Saturday, March 5, 2011

Lent: It's not just for Catholics anymore!

With Ash Wednesday and Lent in the offing, I had been researching Lenten-related topics and ran across an article from the Associated Baptist Press, Increasingly, Baptists turning to the observance of Lent

The headline caught my eye immediately. I thought, "Wow, really?" Truthfully, I didn't think that any "free-church" congregations where liturgical at all. I knew, of course, that our Orthodox and Anglican/Episcopal brothers and sisters maintained the liturgical aspects of the faith as have the Methodists to an extent, but Baptists? No way!

For Catholics, the spirit of Lent is rooted in Baptism. For in Baptism, we die to sin and rise to new life in Jesus Christ (Romans 6:4). So in preparation for that new life, realized in Christ's death and resurrection, we offer up our own sacrifices to, in a little way, unite ourselves with the sacrifice of the Cross. Traditionally, the penances of Lent are prayer, fasting and almsgiving (all biblical - Matthew 6:1-6,16-18). Each person, together with his/her confessor, must decide what practices will best prepare them for Easter.

To be sure, there is no unanimity of teaching (if any teaching at all) on Lent throughout the various Baptist conventions. But there is no unanimity of teaching on a lot of things within Protestantism in general. I don't mean that as a slight, simply as a statement of fact.

I would say most Baptists out and out reject Lent. As Pastor Jim West said in the article, "...Baptists repentance can't be confined to a mere 40-day period preceded by the most intense gluttony and occupied with the setting aside of trivial pleasantries and followed by a return to the same-old, same-old...". This is really a misrepresentation (or a misunderstanding) of Catholic teaching. Catholics do not limit their repentance to the 40 days of Lent. This type of attitude reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of the Liturgical calendar and how it was used in the catechesis of the faithful throughout Church history.

That said, what I see in the Baptists in this article (and others) that are embracing Lenten practices is an innate yearning for a connection to historical Christianity. As a Catholic I long to see what Christ prayed for, "...that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me." (John 17:22-23), be realized. I wholeheartedly welcome any of my separated brothers and sisters in Christ to embrace the Lenten ideals and humbly offer up their sacrifices (with Him working for His good pleasure in us), to the greater glory of God. Remember to always keep your focus on Christ and his Good Friday sacrifice. The crucifix is a powerful reminder of the full extent of God's love for us all. God Bless.

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