Ash Wednesday: Repentance is Necessary. Ashes are Optional.

Ash Wednesday: Repentance is Necessary. Ashes are Optional.

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.

- Jason