by L. A. Stauffer
in Biblical Insights, Vol. 6, No. 2, Feb. 2006
Neither Mardi Gras nor any of the practices of the lenten season are authorized by God in the Scriptures.
Mardi Gras is a French term that means "Fat Tuesday" but generally refers to a three day religious celebration that occurs immediately before Ash Wednesday. Ash Wednesday begins a 40 day period of lenten fast and penitence that leads up to Easter Sunday. The three day celebration before Lent, in English tradition is called Shrovetide, Mardi Gras or Fat Tuesday. This year, it falls on the 28th day of February.
The festivities begin with the sacrament of penance in which the celebrants confess their sins to a priest and accept the demands of meritorious works as conditions of absolution of sins. After the confession, the carnival spirit begins and indulgences of the flesh follow. Unbridled eating is permitted through Fat Tuesday -- the final day of feasting before the 40 day fast begins on Ash Wednesday.
Most of us are familiar with "Mardi Gras" from the New Orleans perspective, which includes drinking, feasting, and lascivious behavior. There drunkenness, gluttony, and sexual indulgences are prominent. We're also familiar with the gifts of beads to immodest women who will shamelessly lift their blouses or sweaters and expose themselves.
Any good Bible student is struck with the absence of any of this in Scripture. Where, then, do the terms "Lent," "Fat Tuesday," "Ash Wednesday," "Shrovetide," and "Easter Sunday" originate? All of them are traced to post-biblical centuries as aspects of Catholic tradition. Some of it has been adopted in later centuries by Protestant denominations. Is it any wonder that some feel the need to flee from Catholicism and Protestantism and return to the practices of the first-century church as taught by Jesus and the apostles in the Scriptures?
First: Jesus says of the traditions and doctrines of men practiced by the Jews: "In vain do they worship Me, Teaching as their doctrines the precepts of men" (Matthew 15:9). The apostle John in a battle against the rise of the Gnostic philosophy, so prominent by the second century, tells first-century disciples: "Whosoever goeth onward and abideth not in the teaching of Christ, hath not God" (II John 9). The New Testament is clear that the Scriptures inspired of God and revealed to apostles and prophets in the first century are "profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness" -- and that they are sufficient to furnish the man of God complete unto every good work (II Timothy 3:16-17). Beliefs and practices not found in the Scriptures are not authorized by God.
Second: Jesus says: "Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!" (Matthew 23:13,15,16,23,25,27,29). What can be more hypocritical and insincere than confessing sins, seeking to earn forgiveness by acts of contrition, and then indulging in the grossest kind of revelry, lewdness, and immorality - all of which are condemned as works of the flesh that exclude men from the kingdom of God (Galatians 5:19-21). Repentance calls on men to forsake the practice of sin -- to, as John the Baptist taught, bring forth the fruit of righteousness that demonstrates a penitent spirit (Luke 3:8). A penitent spirit never allows for the indulgences of the flesh.
Third: Jesus says: "Take heed that you do not your righteousness before men, to be seen of them" (Matthew 6:1). The Pharisees, especially, were known to give alms to the needy in the presence of others, to pray openly on street corners, and to fast with public display (Matthew 6:1-18). No one doubts that sincere love reaches out with gifts to the poor, and that there is a time for fasting and a time for prayer. But these are personal matters between a righteous man and the Lord --not ostentatious exhibits to receive the praise of men. As men in the next few weeks will receive the mark of ashes on their foreheads in the shape of a cross, so Pharisees to be seen of men disfigured their faces when they fasted. This Jesus condemns (Matthew 6:16-18).
Fourth: Jesus says: "If any man would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily, and follow Me" (Luke 9:23). Serving God and following Jesus is not an "annual" but "daily" practice. Even in the thought of "Easter" Sunday as a once-in-a-year observance is not biblical. Christians, in the first century, came together weekly upon the first day of the week (Sunday) to remember the death of Jesus in the observance of the Lord's Supper (Acts 20:7).
Mardi Gras and its excesses should remind Christians to serve God day by day in sincerity and truth according to the teaching of Jesus Christ -- remembering that the words of Jesus, not Catholic tradition, will judge us in the last day (John 12:48)."For we must all be made manifest before the judgment-seat of Christ; that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he hath done, whether it be good or bad" (II Corinthians 5:10).