Should Christians Practice Lent?
Posted by Job on March 15, 2011
This is in response to a question received in the comments area.
It appears that as the ecumenical tendencies of evangelical churches increase, they are adopting more practices associated with Catholicism. While that is a worrisome trend in general, with regards to Lent in particular I cannot find anything with this tradition that transgresses New Testament teaching. It is also true that some Protestant groups have long had this ritual in their backgrounds. Anglicans, for instance, have traditionally celebrated Lent, as have Methodists and Lutherans. Presbyterians, by contrast, generally did not until recently precisely because of its Catholic origins. Other groups and traditions (i.e. Baptists) haven’t, but more so because they aren’t liturgical than because of its origins.
The question is whether the practice of Lent can be separated from the Roman Catholic doctrine of Lent. That is the same question being asked about whether a Christian should practice yoga or other traditions that come from other religions. Apart from the Catholic doctrines, Lent is simply fasting, and moreover fasting in honor of the passion and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Certainly, there can be no law against such a thing! I have practiced fasting myself in the past, and will start back in the future, sometime later this year
However, my issue is this: if you want to fast, just fast. (And fast the way that Jesus Christ instructed us to in the gospels!) And if it is to be a corporate fast initiated by the pastor of a local congregation, and the members of that congregation touch and agree on it, even better still. Or if a group of Christians from one congregation or several congregations decide that they want to come together and devote themselves to a time of fasting and prayer without being led to do so by their pastor, again, against such thing there is no law. Indeed, such good works are praiseworthy. And we certainly should not avoid fasting during this time of year just because the Catholics are fasting.
However, in addition to avoiding Catholic doctrines regarding this ritual of theirs, what is the purpose of calling it “Lent”? Why not just call it a fast? If the reason is merely to emulate or show some sort of solidarity with Catholicism, then in my opinion, that is extremely problematic. The Bible verse that I would use is this: 2 Corinthians 6:14 “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness?” Now that verse is often improperly applied to marriage (when the opposite is true; instead the Bible states that a believing spouse can often be used by God to convert an unbelieving one, see 1 Corinthians 7:10-16). Instead, this scripture and its context obviously refers to not being in religious communion or fellowship with non-Christians. That means that we cannot and should not emulate their beliefs, ways, traditions and rituals. Of course, in this age of ecumenism, pluralism, diversity, tolerance and other forms of ecclesiastical indulgence and compromise, it is no wonder that this 2 Corinthians 6:14 is applied to an area where it was never intended (ironically, consider the evangelical Christian dating site equallyyoked.com!) and neglected where it actually applies, which is to not keep church company with false religions, apostates, heretics, cultists, and anyone else who is operating beyond the bounds of New Testament Christianity, which most certainly includes Catholics, who do not even use our same canon of scripture.
Along with the National Association of Evangelical’s outreach to Mormons, it is a sign of the times. But make no mistake, it is a time that people serious about 2 Corinthians 6:14 and scripture in general should not join! Again, if your Protestant denomination has a legitimate longstanding Lent tradition of its own apart from Roman Catholicism, that is probably legitimate. But if it is some new thing, some fad that people are joining themselves to, it is perfectly appropriate to ask “why” and turn away!