Wednesday, February 13, 2013
Bishop Jerry Ogles on Ash Wednesday
JC Ryle, one of the greatest and most biblically centered bishops of the Church of England, seems to have properly identified a growing influence of spiritual-dumbing down of the church beginning well before even the Oxford Movement culprits entered the stage. He wrote in Holiness:
I cannot withhold my conviction that the professing Church of the nineteenth century is as much damaged by laxity and indistinctness about matters of doctrine within, as it is by skeptics and unbelievers without. Myriads of professing Christians nowadays seem utterly unable to distinguish things that differ. Like people afflicted with colour-blindness, they are incapable of discerning what is true and what is false, what is sound and what is unsound. If a preacher of religion is only clever and eloquent and earnest, they appear to think he is all right, however strange and heterogeneous his sermons may be. They are destitute of spiritual sense, apparently, and cannot detect error. Popery or Protestantism, an atonement or no atonement, a personal Holy Ghost or no Holy Ghost, future punishment or no future punishment, High Church or Low Church or Broad Church, Trinitarianism, Arianism, or Unitarianism, nothing comes amiss to them: they can swallow it all, if they cannot digest it! Carried away by a fancied liberality and charity, they seem to think everybody is right and nobody is wrong, every clergyman is sound and none are unsound, everybody is going to be saved and nobody going to be lost. Their religion is made up of negatives; and the only positive thing about them is that they dislike distinctness and think all extreme and decided and positive views are very naughty and very wrong!
Everything that Bishop Ryle wrote, he backed up with biblical principles.
When I hear of the justification for application of ashes, for example, today, I hear only well-conceived and intellectual opinions of the church tradition. True biblical tradition cannot stand alone, but must be supported by God's Word. Why do we not hear those who defend Ashes applied to the little spot on the forehead as being justified by Christ? If I saw such references, it would cause me to consider that I may have misinterpreted the very Words of Jesus; however, no one who supports ashes on the forehead as a sign of Lenten Fast have addressed the very cogent and clear admonition of Christ in Matthew, Chapter 6! 16 Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. 17 But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face; 18 That thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret: and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly. (Matt 6:16-18 (KJV) What does Christ mean by "they disfigure their faces?" What does He mean when He says that people who do so desire that men know that they fast? What does our Lord mean when He says that the proper way to fast would be to anoint our heads as if going on a pleasant visit; and what does He mean when He says that we should wash our faces before fasting? Is He appealing for the use of water-proof ashes? Ridiculous in the extreme! Oh, and by the way, how can we keep our fast secret when we go out in society at large wearing a smudge of ashes on our faces? What am I missing here, pray tell? Do we have eyes to see, and see not; ears to hear and hear not?
Bishop Charles Pettit McIlvaine, first Chaplain to the US Military Academy, third Chaplain of the US Senate, and first Bishop of the great State of Ohio wrote in His "Oxford Movement Compared" - written contemporaneous with the Oxford Movement and Tractarians:
The doctrine of Justification by Faith was the master-principle of the Reformation. " Therefore by a contrary way (said the chief Theologians of the Council) he that will establish the body of the Catholic doctrine (in other words, he that would re-instate Indulgences, Penances, Purgatory, the opus operatum of the Sacraments, the authority of the Priest's absolutions, the Sacrifice of the Mass, &c.) must overthrow the heresy of Justification by faith only."* In all this, there was the soundest view of the relation of cause and effect. And therefore have we no question, that now, while Oxford Divinity is fast developing its real character, indivers ramifications of overt Romanism, and exhibiting the strongest tendencies to do so, more and more; the only explanation needed is to be found in its entire defection from the Scriptural doctrine of how a sinner can be "just with God;" and the only antidote required is the clear understanding, the faithful teaching, the full carrying out of that same great doctrine, so mighty in the war of the Reformation, so feared and hated and libelled in the Councils of the Church of Rome, Justification, by the Imputed Righteousness of Christ, through the alone agency of a living faith.
He goes on to add:
They compass sea and land to make one proselyte. They creep in everywhere, like the Egyptian frogs, and leave no stone unturned, in the palace or the workhouse, to promote their cause, (b) It has been furthered immensely by the proceedings of the Ritualistic party in the Church of England. That energetic and active body has been vilifying the Reformation and sneering at Protestantism for many years, with only too much success. It has corrupted, leavened, blinded, and poisoned the minds of many Churchmen by incessant misrepresentation. It has gradually familiarized people with every distinctive doctrine and practice of Romanism-the real presence-the mass-auricular confession and priestly absolution-the sacerdotal character of the ministry-the monastic system-and a histrionic, sensuous, showy style of public worship-and the natural result is, that many simple people see no mighty harm in downright genuine Popery! Last, but not least, the spurious liberality of the ay we live in helps on the Romeward tendency. It is fashionable now to say that all sects should be equal-that the State should have nothing to do with religion-that all creeds should be regarded with equal favour and respect-and that there is a substratum of common truth at the bottom of all kinds of religion, whether Buddhism, Mohammedanism, or Christianity! The consequence is that myriads of ignorant folk begin to think there is nothing peculiarly dangerous in the tenets of Papists any more than in the tenets of Methodists, Independents, Presbyterians, or Baptists-and that we ought to let Romanism alone and never expose its unscriptural and Christ-dishonouring character.
Are simply to give up on Scripture and follow the traditions of man? As for me, as long as I stand, I will stand on God's Holy Word.
An Ashless Ash Wednesday for Anglicans
In the sixteenth century the English Reformers abolished the imposition of ashes on the heads of parishioners on Ash Wednesday due to the superstitious beliefs that had become associated with the practice. The practice was too closely tied the Medieval doctrines of attrition, auricular confession, contrition, priestly absolution, and penance.
The imposition of ashes was not reintroduced into the Church of England and her daughter churches until the nineteenth century and then by the Ritualists. It was one of the errors in doctrine, practice, and ritual the Romeward Movement revived to make the Anglican Church more like the Roman Catholic Church in the hopes they would help to affect a reunion between the Church of England and the Church of Rome.
The 1979 Book of Common Prayer popularized the practice in the Episcopal Church in the closing decades of the twentieth century.
The following articles on Ashes, Ash Wednesday, Fasting, and Lent are taken from A Protestant Dictionary, which was published under the auspices of the Protestant Reformation Society in 1904, and was compiled for Evangelicals in the Church of England and the Church of Ireland.
Ashes Used for sprinkling persons by the Romish Church. Before use, the ashes are dedicated previously by a special prayer offered by a bishop. In that prayer, invocation is made to God "that whosoever shall sprinkle themselves with these ashes for the redemption of their sins may obtain health of body and protection of soul."
Ash-Wednesday A mediaeval title given to the first day of Lent. It had formerly two names: (1) "Caput jejunii," the "head of the fast," and (2) "Dies cinerum." The forty days of Lent, being appointed in memory of our Lord’s fast in the wilderness as a season of abstinence, date from the Wednesday of the first week, because it was never the custom to fast on Sundays, and in this way the full number of forty is made up. The name of "Ash Wednesday" was given in reference to an ancient discipline, described by Gratian, according to which penitents had to appear before the Bishop and Clergy clothed in sack cloth. The seven penitential Psalms were then sung, after which ashes were thrown upon them, and they covered their heads with sackcloth. The Church of England, however, has in no way retained or sanctioned those superstitions. By the Scriptures appointed to be read and the prayers to be used, she has rather exhibited the true ideal of a fast. The old title of Ash-Wednesday is only employed as an alternative for the " first day of Lent," because before the Reformation it was "commonly so called." The revival of such practices is therefore entirely foreign to her prescribed ritual and is illegal.
Fasting There is no command to fast in the New Testament. In the Sermon on the Mount our Lord, speaking to Jews who were then accustomed to fast, says : "When thou fastest, anoint thine head and wash thy face ; that thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret ; and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly (Matt. vi. 17, 18). Under the Old Testament there was but one fast distinctly enjoined namely, "the fast" on the great day of atonement (Lev. xvi. 29-31), which is referred to in Acts xxvii. 9. Other fasts were, however, enjoined on special occasions by the direction of the civil or religious authorities (e.g. Jer, xxxvi. 9). After the destruction of the Jewish State fasts became more numerous (Zech. vii. 5). But when the Lord was inquired of concerning those fasts, the answer given by the prophet Zechariah showed that those fasts were neither enjoined nor forbidden, and that persons were at liberty to make use of such days or not, according as they found fasting beneficial or otherwise to themselves; such acts not being regarded as in themselves meritorious in the sight of God (Zech. vii. 5/.). The Lord, by the mouth of Isaiah (ch. Iviii. 5-7), asks, " Is it such a fast that I have chosen ? a day for a man to afflict his soul ? is it to bow down his head as a bulrush, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him ? wilt thou call this a fast, and an acceptable day to the Lord ? Is not this the fast that I have chosen ? to loose the bands of wickedness ; to undo the heavy burdens? . . . Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house ? When thou seest the naked, that thou cover him ; and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh ? "
Our Lord' s teaching concerning the times most suitable for fasting is set forth in the following passage: " Can the children of the bride-chamber mourn, as long as the bride groom is with them ? but the days will come, when the bridegroom shall be taken from them, and then shall they fast" (Matt. ix. 15), which passage has been explained by the Church of England in her Homily of Fasting, Part II., as follows: "Ye shall note, that so long as God revealeth His mercy unto us, and giveth us of His benefits, either spiritual or corporal, we are said to be with the Bridegroom at the marriage. . . . But the marriage is said then to be ended, and the Bridegroom to be gone, when Almighty God smiteth us with affliction, and seenieth to leave us in the midst of a number of adversities. So God sometimes striketh private men privately with sundry adversities, as trouble of mind, loss of friends, loss of goods, long and dangerous sicknesses, & c. Then it is a fit time for that man to humble himself to Almighty God by fasting, and to mourn and bewail his sins with a sorrowful heart. . . . Again, when God shall afflict a whole region or country with wars, with famine, with pestilence . . . and such other calamities, then is it time for all states and sorts of people . . . to humble themselves by fasting, and bewail their sinful living before God."
The principle here laid down can be exemplified from Scripture histories. David fasted when his child was sick (2 Sam. xii. 16) ; Esther, with her maidens, fasted ere she went in to Ahasuerus (Esth. iv. 16) ; Ezra fasted at the river of Ahava (Ezra viii. 21); Daniel set himself to seek the Lord by prayer and fasting (Dan. ix. 3). Christ said of certain demons, "This kind can come forth by nothing but by prayer and fasting" (Mark ix. 29), but the oldest MSS. omit the words "and fasting." (See R.V. and marginal note on Matt. xvii. 21.) And prior to the solemn ordination of elders, Paul and Barnabas "prayed with fasting" (Acts xiv. 23).
Our Lord Himself fasted forty days and forty nights, but during that time He did not experience the pangs of hunger. The Gospels which record the Temptation, all call attention to that fact. St. Matthew says, " He was afterward an hungered " (Matt. iv. 2). St. Mark does not mention the fasting (Mark i. 12, 13). St. Luke says of those days, "And when they were ended, He afterward hungered." The forty days appear, therefore, to have been spent in rapt ecstasy and contemplation. The actual temptation occurred at the close of that period.
Fasting, therefore, appears to be of value only when employed for the purpose of giving oneself up to continuous prayer, while abstinence from special kinds of food is nowhere enjoined or recommended in Scripture, although Daniel, in his penitential sorrow of three weeks, abstained from all pleasant food (Dan. x. 2, 3). St. Paul alludes to the "commanding to abstain from meats" as a mark of the apostasy (1 Tim. iv. 3), and a sign of weak faith in persons who attached importance to such trifling matters. " The kingdom of God is not meat and drink, but righteousness and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost " (Rom. xiv. 17, and the whole of that chapter). In fine, when fasting is employed in order to be able to spend the time in prayer, it may be recommended ; but abstinence from food as a means of punishing the body and laying up " merit " is to be strongly condemned. An abstinence from certain food may be useful for "bodily exercise" or discipline "bodily exercise profiteth a little," or "for a little while " (1 Tim. iv. 8) such exercise has occasionally been useful, but is not to be regarded as really a spiritual work.
The prohibition to eat meat on fast days, prescribed by the statute 2 & 3 Edward VI., c. 19, which may be alluded to in " the Tables and Rules " attached to the Book of Common Prayer which mentions " the Fasts, and Days of Abstinence to be observed in the year," is further dwelt on in the Homily on Fasting, Part II., which states that the statute of Edward VI. referred to, was framed for political reasons. It was " in consideration of the maintaining of fisher-towns bordering upon the seas, and for the increase of fishermen, of whom do spring mariners to go upon the sea, to the furnishing of the navy of the realm. . . . Such laws of princes and other magistrates are not made to put holiness in one kind of meat and drink more than another, to make one day more holy than another, but are grounded merely upon policy," namely, as afterwards explained, for the increase and support of the English navy, and "for the sooner reducing of victuals to a more moderate price, to the better sustenance of the poor." [C. H. H. W.]
Lent The word is derived either from the A.S. lencten (spring), or from the Dutch lenten (to make mild), the severity of winter being then relaxed. Lent is a period of forty days in the spring, immediately before Easter, prescribed as a time of fasting. The Greek and Latin names for Lent simply indicate the number of its days. Lent is asserted to have been of early, and even of Apostolic origin, but, had the latter been the case, some allusion would have been made to it in the New Testament. But in the New Testament there is no fast prescribed, nor even a positive exhortation to fasting (see FASTING). Our Lord s declaration in the A.V. concerning the boy possessed with an unclean spirit, is often quoted that "this kind can come forth by nothing, but by prayer and fasting" (Matt. xvii. 21; Mark ix. 29). All the best MSS., however, omit the entire verse in the account in St. Matthew, and the word " fasting " in that of St. Mark (see R.Y.). The same omission is made by the R.V. on MS. authority with regard to the word "fasting" in two other verses, viz., Acts x. 30 ; 1 Cor. vii. 5. That the oldest MSS. should agree in omitting all reference to fasting in four passages in the New Testament, where fasting was supposed to be mentioned, is highly suggestive of interpolations made in the sacred text to suit the ideas of a non-Apostolic Age.
The forty days of Lent are often said to have been instituted as a fast in memory of our Lord's "fast" of a similar period in the wilderness. But the Lord passed that period in a state of exalted spiritual meditation or ecstasy, for St. Matthew distinctly states that Christ’s hunger was subsequent to the forty days, "When he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was afterward an hungred" (Matt. iv. 2). Lent had originally no real connection with the forty days fast in the desert. Lent seems to have been first established by a Pope, about AD 130, to be a tithe of the year (thirty-six days only), and was for centuries confined to that period. When the additional four days were added is not certain, probably not till the time of Pope Gregory II., who died in 731.
Our Lord, in Matt. ix. 15, indicated that the providential circumstances of life were the true guide as to seasons of fasting. Cassian, a disciple of Chrysostom in the fifth century, contrasting the Primitive Church with that of his own day, said, " It ought to be known that the observance of the forty days had no existence so long as the perfection of that Primitive Church remained inviolate." Lent helped in later times to increase the power of the priests. For in the Roman and Eastern Churches dispensations which permit the eating of meat on fast days may be obtained for a money payment, and fines are levied on those who break the Church law by eating meat on such days without a dispensation.
Lent is coming up, it starts this coming Wednesday, called Ash Wednesday. So, what does the word Lent mean? It has an obscure origin, and is probably a corruption of Lencten, or a similar term in ancient Anglo, Saxon, and Germanic languages, all of which referred to spring, new life, and hope. Although it is generally considered to be a time of mourning and repentance, it is more than that, it is like death, a time of new life and hope because by means of the death of Christ, we receive new life.
Many avoid Lent and Holy Week because they think it isn’t a happy and uplifting time—but to be honest, neither is most of life. Sometimes we come to church all scrubbed up, dressed nicely, with smiles on our faces, and when people ask how we are, we reply that everything is fine and we even boast how wonderful things are—but is it? Life is not always uplifting, or wonderful, or pleasant, or joyous. To claim it is, is to miss the whole point of the incarnation! God became flesh in Jesus Christ. Jesus faced temptation, He suffered hunger and thirst, He suffered the agony of crucifixion. Jesus our God did not face these things so that we would be exempt from them, He faced these things so that we would have dignity in them, He faced these things that in Him we might have triumph.
The forty days commemorate the significant "forty" periods in Scripture (although forty is not always significant), including the forty years the Jews wandered in the desert after they had been rescued by God from Egypt, and which did not end until they repented. Jonah preached to Nineveh that God's judgment would come on them in forty days. During that time the people repented and thus were spared God's judgment. Jesus was tested by the Devil in the desert for forty days before He began His public ministry, announcing salvation to the repentant and judgment to those who continued to rebel against God. Jesus prophesied that God's judgment would come against Israel for rejecting Him as Messiah within the time of His own generation (Matt. 24; Luke 21; Mark 13). Within forty years of His death, burial, and resurrection, Jerusalem was destroyed and the temple was so ravaged that "not one stone [was] left here upon another" (Matt. 24:2). The Jewish Christians, however, escaped this judgment of God by fleeing to Pella before the final Roman siege, just as Jesus had warned them to do (Matt. 24:16-21).
Lent is a time for Christians to contemplate their sinfulness, repent, ask God's forgiveness, and realize the infinite sacrifice God made on their behalf. It is to be a time of quiet contemplation, but not a time of despair, since it culminates in the commemoration of the resurrection. Traditionally, those who are joining the church spend this period in special instruction regarding Christian doctrine, practice, and responsibility. Historically, prospective members ("catechumens") did not participate in the Lord's Supper portion of the Sunday services until they were received into full membership on the Sunday of the Resurrection of Our Lord. For them, this first experience of Ash Wednesday and Lent has special significance as God's eternal plan of salvation is applied to them personally.
Jesus told us that if we fast we are not to make a show of it, like hypocrites do. A fast is different from a hunger strike: a fast is a personal act of devotion to God, while a hunger strike is a public act most often used to shine a spotlight on injustice. A fast is also different from anorexia nervosa: it is disciplined diet, not total abstention from food. During a religious fast, you still eat, you just abstain from certain foodstuffs. Traditionally, people have fasted by eliminating luxury items from their diets, such as meats. A fast can consist of eating whatever you want, but drinking only water.
More positively, you can fast in other areas beyond food, you can commit to a something that can benefit the church, such cutting back in an entertainment area, using that time for Bible study and donating the savings to the church.
On Palm Sunday, there were crowds who cheered Jesus as the King, but where were all those fair-weather friends when Jesus prayed in agony on Gethsemane, and where were they when He hung upon the cross? Let us be bold to join Him, fasting in the wilderness for forty days during Lent; let us be bold to pray with Him in the garden on Maundy Thursday, let us fearlessly stand at the foot of His cross on Good Friday, so that we may witness His Resurrection and His Ascension, and join in His triumphant reign.