Repentance is Necessary. Ashes are Optional.
Guest Post by Jason Bobo of Christ Presbyterian, Tulsa, OK.
I hope these are some helpful thoughts and clarifications for our Ash Wednesday service as we approach the beginning of Lent. Confession, repentance, and believing in the Gospel are not one time events in the life of a faithful Christian, but our defining characteristics. This special service, like our Christmas Eve service, or our Maundy Thursday service, is not commanded in Scripture, but has been practiced by the Church in her varied denominations for centuries.While we focus on the incarnation during the Christmas Eve service, on AshWednesday we spend our collective energy thinking long and hard about our sin, our need for confession, and the holy change that Spirit empowered repentance will bring. So, though it is not a necessary thing, it can be a good thing.
“Isn’t it Roman Catholic, though?” I’ve gotten this question from some friends, and the answer is no. Do Roman Catholic churches commemorate AshWednesday? Yes...Along with Lutherans, Anglicans, Episcopalians, Methodists, many Presbyterians, and a growing number of Baptists. For many looking into a regular CPC service, much of what we do “looks” Catholic... We are called into worship, we corporately confess our sins and recite ancient creeds, we baptize babies, and stretch forth our hands to receive the Lord’s blessing. All of those acts look “Catholic” to some Tulsan eyes, while in reality, they are simply historic worship practices that we have translated through Scripture and our Reformed Theology. In the same way that we both baptize infants but with very different theological reasons and implications, we will adopt the practice of observing Ash Wednesday with our Reformed emphasis on the gospel of Christ’s finished work.
“Why do I have to get ash on my head to repent?” You don’t. The service isn’t mandated, and neither is the imposition of ashes. We fully expect that some worshippers will come for the service and remain seated while others come forward for ashes. It is a matter of conscience. Scripture equates ashes or dust on one’s head with a time of public sorrow and a sign of repentance of one brought low by personal or communal sin, so many that participate in this service will come forward and receive the mark of the cross in ash with the words spoken, “Remember, oh man, you are dust and to dust you shall return. Therefore, repent, believe, and live in the gospel.” Some will leave that mark on until they get home and are getting ready for bed, others may choose to use the wet wipes we are providing to clean up as they leave the fellowship hall. Confession and repentance are necessary, ashes are optional.
Remember, Lent is a season for the Church to remember her sin, to reflect upon her need of a Savior, to redouble her efforts to fight sin in gospel faith, by the Spirit’s strength. fastings, prayers, times of Scriptural meditation, joyful service of others, and Christ focused time with spouse and family are traditional acts associated with Lent. I encourage you to use this Lenten season to name and slay some personal sins, to weep over our corporate or national sins, and to practice longing for the certain return of our Faithful Savior even while we suffer.I do hope that you’ll join us next Wednesday for one of our 45 minute services (12 noon & 6:30p) as we worship with other Tulsa PCA churches and strive together toward confession and repentance.As always, I’d welcome the opportunity to visit with you, if you have further questions you like to talk through.
Posted on February 14, 2019
by Shelli Jones