The smell of baked haddock wafts through a parish as local families attend a church-sponsored Friday night dinner together. Heaps of coleslaw, macaroni salad and mashed potatoes fill diners’ plates, yet no trace of meat products such as beef are to be found.
The Lenten season has begun.
Unlike New Year’s, Christmas, Halloween, St. Valentine’s Day and other pagan holidays that are celebrated by the secular, non-religious world, Lent is observed by dedicated religious believers.
For more than 1 billion Catholics and many Protestants across the world, the start of Lent signals the beginning of 40 days of prayer, self-denial and confession that culminates on Easter.
During the Lenten period, lasting from Ash Wednesday to Easter, observers abstain from certain foods or physical pleasures. Some vow to give up bad habits such as smoking or nail biting while others abstain from chocolate or a certain kind of ice cream. Others promise to help “heal the environment” by walking to work for 40 days instead of driving or use Lent as a time to give to others without being recognized for their good works.
Abstaining from physical pleasures or modern conveniences supposedly imitates Jesus Christ’s 40-day fast in the wilderness (Matt. 4:1-2), helps the believer understand the suffering of Christ, and better prepares him or her for Easter.
Given that this practice appears well-intentioned and those who practice it seem sincere, Lent must be a practice that God approves.
Or does He?
According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, “the real aim of Lent is, above all else, to prepare men for the celebration of the death and Resurrection of Christ…the better the preparation the more effective the celebration will be. One can effectively relive the mystery only with purified mind and heart. The purpose of Lent is to provide that purification by weaning men from sin and selfishness through self-denial and prayer, by creating in them the desire to do God’s will and to make His kingdom come by making it come first of all in their hearts.”
On the surface, this belief sounds sincere, yet it does not agree with the Bible, God’s Word, the only source of true spiritual knowledge and understanding (John 17:17).
God, through the apostle Paul, commands Christians to “continue you in the things which you have learned and have been assured of, knowing of whom you have learned them; and that from a child you have known the holy scriptures, which are able to make you wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works” (II Tim. 3:14-17).
Understand that the “celebration of the death and Resurrection of Christ,” referred to earlier, has in mind so-called Good Friday, but also Easter Sunday—a holiday deeply rooted in ancient paganism. They were instituted by mainstream Christianity to counterfeit and replace the Passover season. Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread were observed by Christ, the original apostles and the New Testament Church—including Gentiles. God commands His people to observe them today (I Cor. 5:7-8).
So where did Lent originate? How did it come to be so widely observed by mainstream Christianity?
As surprising as it may seem, Lent was never observed by Christ or His apostles. He commanded His disciples to “Go you therefore, and teach all nations…to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:19-20). Jesus never commanded them to observe Lent or Easter. He did, however, command the keeping of Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread. In fact, during His last Passover on Earth, Christ gave detailed instructions on how to observe the Passover service. He also instituted new Passover symbols (John 13:1-17; Luke 22:19-20).
Some cite the account found in Luke 23:39-43 as validation for the doctrines of “deathbed repentance” and “the saved go to heaven.” But what does the Bible really say?
Luke 23:42-43 states, “And he [a thief crucified next to Christ] said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom. And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto you, Today shall you be with Me in paradise.”
Along with the principle of “deathbed repentance,” supposedly represented by the thief, this account is often cited as proof that “the saved go to heaven.” It proves neither—and there are a number of points to examine.
Consider: King David was “a man after [God’s] own heart” (I Sam. 13:14; Acts 13:22). Abraham was God’s friend (II Chron. 20:7) and the “father of the faithful” (Gal. 3:7-9). Moses was the meekest man who ever lived (Num. 12:3) and spoke with God personally (Ex. 33:11). Yet Jesus—who cannot lie (Titus 1:2)—said that “No man has ascended to heaven…” (John 3:13).
In light of just these few verses, how is it possible that a thief, although repentant at the end of his life, could have a guaranteed, immediate reward in heaven? But there is more.
Reread Luke 23:43, but this time read it with the comma after the word “today,” not before. Then realize that “shall you” is more commonly said as “you shall.” Therefore, the Greek is best understood as “Verily I say unto you today, you shall be with Me in paradise.” In verse 42, the thief said, “remember me when You come into Your kingdom.” He would not say “remember me,” unless he understood that much time would pass before Christ could fulfill this promise. Christ used the word “today” as if to say, “Right now, even while we are dying on a stake, I can tell you with certainty that you shall be with Me in paradise.”
The meaning of the Luke 23 account is distorted because of a simple error in grammar. The comma that follows Christ’s lead-in statement, “Verily, I say unto you…” was incorrectly inserted. It changes His entire meaning. The original Greek, the language of the New Testament, did not use certain punctuation, such as commas and quotation marks. Translators using their own discretion added them later. The correct rendering is, “Verily, I say unto you today [in other words, “I tell you right now”], shall you be with Me in paradise.”
To learn more, read David C. Pack’s booklet Do the Saved Go to Heaven?
Notice what Alexander Hislop wrote in his book The Two Babylons: “The festival, of which we read in Church history, under the name of Easter, in the third or fourth centuries, was quite a different festival from that now observed in the Romish Church, and at that time was not known by any such name as Easter…That festival [Passover] was not idolatrous, and it was preceded by no Lent. ‘It ought to be known,’ said Cassianus, the monk of Marseilles, writing in the fifth century, and contrasting the primitive [New Testament] Church with the Church in his day, ‘that the observance of the forty days had no existence, so long as the perfection of that primitive Church remained inviolate.’”
Lent was not observed by the first century Church! It was first addressed by the church at Rome during the Council of Nicea in AD 325, when Emperor Constantine officially recognized that church as the Roman Empire’s state religion. Any other form of Christianity that held to doctrines contrary to the Roman church was considered an enemy of the state. (To learn more about the history of the true Church, read our book Where Is the True Church? – and Its Incredible History!) In AD 360, the Council of Laodicea officially commanded Lent to be observed.
It became a 40-day period of fasting or abstaining from certain foods. “The emphasis was not so much on the fasting as on the spiritual renewal that the preparation for Easter demanded. It was simply a period marked by fasting, but not necessarily one in which the faithful fasted every day. However, as time went on, more and more emphasis was laid upon fasting…During the early centuries (from the fifth century on especially) the observance of the fast was very strict. Only one meal a day, toward evening, was allowed” (Catholic Encyclopedia).
From the ninth century onward, Lent’s strict rules were relaxed. Greater emphasis was given to performing “penitential works” than to fasting and abstinence. According to the apostolic constitution Poenitemini of Pope Paul IV (Feb. 17, 1966), “abstinence is to be observed on Ash Wednesday and on all Fridays of the year that do not fall on holy days of obligation, and fasting as well as abstinence is to be observed on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday” (Catholic Encyclopedia).
Today, Lent is used for “fasting from sin and from vice…forsaking sin and sinful ways.” It is a season “for penance, which means sorrow for sin and conversion to God.” This tradition teaches that fasting and employing self-discipline during Lent will give a worshipper the “control over himself that he needs to purify his heart and renew his life” (ibid.).
However, the Bible clearly shows that self-control—temperance—comes from having God’s Holy Spirit working in the life of a converted mind (Gal. 5:16-17, 22-23). Fasting—of and by itself—cannot produce godly self-control.
Paul warned against using self-denial as a tool to rely on your own will. He called it “will worship.” “Wherefore if you be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, are you subject to ordinances, (touch not; taste not; handle not; which all are to perish with the using;) after the commandments and doctrines of men? Which things have indeed a show of wisdom in will worship, and humility, and neglecting of the body: not in any honor to the satisfying of the flesh” (Col. 2:20-23).
God did not design fasting as a tool for penance, “beating yourself up” or developing will power: “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? Will you 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, and to let the oppressed go free, and that you break every yoke? Is it not to deal your bread to the hungry, and that you bring the poor that are cast out to your house? When you see the naked, that you cover him; and that you hide not yourself from your own flesh?” (Isa. 58:5-7).
God’s people humble themselves through fasting in order to draw closer to Him—so that they can learn to think and act like Him—so that they can live His way of life in all things (Jer. 9:23-24). Fasting (and prayer) helps Christians draw closer to God.
Coming from the Anglo-Saxon Lencten, meaning “spring,” Lent originated in the ancient Babylonian mystery religion. “The forty days abstinence of Lent was directly borrowed from the worshippers of the Babylonian goddess…Among the Pagans this Lent seems to have been an indispensable preliminary to the great annual festival in commemoration of the death and resurrection of Tammuz…” (The Two Babylons).
Tammuz was the false Messiah of the Babylonians—a satanic counterfeit of Jesus Christ!
The Feast of Tammuz was usually celebrated in June (also called the “month of the festival of Tammuz”). Lent was held 40 days before the feast, “celebrated by alternate weeping and rejoicing” (ibid.). This is why Lent means “spring”; it took place from spring to early summer.
The Bible records ancient Judah worshipping this false Messiah: “Then He brought me to the door of the gate of the Lord’s house which was toward the north; and, behold, there sat women weeping for Tammuz” (Ezek. 8:14). This was a great abomination in God’s eyes!
But why did the church at Rome institute such a pagan holiday?
“To conciliate the Pagans to nominal Christianity, Rome, pursuing its usual policy, took measures to get the Christian and Pagan festivals amalgamated, and, by a complicated but skillful adjustment of the calendar, it was found no difficult matter, in general, to get Paganism and Christianity—now far sunk in idolatry—in this as in so many other things, to shake hands” (The Two Babylons).
The Roman church replaced Passover with Easter, moving the pagan Feast of Tammuz to early spring, “Christianizing” it. Lent moved with it.
“This change of the calendar in regard to Easter was attended with momentous consequences. It brought into the Church the grossest corruption and the rankest superstition in connection with the abstinence of Lent” (ibid.).
Before giving up personal sins and vices during Lent, the pagans held a wild, “anything goes” celebration to make sure that they got in their share of debaucheries and perversities—what the world celebrates as Mardi Gras today.
God is not the author of confusion (I Cor. 14:33). He never instituted Lent, a pagan observance connecting debauchery to the supposed resurrection of a false Messiah.
God commands His people to follow Him—not the traditions of men. God’s ways are higher—better than man’s (Isa. 55:8-9). Men cannot determine for themselves right from wrong or how to properly worship God. Why? Because “The heart [mind] is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked” (Jer. 17:9), and “the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walks to direct his steps” (10:23). God designed us and gave us life. He teaches how we are supposed to worship Him.
Lent may seem like a sincere, heartfelt religious observance. But it is deeply rooted in pagan ideas that counterfeit God’s Plan. God hates all pagan observances (Jer. 10:2-5; Lev. 18:3, 30; Deut. 7:1-5, 16). They cannot be “Christianized” or made clean by men. This includes Lent.