19 February 2008

Another Letter to the Editor

The Effingham Daily News published a Letter to the Editor tonight that is rather foolish and simplistic. I would love it if the other - and more famous and talented - Fr. Z. would take his pen to it. The letter reads:

A recent article in the EDN (Feb. 6) heralds the beginning of the Lenten Season for many area churchgoers.” [sic] Ash Wednesday was Feb. 6, beginning the observance of Lent in the six weeks before the observance of Easter Sunday.

If you are a passionate Bible student and aren’t familiar with these terms, it is not surprising. There is no reference in Scripture to Ash Wednesday, Lent or Easter. These practices have their origins in Catholic traditions. These religious observances were started by man and not by the word of God (Colossians 2:8).

Ash Wednesday, Lent, Palm Sunday, Good Friday, Easter Sunday – these are among the holy days celebrated by Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant churches every year at this season. You will not find these days regarded as high or holy by those who remained faithful to the teachings of Christ and the Apostles. This is a distinctive mark which identifies and separates those who have “a form of godliness” but deny its power (2 Timothy 3:5).

When the Pharisees introduced and bound their traditions upon men, Jesus called their worship vain (Mark 7:1-9). When men establish their religious traditions, they call them holy days. However, Jesus calls this type of worship “vain” and “worthless” worship. We must follow the divinely-inspired pattern in all things, including how we honor Christ in worship (Hebrews 8:5-6; Colossians 3:17); Galatians 1:8-10; Revelations 22:18-19; John 4:23-24).

The scriptures are completely silent in established a resurrection feast for Christians to observe. In fact, just the opposite: “So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or Sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is Christ” (Col. 2:16-17). The binding of days upon Christians is Satan’s way of drawing the saints away from the gospel of Christ (Galatians 4:9-11; cf. 1 Thessalonians 3:5). Therefore we cannot observe such holidays with the authority of Christ.

The question is not whether a Christian can fast (cf. I Corinthians 7:5) or abstain from eating meats (cf. Romans 14:1-6). We are allowed to do these things, but never commanded by God. The question is whether a church has the right to bind or elevate manmade traditions to the level of “Canon Law.” This practice is clearly condemned by Jesus in Matthew 15:8-9.

One of the traditions is the practice of abstaining from eating meats on Friday during Lent. But the Scriptures make it perfectly plain this type of abstinence is not condoned by God. The Apostle Paul clearly teaches the practice of “forbidding marriage and commanding to abstain from foods which God created to be received with thanksgiving” is a sign of falling away “from the faith” (1 Timothy 4:1-5). There is no doubt we ought to sacrifice for our Lord; but, the Scriptures teach our sacrifices should be complete and constant, and not just for short church designated periods of time (cf. Romans 12:1, Galatians 2:20).

When we worship God with our holy days and seasons we are saying, “I want to worship God the way I want and I do not care if I worship the Creator the way that He wants me to “ Colossians 2:2-22. 20: If you have died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world, why, as if you were living in the world, do you submit yourselves to decrees, such as, 12 “Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!” 22 (which all refer to things destined to perish with use) – in accordance with the commandments and teachings of men? [there’s a sic or five in there somewhere]
I have withheld the author's name for the purposes of this blog.

My reply is as follows (the version I will submit will not quote the Scriptures in full because it will be too long):

Mr. N.'s (name withheld by me) letter to the editor, “Observances started by man,” published in the Effingham Daily News 19 February 2008, purports several erroneous claims regarding the celebration of liturgical feasts and fasting.

It should be noted that the Holy Days of Obligation for Catholics in the U.S.A. are Sundays, January 1st (the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God), the Ascension (forty days after Easter, or the Sunday thereafter), August 15th (the Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary); November 1st (All Saints Day), December 8th (The Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception), and Christmas. These do not include, as Mr. N. claimed, the days of Lent, Palm Sunday (which is part of Lent) and Good Friday.

The arguments put forth throughout the letter suggest that the Holy Spirit is incapable of directing the hearts and minds of believers to worship the Lord properly, which clearly cannot be so.

Mr. N. claims, “You will not find these days regarded as high or holy by those who remained faithful to the teachings of Christ and the Apostles.” If Mr. N. would read these early Christians – commonly called the Apostolic Fathers – he would find quite the opposite.

But presuming his claim is true, it must mean that the Church disappeared entirely for well more than a millennia, but to say this would make Jesus a liar, for he declared to the Apostle Peter, “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18).

In regard to fasting, the ancient Didache (Teaching of the Twelve Apostles) – written between a.d. 80 - 100 – states very clearly: “But do not let your fasts be with the hypocrites; for they fast on Monday and Thursday; but you shall fast on Wednesday and Friday (8.1, emphasis added).

Even prior to this, Jesus commands fasting: “And when you fast…” (Matthew 6:16).” He does not say “if” you fast, but “when.” He also said, “The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in those days” (Luke 5:35; cf. Mark 2:20, Matthew 9:15). Not only did the Savior recommend fasting, he himself fasted (cf. Matthew 4:2; Luke 4:2).

The Christians in Antioch also fasted: “While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’ Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off” (Acts 13:2-3). This they did on more than one occasion: “And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting, they committed them to the Lord in whom they believed” (Acts 14:22).

Clearly, then, when the earliest Christians fasted – and when the Church fasts today – she is following the teaching and example of Christ Jesus. Hence, the origin of the season of Lent: it is a period of fasting and prayer following the example of Jesus.

In regards to abstaining from meat, when Saint Paul warns Saint Timothy of those who teach false doctrines concerning “abstinence from foods which God created to be received with thanksgiving,” he is not talking about the practice of abstaining from meat on Fridays but of those who argue that the dietary laws of Judaism are still binding on Christians [which no one to my knowledge does today] (I Timothy 4:15). Abstaining from meat on Fridays in no way suggests that meat is not good (else wise no Christian would ever eat pork), but is instead another form of fasting.

From the earliest times, the Church has recommended fasting as a means of spiritual growth because it makes us more aware of our hunger for God and leads to increased prayer, as the lives of countless men and women of faith attest.

In regard to gathering on Sunday the Didache commands, “And on the Lord’s Day, after you have come together, break bread and offer the Eucharist, having first confessed your offenses, so that your sacrifice may be pure” (14.1). The Christians gathered on Sunday, the first day of the week, precisely because it was the day of the Resurrection. This naturally led to the celebrations of other events in the life of Christ.

Mr. N.’s claim that “the scriptures are completely silent in establishing a resurrection feast for Christians to observe” is simply false. Luke writes, “On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread…” (Acts 20:7). It is also on Sunday that John receives the vision of the worship of heaven, of which the worship on earth is a foretaste (cf. Revelation 1:7).

The reason Jesus said the Pharisees worshipped in “vain” was not because they followed the Law but because they did not follow the Law in their hearts (cf. Mark 7:1-13). We know this because elsewhere Jesus commands the Pharisees be listened to: “The scribes and the Pharisees have taken their seat on the chair of Moses. Therefore do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you” (Matthew 23:2, ff).

The remainder of Mr. N.’s claims – which he seems to be recycling - I have addressed in previous letters and will not do so again now, this not really being the place for such things.

Many of Mr. N.’s claims stem from a lack of real understanding about what the Catholic Church – and other ecclesial communities – actually profess and do. He would do well to sincerely try to understand such teachings before publicly spouting off against them.

Truly “passionate Bible students” would do well to study the Scriptures in their entirety and context, and not pick and choose the verses they like the best to make their arguments. They would also do well to learn from the earliest Christians to truly understand how the early Church – under the guidance of the Apostles and their personally chosen successors - understood the Scriptures and followed the teachings of Christ.

The Rev. Daren J. Zehnle, S.T.B., M.Div.
He writes all of the time but refuses to even slightly listen to any reasonable objections or clarifications. It's very irritating. I do not write to respond to him, but for those who might read what he says and believe it.
What are your thoughts?

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