titled, “Why I Don’t Observe Lent”. Similar to Hart, Barnes begins by lamenting the fact that in the medieval Roman Catholic Church, Lent was a required fast, not voluntary. He also laments how historically Roman Catholics have viewed Lent as a means to merit favor with God.

Barnes also points out, citing numerous historical resources, that Lent was not practiced widely in the church until several centuries after Pentecost. He seems to be implying that if the earliest Christians could get by without it, so could the modern church.

In part 2, we will explore these objections in more depth.