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Steve Higginbotham, adapted

There's good reason why many Christians know very little about the "Lenten Season". Simply stated, the Bible nowhere speaks of a "Lenten Season", making this observance entirely an ordinance of man.

But, what's so wrong with observing a man-made religious memorial if it is rooted in such biblical principles as prayer, fasting, and alms-giving? Before answering that question, allow me to briefly explain what Lent is.

Lent is a period of 40 days of penance (which typically includes prayer, fasting, and alms-giving) in preparation for the celebration of Jesus' resurrection from the dead. Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of this 40-day-long Lenten period. On this day, participants in Lent have ashes placed on their foreheads in an effort to replicate the Old Testament practice of putting ashes on one's head, which was an expression of repentance. During these 40 days of Lent, Ash Wednesday, and every Friday are to be days of fasting.

Back to the question, "What's so wrong with observing a man-made religious memorial if it is rooted in such biblical principles as prayer, fasting, and alms-giving?" Here's my answer: This question assumes that the man-made religious ordinance of Lent is biblically rooted.

Consider the practice of placing ashes on the forehead which takes place on Ash Wednesday. Yes, I know that during Old Testament times, people would fast and put ashes on their Head, expressing their repentance through this outward display (Daniel 9:3). Does the practice follow the teaching of Jesus on this matter? Does Jesus want us to make a display and publicize our fasting? Allow him to speak to these questions: "Moreover, when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly" (Matthew 6:16-18).

Jesus commanded the exact opposite of what is practiced by the man-made observance of "Ash Wednesday". According to the man-made memorial, practitioners publicize their fasting and "dirty" their faces with ashes. Jesus said to fast privately, and wash your face. According to those who instituted Lent, fasting on Ash Wednesday and every Friday during the 40 days is a matter of obligation (Code of Canon Law, 1252). Grant it, authority to the conference of bishops to substitute another form of penance besides fasting (e.g. works of piety and charity) for the Friday abstinence rule is given, but there is still a requirement involved (Code of Canon Law, 1253).

Jesus constantly shook up the religious establishment of his day by disregarding their man made ordinances (Matthew 12:1-8; Mark 3:1-6), and even exposing how they had actually elevated some of their traditions above the word of God (Mark 7:1-13). The gospel that Jesus taught was a gospel free from the heavy burdens of man-made ordinances (Matthew 23:4), and the legalism of man-made obligations (Colossians 2:20-22). Rather than submitting ourselves to man-made ordinances, the Lord, through the apostle Paul commanded us to "Stand fast in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage" (Galatians 5:1). Christians should fast, pray, and give alms to the poor, but not under the auspices and strictures of "Lent," a man-made ordinance that actually violates the teachings of Jesus. Instead, why not "give up Lent for Lent" and fast, pray, and give alms within the context and freedom of the liberty and the teachings of Jesus?

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