I had a good question come through on my Facebook wall today, which was also the subject of Mac’s World Live yesterday.
Lent? To celebrate or not to celebrate? I’ve been wondering what the theological basis for celebrating lent would be. It is not widely advertised in our churches. Any thoughts?
There is freedom here. Certainly there is no “religious bonus points” for celebrating it. However, here is one line of argumentation I would give for observing it:
There is a strange sort of “biblicism” that we evangelicals in the West have that says “if it’s not in the Bible then we don’t have to do it.” which is true-ish, but there are LOTS of things that aren’t in the Bible that we SHOULD do. I’d be so bold as to say that 90% of the things we practice as a church are not “in the Bible”. (Sunday School, Church Services, Outreach Events, Conferences, Retreats, Book Studies…)
Learning From History and From Others
The issue of Lent is this: for 2000 years, Godly, Spirit-led men in the church have been seeking to answer the question of how to best teach the truths of the Bible, disciple men and women in the faith, help apply the Gospel to every situation in life, and transfer the full council of God. About 1500 years ago (give or take a few centuries depending on who you ask), they came up with the practice of the Lenten season (and the liturgical calendar in general).
There are several (good!) traditions for the calendar, each with their own form and function. Most all of them include Lent. The purpose of the time is 40 days of intense discipleship and meditation on The Gospel, and instruction in the basics of the faith for new believers, traditionally culminating in a massive baptism spree on Easter for those new converts.
The issue is not whether or not Lent is in the Bible. The question is whether we are going to simply, naively (or pridefully!) dismiss a structure that Godly, Spirit-led men have found useful for FIFTEEN CENTURIES, or if we are going to seek to, in discernment, decide that maybe some of the structures they founded were useful for the edification of the church.
We don’t have to invent every wheel from scratch.
Follow The Leader
Ultimately we are to follow our leaders in the faith.
7 Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.
17 Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.
I think Hebrews 13:7 is a strong argument for observing Lent. Godly men who led the church for centuries past have affirmed it’s usefulness in practice. We ought to consider the outcome of their lives and imitate their faith!
Verse 17 goes on to apply this specifically to your current, local leaders. The ones who are in the trenches for you and over you. 1 Thessalonians 5 affirms this as well, so:
[Note: the original question was asked by a married sister in the church] Ultimately I’d encourage you to follow your husband’s lead first, and your pastor’s second (and I’d encourage your husband to follow your pastor’s lead). And I’d encourage your pastors to follow the Spirit’s lead, and consider Godly, Spirit-filled and led, historical leaders in deciding how to live out this messy life in the Kingdom. :)