Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Lent?

The Baptist church I grew up in participated in a series of Lenten services organized by the local ministers' council. Eventually even the Catholics participated although the Wisconsin Synod Lutherans never did. The Baptist church to which I now belong usually nods toward Lent in our weekly Sabbath worship, but no Ash Wednesday, no fasting, no Holy Week observances. Should we observe Lent? Two views:

Tim Suttle, who is the senior pastor of Redemption Church in Olathe, Kansas, in "Why Evangelicals Need to Observe Lent" expresses a view with which I am sympathetic:
A church without the great traditions of the faith is like a church with amnesia. Rejecting tradition means submitting ourselves and our churches to the tyranny of the relevant, the oligarchy of the innovative, and the arrogance of the avant-garde. More than ever before, the church needs to rediscover our tradition. ....

The best way I know to explain what tradition is (and what it is not), is to borrow the words of Jaroslav Pelikan, who said:
“Tradition is the living faith of the dead; traditionalism is the dead faith of the living. Tradition lives in conversation with the past, while remembering where we are and when we are and that it is we who have to decide. Traditionalism supposes that nothing should ever be done for the first time, so all that is needed to solve any problem is to arrive at the supposedly unanimous testimony of this homogenized tradition.”
Lent is one of the great church traditions. .... [more]
Carl Trueman, a Presbyterian and a theologian, in "Ash Wednesday: Picking and Choosing our Piety," finds the inclination to adopt the traditions of others perplexing:
....I can understand Anglicans observing Lent. Hey, I can even approve of them doing so when I am in an exceptionally good mood or have just awoken from a deep sleep and am still a little disoriented. It is part of their history. It connects to their formal liturgical history. All denominations and Christian traditions involve elements that are strictly speaking unbiblical but which shape their historic identity. For Anglicans, the liturgical calendar is just such a thing. These reasons are not compelling in a way that would make the calendar normative for all Christians, yet I can still see how they make sense to an Anglican. But just as celebrating July the Fourth makes sense for Americans but not for the English, the Chinese or the Lapps, so Ash Wednesday and Lent really make no sense to those who are Presbyterians, Baptists, or free church evangelicals.

What perplexes me is the need for people from these other groups to observe Ash Wednesday and Lent. My commitment to Christian liberty means that I certainly would not regard it as sinful in itself for them to do so; but that same commitment also means that I object most strongly to anybody trying to argue that it should be a normative practice for Christians, to impose it on their congregations, or to claim that it confers benefits unavailable elsewhere. .... [more]