Saturday, February 06, 2010

Lent - Why Bother - a Response

I am reading through my Christianity Tody which is surprisingly interesting this month. They had a brief two page article featuring three opinions on the topic of Lent – Why Bother?. I was really disappointed that all three were in favor of Lent. It sort of defeats the purpose of having a viewpoints article if the views are all the same. I was more surprised because one of the view points was from Michael Horton. He favored an "evangelical" celebration of Lent.

Now, I have made my thoughts known in the past about Lent, and why I don’t like it. I also have some dear friends who do celebrate it, and I don’t want to unnecessarily anger anyone. However, the lack of an “anti-Lent” position should be rectified. So I will speak against again here.

Horton admits that the Reformers railed against the connection between the fasting and penance of Lent with works of merit that expiate our sins. Such things are rightly condemned and ought to be by all Protestants. He also quotes the Puritans who taught Lent passed on superstitions, constrained the conscience, and degraded the Lord’s Day. All valid concerns, which are not really addressed by Horton. Horton goes on to suggest an evangelical keeping of the 40 Days of Lent. He does not mention whether or not this includes fasting, but one would assume it does. He makes a big deal of the number 40 in the Bible, which while maybe true does not need to be tied to Lent, which is not mentioned in the Bible. Horton believes Lent is a wonderful time for instruction and following the Life of Christ to prepare for Easter.

While I respect Horton a great deal, I think he is dangerously wrong here. Lent will tend to teach people a meritorious expiation of sin on our part as we suffer along with Christ on the road to Easter. It must be specifically taught against each and every Lent, and probably multiple times during Lent. I would bet the majority of people believe their suffering during Lent is meritorious in some manner or another. It is the default position. They practiced Lent in the Methodist church where I grew up and it was the default position there. It either helps us share in the suffering and thus share in paying for our own sins, or it means we are more holy now than when we began the fast. Both are dangerous positions. If Horton does not think that this is the default position for Protestants practicing Lent he should just look over a few columns to read the viewpoint of Baptist pastor and Professor Steven Harmon. Harmon states that the "dominant paradigm for Christian discipleship this side of heaven is "sharing in his sufferings" (Phil. 3:10.)" Harmon makes giving up of meat or something like that into sharing in the sufferings of Christ, which I think is a bit of a stretch in the first place, but he also says it is the main part of discipleship, which is also wrong in my opinion. Clearly, Lent is a way to share in the sufferings of Christ for Rev. Harmon, a Protestant.

The Reformation began in earnest in Switzerland by breaking this very idea. The rejection of Lent was the first major step taken by Zwingli toward total reformation. The Affair of Sausages was right and good. Now, I have no doubt that Horton does not want people to think that they are actually participating in Christ’s suffering, and really just thinks it is a teachable time, a time to prepare for Easter (something I am not sure is necessary either). But the tool of Lent is so bound up in bad theology that one wonders exactly how beneficial it would be to use it.

3 Comments: said...

Hi Lee.

At the time of my writing this it has been only a half hour since you put this post up, so I haven't had any time to research this, or thoroughly think it through. So my comments here are just off the tip of my brain.

As a member in the U.R.C. (same church federation as Michael Horton) I can't imagine that he would advocate celebrating Lent as an ordinance of the church. I do remember that several years ago the White Horse Inn had a show about the value of the church calendar in churches (like the Reformed-Evangelical-Episcopal) that use one.

On my blog, I posted selections from the Book of Common Prayer during the advent season, and I am considering doing something similar for the period leading up to Resurrection Day. It seems to me, however, that celebrating the weeks of Lent as a church service, would be like adding another sacrament to the two that protestants recognize as scriptural. Again, I have not seen the article, so I don't know if Horton or the other contributers are advocating that.

Believers actually are spiritually united to Christ in his death and resurrection, but this is represented in baptism and the Lord's Supper.

Any hint of our "pennance" playing even the slightest role in our justification would nullify Grace Alone, through Faith Alone, because of Christ Alone.

These are just a few thoughts that popped into my head when I read your post.

God bless.


Stephen said...


I agree with your assessment of this season. I'm sure this is not always the case, but anyone I know that seriously practices lent are using it as a way to make themselves feel good; that they have somehow experienced suffering as they gave up coffee for 40 days. Even then, most of the people I know cheat, so they've accomplished nothing but giving themselves a feeling that they have done something.

I've not thought about this until reading your thoughts, but your observations make a lot of sense to me, and I agree with your stance.

Andrew McIntyre said...

I think it depends greatly on how Lent is observed. Liturgically, it basically just means we add more elements of repentance and have more somber services (e.g. less singing). In the evangelical Anglican tradition, there is no mandatory fasting. I am a priest, and I didn't give up anything this year. I did last year, but it seemed silly to me. So, honestly, although I like the focus on repentance during the season, I would not cry croc tears if it were not observed. It is adiaphora IMHO.