Wednesday, February 22, 2012

When Did "Lent" Become Protestant?

Since my kids are home on school vacation this week, I have been able to check some of the blogs I used to read with regularity. Along with Facebook posts, I have noticed a surprisingly high number of "devotionals" and essays about Lent, Ash Wednesday, and how the respective authors plan to observe this liturgical season.

All of said authors are Protestants, and most would claim allegiance to Reformed theology. What I'm trying to figure out is this: when, and more importantly why, did "Lent" become part of the spiritual landscape for Bible-believing Christians?

I'm not knocking the observance as a spiritual discipline, mind you. If someone finds a way to draw closer to Christ, more power to him (or her). I'm just genuinely confused as to why a born-again believer feels the need to "give up" something at a particular time of year in order to increase intimacy with Christ....when the whole premise of the Christian faith rests on the completed work on the Cross (and daily obedience to the Lord's commands.) An article in Christianity Today, which, once upon a time, was a Protestant Evangelical magazine, begins thus:
There is something decidedly public about Ash Wednesday. Walking around all day with a gash of gray ash across one's forehead—this is among the most visible Christian things I do each year. This is a rare day when I cannot and could not hide my Christian commitments and my Christian aspirations, even if I wanted to.

This year, I will be joining many Episcopal priests in taking the public witness of Ash Wednesday one step further. On Wednesday, my colleague Catherine Caimano and I will put on cassocks and surplices, and go to a corner near Duke University Hospital with small containers of ashes and copies of a litany of repentance from the Book of Common Prayer. We will offer "the imposition of ashes" to people in the street.
This whole mindset seems to fly in the face of Matthew 6:6, which discourages such showy displays of public "piety": But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

More importantly, however, is the fact that in terms of devotion to Christ, we should be seeking to live in holiness all the time. Boxing obedience into a six-week period every year contradicts what the whole Christian life is supposed to be about: picking up our cross daily, in joyful obedience to the One Who has already redeemed us. Mark 7:8-9 seems to warn against the ritualistic observance of such man-made traditions, which by definition foster a sense of "spiritual smugness".

Note the image at the top of this entry. See the flawed logic? We should be turning away from sin EVERY DAY. Not during the man-made "season of Lent". And forgoing chocolate (or gum, or Facebook) has nothing to do with holiness -- and NO, it will NOT lead you closer to God. Sorry to burst any bubbles out there.....that's not what the Bible teaches.

What are your thoughts? Can there be value in going an extra mile, so to speak, at a particular time during the year?

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

"Jesus Daily" Seems to Be Another Jesus...

A few months back, I posted a "defense" of Facebook and social media, from the perspective that Internet and technology in general can be used for productive things....most notably, evangelism and discipleship. I shared about the girls who came to the Lord after discussing their questions and budding faith with me via Facebook chat. (I have an article coming out in the May/June issue of "Modern Reformation" magazine about how short-term missions can really count long-term in this age of online communications.)

Well, today, I would like to introduce you to one of the most visible downsides of "Facebook evangelism" - Facebook Jesus.

"Jesus Daily" is some sort of devotional Christian group, which posts status updates in the first if coming personally from Jesus Christ. Probably half the Christians I know are subscribed (I "Liked" after seeing several of my "Albania Kids" subscribing, more out of curiosity than anything else. I do not rely on Facebook for spiritual edification or theological instruction, in case you are wondering.)

This "Jesus" seems big on "Friend suggesting" Himself to your Facebook friends. (Cringe). "Friend suggesting" Jesus seems to be symbolic of everything that's wrong with modern evangelism, in a manner of speaking.

A sampling of the "wisdom" coming from "Jesus" in the last few days:
YOU AND I CAN DO EVERYTHING TOGETHER! Remember when I promised you, "With God all things are possible"? Well I was serious. What problem do we need to work on today? Like or type Yes if you believe My Words.

(This demands some comment -- since when do we share the Gospel with people, promising that Jesus will solve all their problems?? This is a dangerous half-truth.)
I am significant in Christ!
I am a Citizen of Heaven!
I am free forever from condemnation!
I am free from any charge against me!
I am assured all things work together for good!
I cannot be separated from the love of God!
Write an "Amen" if you can or LIKE to agree!

All about "me", huh? Not that these statements are entirely untrue -- but they are man-centric rather than Christ-centered. We live not to glorify ourselves, but to glorify CHRIST. Like many modern "praise" songs, the object is self, rather than God.

Umm....this one needs no comment.

CHRIST is our BEST medicine!!! LIKE if you agree then read about Natural Cures from God's Pharmacy...PLEASE SHARE to bless others!
(It then links to a site entitled "Natural Cures from God's Pharmacy".) Sounds like a late-night info-mercial.
A little context here would be helpful...does this mean that if I ask for a Porsche, I will receive it? Smacks of "Prosperity Gospel", does it not?

Moral of the story: if you want to hear from the Lord Jesus, open your Bible. You're probably not going to hear from Him on Facebook. Social media is a tool to be used wisely in sharing the Truth, but not by telling the masses soothing, positive words devoid of any context.