Reformed Baptist Fellowship

To Lent or reLent? Some thoughts on a recent post at The Gospel Coalition

In Reformed Baptist Fellowship on March 5, 2014 at 9:00 pm


Recently, The Gospel Coalition (TGC) site posted a blog entry entitled – “Lent Is About Jesus: A Free Devotional Guide.” No, I did not make that up. You can read the whole thing here. As I read the post and thought about it a bit, I concluded I would like to respond to it. So, as many of you do on various blogs, I sent a comment to that post. Before sending the comment, however, I sent copies of my response to a few friends, just to make sure I was responding correctly and clearly. They encouraged me to post my thoughts. Here is (below) what I sent to TGC’s site, which is still awaiting moderation, even though there has been at least one comment posted after I sent mine, I received notice of that post via email, and there were, at one point this afternoon, 25 comments and now there are only 24, as of 2:41pm Pacific time. I hope that changes, but in case it does not (which will not be the first time my comments at TGC have been deleted, if, in fact, that is the case), here it is.


This is not helpful to me as an individual or, especially, as a pastor. It creates more work for me.

Though there are many, many problems I have with this post, I will share but two.

First, moralizing John’s preparatory ministry is terrible–hermeneutically, theologically, and practically. Your post says:

“At the onset of Jesus’ ministry, John announced his coming in fulfillment of Isaiah 40: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.” This is the cry of Lent: Prepare the way of the Lord! Make room for him in your thoughts and activities and affections.”

This goes against, for example, what Dr. Carson’s Commentary of the New Testament Use of the Old Testament advocates (and I think rightly). The Gospels narrate these kinds of things for us because they are telling us what happened in fulfillment of the OT and in relation to John the Baptist and the incarnation and ministry (i.e., His sufferings and glory) of Christ. Drawing these kinds of “practical” applications from these types of texts is simply wrong. The Epistles are God’s theological commentary upon and ecclesiastical applications of some of the events depicted for us in the Gospels. Nowhere do we see John’s preparatory ministry interpreted and applied as your post does in the Epistles (or anywhere else in the Bible). The fact of the matter is this: The way has already been prepared for the Lord by John and in fulfillment of God’s Word via Isaiah. We don’t “Prepare the way of the Lord!” John already did that. We can certainly gain confidence in the veracity of the Word of God due to this and connect the dots between the OT, John, and Jesus; but to tell people “Make room for him in your thoughts and activities and affections” based on John’s preparatory ministry is, at best, naive and at worst, a moralizing/allegorizing of a text that ends up creating new laws for God’s people–laws invented by man. “God alone is Lord of the conscience.”

Second, the following words are very troubling to me:

“The practice of giving something up for Lent is a way of entering into the wilderness with Jesus. Don’t worry about whether your sacrifice is a good one. It’s not a contest. Just make your aim to know Christ more fully, and trust him to lead you.”

“…entering into the wilderness with Jesus”? What does that mean and where has God revealed that it is His will for us to enter such? The fact is that Christ already entered the wilderness for us and won! This statement betrays a hermeneutic that is too horizontal, allegorizing, and misses the point of Christ’s wilderness experience. He was driven there to be tempted as our representative and win; unlike Adam in the garden and Israel in the wilderness, Jesus does not give-in to the devil.

TGC brothers, this post makes more work for local church pastors. It is destructive. It erodes confidence in those involved with TGC. Recently a Mark Driscoll interview was posted on TGC blog where he gave somewhat of a “pass” to Joel Osteen. Check this out by Mark Dever. This is what we need from TGC; a clear sound for truth and against error.

I hope you will consider these things in the spirit they are intended. I think this post should be deleted and a humble apology posted in its place.


Richard Barcellos
Grace Reformed Baptist Church
Paldmale, CA
  1. I wish TGC had more Gospel and less Coalition.

  2. Well said, Pastor Barcellos. You hit the nail on the head as did Dr. Trueman on the Reformation 21 blog. Since there was a reformation, why the move back to Catholicism among many? I think it is because their is not enough gospel in their message, and God made it such that a vacuum must be filled.

  3. […] of your convictions.   And I believe Richard Barcellos has some good things to say over at the website of the Reformed Baptist Fellowship concerning how the issue has recently arisen under the auspices […]

  4. Excellent, Rich. Exegetical points that go straight to the heart of why Lent is not just optional, but dangerous and misleading.

  5. Reblogged this on The Lighthearted Calvinist and commented:
    Rich Barcellos gives food for thought here – good food.

  6. […] blog, some of my concerns were posted by the moderators of that site. You can read the post here. Also, Carl R. Trueman provides brief comment on the same issue […]

  7. Solid Rich, how true it is that it gives local church pastors more work ! TGC need to respond too.

  8. Robert, I hope they do respond with a simple “We apologize for posting confusing information about Lent. It will not happen again. My God give us wisdom.” I hope we do not get a post explaining things that qualifies and nuances things to death.

  9. Really good stuff. Thanks for taking the time to write this.

  10. my comment was approved for a while but not up now 😦

  11. A link to your response (i.e. here) is now in the comments section of the article on TGC

  12. Wise words, brother Barcellos! Isn’t it interesting that a group who’s name puts forth the gospel as central is willing to replace it with tradition and misguided pietistic practices based upon faulty hermenutics. Thanks.

  13. […] Earlier this week Pastor Richard Barcellos entered Matt Smethurst’s comment thread and thoughtfully engaged the issue.  Now in case you didn’t realize it you ought to know: TGC doesn’t do thoughtful engagement.  They’re fine with critics who rant and rave and can be easily dismissed, but they hesitate to approve comments which involve serious critique.  Rich’s comments predictably disappeared, but he helpfully reposted at the Reformed Baptist Fellowship.  […]

  14. […] some go further: one pastor called the post “destructive” and suggested that TGC should offer an apology for it. His complaints, at least the ones that he […]

  15. My comment, copied below, did not wait for moderation. Perhaps they are only moderated if they exceed a certain length?


    I believe the allegorical and ahistorical treatment of scripture here undermines the gospel and shows, once again, why the Puritans, and evangelicals who share their gospel-driven aspirations, generally don’t embrace Lent.

    The author writes that Lent “prepares the way for the Lord” just as John the Baptist did. But that implies that the Lord hasn’t come already and finished His work; or, at least, that He has to keep on coming, every year, through the liturgical calendar, to keep working on the salvation he hasn’t finished yet.

    Further, it implies that some seasons and days are more holy than others and sanctification is attained during those few sacred times. This is contrary to the gospel-created reality that all of our lives are to be holy to the Lord.

    Why not this Lenten season, seminary students, pastors, devout Christians of all kinds, think deeply about what Christ has earned once and for all in the cross and, so, give up Lent for Lent?

  16. Bravo Rich!

  17. John, here is what Tom Chantry thinks: “Perhaps, but I suspect it is more sinister. The objecting comments which they tend to approve are often either terse or passionate. It is easy to set such comments aside: “Look at the absurdity of our critics!” What they consistently hide are comments like yours, which are calm, reasoned, biblical, and which demand a refutation which it would be very difficult to make.

    To put it simply, I don’t think they like the idea of having to actually defend themselves. Perhaps it’s beneath them.”

  18. I said:
    I hope they don’t post a lecture on why it is careful , balanced, loving, and accepting to post stuff on Lent.

    to which a friend replied:
    Or how it is careful, balanced, loving, and accepting to not allow dissenting views.

  19. I am not too surprised anymore by what gets posted over at TGC. Many of my comments have remained in suspended animation for an eternity. Hummmm! BTW, I agree with Tom Chantry on most things, and now you. 🙂

  20. For a more positive take on Lent, see this article by Mike Horton:

  21. Thanks, Luke. I do not, however, think Dr. Horton would disagree with anything I said in the post.

  22. I fully sympathize and agree with your response. But it does seem you are bewildered by what is common place with TGC. Not only should this alarm you but as well its repeated toleration and practice of hermeneutical, theological and practical failure on a regular basis without apology and in fact done so unabashedly and quite robustly.

    This is a failure a beginner with the Scriptures would make. You will get no acknowledgement of this. Again, it is a repeated practice by TGC. It reminds me of Russell Moore’s piece equating Mary, Joseph and our infant Lord as illegal immigrants. That poison is still happily in TGC’s drinking water.

    I dare say up to 50% but no less than 25%of their material fails at the level you identified but of course if it was pointed out regularly you would not be thanked but cursed for raining on their parade

    Thank you for demanding hermeneutical, theological and practical integrity from Teachers for the sake of what God’s sheep may eat to their injury.

  23. I am glad to find this. I am a Reformed Baptist in a region where we are ridiculed for being such. My Sunday school teacher was openly ridiculed in a Baptist Newspaper by a local pastor who is an “Open Theist” and most around here come from the Honky Tonk Gospel/Dispensational, Premillennial camp. I have agreed with just about everything here, and I appreciate your stand on truth. Even if it is a stand to correct and reprove a brother. Keep it up!

  24. Richard,

    Thanks for addressing this. Whatever the “good intentions” the author of the TGC article may have had, the thesis and thrust of his article is misguided, unhelpful, and potentially harmful to the gospel.

  25. Bob, I agree. Nor is it helpful for such an influential site to allow it to stay up. I have shared my concerns with some on their council. I hope they take it down with a *brief* apology.

  26. TGC should have an article from the historically Puritan (for lack of a better name) perspective, in opposition (or at least cautioning) of Lent, as they usually do with issues over which there is a variation of opinion among evangelicals. I was surprised and disappointed that they have put up at least two articles in support of observing Lent and none questioning it.

    However, Reformed Baptists should be can’t complain about lack of dissent at TGC. I was banned from a Reformed Baptist discussion page for daring question the “family integrated church” movement, which I believe is a subversion of the church. ARBCA requires churches to believe in cessationism, despite lack of Biblical evidence for it.

  27. please omit “should be” from the first sentence of the second paragraph above.

  28. […] the link to the Reformed Baptist Fellowship site that features the post by Richard Barcellos.  Here is that […]

  29. This Reformed Presbyterian pastor thanks you so much for this very helpful post!

  30. Lent seems to be getting bigger and bigger every year in the evangelical world. As for me, I decided to eat more bacon!

  31. I was about to note that comments with links generally get tossed to the moderation bin automatically, rather than automatically appearing on the site. But it’s been 5 days now, so that is disappointing. Thanks for these concise thoughts

  32. Years ago, after Anglicanism, I gave up Lent for Lent, and see Jesus as my righteousness, rest, and law-keeper.

    Also post-Presbyterian, I am sad to see TGC embrace a popish relic (pun intended).

    Traditions such as Lent are brought in to fill up a gospel-vacuum that’s developed. If one’s faith is shakey, then traditions appeal.

    If one is looking to Christ alone, then we do good works NOT to get us closer to God, but FROM our relationsip established by him through faith alone, per Eph. 2:8-10. The Lenten tradition is to get one to God, not flowing from God.

    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 of Christ. Let no one cheat you of your reward, taking delight in false humility and worship of angels, intruding into those things which he has not[d] seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind, and not holding fast to the Head, from whom all the body, nourished and knit together by joints and ligaments, grows with the increase that is from God.

    Therefore, if you died with Christ from the basic principles of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourselves to regulations —“Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle,” which all concern things which perish with the using— according to the commandments and doctrines of men? hese things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh. {Col. 2:16-end; NKJV}

  33. Below is my reply to the GC article supporting Lent by Chuck Colson, an Anglican minister, in response to his comments to me which suggested he didn’t understand Puritanism. I tried posting it at the GC blog but it may not have been accepted:

    Hi Chuck,

    Thank you for the courtesy of a thoughtful and gracious reply. However, your answer is not well-informed and suggests, with all due respect, that you have little understanding of the evangelical movement or it’s historical roots.

    First, Puritans were Anglicans. They were the movement seeking to reform the Church of England according to the Word of God, with the gospel in the center. Gospel-centrality (although a new term) wasn’t their slogan but it was their passion.

    Second, the term “left-wing of Puritanism” refers to movements like the Quakers, who also, of course, opposed the church calendar. It does not refer simply to those who opposed the liturgical year, which would have been all (or nearly all) of Puritans.

    Third, As far as I know, all Puritans opposed the liturgical year, including Christmas, Good Friday and Easter. They had seen how it necessarily obscures or even undermines the gospel. The New England Puritans had only three “holy days”: the weekly Lord’s Day (“Sabbath”), Fsting days and Thanksgiving days, the later two were called spontaneously as Providence seemed to direct. That is, fasting days and Thanksgiving days were not scheduled into the calender but were marked as a response to circumstances. I believe it is safe to say that opposition to the liturgical year was part-and-parcel of Puritanism because they understood that to be Catholic tradition which taught, as your article suggests, that godliness is something obtained through a cyclical events we do, rather than remembering what God has already finished.

    Finally, lacking that historical understanding of Puritanism means that likely you lack an appreciation for the gospel-centeredness of historical evangelicalism; that would account for you not understanding the core issues at stake in an attempt to re-introduce a tradition that was purposefully and thoughtfully rejected by faithful Christians in the past. That is, you simply don’t understand why observing Lent fell out of evangelicalism, likely assuming that it was by careless neglect when the truth was that there were theologically substantial reasons for doing so.

    I ask that the Gospel Coalition find someone to write an article from the historic evangelical (i.e. “Puritan”) position explaining why it was opposed by our faithful Christian forefathers and the dangers inherent in trying to re-introduce it.

  34. Dear John,

    Appreciate your comments. @ the other TGC Lenten devotion, particularly.

    Sad that you & Richard are there [even somewhat] censored.

    My being banned is entirely apropos, but you all are learned, civil, and biblical.

    On 2nd thought, maybe that’s exactly why TGC isn’t keen on your insights. Keller’s gospel is something else (which is not another).

  35. John,
    Interestingly (though tangentially), the Anglicans were among the original Reformers.
    (Dare we call them “puritans”? Maybe with a lower case “p”.)
    Having once erred in joining a modern-day Anglican church b/c of my naive and false impression that anyone there believed in the 39 Articles or Cranmer, Ridley, et. al., I have learnt the hard way.
    My point is that the early Anglicans (read Foxe & Ryle!) were pretty biblical and trying to get back – as you indicate – to Holy Writ!

  36. Lent: A Secondary Issue Hardly Worth Arguing About

    Paul is clear in Romans 14 that there are indeed disputable, secondary matters, ones where he refused take a strong authoritarian stand, even though he believed that one side was more right. He used two examples, food and holy days. Some things are simply less important and not worth fighting about, and he allowed differences of opinion:
    “Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters. One man’s faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him. Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.
    One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. He who regards one day as special, does so to the Lord. He who eats meat, eats to the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who abstains, does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God. For none of us lives to himself alone and none of us dies to himself alone. If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.
    For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living. You, then, why do you judge your brother? Or why do you look down on your brother? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat.
    Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.”

  37. Dr Bruce,

    Paul is clear in Gal. 4 & Phil. 3 & Col. 2 that there are indeed indisputable, primary matters, ones where he was Holy-Ghost-inspired to take a strong authoritarian stand, knowing that false steps lead to death.

    He used two examples: circumcision and the observance of days. Some things are simply too important to not fight about, and he allowed no “differences of opinion” when gospel freedom was at stake. 🙂

  38. […] Read the Baptist perspective on the controversy by Richard Barcellos here: To Lent or reLent? […]

  39. From my email to “Dr Bruce’s” post of 21 Feb. 2013 @ 8am ~

    We’re not merely talking about “a day” (whether it be Ash Wednesday or whatever). We’re talking about man-made traditions, rules, rituals, etc. that neither we nor our fathers could bear, that do not present Christ and his finished work as our only hope, but in their stead give us traditions that lead us away from the true Christ and his work on behalf of his elect. (As well as violate a number of our Lord’s directions on prayer & fasting in Matt. 6.)

    (We mention in passing the BCP’s wrongheaded collect for Ash Wednesday [“God, who hatest nothing that thou hast made”], misuse of Joel, and blatant, ironic contradictory quoting of Jesus from Matthew 6!)

    Paul determined to preach only Christ and him crucified, not rituals and holy days. Jesus himself in Matt. 23 condemned in the strongest words possible the religious idiots who thought they could improve on God’s religion. Such are the papists, Orthodox, Lutherans, Anglicans, Methodists, and Presbyterians when they exult in such rubbish as Ash Wednesday.

    Some do not much care about truth and the gospel, and like to make carnal peace with those who deny the finished work of Christ on behalf of his people. “Peace, peace,” they may cry, but God isn’t always peace loving if it takes away from his glory~

    Therefore I will give their wives to others, and their fields to those who will inherit them; because from the least even to the greatest everyone is given to covetousness; from the prophet even to the priest everyone deals falsely. For they have healed the hurt of the daughter of My people slightly, saying, ‘Peace, peace!’ When there is no peace. Were they ashamed when they had committed abomination? No! They were not at all ashamed, nor did they know how to blush. Therefore they shall fall among those who fall; in the time of their punishment they shall be cast down,” says the Lord. {Jer. 8:10-12, NKJV}

    Not edifying or safe! So say the prophets, Paul, Jesus, & the Holy Spirit repeatedly.

    The Spirit-inspired apostle Paul had no patience for those promoting any works-religion.

    In Gal. 3:1ff ~ O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you that you should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed among you as crucified? This only I want to learn from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh? Have you suffered so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain?

    Gal. 4:8ff ~ But then, indeed, when you did not know God, you served those which by nature are not gods. But now after you have known God, or rather are known by God, how is it that you turn again to the weak and beggarly elements, to which you desire again to be in bondage? You observe days and months and seasons and years. I am afraid for you, lest I have labored for you in vain.

    Phil. 3:1ff ~ Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord. For me to write the same things to you is not tedious, but for you it is safe. Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the mutilation! For we are the circumcision, who worship God in the Spirit, rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh, though I also might have confidence in the flesh. If anyone else thinks he may have confidence in the flesh, I more so: circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; concerning the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless. But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.

    & Col. 2:16ff ~ 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 of Christ. Let no one cheat you of your reward, taking delight in false humility and worship of angels, intruding into those things which he has not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind, and not holding fast to the Head, from whom all the body, nourished and knit together by joints and ligaments, grows with the increase that is from God. Therefore, if you died with Christ from the basic principles of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourselves to regulations— “Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle,” which all concern things which perish with the using—according to the commandments and doctrines of men? These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh.

    solus Christus

  40. […] releasing a guide to the virtues and enjoyment of ham sandwiches. Richard Barcellos’ reply in To Lent or reLent? was right on […]

  41. This is nothing of a big, well-thought out response. Just a personal reflection.

    The thing that has always left me empty, dry and confused about much of modern reformed evangelicalism is the loss of a many Christian practices that focus on a reflective, contemplative, devotional, inner life. Not every person has the same personality that gravitates toward logic, rhetoric, and left-brain dominated theology.

    For centuries and centuries Christians have pulled out aspects from the Gospel narratives and other parts of the Bible, and contemplated upon them in experiential, meditational, full-bodied, and left-brain dominated activities.

    Should we pit these against each other? Can’t these two strains of worship exist side-by-side and support each other? Must we pit Christian traditions against each other as in war?

    I wish I had quotes here from puritans or reformers, on meditating on Christ and things, but I don’t right at the moment.

    Just some thoughts.

  42. […] Read “To Lent or reLent? Thoughts on [last year's] post at The Gospel Coalition” [4 min. readout] […]

  43. […] in the Roman Catholic time of lent. Richard Barcellos, blogging at Reformed Baptist Fellowship, offered a couple of comments to counter the position. Protestants, especially those of the Reformed stripe, […]

  44. Reblogged this on Truth2Freedom's Blog.

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