Saturday, March 30, 2013

Theonas of Alexandria on the Importance of Sacred Scripture

Despite the claims of the Roman Church in reaction to the Reformation, there is an immense divide between Patristic piety and late Medieval spirituality. In the late Medieval church, reading of sacred Scripture was discouraged on behalf of the laity; it was done by some of the clergy, and even then only with the guidance of magisterial teaching. The following quote from the 4th century Alexandrian bishop Theonas which is representative of the place which Scripture held in the church prior to the Middle Ages,

"Let no day pass by without reading some portion of Sacred Scripture, at such convenient hours as offers, and giving some space to meditation. And never cast off the habit of reading in the Holy Scriptures; for nothing feeds the soul and enriches the mind so well as those sacred studies do." Epistle to Lucianus IX.

This is advice that we would be wise to accept.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Sermons now available on Itunes

Some people have been asking, and my sermons are now available on itunes. The name of the podcast is "Proclaiming Law and Gospel." I will have my sermon from Sunday available in the next couple of days. Get the podcast here.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Athenagoras and Iconography

Because I have an interest in Patristic studies, I have occasionally been asked why I'm Lutheran rather than Eastern Orthodox; it is claimed that the Eastern church is consistent with the Patristic tradition, but the Lutheran church is not. Well, there are various reasons why I wouldn't join the Orthodox church including a denial of sola fide and sola gratia, but among these reasons is the Patristic tradition itself.

I understand the desire to have some kind of consistent theology between the early church and the contemporary church. The Eastern Orthodox do this by claiming to have identical doctrine with the Church Fathers. The Roman Catholics used to do it by professing a "unanimous consensus" among the fathers. Thomas Oden tries to do it today by arguing the Protestant distinctives are found in the majority of the fathers.

The problem is that there is no monolithic teaching of the church fathers, though it is my contention that all of the doctrines found in the Book of Concord can be found in Patristic writings. And, there are certain teachings that are unanimous among the fathers such as baptismal regeneration and the conviction that salvation can be lost.

Nonetheless, while many Eastern Orthodox teachings can be found in the fathers, or at least certain fathers, the teachings of the Eastern Church on iconography are not found in the earliest sources, which actually argue against such a view.

In the Eastern Church, icons are sacramental. They serve as windows into heaven when blessed by an Orthodox priest, and should be venerated by the faithful. This includes both images of Christ and of the Theotokos and the saints.

One of the early apologists for the Christian faith, Athenagoras demonstrates that this teaching was absent from the early church. One of the primary arguments that Athenagorus uses throughout this book is that the Christian God cannot be contained in images made by human hands. Within this polemic, he attacks the use of images by pagans in the Roman Empire, arguing against using them as instruments of worship. One would think that if images were used in worship, this would have been brought up, and would have actually hurt the point that Athenagorus was making. But he makes no such qualification that images could be used for veneration rather than worship, etc.

Well, an argument from silence doesn't prove the point, but there are some statements in Athenagoras that make his position more clear. One of the qualifications made by the Eastern Church is that they are not venerating images, but are venerating the saint or Christ behind the image. This flows from their doctrine of the images as windows into heaven.

Athenagoras understands this distinction, and when critiquing the Pagan version of image worship, he does not only critique the idea that images can't be worshiped, but also that they can be used as objects to worship their representations. He condemns the following idea:

"[I]t is affirmed by some that, although these are only images, yet there exist gods in honour of whom they are made; and that the images are to be referred to the gods, and are in fact made to the gods; and that there is not any other way of coming to them." (A Plea for the Christians XVIII)

Now, to be clear I am not an iconoclast. I have icons in my office, and a crucifix on the altar in my church sanctuary. I think that these can be helpful things. However, what I disagree with is the idea of using images as objects of worship or veneration. It seems to be a consistent point in all of the early Apologists, when writing against paganism, that images are not used as objects of worship in the Christian faith.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Melito of Sardis on Christ as the Passover Lamb

One of the resources that I have used in preparing my sermons for Holy Week is a short treatise by the 2nd century bishop Melito of Sardis. Melito was an influential bishop from Anatolia. According to testimonies from men like Jerome and Origen he was a prolific and influential writer; unfortunately, only fragments of his works exist. His treatise on the Passover was suppressed for some time because Melito held the unpopular view that Easter was to be celebrated on the Jewish Passover. This is a great treatise very much worth reading. In this work, Melito expounds upon the nature of typology and demonstrates that Christ is the fulfillment of the Old Testament, especially in relation to the Passover. The full treatise can be found here. The following is a section from that work,

"When this one came from heaven to earth for the sake of the one who suffers, and had clothed himself with that very one through the womb of a virgin, and having come forth as man, he accepted the sufferings of the sufferer through his body which was capable of suffering. And he destroyed those human sufferings by his spirit which was incapable of dying. He killed death which had put man to death.

For this one, who was led away as a lamb, and who was sacrificed as a sheep, by himself delivered us from servitude to the world as from the land of Egypt, and released us from bondage to the devil as from the hand of Pharaoh, and sealed our souls by his own spirit and the members of our bodies by his own blood.

This is the one who covered death with shame and who plunged the devil into mourning as Moses did Pharaoh. This is the one who smote lawlessness and deprived injustice of its offspring, as Moses deprived Egypt. This is the one who delivered us from slavery into freedom, from darkness into light, from death into life, from tyranny into an eternal kingdom, and who made us a new priesthood, and a special people forever.

This one is the passover of our salvation. This is the one who patiently endured many things in many people: This is the one who was murdered in Abel, and bound as a sacrifice in Isaac, and exiled in Jacob, and sold in Joseph, and exposed in Moses, and sacrificed in the lamb, and hunted down in David, and dishonored in the prophets.

This is the one who became human in a virgin, who was hanged on the tree, who was buried in the earth, who was resurrected from among the dead, and who raised mankind up out of the grave below to the heights of heaven.

This is the lamb that was slain. This is the lamb that was silent. This is the one who was born of Mary, that beautiful ewe-lamb. This is the one who was taken from the flock, and was dragged to sacrifice, and was killed in the evening, and was buried at night; the one who was not broken while on the tree, who did not see dissolution while in the earth, who rose up from the dead, and who raised up mankind from the grave below."

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Alcuin of York

It is an unfortunate fact in the study of church history that the early medieval period has been completely ignored. The time from the death Gregory (aprox. 600 A.D.) through the beginning of the scholastic period (aprox. 1100 A.D)is skipped over because there were no major theological advancements. In this period, the Western Church largely still followed Augustine, and not much theology was formulated beyond the words of Scripture and various compendiums of Patristic thought.

There were some extremely interesting disputes and figures within these so-called "dark ages." There were debates about the nature of Christ's presence in the Eucharist (between Ratramnus and Radbertus), the nature of predestination and the atonement (the Gottschalk controversy) as well as certain figures who challenged developments in the medieval church which went beyond Scripture (Claudius of Turrin for example). One figure who was influential in this period was Alcuin of York.

Alcuin was an 8th century British monk, writer, and teacher. He taught at the cathedral school at the time of Charlemagne, who he soon befriended. Alcuin became Charlemagne's chief theological adviser. His life was public, being both an ecclesiastical and political figure. Alcuin's writings were primarily influenced by the great bishop of Hippo, St. Augustine, as well as his British predecessor, the venerable Bede. He also drew heavily upon the writings of Gregory the Great.

Alcuin was most importantly, a devoted student of Scripture. Biblical allusion and quotation is abundant in his writings. There is most especially a devotion to the Psalter. Alcuin's methodology involved an intense study of the Biblical text, along with reference to various Patristic commentaries. In this way, my own preaching preparation is similar to that of Alcuin. Alcuin is also an important voice in the history of liturgics. Many of his prayer manuals became prominent in the medieval church, and some of his prayers were adopted at public worship services. It is likely that the celebration of All Saints day comes from Alcuin's influence.

Alcuin's works fill two volumes of the Patrologia Latina, and have unfortunately mostly not been translated into English. There is a small collection of writings and prayers which are available in English translation in the volume A Mind Intent on God by Douglas Dales. I have found this volume extremely edifying in my own life. Here is an example of Alcuin's prayer:

"Almighty Lord God, eternal and ineffable, without end or beginning: I confess you to be one in Trinity and threefold in unity: I adore you alone; I praise you; I bless and glorify you. I give thanks to you, O merciful and compassionate one, that you have granted me to lay aside the treachery and error of my spiritual night, and enabled me to participate in your grace. I beg you, O Lord, to perfect in me the work of your mercy that you have begun. Grant me always to think, speak and do what is pleasing to you. Guard me always and everywhere with your gracious care; and enable me, unworthy and wretched as I am, to come at last to the vision of your glory." (pg. 11)

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Limited Atonement in Hebrews: A Continued Response to James White

On today's program, I continued the discussion of limited atonement by finishing my review of a lecture by Dr. James White on the subject. The discussion centered on the book of Hebrews, and the high priestly prayer of John 17.

Here is the program.

James White is director of Alpha and Omega ministries and elder at Phoenix Reformed Baptist Church. His website can be found here.

Why Interacting with Reformed Christians Can Sometimes be Frustrating

Because they say things like this.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Sermon on Isaiah 43:16-21

Listen here.

Thus says the Lord,
who makes a way in the sea,
a path in the mighty waters,
who brings forth chariot and horse,
army and warrior;
they lie down, they cannot rise,
they are extinguished, quenched like a wick:
“Remember not the former things,
nor consider the things of old.
Behold, I am doing a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
and rivers in the desert.
The wild beasts will honor me,
the jackals and the ostriches,
for I give water in the wilderness,
rivers in the desert,
to give drink to my chosen people,
the people whom I formed for myself
that they might declare my praise.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Important Note for those Involved in the Lutheran/Reformed Debates

A lot of my time on this blog has been spent on dialoguing with Reformed theology, describing the differences between Lutheran and Reformed theology, and explaining why I believe Lutheranism to be the right side of the Reformation to be on. This has been of interest to me because of my Reformed background, and because several of my closest friends are still Reformed. I have talked to several readers, close to two dozen, who have become Lutheran partially through reading this blog and my articles. For that, I am extremely grateful.

I want to say that I will be stepping back from this discussion in the near future. I have written a book on the subject, which I am now editing and waiting to hear back from a publisher. Once this work is done, it will likely be my final word on the subject for some time.

I wanted to make this public so that I would give my readers and listeners time to ask me questions on this subject before I move on to other things. There are likely many questions that I have left unanswered at this point. Some people have tried to organize debates with Reformed scholars on these subjects, but nothing has worked out yet. Perhaps something will in the future. Now would be the time to do this.

I won't ever completely abandon this aspect of my studies, but there are others areas which are much more interesting to me; primarily in Patristic theology and the doctrine of justification. At some point this will become the focus of what I do my writing and podcasting on.

And to be perfectly honest, much of the reason that I am ready to move on is that, quite frankly, I'm tired. It's no secret that the Reformed internet community can be quite vicious. (This is the case of course with any internet community) I can only have these arguments for so long before I need a serious break. I simply can't deal with people telling me that Lutherans are Arminians, that I deny sola fide by being sacramental, or that I must be a heretic because I can't say with absolute certainty that the Pope is going to hell. Perhaps I will come back to this later in life, but one can only take so much of these types of hostile discussions.

For all who have been such a huge support as I have written on these topics, I want to say thank you.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Who was the real St. Patrick?

When most people think of St. Patrick's Day, they think about one of two things. 1. An excuse to drink a lot of beer, or 2. Legends about Patrick driving away snakes from Ireland, and using the shamrock to describe the Trinity.

Well, neither of those two things have anything to do with the actual, historical St. Patrick. But the real story is much better than legend. Patrick was a fifth century Christian, missionary, and bishop. We have three surviving works from his pen including a letter, a hymn, and most importantly his autobiography known as the Confessions of St. Patrick.

In this small autobiography, Patrick tells the remarkable story of how he was called by God to spread the gospel among the Irish. Patrick grew up in England, and as a child was captured as a slave by men from Ireland. Growing up, Patrick was familiar with the Christian faith but was not personally devoted to it. In captivity, Patrick began to think about the Christian faith, and was converted. He had a dream one night, telling him to go to a certain area where he would find a boat. Patrick looked for this boat the next day, found it, and escaped. He eventually made it back to his homeland.

While in Britain, Patrick became a deacon, and eventually a bishop. As a bishop he had a desire to go back to those who had captured him years before and bring them the gospel. He was almost hindered from this task by certain people who challenged Patrick's validity as a bishop due to some sin that he committed as a boy. (Legalists have been around for a long time!) Eventually this issue was settled, and Patrick was sent to the Irish people. He allowed himself to be captured, and preached the gospel to his captors, and eventually, throughout Ireland. Because of the gospel that Patrick preached, the nation was converted to the Christian faith.

Patrick's faith is summarized in his own works with a creed. This may be a personal creed, or it may have been used liturgically in the Irish church. Here is the creed:

Because there is no other God
nor ever was nor will be in future days,
other than God who is unbegotten Father,
without beginning,
yet from whom is all beginning
and who holds all things in being
as we have come to learn;
and his Son Jesus Christ
Whom together with his Father
we bear witness, has most surely always existed
even before time began,
Begotten spiritually and present with the Father
in a manner beyond human words;
before all time began.
And through him have all things, seen and unseen,
been made,
then he himself was made man,
and once death had been overcome, he was received
into the heavens with his Father.
"And he has given him full power over every name
in the heavens, on earth
and in the depths beneath
so that every tongue shall confess to him
that Jesus Christ is our Lord and God."
It is he whom we believe
and we hope he will soon come again,
to be "judge of the living and dead
who will render each man according to his deeds."
And "he has poured out abundantly his Holy Spirit upon us,"
given as a pledge of our immortality.
Which the Holy Spirit makes us both believers,
obedient "children of God and equal heirs with Christ":
whom we confess and adore,
one God in the most holy named Trinity.

There are a few things we can learn from St. Patrick, and none of it has to do with bad analogies for the Trinity. First, we see the importance of a Trinitarian confession of faith. It was this Trinitarian confession which constituted the essence of Patrick's message which was proclaimed to the Irish people. Second, it shows us how God uses preaching to spread the gospel. So often the church is distracted, trying to act like the world to win converts. But Patrick, one man, simply proclaimed the gospel, and the word was efficacious. If we only preach the word, the Spirit will work through it. There is no need to make the gospel "attractive" with some kind of flashy show. The third thing the story of Patrick teaches us is that the office of the Papacy is not of the essence of the church, and was not viewed that way at this time. Since the founding of the Irish church in the 5th century, and about the 9th century, the Irish church had no connection to the Roman Church.

So why not take this St. Patrick's day to think about the message that Patrick preached? Instead of drinking, think about the glory of the Holy Trinity.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

History of the Papacy

Listen here.

On today's program I decided not to continue with the Limited Atonement discussion until next week, due to the important events occurring today. I spent the program talking about the office of the Papacy, it's history and how we should approach it today.

Sermon on 1 Corinthians 1:18-29

Listen Here.

For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written,

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”

Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

St. Ambrose on Law and Gospel

The following are quotes from St. Ambrose's treatise On Jacob and the Happy Life. This can be found in vol. 65 of CUA Press's The Fathers of the Church series.

"For the man who has been redeemed as a slave has his freedom, and as for the man who has been called as a free man, it is good for him to know that he is a slave of Christ, under whom servitude is safe and freedom secure...For in truth we are all freedmen of Christ, but no one is a free man; we have all been procreated in servitude...Don't you know that the guilt of Adam and Eve sold you into servitude? Don't you know that Christ did not buy you, but bought you back?" (Jacob and the Happy Life Book One, 3.12)

"What do you possess, moreover, that the Lord has not given you? He gave the law; He added His grace. The law denounced sin but in a hazardous situation could not entirely restrain it. For I became aware of sin that I did not know; I became aware that concupiscence was sin, and from the opportunity afforded by this knowledge the wages of sin have piled up. Sin, which before seemed dead by reason of my ignorance, gained a new life in me; but I died under the wound of sin, because the very knowledge of guilt that would help me, so it seemed, did me harm--I knew sin, but could not avoid it. For the knowledge revealed the sin, and, through the good which was that proclamation, it multiplied the malevolence of sin itself. And so I committed sin beyond measure, because it was multiplied by the proclamation of the commandment; guilt grows when it is revealed and precautions are not taken against it. How then is the commandment good, which for me is death? And how is it not death for me? For through the commandment's revealing the good which it symbolizes, sin has worked death in me. Indeed, it is certain that death came to me as long as I knew the sin that I did, just as the Lord Himself says, 'If I had not come and spoken to them, they would have no sin.'"(Jacob and the Happy Life Book One, 4.13)

"In this danger the one remedy is that the grace of God should free the man whom the law could not." (4.16)

"Yet for me it is not death, for I readily flee to Christ, through whom we are freed from every danger of death. Therefore the second proposition has also been settled, because the commandment of the law is not death for me, even though it works death. For we are troubled by reason of frailty, but we escape by reason of Christ." (4.16)

"The Lord Jesus comes to fix our passions to His cross and to forgive our sins. In His death we have been justified, so that the whole world might be made clean by His blood. Indeed, in His death we have been baptized. If, then, sins are forgiven us in His death, let the passions of our sins die in His death, let them be held fast by the nails of His cross. If we have died in His death, why are we called back again to worldly things as if we were alive to them? What have we to do with elements of the world, with desires, with luxury and wanton behavior? We have died to these in Christ. But if we have died in Christ, we have arisen in Christ; therefore let us dwell with Christ, let us seek with Christ the things that are above, not those that are earthly and corruptible. Christ, rising from the dead, left the old man fixed to the cross, but He raised up the new man." (5.17)

"We have died in the flesh, we have been renewed in the spirit. Let us walk in the spirit, because we have received the spirit of Christ. If then Christ is in us, let our flesh be dead by reason of sin, but let our spirit live by reason of justification." (5.17)

"The law did not prevail because it did not mortify the flesh; it passed by like a shadow, because it did not enlighten; it shaded us from the Sun of Justice, because it piled up offenses--therefore it was a hindrance." (5.17)

"We did not keep it; why was the other added to it, when the flesh could not have gained justification in the works of the other? A bond was acquired, not a release; there was added the recognition of sin, but not the forgiveness of it. We all sinned; we were able to present an excuse by way of ignorance--everyone's mouth has been blocked up." (6.20)

"Nevertheless, the law was of help to me. I began to confess what I used to deny, I began to know my sin and not to cover over my injustice. I began to proclaim my injustice to the Lord against myself, and you forgave the iniquities of my heart. But this too is of help to me, that we are not justified by works of the law. Thus I do not have the wherewithal to boast of myself, and so I will glory in Christ. I will not glory because I have been redeemed. I will not glory because I am free of sins, but because sins have been forgiven me. I will not glory because I am profitable or because anyone is profitable to me, but because Christ is an advocate in my behalf with the Father, because the blood of Christ has been poured out in my behalf. My guilt became for me the price of redemption, through which Christ came to me. On account of me, Christ tasted death." (6.21)

"You have died to sin, O man; thus the law is not a hindrance any more. You rise again through grace, and so the law was of help to me because it won grace. You have received also the pledge of the love of Christ, because Christ, who has died for you, is an advocate for you and is saving up the reward gained by His blood. He has reconciled the sinner to the Father." (6.21)

Saturday, March 9, 2013

St. Fulgentius of Ruspe

Saint who? It is unfortunate that many of our Patristic forebears have been lost on the contemporary church. Yes, we all know St. Augustine, Jerome, Irenaeus, and Athanasius, but there are several writers who deserve attention that they are not afforded. One such writer is a little known Augustinian theologian known as Fulgentius of Ruspe.

Fulgentius was a North African theologian and bishop who wrote in the late 5th and early 6th centuries. He was known as the "second Augustine", being the most prominent North African theologian since the death of the great bishop of Hippo, and an ardent defender of Augustine's doctrine of grace. The major focus of his works were the discussion of grace and free will against the semi-Pelagians, and upholding catholic Trinitarian theology against Arian sects.

Here are some notable quotes from Fulgentius' surviving works:

"Therefore, in the saints, God crowns justice which he has freely given them, freely preserved for them, and freely perfected in them. The wicked, however, he will condemn for their impiety or injustice, which he did not work in them. For in the former, he glorifies his own works; in the latter, he condemns works that are not his own." To Monimus, Book I, XIII.2

"We have no good works in us unless they come from God." To Monimus, Book I, IX.1

"Thus in whatever age of the present life, any sinner or evil person will be converted to God with his whole heart, he will immediately receive forgiveness for all his past sins." On the Forgiveness of Sins, XVIII, 4

"Therefore, the hearing of his voice now gives life to the dead, when he gives the grace of faith to those who do not believe and those whom he finds evil he makes good; affectionately he justifies sinners; mercifully he saves sinners; kindly he makes the blind see." On the Forgiveness of Sins, X, 3

"For a human being would never receive the grace of salvation from God if the communion of divine and human nature did not remain in the one person in Christ." To Donatus XVI, 25

"Holy Scripture has forewarned each and shown that neither ought we to remain in sin nor to doubt the forgiveness of any sin... For our God is just and merciful and good as he is infinite and unconquered. Accordingly, the goodness of the unconquered is not conquered and the mercy of the infinite knows no bounds." To Venantia, 10

"If God is merciful, he can forgive all sins. A goodness which does not conquer every evil is not a perfect goodness nor is a medicine perfect for which any disease is incurable." To Venantia, 4

If you are interested in reading more from this North African bishop, he works are compiled in Vol. 95 of CUA Press's the Fathers of the Church Series.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Response to James White on Limited Atonement

Response to James White

On today's program, I continued my refutation of Limited Atonement by responding to a lecture on the issue by Dr. James White. James White is a Reformed baptist theologian, apologist, and elder and the director of Alpha and Omega Ministries.

There were some issues with the sound, and my voice was sped up in some places. For someone who does Podcasting and blogging, I am not very technologically savvy, so I apologize for that.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Sermon: Luke 13:1-9

Listen here.

"There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”

And he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. And he said to the vinedresser, ‘Look, for three years now I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down. Why should it use up the ground?’ And he answered him, ‘Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and put on manure. Then if it should bear fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’”

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Why Should Christians Observe Lent?

Lent has been formally observed by Christians since the 4th century, but the practice of fasting, repentance, and prayer before Easter has been observed since at least the 2nd century according to the testimony of St. Irenaeus. Easter has always been a time of celebration for the church. On Easter we remember the victory that Christ won through his resurrection; we celebrate the fact that he overcame death, hell, and the devil by conquering the grave, as he burst forth from the tomb. But times of great joy in the Christian tradition, such as Easter or Christmas, are preceded by contemplation, repentance, and prayer.

The forty days in which fasting is practiced before Easter mirrors the forty days that Jesus spent in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-2). The practice of forty days of fasting goes back even farther, as both Moses (Exodus 34:28) and Elijah (1 Kings 19:8) used forty days as a means for spiritual preparation. In the same way that these great saints took time out of their lives to focus on prayer, and fasting, and in imitation of Christ, we too utilize this spiritual practice.

In certain traditions, fasting becomes legalistic. Certain churches, bishops, and pastors, require fasting for these forty days, and at times even dictate what your fast should be. Instead of a free decision, fasting becomes compulsory, it is made into a strict Law. This is opposed to the Gospel. St. Paul writes to the Colossians, “Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or new moon or a Sabbath.” (Colossians 2:16) We are no longer bound to a Law which dictates what we can and cannot eat or drink, or what days we need to celebrate. Those ordinances of the Old Testament were pictures of Christ, which no longer have any hold on us because Jesus has fulfilled them. We have freedom in Christ.

Does this mean that we shouldn't observe Lent because God doesn't require us to? We would do well to listen to the wisdom of St. Paul on this point. “ 'All things are lawful, but not all things are helpful.” (1 Corinthians 10:23) Even though we don't need to observe Lent, it is helpful to do so. As Christians for 2,000 years have used this time as a means to focus on repentance and fasting, we too would do well to do the same. Focusing on repentance, and taking time to meditate over our sin is helpful because it allows us to more fully understand the joys of Easter. A recognition of our sin always comes before the proclamation that our sins are forgiven. We only rejoice in God's forgiveness if we understand the truth of our great offenses against God.

There are different ways in which Lent can be observed. Some choose to fast from food from sun up to sun down; others choose to fast from a certain meal each week, or choose a 24 hour period to fast; many will give up some sort of habit or food that they usually indulge in. There are also spiritual practices which some take up such as praying the Psalms, setting aside a longer time of prayer than is normal during the rest of the year, or having a plan to read through more Scripture each day.

I would encourage you to observe Lent this year, not in a legalistic way, not because you have to; but do so because through it you will be edified, and through contemplation, prayer, and fasting, the Gospel will become even more joyous when it is proclaimed boldly on Easter morning.