The church calendar currently finds itself during the season of Lent. Lent is traditionally a season of fasting specific foods as laid out by the church as well as intensified prayer, self-examination, and repentance as we draw nearer to Easter and the joyful celebration of Jesus’ glorious bodily resurrection. During this season I have read a bunch of blog posts and articles on Lent from Protestant, non-denominational and denominational, and Orthodox and Roman Catholic circles and would like to offer a few comments of my own (though not to any one particular person or article).
The Orthodox and Roman Catholic blogs I read have been focusing on, obviously, what they are supposed to focus on, but I have noticed a thread in some of their writings and sermons. There is a general, and valid, denouncement of self-guided Lenten practices specifically among Protestants. However, I think it is important to note something: PROTESTANTS ARE OBSERVING LENT! This is a big deal especially considering that one of the key figures of the Reformation started his protest during Lent by letting his people eat sausages when they were supposed to be fasting meat. Lest one think though that the Orthodox and Roman Catholics are being sticks in the mud about this I’d also note that, from what I have read, there is a general appreciation of Protestants returning to the observation of some of the traditional practices of the church.
In the Protestant blogs I have noticed two tendencies: enthusiastic adoption of Lent complete with the imposition of ashes on Ash Wednesday or warnings that Lent is okay to observe as long as you don’t think it saves you or become legalistic about it. In this I can see some things that annoy more traditional Christian traditions, like the Orthodox, in that the prescribed practices of Lent devolve into fasting of things like Facebook or chocolate instead of the rigorous asceticism Lent traditionally demands. On the other hand I see Lent making more conservative Protestants, usually of the Calvinistic variety, nervous because they see these practices as capitulation to tradition and would rather fight the battles of 16th century Tridentine theology rather than take up a practice that reeks of papism.
Personally, I really like the rigor of Lent. I’m part of a non-denominational evangelical group with ties to the charismatic renewal movements of the 1970’s so the only Lenten practices I can observe are self determined (much to the chagrin of more traditional Christians). On the other hand, my taking on of a more ascetically rigorous observation of Lent looks to be works righteousness to those on the Protestant side because heck, we’re already righteous so we don’t have to worry about self-examination, repentance, or asking for God’s mercy because all we have to do is let go and let God. I feel like Clint Eastwood’s character from A Fistful of Dollars when he says, “The Rojos on one side and the Baxters on the other, and me right in the middle…”
So what is a person to do? I say go for it, observe Lent. Yes, even you YRR/TGC guy. I’ve been fortunate as I have friends in the Orthodox Church who have been good guides and have encouraged me to, as much as I can in my own context, press into pursuing a life of holiness and serious spiritual self examination and prayer. My prayer during Lent for myself and for you dear reader is simply this: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me.
(In my use of Protestant I am referring generally to evangelicals of various denominations and not Protestants from the Anglican/Episcopal/more traditional side of things)