Why Is a Baptist Observing Lent?
Mar 29, 2019
For most of my life, I’ve paid little attention to the church’s seasons, such periods as Advent and Lent that the more “liturgical” churches observe. In my baptistic tradition, no one ever preached against Lent; it just wasn’t mentioned. Recently reading Mark Cosper’s Recapturing the Wonder caught my attention on the importance of this season.
Cosper writes about the importance of developing signposts in our lives, significant moments that call us to “remember that we are citizens of a different world.” To do this, he encourages a life pattern of marking time with God—yearly, monthly, weekly, and daily events to call us back to our Lord. I’ve adopted this as a helpful pattern for investing in my relationship with Jesus.
So, I’ve begun observing the classic calendar of the church, starting with Lent. As one author describes it, “Lent is the time to travel the road with Jesus toward His death.” It’s a season of dying, of giving up, of emptying—all attitudes that I need in my life.
I’ve gone all in with my Lent immersion! I went to an Ash Wednesday service officiated by one of my Lutheran pastor friends. I’m making a Lenten sacrifice, choosing to give up one food that I frequently enjoy. I’m choosing to be mindful that whenever I crave the sweetness of this food, it’s like the sweetness of sin. I choose to deny its indulgence just as I choose to deny sin’s indulgence. I’m reading a daily devotional on Lent. I’m even fasting on a regular basis, a new practice for me. To bring it all together, I’ve recruited a friend and scheduled times to discuss what I’m experiencing and learning.
So far, two lessons have surfaced in this Lenten experience. The first is that Christians have observed this tradition for centuries. While in some cases it has become a meaningless ritual, I find comfort in fitting into a pattern that the church has observed throughout the ages. It reminds me that I’m surrounded by people of faith who have gone before, “a great cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1).
Second, this is a time to reflect on the journey of Jesus to the cross. The little sacrifices I make, the fasts I keep, and the things I read all point to the Lord in new and fresh ways. My journey started when the pastor created the sign of the cross on my forehead with ashes, making the pronouncement, “Ashes to ashes and dust to dust” (see Genesis 3:19; Job 30:19, 42:6).
Meditating upon this statement puts humility in a new light. I was created from dirt, the most common, “dirty” substance there is. This act of creation was something I had nothing to do with. In death, I will return to ashes, the same dust from which I was made. The accumulation of possessions and reputation does not follow me to the afterlife. Only the clothing of Christ’s righteousness clings to me as I move into the presence of God. This keeps me humble!
We in The Navigators are placing fresh emphasis on abiding in Christ, recapturing the wonder and the love of our relationship with the Savior. Practicing the church calendar has been a new way for me to “strip aside every weight that slows us down” so that I can keep my eyes on Jesus (Hebrews 12:1-2 NLT). Maybe old dogs can learn new tricks. Even Baptists can practice the Lenten season.
If you’re interested in understanding more about the church’s practice of Lent, here are three books to consider: The Circle of Seasons by K. C. Ireton, Living the Christian Year by Bobby Gross, and Ancient-Future Time by Robert E. Webber.
Bill and Peggy Mowry serve with Navigators Church Ministries in Columbus, Ohio. His passion is to help leaders build Great Commission cultures marked by intentionality, relationships, creativity, and generations of disciplemakers. Bill is the author of the popular workbook, The Ways of the Alongsider. He serves as an adviser to the NCM Director team.