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Question and Answer

Should we observe Lent?


Can you explain reasons for and against observing Lent for Reformed Christians? Do any Reformed denominations observe Lent? I've noticed that it is not only a Roman Catholic practice, but many mainline denominations observe Lent.


This is a longstanding historical and theological issue. By the time of the Reformation, the Roman Catholic Church had instituted a great number of practices that lacked any biblical warrant or precedent. Many of them became established, even conscience-binding practices. As the Reformers began to plea for a purification of the church, the issue of authority became central. The question was: does the church have the authority to bind the conscience of the believer beyond what Scripture indicates? The Roman Catholic Church said yes, and the Reformers essentially said no. Some Reformers took a really strong stance on this. In time, the Reformation would give birth to different denominational branches, i.e., Lutheran, Anglican, and Reformed. In the area of worship, the former two have adopted a more conciliatory approach, and will allow the church to practice things (whether in worship or holidays), as long as the Bible does not explicitly or implicitly forbid them. This is often called the "normative principal" of worship. Those inheriting a Reformed theology (which would include the OPC) have adopted the stance that the church is only to practice in worship what the Bible actually establishes, often called the "regulative principle of worship." Many in the Reformed tradition would exclude the practice of Lent on this basis—it lacks scriptural warrant.

Furthermore, the Bible's liturgical calendar is remarkably simple—it is the Lord's Day. While the Old Testament had a very complex system of days, all foreshadowing the redemptive work of Christ to come, the New Testament celebrates the accomplishment of that event with profound clarity and simplicity (Heb. 3-4). Our Confession echoes an appreciation for the simplicity of New Covenant worship regarding the sacraments (WCF 7:6), worship (WCF 21:1), and the Sabbath day (WCF 21:8-9). I believe this concern for a biblical simplicity is why we don't follow the liturgical calendar of Roman Catholic Church. The conscience is a frail thing, and only God has the right to exercise lordship over it.

About Q&A

"Questions and Answers" is a weekly feature of the OPC website. The answers come from individual ministers in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church expressing their own convictions and do not necessarily represent an "official" position of the Church, especially in areas where the Standards of the Church (the Scriptures and the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms) are silent.

The questions come from individuals like yourself. If you have questions about biblical and theological matters, you are invited to send them by e-mail by using the "Pose a Question" link on the OPC home page or by clicking here.

At least one new question is posted each week, so there should always be something new here for you to read. (For those people who would like to look at previous questions and answers, they will continue to be available as well.)

The purpose of the OPC website's "Questions and Answers" is to respond to biblical and theological questions. Matters of church discipline, disputes, or debates go beyond the scope of our work. We recommend that you present your concerns in these areas to the appropriate judicatory. In most cases this will be to a local pastor, elder, or session. We do not want the website to replace personal involvement in, or commitment to, the local, visible church.

While we will respond to every serious questioner, we are not bound to give a substantive answer to every question, should we deem the question to be beyond the scope of our purpose or our own ability to answer.

You will receive an answer by e-mail. Please be patient as many of our respondents are busy pastors. The response to your question may take up to two (2) weeks. Some of the questions submitted will be chosen to be posted here, along with the corresponding answers.

Note that the "Questions and Answers" posted on the site have been edited—all personal references are removed, Scripture references or from some source may be added, and sometimes portions are expanded—to make the questions and answers more useful to a larger audience.

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