Is Lent Biblical?
The Discussion between Ann & Pastor is continuing. Today’s discussion is on “Is Lent Biblical?”
(Ann’s home. Pastor rings the bell and Ann opens the door and pastor enters.)
Ann: Welcome and take a seat.
Pastor: I am the new senior Pastor here. My assistant pastor and other people in the church told me that you proved that all faith and practices of the Malankara Orthodox church are as per the Bible and that you have a vegetarian diet. Some naïve members of our church thought your advices are truthful and joined the Malankara Orthodox Church. I want to talk about this. This is why I came here. I hope you don’t mind.
Ann: No, absolutely no problem. I am glad we can discuss about this. It is true that we pray and observe Lents. But I am not a Biblical scholar as you think. As far as I am concerned, there is no need for that. Because I go to a true church, established by the apostles and the church belongs to God and church is the authority. So I learn what the church teaches and obey its teachings and practices. But I have picked up some knowledge from the Sunday School and from the teachings of the priests. Nothing more than that. Any way what exactly did you want to know?
Pastor: See, you cannot say that a person, if he or she eats some meat or fish, that he or she is doing a sin. Can you? Look at the parable of lost son which our Lord said. It is written that a fattened calf was slaughtered to celebrate the return of the lost son.
Ann: Who said that one can’t eat meat or fish?
Pastor: But you said that you are observing lent, without eating meat or fish?
Ann: Yes, that is true. Now it is the lent time. So I observe lent. I am just obeying the commands of the Holy Church.
Pastor: Has our Lord commanded that way? He has not. He has specifically told us “It is not what enters ones mouth that defiles that person; but what comes out of the mouth is what defiles one” (Mathew 15:11). Given this case, isn’t lent a foolish act?
Ann: Dear pastor, I know that you talk without studying the faith and practices of the apostolic church. Don’t you think it is a little too much to call the practices of the holy church un-biblical and foolish? After all you know this church existed for 2000 years and every thing we learned is from the apostles, not from some one who claimed he knows how to interpret the Bible. (There by that person claims infallibility too)
Pastor: What else can I call about an act that is not biblical ?
Ann: We will examine if it is biblical. So anything that goes into the mouth does not defile him nor make him a sinner. Right?
Pastor: no, surely not. That is what the biblical verse says.
Ann: Adam and Eve ate the fruit from the tree in the middle of Eden. So the fruit went to the belly through the mouth. Isn’t it? Was it a sin?
Pastor: (Silence, stares to a distance)
Ann: Why you are keeping mum? Nothing to say? Then don’t. So the biblical verse is ‘what comes from mouth will defile him and is a sin. Is that right?
Pastor: Yes, ” but what comes out of the mouth is what defiles one.” That is the command of the Lord.
Ann: Ok. Prayers and praise to God are also coming from the mouth. The songs, prayers, and speeches that you do also come from the mouth. Do you do those vicious sins daily? Does it defile you?
Pastor: (Silent. Looks elsewhere)
Ann: Why are you not talking any thing. Nothing to say? Here is what our Lord said in those verses. His disciples ate without washing their hands and that broke Jewish tradition. So the Jews criticized it. And our Lord gave this apt reply “It is not what enters ones mouth that defiles that person; but what comes out of the mouth is what defiles one.” Now you take that verse and try to prove against lent which our Lord instituted and the apostles practiced. Amazing. All our Lord meant was that, eating without washing hands, though not hygienically good, does not affect the soul. Specially our Lord said that “For from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, unchastity, theft, false witness, blasphemy. These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile” (Mathew 15:20)
Pastor: Isaiah 58:6 explains what is fasting or Lent. “This, rather is the fasting that I wish: releasing those bound unjustly, untying the things of the yoke; Setting free the oppressed breaking every yoke;” How is this verse relate to the way you observe Lent?
Ann: Read the next verse also.
Pastor: “Sharing your bread with the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and the homeless; Clothing the naked when you see them, and not turning your back on your won”
Ann: If you read the verse 3,4,5 then you can see that one who observes Lent condemn the one who does not observe the Lent. So these verses condemn the people who literally observes fasting without bringing themselves to a spiritual submission. It really talks about the bad ways of observing a Lent and advices how to observe a fasting as per God will. It does not talk against lent. It instructs how to observe it.
Pastor: I agree. Our Lord fasted for 40 days, totally taking no food at all. You observe it by not eating a few things like meat, fish, and egg etc. But you eat a stomach full of other things. Is this the lent as per the Bible? The Christian life is about repentance, prayer, and fellowship with the saved ones. So by observing lent for a few days what is the use?
- our Lord observed Lent for 40days.
- Moses observed Lent for 40 days and received the commandments from LORD. (Exodus 34:28).
- Elisha observed lent for 40 days and taken to heaven. (1 Kings 19:8)..
- The people of Nineve observed lent for 3 days and were saved from the wrath of God. ( Jonah 3:6).
- Esther describes in chapter 4, that during the time of Ahasuerus, that all Jews observed lent for 3 days and were saved from the death.
- Prophet Daniel observed lent by praying and fasting for the Jewish people (Daniel 9:3-21)
- Ezra received blessing from God when she observed Lent. (Ezra 8:23)
- Nehemiah observed lent and received blessing from God (Nehemiah 1:4)
- “Proclaim a fast, call an assembly; Gather the elders, all who dwell in the land , Into the house of the LORD, your God and cry to the LORD.
In all these versus our Patriarch’s and our LORD observed the Lent. Though the number of days varied, in all these cases, God favored and blessed the people who observed the Lent.
Pastor: I agree. But they all observed Lent in complete fasting; not just abstained from fish, meat, and egg.
Ann: True. But you agree that Lent is necessary and is Biblical. But it should be complete fasting not by abstaining from some foods. Is this what you are saying?
Pastor: Yes. The kind of Lent that you observe now is created by some of your bishops and some synods. It is not Biblical.
Ann: We can discuss this now. Our Lord, Moses, and Eliajah observed lent for 40days. While others mentioned in the list above observed it for only 3 days. And in 1 Samuel 7:6 it says that the Israelites observed Lent for only one day. So can you agree that observing Lents for different time frames is biblical?
Ann: So we can now analyze the food part. Let us read Daniel 1:8-12 . These verses describe that Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah only ate vegetables and water not taking wine and king’s food.
Pastor: But in those days they were not observing lent.
Ann: They change their diet. They did not eat the King’s food. Instead, they ate only vegetables and drank water.
Pastor: Why is that? How is this related to Lent?
Ann: I will explain. “In those days, I Daniel mourned three full weeks. I ate savory food. I took no meat or wine and I did not anoint myself at all until the end of the three weeks. “ (Daniel 10:2). Joel also says that “Yes even now says the LORD, return to me with your whole heart with fasting, and weeping and mourning: Rend your hearts not your garments and return to the LORD, your God” (Joel 2:12). He also says “Proclaim a fast …and cry to the LORD”. Lent was described as a mourning time. Daniel during his three weeks of Lent, didn’t eat any savory food or wine. So we can see that everyone observed Lent different in food and days, according to their ability.
Pastor: What is the spiritual benefit of not eating some food, but eating some others?
Ann: The greatest of all, born from a woman, John the Baptist avoided meat and fish. Hananiah and others avoided savory foods and ate only vegetables. Daniel avoided wine and the King’s food. When some one observes Lent by avoiding certain foods, its benefit is seen in those people who observe it.
Pastor: What is your church’s command on this?
Ann: There are 7 commands from the Holy Church. Of these three are for Lents. They are:
1. Observe all the Lents of the Church
2.Observe Wednesday and Friday as Lents. (except a few Wednesdays and Fridays)
3.During these days, you should not marry.
Regarding how to observe the Lents
- One should fast (avoiding all food) during the times of Lent till evening or at least till 3PM
- If some one is unable to do so, he has to fast till noon.
- If that is also not possible he has to avoid, meat, fish, milk and eggs and has to spent time in prayers and prostrating
- Every one who observe lent has to do more spiritual deeds.
- Everyone has to confess and partake in Holy Communion.
(There are others also, which I have added at the end.)
Pastor: What is the New Testament proofs for all this?
Ann: There are lots of them
1.“She [Anna] never left the temple, but worshipped night and day with fasting and prayer” (Luke 2:37)
2.Matthew 4th chapter describes our Lord’s observance of lent for 40days and His win over Satan.
3.Our Lord commands how to observe Lent in Matthew 6:16 . “When you fast do not look gloomy like hypocrites……… But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you may not appear to be fasting, except to your Father who see what is hidden will repay you”
4.Our Lord teaches that the church should observe Lent till He come back. “The days will come when the bridegroom is taken from them, and then they will fast” (Matthew 9:15)
5.Acts 13:2 says that the Christians at Antioch has been fasting and worshiping the Lord.
6.“The completing their fasting and prayer, they laid hands on them and sent them off” (Acts 13:3)
There is more. But isn’t this enough now?
Pastor: Enough. But give me the proof that that the apostles and early church observed the Lent.
Ann: Yes. I just quoted Acts 13:2,3. Besides Paul said “Much time had now passed and sailing had become hazardous because the time of the fast had already gone by..”
So Paul says that the time which church observes the lent has passed. So from this we can understand that Lent was prevalent in the church and certain days were designated as Lent times. That is why Paul uses those times to refer to certain period of time. (Like seasons).
Pastor: I agree that there are lots of proof in the Bible to show that Lent is biblical. But with out repentance, many just observe Lent by changing their diet. Isn’t it against the notion of the Lent?
Ann: We observe Lent, to have repentance and for spiritual cleaning. We have to observe the Lent both externally and spiritually. “Faith with out works is useless” (James 2:20). In our prayer in the Lent, we pray that “without cleaning our mind, observing Lent just by avoiding food is useless”.
Pastor: I agree.
Ann: It is sad that you are not observing Lent, though commanded by our Lord, apostles and early church fathers. Since 3 of the 7 church commands refer to lent, can you imagine the importance of Lent that the church has placed on it. I request that you observe the lent. It is biblical. It is pleasant to God. It is what our church fathers did and taught. It is necessary for the spiritual cleanliness and for winning over earthly pleasures. It is also necessary for witnessing the Christian love.
In the Jewish church the lent was a common practice. “This shall be an everlasting ordinance for you; …. You shall mortify himself and shall do no work. Since this day of atonement is made for you to make you clean, so that you may be cleansed of all your sins before the LORD, by everlasting ordinance it shall be most solemn Sabbath for you , on which you must mortify yourselves.” (Leviticus 16:29-31). On the Lent days one was forbidden to eat or drink or massage oil in hair or take bath or marry.
Pastor: I hear that some people observe special Lent for certain needs?
Ann: That is true. Lents are observed for a country, for a community or for general repentance and blessings from God
1.The Isralites observed lent after the internal war with the Benjamin tribe. (Judges 20;26)
2.Some observed Lent as an atonement. Samuel had the Israelites observe the lent as they had prayed to a foreign god.
3.Lent is observed for remission of sins (Nehemiah 9:1). The people of Nineveh received grace of God by their lent.
4.For receiving the revelations from God. Moses observed Lent and received the commandments from God. Daniel in Babylon observed lent for his and his forefather’s sins and waited for the revelation from God. He received this message by angel: “Daniel, I have now come to give you understanding . When you began your petition, an answer was given which I have come to announce, because you are beloved”.
So it is a truth that when you observe lent, your body weaken, you gain more control over your body and this will increase your spiritual powers. Therefore I beg you to observe the Lent.
Pastor: I am very glad, Ann. I think you have made a Malankara Orthodox Christian. I learned that observing Lent has only benefits. I am glad I was able to learn this. Let us pray.
Ann: Let us pray. (prays)
Pastor: I have to go now. See you later