Why Evangelicals Need to Observe Lent

traditionEvangelicals need to observe Lent, in part, because our troubling lack of tradition leaves us untethered from the past. A church without the great traditions of the faith is like a church with amnesia. Rejecting tradition means submitting ourselves and our churches to the tyranny of the relevant, the oligarchy of the innovative, and the arrogance of the avant-garde. More than ever before, the church needs to rediscover our tradition.

When I say tradition, I don’t mean pews and organs and choir robes and classical music. Those things are once exalted pop-cultural markers, like today’s video projectors and podcasts. Tradition goes to the heart of the faith. The best way I know to explain what tradition is (and what it is not), is to borrow the words of Jaroslav Pelikan, who said:

“Tradition is the living faith of the dead; traditionalism is the dead faith of the living. Tradition lives in conversation with the past, while remembering where we are and when we are and that it is we who have to decide. Traditionalism supposes that nothing should ever be done for the first time, so all that is needed to solve any problem is to arrive at the supposedly unanimous testimony of this homogenized tradition.”

Lent is one of the great church traditions. Observing Lent is like submitting to the memory of our grandparents, trusting that if we are ever going to learn to experience and tell the story of God rightly, we’re going to have to learn the words to say from them. Chesterton famously said that submitting to tradition is like giving our ancestors a vote in how we live our lives right now. It’s nothing less than a generational honoring of our fathers and mothers.

Lent is the forty days between Ash Wednesday and Good Friday excepting Sundays. During Lent, we are invited to shed a skin. For 40 days we embrace an intentional wilderness experience meant to help us to break out of the deadly patterns that keep us anesthetized and numbed to life. Traditionally Christians fast from something during Lent as a means of preparation for the celebration of Easter. Lenten fasts — giving up candy, coffee, soda, television, or meat on Fridays — are meant to help us see things in a new light. When we fast we voluntarily switch off the lights in our daily routines, hoping that in the self-induced darkness we might actually be able to see our way forward a little better. And if ever a people needed to turn out the lights and sit in the darkness for awhile, it is the typical American Evangelical Christian.

When we observe Lent, we allow our imagination to be provoked. We let God mess with us through ascetic interactions with the physical world. In doing so, we submit our appetites and patterns to God in a new way. We are forced into the wilderness with Jesus to be tested and tried.

At Redemption we have embraced the lenten traditions. Here are some of the things we embrace as a part of this season. Not everyone does all of these, but there is enough opportunity here to find a way to observe this important tradition. Feel free to use these ideas to formulate your own lenten practice.

  • Ash Wednesday prayer service.
  • Lenten Fast: giving something up for Lent.
  • Friday Fast: no food after supper on Thursday, until sundown Friday.
  • Feasts: two Fridays during Lent we gather as a church to break fast together.
  • Maundy Thursday: communion service.
  • Good Friday: Stations of the Cross service.
  • Holy Saturday: silence as much as possible.
  • Easter Sunday: celebrate resurrection.

p.s. If you are interested, I spoke at HCC yesterday, and talked about the importance of memory. Here’s the video of that message.

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  • Jennifer P

    1. During lent consider that in Iraq members of ISIS are painting the Arab letter “N” on the doors of the houses of Christians, so that they can be targeted for conversion, for the dhimmitude tax, or for execution.

    2. Consider that the Christians of the Middle East and North Africa (mostly Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholic) generally fast from all meat and dairy and limit themselves to one good meal and two small meals for forty days, then continuing through Holy Week until Easter. What shall I return to the Lord for all the good He has given me?

  • rlhailssrpe

    To these excellent thoughts I would add two.

    Who is “we”? I am a Roman Catholic daily communicant and an Evangelical. That would be worthy of a separate article, as the late Saint John Paul II said that this movement is at the center of Catholicism.

    And Lent is far more than a consideration of caloric intake. Primarily it is a time for being closer to God, turning away from the frenetic distractions of modern life, and reaching out (perhaps back for traditionalists) to the essence of our existence. This is the reason we started today with ashes on our foreheads. It is a reminder of what we once were and will be again, dirt. But there is more, much more.

  • Rod Holmes
    • James Stagg

      Just because PastorJeremy is ignorant of the reality of Lent does not mean you need to follow his example.

    • Morgan Silver

      Pastor Jeremy offers ‘Four Reasons I Don’t Observe Lent.’ Let’s see what they are…

      #1 – Pastor Jeremy says: “Caution #1: Lent can lead us to focus on giving up the wrong things and leads to a false righteousness.”

      True enough, except the Church has volumes of information on the real meaning of Lent, and how it is about Prayer, Fasting and Almsgiving – three ‘good’ things you really can’t have enough of;

      #2 – “Caution #2: Lent often involves a fast which is frivolous.”

      True, except that there are multiple teachings on how to make the fast about praying more, reading scripture, serving others, doing good, and generally making the fast significant and real;

      #3 – “Caution #3: Lent can wrongly lead people to believe that they can be saved by their works.”

      Actually, this is misinformation. The Church has always believed that only Christ saves. Our decision is to JOIN Him in our salvation, and that means doing His commandments. Did not Christ say, “If you love Me, do My commandments.” (?) Did he not also say, “When you fast…” (?)

      #4 – Caution #4: Lent often becomes ritualistic instead of deepening our relationship with God.”

      True, this can happen. Yet the Church makes every effort to accomplish a deeper relationship with Christ though greater church attendance and the subsequent prayer and fasting that happens when you attend more often.

      Jeremy did raise my ire a bit. He showed on his blog an Icon called ‘The Ladder of Divine Ascent,’ and criticized it as ‘Having no place in the doctrine of salvation by grace.’

      In this, Jeremy is simply wrong. He says the icon is from the 12th century, but the ‘Ladder of Divine Ascent’ was written in the 500’s, giving it a far older dating and greater reach into the early church than credited on his blog. That’s what bugged me and prompted this post.

      He also missed what the icon represents.

      Pastor Jeremy seems to accuse the icon of representing “grace through works,” yet the monks at St. Catherine’s monastery in the Sinai don’t believe that we are saved by works, but believe that Christ saves us through grace.

      Lent, in simple terms for a simpleton like me, is denying yourself in an offering to God. Not that we need it for salvation (we don’t), but that we need it for the discipline to be able to resist the passions when they come at us the rest of the year. Self-Discipline is good for us, overall, and mandatory for a Christian, isn’t it?

      Lent, therefore, is something of a yearly ‘boot camp’ for the Christian soul. Now, boot camp isn’t for everyone, is it? No, it is only for those who prepare for battle, and for those who persevere to the end.

  • wally

    You need to celebrate Passover not your pagan unbiblical nonsense unholy days.

    • James Stagg

      How rude.

  • Veritas

    The calendar of the church is a yearly walk through the life of Christ. His whole life. Lent is his 40 days in the desert, or isreals 40 years in the desert. A time of cleansing oneself of distractions and unneeded burdens, and walking with christ, reaching for the father.
    There is nothing pagan of it unless you decide to be pagan, but that is for you.
    Do not judge the hearts of others, that it for God.

  • nelson_keener

    Lent can be more about “taking on” than it is about “giving up.” I have evangelical roots and now have followed the Anglican tradition of the church calendar for more than 20 years. Consciously following Lenten practice is a powerful spiritual component of Christian discipline. The main line church is seen by many evangelicals as weak when it comes to addressing our sin and sinfulness. Yet of all the elements of the church calendar, Lent is the longest: six weeks; and it’a about corporate and personal sin/sinfulness. The Penitent Prayer for Ash Wednesday alone is worth the effort to engage oneself.

    The more times I have lived through the church calendar, the more I realize that the arguments evangelicals give for not observing lent are unfounded, As far as ritual goes, Evangelicals still preach a sermon every Sunday, share communion, baptize, celebrate Christmas and Easter…all traditions with rituals. Is God not honored even when our minds are wandering? I believe he is…because the practice is both physical and spiritual.

    • Guthrum

      Over the last several years I have noticed an unusual trend of many evangelical churches adopting practices such as Advent, Ash Wednesday, Lent, Holy Week, and other observances that have been the province of mainline churches. I have seen mainline churches getting away from these activities as they move toward contemporary music and more informal worship. There can be a blend of both. The church calendar’s observances can be a powerful evangelical tool if done right. The weeks of Advent and Lent can bring people closer to Jesus and be a powerful influence. If not done right they are just rituals. I was brought up in a strong liturgical church. Some of that had a big influence and put an importance on worship and Bible study. But sometimes the prority was just getting though the motions. Lent music was so bad that I quit attending for a time. The Holy Spirit must be allowed to move in the services. There must be time for reflection, meditation, even discussion and testimonies.