Should Christians Celebrate Lent?

Lenten Series:
    1. What is Lent?
    2. Should Christians Celebrate Lent?
    3. Should I Give Something Up for Lent?
    4. What is Ash Wednesday?
    5. What is Maundy Thursday?
    6. What is Good Friday?
    7. What is Easter?

Should Christians celebrate Lent? Some people think of Lent as a Catholic observance, but it is neither Catholic nor Protestant. Many non-Catholic churches celebrate Lent as well.

There is no specific command in the Bible to celebrate Lent or Ash Wednesday, but then there are no commands to celebrate Christmas, Good Friday or Easter either. These are simply special days which the church has set apart to remember certain aspects of our Lord’s life and to reflect on our proper response to him.

Although it is not necessary to observe Lent, there is no reason why Christians should not celebrate Lent if they so choose. It is just another way to remember our Lord Jesus and what he has done for us.

“One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.” (Romans 14:5)

29 Comments

  1. Bethany says:

    Growing up, I attended a wonderful Baptist church. The teaching was excellent, the youth program was fantastic, and the worship very meaningful. However, I had no concept of the “Liturgical Year” until I attended a Methodist church after getting married and moving away. I confess I was suspicious of the seasons, and the colors, and what seemed to be artificial formality but after a couple of years I realized that they did indeed have spiritual value. After my first year of celebrating Lent with Lenten readings, prayers, and personal sacrifice I found myself more focused than ever on the time leading up to the Passion and Resurrection. Easter, always a joyful day, was intensely poignant as my heart had been slowly but surely preparing for it daily for over 40 days. We now attend an evangelical Anglican church which blends my theological background with Liturgy and seasons – a perfect fit for this believer! If anyone is interested in a wonderful Lenten devotion book I recommend Reliving the Passion, by Walter Wangerin. One reading a day that reflects on the passion of Christ as written in the gospel of Mark.

  2. JW says:

    “Should Christians celebrate Lent? Some Christians think of Lent as a Catholic observance, but it is neither Catholic nor Protestant. Many non-Catholic churches celebrate Lent as well.”

    Based upon some recent conversation I have been in, this is a fine example of a wound that needs to heal in The Church. Specifically, “Some Christians think of Lent as a Catholic observance…”. Are we not all Christians — Christians who choose to worship in different ways? There is an old hurt that goes back to 1517, but we too often act like 500 years hasn’t gone by.

    (Note from Ray: I went ahead and changed “Some Christians think …” in the post to “Some people think …”)

    For the record, I’ve never been a Catholic, but I have never attended a Church that did not observe Lent. For the short time I did attend a Catholic Church (as a “guest”, I guess is what you’d call me), I came to realize how much of the figurative “baby” we Protestants have thrown out with the figurative “bath water” — while I don’t agree with everything that Catholics do (just like I don’t agree with everything “Charismatics” do), I found so many “ritualistic” things that I had never done that underscored aspects of my Faith (or my Faith as it should be) that I had never thought of.

    “Observe Lent!” is what I say. We should understand what it is about Lent that is so important, because it hones our attention — perhaps a bit depressingly because we should always be so attuned, but it does act as a wonderful reminder for exactly how attuned we should strive to be.

  3. Ray Fowler says:

    JW – I went ahead and changed “Some Christians think …” in the post to “Some people think …

    I am not sure where the distinction between Catholic and Christian first arose. I remember first hearing it in high school when my Catholic friends would ask me, “Are you a Catholic or a Christian?” I always thought it was an odd question, because I figured Catholics thought of themselves as Christians. Although there are important differences between Catholic and Protestant beliefs, both certainly belong under the overall category of the Christian church.

    As far as the differences between Catholic and more evangelical churches, we have a lot of former Catholics in our church. One of the common themes in their stories is that they were never introduced to Jesus in a personal way in their churches. They had spent years in the Catholic church but never came to a personal faith in Christ there. They tell me it was mostly ritual and habit and a sense of working for their salvation or trying to be good enough for God. It was only later that they came to understand the Bible’s teaching of justification by faith, that it is simply through trusting in Jesus’ death for us on the cross that we are saved.

    I am not saying that all Catholic churches are this way. It just seems to be a common story among former Catholics who find their way into evangelical churches. (I am sure that former evangelicals who find their way into Catholic churches have their own story to tell!)

  4. JW says:

    Ray — The more I’ve seen, the more I’m convinced it is necessary for both sides to see why the other worships the way they do. There are valuable lessons in both. I think that could be one reason why the stories of people are so dramatic — they get to the point where their style of worship is almost a “habit” and ends up losing some meaning.

    “They” say “variety is the spice of life”…

  5. Ray Fowler says:

    JW – I agree there is much we can and should learn from each other. There is an old joke: “Ask an evangelical to tell you about church history, and they’ll start with their building program.” That is an exaggeration of course, but too often evangelicals have acted as though church history began with the Reformation. There is so much to learn from the early church and from believers from other traditions.

    I have no problem with different styles of worship and learning from each other. Even though our church does not specifically celebrate Lent, I am certainly aware of Lent each year and these days leading up to Palm Sunday, Good Friday and Easter. And so I guess just by my awareness I am observing Lent in my own way.

    So I am all for learning from each other’s worship styles and traditions. At the same time there are major differences of belief between the Catholic and Protestant churches that cannot be glossed over – especially in areas dealing with Scripture, authority, salvation and the church. These are important issues, and I think it is good for Catholics and Protestants to continue to articulate their views and test them against Scripture.

  6. Margaret says:

    We do not officially observe Lent in our church, though we do have messages from our Pastor more on the message of Easter. We celebrate Holy week by holding a noon-time service every day, Monday through Friday, concluding with Good Friday. We invite other churches, and other Pastors to take turns in giving the message. It has been a tradition to do this for over 50 years, and the participation by other churches is excellent. These services are a real blessing. We are a Baptist church, and have heard great messages from Pastors of other denominations. One of the finest messages in recent years was given by the local Catholic priest.

    For my personal celebration of Lent, I choose to read more Christian books that hopefully will help me in daily Christian living. I am reading a Swindoll book now, and plan to re-read Philip Yancey’s book on “Prayer”.

    I enjoy reading other people’s opinions on Lent. Thank you Bethany for your input, which was very meaningful to me.

  7. John W says:

    The Reformation is such an interesting event because both “sides” of it reacted completely oppositely. The Catholic Church practically dug in and refused to change (they have done so but extremely slowly). At the same time, Protestantism started dividing and almost seemingly never stopped (how many denominations are there now?). But in both I think of a problem I regularly deal with: if you have too much structure, you can become practically immobilized; if you have too little structure, you lose the consistency of the message. Obviously there is a middle ground, but how to reach it is the big challenge.

    I am enjoying the four-point examination of Lent. Though I grew up practicing Lent, I always wondered why we seemed to practice the ideal of Lent for 40 days (46, as you pointed out), and then seemingly forgot all about it until next year. An easy example of how the point of Lent was completely missed by me until it finally sank in years later. Whether Lent is observed or not, the purpose of it needs to be a constant part of our lives. We are never done preparing, and there is no one time of year that we should prepare ourselves.

    There are definitely major differences that have developed over the last 500 years, and on both sides of the fence there are stances that need to be reevaluated against the world we live in as apposed to the world in which those policies were created. I definitely do not meant to gloss over any differences because it is the very point of those differences that should be reevaluated — not just by “the XYZ Church as a matter of policy” but as brothers to brothers as a matter of keeping our own perspective right (I won’t even mention some of the embarrassing perspectives I used to have of Catholicism — ignorance is not bliss… it can be shameful).

    While I’m not really all for One Big Church, there does need to be a healing of the wound. I think human nature will always draw us to worship differently — I’m a more solemn person, others might be more enthusiastic, but at the end of the day, we are Christians.

  8. Joe Palme says:

    Rev. Ray you may be interested in this information as it will show you that the Catholic Church was the Church that started the lent observance and at that time there were no other denominations. All other Christian Sect started after the mid 1500 as people of Faith know. These Christian Sects are taking yet another part of the Catholic Churches teaching and bring it into there Churches, but yet I wonder, why do you not realize where you religion started, surly not after the 1500?
    Although Ash Wednesday is not a Catholic holy day of obligation, it is an important part of the season of Lent. The first clear evidence of Ash Wednesday is around 960, and in the 12th century people began using palm branches from the previous Palm Sunday for ashes.

    In God’s Love for Better Understanding
    Joe

  9. Ray Fowler says:

    Joe – I believe in one church that goes back to the time of the apostles comprised of all those who truly believe in Jesus Christ for salvation. Protestants did not just suddenly appear after the 1500’s but grew out of the same one church that existed before the Catholic/Protestant divide. So, Protestants also trace their roots back to the apostles and the traditions of the earlier church such as lent, etc.

  10. Pastor Don says:

    Pastor Ray let us not forget the earliest churches founded through the Gospel Ministry of the Apostle Paul and the Greek Orthodox which was founded I believe just before Catholicism Check it out

    Love in Christ, Pastor Don

  11. Pastor Christopher P Kay says:

    Dear Sir,
    As You have mentined there is no commandment in the Bible about Christimas, Easter and Good Friday but you know and the whole world know Jesus was Born (any day) Crucified(any day) Ressurrected (any day) But where in the Whole New Testament we find that the disciples or Jesus Himself fasted on Ash Wednesday.
    Sure we can’t Judge those who do it and those who don’t observe it.
    Any Ways Fating is God and it Brings Close to God. As we have just finished our 21 days of Fast.
    http://hubpages.com/hub/Why-People-I-Fast-21-Days
    We can surely fast any time of the Year but this fasting of Lent is not 40days Fast. it is 46 days of Fast. Jesus fasted for 40 days in a row not 46 days.

  12. Chef Macaraeg says:

    Greetings of peace to you.
    I would just like to post a comment on this post, Ray Fowler February 27, 2009 at 1:55 pm.

    I am 16 year old catholic. I may not be the wisest and most knowledgeable about our catholic faith but I’m sure that god’s love envelopes me so I can write this post the best I can. First of all to create a personal relationship with God one must personally reflect on his own. He must learn to pray. Praying is the answer to all our problems. It hols the answer to everything, I myself is continually dazzled by its power and strength. Praying is easy but to talk to god through prayers requires internal peace and silence. One must also remember that prayer is a conversation with God and a conversation requires two people talking so always remember to pause regularly and hear the answer that will give. Always remember that if you’re confused and is overwhelmed by a predicament always pause, pray and listen for God will tell you what you must do. That is how simple it is just learn to believe, listen and fall in love with our Lord.

    To all Catholics out there I say to you ” Renare christum volumus !” Anyone can study and memorize facts about our faith but only the ones in which God can see his son in him can enter the courts of God.

    This is for all to my brothers in faith. I would like to point out that in attending mass please let us not only think of ourselves and what we can get from it. The mass is for God. Mass is the most powerful prayer one can do. Any mental prayer will pail in comparison with the mass for in the mass you receive God and you pray with God in the flesh. Please bear in mind that the most important event in the mass is not the gospel reading nor the homily but the transubstantiation of the bread to God himself. Homily and gospel reading things that can be done individually all you need is love for God to do them. So now if you attend mass remember to give praise and show your love to God and treat the mass as an opportunity to thank not just an opportunity to learn.

    I suggest that to all Catholics that can’t seem to find a personal relationship with God that they join a group that can help them do so in there parishes. God bless

    Always keep in mind the ultimate goal of all who follow Christ is not just to go to heave but to become a saint.

  13. Ray Fowler says:

    Chef – Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I agree that prayer is essential to relationship with God. In fact, that’s why Jesus came, so that we could be forgiven of our sins and restored to relationship with God which manifests itself in prayer. I see that the Mass is very important to you, but I believe that we encounter God most powerfully through Christ in his Word. I don’t believe that Christ is sacrificed again through the Mass or physically present in the bread. (Hebrews 10:11-12) Rather Christ dwells in us through the Holy Spirit when we put our trust in him as Savior. (John 14:20; John 14:23)

  14. Sidney says:

    Its a trying time now theese days the Devil exists everywhere the problem is its not the denominations we did that to devide the different styles and believeth in worshop, however over the years the devil and his followers are now manupulating the dominational boundries we set. Gods only requirement for the church is that they honor and glorify him through by reading the bibble and singing praise songs, and believing in trinity even though some may say they don’t believe in trinity it may be called something else in a nearby church that means the same thing. My Mom went to a Johova witness church, that taught you had to earn your way to heaven. Than later I have a friend that lives in the building and they teach the gospel. The Holidays and the Birthday thinks where misunderstood, but they call them celebrations. So becareful make shure you know the church is leading you on the write path. The cathlic churches here are more evangalistic than the traditional cathlic churches, so do not judge one church by its dominational reference as by doing that you are participating in the deception game that saton wants us to fall for.

  15. As a follower of the Truth that the Holy Spirit has laid down through the sixty-six Books of Bible, I personally am convinced that observing LENT is practicing just another method of ritualistic legalities which can no way be compared with observing Birth (Christmas), Crucifixion (Good Friday)and Resurrection (Easter) of Jesus. As we know that the Bible speaks about these days very clearly whereas no where in the Bible it is mentioned about observing Lent for forty days prior to the Death and Resurrection of Jesus.

    We must understand, Fasting is a PROCESS that God has very insistently advised His children to follow in His ways so that we can ensure the EFFECTS thereby, not by our own frenzied carnal determination of mind science and work through that without any effect whatsoever..

    With no acrimonious inference towards any denominational belief (even though denominations are not what the Words of God speak),I truly believe, that Jesus desires to build the Universal Church which is founded on the Rock that He Himself is, being guided by The Holy Spirit through the officials in the Five-fold Ministry ,which He Himself has given to some for the equipping of the saints, for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ- read Ephesians 4:11 &12).I persistently exhort that we must prepare ourselves to get into SPIRITUALISATION ( that is WISDOM by the Holy Spirit, Who searches the DEEP things of God), not getting into PERCEPTUALISTAION ( by using our KNOWLEDGES gathered by EYES or EARS), or CONCEPTUALISATION( by allowing those understandings to be implanted in our hearts) as Apostle Paul charges the Church of Corinth through 1 Corinthians 2:9 &10.

  16. But my dear brother, the Scripture never commands us to celebrate the birth of Christ, nor does it define the exact day of His birth. This too is tradition. But yet, I think it a good tradition. And let me go further… Jesus would not oppose Lent just because it is not explicitly commanded in Scripture. How do I know this? Because in John 10, Jesus celebrates what we call today “Hanukkah” (the “Feast of Dedication”) which is never commanded by Scripture, and yet Jesus observes the holiday.

  17. John W says:

    One thing I think is worth pointing out is that Jesus was fulfilling his religious obligations under Jewish law. He did not miss any of them as far as I am aware.

    Christmas and Lent were times of worship created after Christ died. The precise dates of observance of those two in particular align with pagan rituals in order to provide a Christian alternative/override of those pagan festivities.

    Easter was essentially converted from Passover which Jesus was dutifully observing as a good Jew.

    That being said, I do believe that such rituals/routines can be beneficial to one’s Faith as they provide times of reminder and reflection. While it is easy to say that we should always be thinking about our Faith, there’s a lot to think about in the Bible. Having times dedicated to remembering specific facets and events provides an opportunity to reflect on those more fully.

  18. Beloved brother Bob;

    Scriptures do never ‘command’ to celebrate the Birth of Christ in figurative terms, but they do mention about the event and the observation of that eventful moment has been inscribed in the Scripture very candidly. So are in the events of Death and Resurrection, but never about the LENT.

    Now, as far as HANUKKAH is concerned, it is a Jewish holiday celebrated for eight days and eight nights ( not for forty days and forty nights as in case of Lent)and it starts on the 25th of the Jewish month of Kislev which coincides with the late November – late December of the secular Calendar. The Hebrew name Hanukkah(dedication) reminds that this holiday commemorates the re-dedication of the holy Temple in Jerusalem following the Jewish victory over the Syrian-Greeks in 165 B.C.

    I believe my beloved brother will be convinced to declare that ” LENT” is not an Scriptural event to celebrate.

    With much LOVE and Prayers
    Your ” dear ” brother in Christ
    Rev. Kunal Mukherjee

  19. First, to my brother John W.– Lent was almost certainly not designed to override a pagan holiday. The issue of Christmas is less clear, but there is an interesting article about that at Touchstone magazine, http://www.touchstonemag.com/archives/article.php?id=16-10-012-v

    I am not worried about following Church tradition, as long as it is not promoting something prohibited by Scripture. Some take a stricter view, the regulative principle, whereby they will not embrace something not explicitly commanded by Scripture, so for them Lent is out, I understand. For me, I know that the very canon of Scripture was decided by the Church. So I trust the Church to appoint certain days as feasts and fasts, as I believe Paul gives us the liberty to do. On the other hand, I would never say Christians must keep Lent, since that too would violate what I understand Paul to say.

    Brother Kunal,

    I understand your point more fully now. Yes, Lent does not celebrate an event, any event, biblical or otherwise. And, I believe Christians are at liberty as to whether they observe such days. I can only speak from my own experience– and I have found Lent to be a useful practice– it prepares me to celebrate Easter, it reminds me of the seriousness of my sin and the enormity of the price paid for me by the Lord Jesus. But I would never say that all Christians must keep this season, only that I have found it to be useful, and I do not see that Scripture forbids it.

    Blessings to you all,
    Bob

  20. CJ says:

    “O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you?” (Gal 3:1) “Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years. I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labour in vain” (Gal 4: 10-11)

  21. The Galatians were making the error of requiring obedience to the ceremonial Torah as a condition for salvation. I suppose this passage would apply to the observance of Lent if some one were to say keeping Lent was essential to salvation, but I for one would not make this claim. Nor would any of the Christians I know who keep the liturgical year.

  22. eldrin says:

    I think before indulging into any argument, one must see the origins of lent and easter. History says it has a pagan origins. Bible does not mention any kind of such observances or celebration in the early church.

  23. The English word “Easter” may have pagan origins (as may some cultural practices like coloring eggs), but the celebration of the Resurrection of Christ during this season, called the “Passover of Christ” goes back to the earliest days of the Church. One of the earliest surviving complete sermons outside of the NT is the Easter Sermon of Melito, the Bishop of Sardis (he died in AD 180). Of course, like all Greek Christians (even modern ones) he called Easter “Pascha” or “Passover”. Indeed, in many langauges, the Church simply used the term “Pascha” to describe their celebration of Easter.

    Lent came a bit later, but it came from faithful Christians who used it as a season of prayer and devotion to prepare for the Passover of Christ.

    There have been a few dishonest authors (like Hislop, who wrote a book entitled The Two Babylons), who try to argue that almost everything liturgical Christians do is somehow pagan in origin, but no serious scholar puts any credence in what he says. _

    Lent and Easter came from the Christian Church. While I would never say all Christians must observe these days, the charge that they are pagan is not supported by credible testimony.

  24. John says:

    Here is the source for the following information on Easter, which I have found to be very accurate. http://www.ldolphin.org/ishtar.html

    New Subject: Christmas http://www.christmas-time.com/cp-hist.html

  25. Mburgion says:

    Hi Ray, thanks for the great insight! I’m thinking about converting, but realize there’s a lot of work to do (i.e. RCIA classes, finding a sponsor, etc.) As for lent, I’m still not clear on the purpose other than giving things up. Found some more information in this article: http://frugalandthriving.com.au/2012/what-is-lent-and-what-does-it-mean-to-you/ but still looking for a deeper meaning. Are there any books/articles that you would recommend that I look at? Thanks for your help – really appreciate it!

  26. eldrin says:

    I believe to let Scripture say it of itself. Commandment is something which is given very specifically to the belivers. For. e.g we are commanded to hounour our parents. in NT Lord Jesus specifically said ” I give you a new commandment” etc. God of the Bible has never confused his beloved children to what “commandment ” is and what it is not. Simply put, if it had been necessary for the believers to observe LENT ( 40 days fasting)just like holy communion, our Lord would not have hesitated to give such a commandment . But we know from the Scriptures that believers or followers of Christ were never commanded specifically observe LENT. On the contrary and as per some historians , this started from the pagan ritual which dates back to the time of Tammuz ( death of Nimrod’s son). In which Nimrod’s wife fasted for 40 days to get his son back. In my opinion, believers should be very careful when it comes to observing certain customs / rituals and always refer to the Scriptures. Let it be considered as a final rather than getting confused with man’s opinion.

  27. Sis says:

    We enjoy celebrating the biblical feasts and we are not Jewish. I think this would be similar. (And the Bible does ask us to *remember* Passover (the communion service is a part of the Passover feast).

    I don’t know enuf about Lent to actually have an opinion but I would like to learn more. As eldrin said, I think we should be very careful when it comes to observing certain rituals. We quit celebrating halloween, Christmas and easter many years ago because of the pagan customs that we consider tradition.

  28. Carlos says:

    I cannot believe that this is considered the top Christian website in which it gives no clear direction concerning the observance of Lent. To me it doesn’t matter if this is the top website or if your about page is loaded with puffed up accolades. A born-again Christian who is truly walking with the Lord is free from man made holidays. Shame on you for endorsing the Roman Catholic practice of observing Lent. Shame on you for misleading the flock by saying it’s OK to do so even after knowing the truth of Christ.

    Galatians 4:9-11 (KJV)
    9 But now, after that ye have known God, or rather are known of God, how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements, whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage?
    10 Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years.
    11 I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labour in vain.

    1 Timothy 4:3 (KJV)
    Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth.

    Now I know why this is considered the top site.

    Luke 6:26 King James Version (KJV)
    26 Woe unto you, when all men shall speak well of you! for so did their fathers to the false prophets.
    -Jesus Christ

  29. Judysa says:

    You see, this is why “Religion and made up church traditions” cause so much strife — If you are under the Law, then do the Law, but if you are born-again, then you are under Grace. Please realize that Christ has set you free from the Law, and if Christ did set you free, then you are free indeed! “If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed” John 8:36 KJV. Notice that it says “IF” — therefore, you are free to pick and choose any stupid religious tradition that you wish to celebrate to make yourself feel better, but it has nothing to do with the Finished Work of Christ and what He did for you on the Cross, but it’s focuses on YOU and observing the church laws and traditions of the demonination that you belong to. Please rememberalways however, that it is NOT about you — but it is all about Jesus and HIS death and burial, HIS Resurrection, and HIS Ascension. IF you are truly born-again, then you are free from the law (Ro. 8:2). So if you want to starve yourself, deny yourself, and beat yourself up, then you are obstensibly denying what Christ’s finished work on the cross accomplished for YOU — think about that.

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