Monday, February 15, 2010

how and why Lent...

Christianity Today hosted three authors for comments on why (non-Catholic) Christians should care about Lent...

First, Steven Harmon:

In central Texas, where I grew up, the period between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday made obvious the distinctions between how Catholics and Baptists practiced their faith.

Catholic friends came to school with ash smudges on their foreheads, ate a lot of fish, gave up various pleasures for a time, and went to extra church services. My Baptist friends and I did not. We wrongly considered this evidence that Catholics believed they had to do these things to be saved. We believed we were saved by grace and therefore didn't have to do any of that....

Can Baptists observe Lent? All Baptist congregations observe some sort of calendar in their worship. Though many Baptists may profess that they "judge all days to be alike," in reality they do "judge one day to be better than another" (Rom. 14:5), as many expect certain days and seasons of the year to be recognized in worship services....

Without the observance of Lent, and Holy Week in particular, Easter Sunday fails to keep in proper balance the Cross and the Resurrection as the two main New Testament paradigms for the Christian life....


Then Frederica Mathewes-Green:

Lent is a time of year to remember that God has seen fit to make us not airy spirits but embodied human beings living in a beautiful, material world....Spiritual disciplines such as fasting are analogous to weight-lifting equipment. One who uses them in a disciplined way will be stronger, not just when he's lifting weights, but also for every situation he meets.

While some people think of Lent as a time to personally choose something to "give up," the practice of the Eastern Christians, from the earliest centuries, is to observe a common fast. This is not a complete fast, but rather abstaining from meat and dairy—basically a vegan diet. Tertullian (A.D. 160-225) likened it to Daniel's diet in the king's court, when he abstained from meat and rich foods and grew stronger than those who feasted.

There's something to be said for following an ancient, universal Lenten custom like this instead of choosing your own adventure. Most of us are not capable of being our own spiritual directors....

In Lent we are one not only with the church through time, but also with those in our local church. Orthodox Lent begins with the Rite of Forgiveness, in which all church members form a circle and, one at a time, stand face-to-face with each other and ask forgiveness. This experience is profoundly healing and also preventive; I'm more likely to restrain a harsh word in July if I recall that I will have to ask this person's forgiveness again in March....


Then,
Michael Horton:

Unlike the Old Testament, however, the New Testament does not prescribe a church calendar. Furthermore, Lent became associated in the medieval church with all sorts of rules and superstitions....

In my view, these special days are valuable chiefly as a teaching opportunity....an evangelical celebration of Lent affords an opportunity to reinforce rather than undermine the significance of Christ's person and work....

When unburdened by superstitious rites, Lent still holds tremendous promise if we will recover its evangelical purpose; namely, leading us and our children to Christ by his Word....

2 Comments:

At February 15, 2010 at 10:57 PM , Blogger William Lang said...

If you're in an Evangelical church, you might not realize how much you are missing in traditions and history. I remember wondering, in my early teens in an Evangelical church, why we never heard about most of the history of the church—from the second century to the fifteenth century. I eventually learned it was because Evangelicals believe that after the apostolic era, the Church became corrupt until the Reformation. Of course, in the Catholic Church, the history is unbroken; you hear about many a saint in that long period of history, including reformers such as St. Francis of Assisi. The Episcopal Church also remembers this history, and it keeps many of the ancient traditions, including Lent. Thus I am looking forward to the Ash Wednesday service at my church this week, the beginning of Lent. (And Shrove Tuesday tomorrow, which is the Anglican version of Mardi Gras; our pre-Lenten party by tradition features a sugary pancake dinner.)

One interesting difference between Evangelicals and Episcopalians as well as Catholics is the Lectionary. Services throughout the church year use the exact same scriptural readings, which are read aloud in the service by lectors (lay readers) or the priest (there are some differences in these between Catholics and Episcopalians). For example, yesterday was Transfiguration Sunday, the last Sunday of Epiphany (the season between Christmas and Lent); all Episcopal churches read Exodus 34:29-35, Psalm 99, 2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2, and Luke 9:28-36. By custom, sermons are based on one or more of these.

 
At February 16, 2010 at 2:13 PM , Blogger PianoMom said...

That is a good comment, William.

I must confess I have spent the last 14 years boycotting Lent, mostly because I spent the 23 years prior to that doing acts of Penance like sleeping on the floor, various fasts, etc. as Lenten observance.

Recently, I have been seeing church history in somewhat of a different light and have been considering Lent differently as well, more as I think the article describes.

Anyway, this year I am going to give up what has become one of my favorite indulgences: Coffee!
I shared this with my kids and they say they are going to give up one of their favorites: Candy! We'll see how that works out :-)

In any case, while I still consider myself an "Evangelical", I too, am looking forward to a meaningful time of focus on Christ (I'm only slightly concerned about the caffeine withdrawal :))

 

Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home