Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Wrestling with Lent

Last year, a couple of us here at CIC had a friendly debate on the merits (Yes! Pun intended) of observing Lent as Protestant Christians.

While we both conceded valid points on the other's side, one piece was decidedly more in favor than the other. And since no one has come up with any reflections or reactions to Lent this year, I thought I'd take this opportunity to offer those two pieces. I've shared the closing thoughts here, but let me commend both of the pieces in their entirety to you.

Note: I use the words "pro" and "con" here in a very polarizing manner, and Tim would be the first to say he's not completely against observing Lent (and does so in his piece). But this is a blog, and I've learned that a blogger must use his words in the most incendiary and divisive way possible or you're no better than a second-rate blogger.

CON: Our Obsession with Lent by Timothy Bertolet
I am sure many who celebrate Lent as Protestants are well meaning. I just worry: are the doctrines of the Reformation so far gone that we can't even see the works-righteousness approach that is creeping back into our Christianity? I worry that evangelical young people celebrate Lent because it is cool, trendy and a mark of 'serious Christian commitment.' If this is true it is horrid to the 'good news' of the gospel.

I don't want to be legalistically for or against Lent. I would just caution you to think about things Biblically and carefully. Examine your heart before you proceed. Ask yourself: what does this say about my doctrine? Will Lent highlight the gospel of free grace or take away from it?
I would say in some cases--though admittedly not in all--it actually does begin to point away from free grace in the gospel. The danger is that we never notice the subtle shift in direction and soon find ourself heading down a road to another gospel.
PRO: The Gospel and Lent: A Reformer's Reasoning by Jared Totten
And here's where grace and the gospel comes home. My church takes every Sunday off during Lent...Every Sabbath leading up to Easter is a mini-celebration that we are no longer under dietary laws—and The Law in the larger sense. Lent fasting is for prayer and submission and dependence, but we will always and only do these imperfectly. So each Sabbath of Lent—but especially Easter—is a celebration of the fact that our right stand does not depend on a fast (and its success or failure). It does not depend on how well or how long we pray. It depends solely on the One who fed himself and depended on prayer and the Word throughout his faultless life. It rests completely on the One who submitted to being emptied, being a servant, being humbled, and being crucified. My righteousness rests in the fasting of another, the dependence of another, the submission of another, the prayers of another.

Fasting isn't an end in itself (if it is, then it's just dieting). But when we willfully give up something good in order to learn greater dependence on and submission to God through prayer and the Word, then our very discipline reflects and identifies with Christ in his humble incarnation and celebrates Christ in his perfect substitution. I can hardly think of a better preparation for Easter.

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