What About Church Holy Days?

Some Christian churches observe Ash Wednesday and other activities during the season of Lent. Other churches teach that these practices are unbiblical. Who’s right? What’s the role of holy days and seasons in the Christian life?

First, here’s some historical background. People hear about things like Lent and they wonder, “Where did that come from? Is this something that Jesus instituted? Is it something the apostles did?” The answers to the last two questions are simple. No, Jesus did not institute Ash Wednesday or Lent. And, no, the apostle didn’t practice these things.

Lent probably evolved out of an ancient practice in the church. Around the third and fourth century, many people were baptized on Easter, and they’d get ready for baptism by devoting themselves to prayer and fasting. Lent likely evolved out of that.

Over time, more people in the church starting doing this and it became a tradition. So, it’s an extra- biblical tradition. It’s not something in the Bible. It developed later in the history of the church.

Ash Wednesday began sometime in the 10th or 11th century. It’s a tradition of putting ashes on people as as a sign of of death—the reality of death in light of the coming of Easter. So, the Lent tradition, which Ash Wednesday is part of, is like a journey toward Easter—the celebration of Christ’s resurrection.

I appreciate the emphasis on mortality. That’s something that people today need to think about more. We’re always trying to run away from the fact that we’re going to die. We don’t want to deal with that truth. So, Ash Wednesday reminds us of something really important.

But is this something that Christians should practice?

In one sense, we believe that every Sunday is an Easter Sunday. We gather together on Sunday as Christians because that’s the day that Jesus rose from the dead. Every time we gather we’re proclaiming that Christ died and that he’s risen from the dead. One ritual that the Bible does clearly give us is the Lord’s Supper, and the apostle Paul says, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Cor. 11:26).

So, we really don’t need additional days to celebrate what we already celebrate every week.

But does that make Lent a bad thing? Not necessarily. It’s important, though, that churches don’t impose it on people. If it’s not something commanded in Scripture, then the church can’t force people to practice it. If they do, the ministers are abusing their authority.

Individual Christians, though, can make the choice for themselves. There’s freedom in Christ. The Apostle Paul said, “One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God” (Rom. 14:5–6).

So, there’s freedom, and we shouldn’t look down on Christians who do things differently than we do. We have freedom in Christ to fast or to not fast.

But we have to be careful. One other concern I have is with the invention of worship practices. God really cares about how he’s worshipped. With regard to Ash Wednesday and other traditions that develop outside of Scripture, we want to make sure that we’re doing it in a way that honors the Lord and stays faithful to the kind of worship God commands in His Word.

Adriel Sanchez

Published by Intentional Faith

Devoted to a Faith that Thinks

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