Exodus

Lent, Ligon Duncan, and Legalism

Lent, Ligon Duncan, and Legalism

Collin Hansen wrote an article for the Gospel Coalition entitled Should You Cancel Good Friday? which has brought to the attention of many a conversation they have never had before. What is Lent? Why celebrate it?

As a committed Protestant, I am committed to the Church Calendar, not because I want to be a slave to it, but because I am aware of its inevitability. We all follow some calendar. The question is which calendar? I ask that question because Protestantism is grounded in a Trinitarian view of the world. In its best expression it does not isolate ideas; it brings ideas together to form a coherent system.

I suggest that Lent is highly Trinitarian. As the Trinity is a communion of love, so Lent provides a means to express that love to one another in the community. Where sins are confronted and battled, there you find a vigorous Trinitarian community and vision. Lent is service to the community by giving us a season of determined battle against sin for the sake of our neighbors.

It offers a vision of history that undergirds the biblical history and that reflects the normal routines, liturgies, and rituals of human beings. Lent is a form of restructuring our lives. All Christians need a re-structuring of order in their own lives. All Christians need to re-balance and re-form areas where there is disproportionate indifference. We all undergo a Psalmic journey of lamentation and feasting. Lent draws us into this journey.

In essence, Lent reveals the God who suffers in the Person of Jesus Christ. God’s image-bearers are formed from the dust of a fallen Adam to the glorification of the risen Final Adam. To disconnect Lent from the Church Calendar is to disparage history.

It is true we live in the age of an ascended Lord, but this same Lord guides a Church that is still broken, suffering, and healing from brokenness and suffering again and again. The removal of Lent is to proclaim an over-realized eschatology.

It is true that Lent can be abused, and history teaches us that it has. But it is also true, as Luther so memorably stated, “the abuse of something is not an argument against its proper use.” So if Lent can be proven to be profitable, then is there a legitimate way to benefit from it without falling into some its former abuses. Protestant Christians are not bound by Romish structures of food or rituals. We use wisdom in forming healthy habits for a Church and individuals while not binding the Church or the individual to a particular habit.

Lent and Wilderness

Lent teaches us that Satan’s gifts are easy to master. They come with first grade instruction manuals. They are made to be mastered quickly and enjoyed rapidly (fornication, drugs, alcohol; various temptations). God’s gifts are a little harder to master. They require self-control and patience. They anticipate spiritual growth; they demand a kingly attitude to grasp kingly wisdom. God’s instructions mean you have to seek others in the community to understand them properly. You have to exercise and express a theology of patience built into a theology of blessings.

In the wilderness, a garden stripped of colors, fruit, and water, Jesus faced the devil again in a re-match. He knew well that temptation had a triumphant history of subtly winning arguments. Jesus wasted no time and rebuked temptation. just like He would do with the demons and the demonic-like religious teachers of the day.

We are not to sit in temptation’s classroom. God already said we are to flee it; to rebuke it with the only source of authority that is permanent and stamped with divine truth.

The Church finds herself in a wilderness scenario. She is stripped of her former glory. But she is destined to journey from glory to glory like her Lord and Master. As in Luke four, we need to sit in Yahweh’s school house. We need to be instructed by the two-edged sword that muzzles the Tempter and tells him to not come back again. He is not welcome and neither are his offers.

Lent offers us a 40 day class on temptations and the glories and rewards of resisting it.

But Why 40 Days?

Lent follows the temptations of Jesus in the wilderness. His fasting for 40 days speaks to the evil and the hardness of heart of the Israelites who succumbed to the Serpent’s whispers. So as the Church walks with Jesus from wilderness to Golgotha she re-lives the messianic journey. The 40 days are symbolic for that wilderness testing, and as a result it is chronologically set before the Great Paschal Feast, commonly referred to as Easter.

Should Lent be Observed?

Ligon Duncan and others in the Southern Presbyterian tradition argue that Lent has a history based on merit. Lent was a way to earn something. The Reformation fixed this soteriological error, and therefore Lent is no longer to be observed.

Duncan and others also go on to say that celebrating Easter and Christmas offer no such harm (he also believes that a National Holiday like Thanksgiving is also a uniquely American holiday to be celebrated). There is no doubt Easter and Christmas, and even Thanksgiving–to a lesser degree–offer wonderful benefits. But the question and the opening presupposition is that Lent is not biblical therefore it should not be practiced in the Church. If that is the case, then the question is not whether one day (or Season) is more beneficial than the other, but rather is it explicitly stated in the Bible or not? If the “explicit reference” argument is used, then Duncan will have to conclude that this is faulty reasoning.

I concur with Vance Freeman that “each of his (Duncan’s) reasons for not observing Lent are undercut by the observance of Christmas and Easter.” Mr. Freeman also concludes:

The biggest threat to Christianity today is not the church in Rome, or that Americans are prone to elevate traditional Christian rituals, like Lent, over discipleship. The biggest threat to the church is that our rituals are increasingly only secular ones. We are Americans before we are Christians. Super Bowl Sunday not only competes with the Lord’s Day, it dominants it. And when we relegate the Christian life to a mere facet of our American lives we fall into Moral Therapeutic Deism.

The formation of godly habits is the issue at hand. In other words, is there an adequate time of the year where the Church should have an explicit focus on the cross of Jesus and how that cross must shape our understanding of sin? Is there room for setting aside a season for a cruciform hermeneutic? I believe there is.

As Peter Leithart so ably summarizes:

Lent is a season for taking stock and cleaning house, a time of self-examination, confession and repentance.  But we need to remind ourselves constantly what true repentance looks like.  “Giving up” something for Lent is fine, but you keep Lent best by making war on all the evil habits and sinful desires that prevent you from running the race with patience.

If this is true, then Lent serves an enormously important role in the life of the Christian. Naturally, to quote Luther’s first thesis, “the Christian life is a life of daily repentance.” A faithful understanding of the Lord’s Service provides that for us weekly. However, an extended period where our sins are deeply brought to our attention by the preaching of the Word and prayer (and fasting) are regularly considered, practiced and meditated upon can provide great benefits for all Christians on each Lord’s Day and throughout the week.

The legalism concern is legitimate. We are all tempted to fall into this trap, but it does not have to be so. If we view Lent as a time to additionally focus our attention on mortifying our sins and killing those habits that so easily entangle us, we can then consider the cross in light of the resurrection, not apart from it. If we do so, Lent will become legalism’s greatest enemy and repentance’s best friend.

Exhortation: The Ten Words

We are going to hear this morning a reading of the Ten Commandments, or more appropriately, The Ten Words. The Commandments have an appropriate place in the life of the Christian; especially in this Lenten Season. In Exodus, the Law was given to an infant generation. Israel was still very beginning to know her role in the world as God’s people. The purpose of this law was to make Israel a distinct people; a distinct nation of royal priests–a nation whose purity would be spoken of throughout all generations. The Law of God serves this same function today, though it has been transformed through the resurrection of Jesus. We are not Old Israel, we are New Israel. And this means that we have newer responsibilities and a greater ability through the Spirit of God to keep these commandments.

As we consider this morning our sins, and as we confess them as a congregation and individually, we are called to consider our conscious sins and our sins of ignorance. We have sinned against a Holy God, and we confess these things because the God who gave us His holy laws, also became our perfect sacrifice in Jesus Christ to cleanse, forgive, and renew us to be the people God has called us to be.

Prayer: Our God, your law is sweeter than honey, than honey from the comb. Keep us from all sin that we might not be ruled by them, but rather overcome them by the power of Christ, our crucified and risen Lord, Amen.

bin Laden dead

Thy right hand, O Jehovah, Is become honourable in power; Thy right hand, O Jehovah, Doth crush an enemy.

Exhortation: Providence Church, Pray with Your Eyes Open, Part I

Call to Worship:

Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us,
and establish the work of our hands upon us;
yes, establish the work of our hands!

Salutation:   Pastor: In the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit!

People: Amen!

The Lord be with you!                             Ruth 2:4

And also with you!

Our help is in the Name of Yahweh,       Psalm 124:8

Who made heaven and earth!

Exhortation:

I would like to begin this week and the next two Lord’s Days with exhortations on the topic of prayer.

Richard Pratt in his wonderful book Pray With Your Eyes Open calls the Christian Church to defend our petitions before God on the basis of God’s promises. If there is one thing this morning that we are all guilty of is the fact that we do not pray enough. You may feel like you pray as much as you get around, but do you feel that your prayer for your children is consistent with your love for your children? How about your prayer for you espouse? How about your prayer for your Church?

One of the most foolish arguments I have ever heard against the Reformed faith is the argument that “If God is in control of everything then why do I need to pray?” Now I do not deny that perhaps some in the Reformed faith fall for this type of thinking, but the reality is that the Bible’s view is that God is in control and that is precisely why you pray. Our belief in God’s sovereignty ought to encourage us to pray.

I want to stress that the God of Scriptures is not an emotionless, unmoved Mover. Rather He is fully engaging and willing to interact with His chosen people in prayer and he calls us to do this over and over.

We see a clear example of this in Exodus 32. Moses is up on the mountains and the people are at the foot of the mountain dancing, drinking uncontrollably, singing and feasting to a false God.  Yahweh is ready to wipe them out and then Moses jumps in the picture.

What does Moses do? Moses pleads with God so that God will not destroy the nation of Israel. Moses is engaged with God and seeks to convince God for what he is looking for and what He wants. Brothers and Sisters, we do not believe in fatalism, we believe in Providence and providence is relational.

Moses comes to God and asks God not to destroy Israel on the basis of His promises. What are these promises?

a)      First, Moses appeals to God on the basis of His love for the people of Israel. Moses’ prayer was: “Lord this is your people; the apple of your eye. Do not destroy them.”

b)      Secondly, Moses says that if God destroys the Israelites, then the Egyptians will laugh at God’s people. And when the enemies laugh at God’s people, God is not glorified as He should.

c)      Finally, Moses appeals unto God on the basis of His promise to multiply the seed of Abraham. Moses says in essence, “ Yahweh, what about your plans to make the nations your inheritance. What about your plans to fulfill your Word? Those people at the foot of the mountain, they are Abraham’s seed. Preserve them, O God!”

What does God do? Does He wipe Moses out for being so bold? No! The answer to this prayer is that God relented from the disaster He had spoken and did not destroy the people of Israel. God’s response was “Moses, you understand my Word!”

For us this morning, when was the last time we prayed on the basis of God’s promises to love the people of God, to not be mocked by wicked nations and to fill the earth with His glory? What if we began praying not by giving God a list, but by reminding God of His covenant promises? What if our prayers were like the rainbow after the flood, which served as a perpetual reminder unto God that He will never destroy the earth? What if we prayed with Biblical eyes? Let us Pray.

Prayer: Our Father and our God, remember your love for us, O Lord. You have promised to care for us. Remember your glory, O Lord. Let not Your enemies mock your people, but rather give victory to your Church. And remember, O Lord to fulfill your promises to multiply the seed of Abraham through your beloved Son. Remember and bring to pass Your will on earth as it is in Heaven.

Confession of Sin (The congregation is invited to kneel if able)

Unison: Most merciful God, we confess to you that we are by nature sinful and unclean, and that we are most miserably helpless before our adversaries. We have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed; not only in outward transgressions, but also in secret thoughts and desires that we are not able to understand, but which are all known to you. For these reasons, we flee for refuge to your infinite mercy, seeking and imploring forgiveness and deliverance through our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Silent Prayer.