Wednesday, February 17, 2016

What is Lent?

Today is the next Wednesday after Ash Wednesday, one week into the Lenten season. But what is Lent? Once upon a time Bible-believing Baptists would have to look it up in a dictionary (since it is not in the Bible) -- but now in ecumenical times, modern Baptists embrace the practice of Lent and encourage others to do so! This is an unusual change for folks who claim the Bible as their rule of faith and practice.*

In some/many Christian traditions -- probably most often associated with Catholic and Orthodox -- Lent is a season of forty-six days (forty days, not counting Sundays) that leads up to Easter. It begins with a day called Ash Wednesday -- a ritual of rubbing ashes on a person’s forehead in the sign of a cross. It ends with Easter Sunday (One Catholic web site says that it “officially ends on Holy Thursday”; this may vary in different traditions). During Lent, participants give up a particular food, habit, etc. and fast -- varying according to what is required by the church affiliation of the participant. Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday) marks the last day before the Lenten season, which began with people feasting on the foods that they would give up during Lent.

The practice of Lent is not derived from a biblical command or a biblical precedent, but evolved over a period of time. Many historians trace it back initially to Christians who prepared for Easter with three days of fasting and prayer -- which later developed into a “Holy Week”. There is a connection to the Catholic practice of preparing “catechumens” to be baptized at Easter. By the fourth century, Lent had evolved into much of its current days -- including its length of forty days. Most connect the forty days with the forty days fasting of Jesus in the wilderness before His temptation. Some also connect the period of "forty” with the forty years wandering of Israel in the wilderness.

Lenten comments

  • Lent and Today’s Baptists -- “Baptists tend to reject and look with suspicion on that which is not explicitly outlined in Scripture.” 
  • Roman Catholic -- “Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the Season of Lent. It takes place 46 days before Easter Sunday. It is a season of penance, reflection, and fasting...” 
  • The Upper Room -- “Lent is a season of the Christian Year where Christians focus on simple living, prayer, and fasting in order to grow closer to God.” 
  • United Methodist -- “Lent is a season of forty days, not counting Sundays, which begins on Ash Wednesday and ends on Holy Saturday...The forty days represents the time Jesus spent in the wilderness, enduring the temptation of Satan and preparing to begin his ministry...Lent is a time of repentance, fasting and preparation for the coming of Easter.”

* When I Googled “Baptists and Lent,” I got many more hits promoting Lent among Baptists than those rejecting it.

To be continued, Part 2

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