For quite a while now I've felt like the online magazine Slate has a finger on the pulse of American culture. They don't disappoint today with an facinating look at the recent interest Protestants and Evangelicals have taken in the observance of Lent.
Over the last few years, more Protestant churches have begun daubing ashes on the foreheads of the faithful on Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent in Western Christianity (March 1 this year). Fasting, long familiar to Catholics as a Lenten fact of life, is increasingly popular with evangelical Christians striving for spiritual awakening.
The article gives an interesting overview on the historic disagreement between Protestants and Catholics over the celebration of Lent. Noting a few notable "high points" of the debate in church history.
The Swiss Protestant reformer Ulrich Zwingli mounted one of the first protests against Lenten traditions in 1522. Zwingli defended Zurich printers who insisted they needed their daily meat to have the strength to do their work properly. He complained that the rules of Lent had more to do with obeying Rome than with obeying the Gospel, which, after all, said nothing about whether or not to eat sausages in the weeks preceding Easter. Martin Luther cautioned against fasting "with a view to meriting something by it as by a good work," arguing that Catholic teachings gave believers the false idea that fasting could cancel out sin and win points toward salvation. In his Institutes of the Christian Religion, John Calvin criticized Lent as a "superstitious observance."
In my experience, my Protestant friends who have an interest in Lent, don't honor this time as a specific requirement of the faith. They use the occasion of Lent as a time of personal spritual refection. Some fast, others give up simple pleasures or luxuries as a small reminder of the great sacrifice that Christ made for us. Slate points to several factors for this cultural trend including:
Observing Lent is also part of a Protestant move in the last generation toward more classical forms of spiritual discipline. The hugely influential 1978 book Celebration of Discipline, by Quaker theologian Richard J. Foster, encouraged churchgoers to rediscover fasting and meditation in "answer to a hollow world" and as a way to turn toward God. Some questing Protestants started making like monks, practicing silence and solitude. All this was made more palatable by the improved relations between Catholics and Protestants that followed the Second Vatican Council reforms of the 1960s.
Such deeper reflections of our faith, as well as taking a contemplative look at the history of the Church, will certainly yield greater character among Christian believers. Lent can help remind us of the profound spritual truths that our busy day-to-day lives often cause us.
Read the article: Get Lent
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