It’s that time of year again, a time when Evangelical Christians debate whether or not it is a good thing to observe Lent. My answer to that question is always the same: it depends on what you mean by “Lent” and “observe.”
Here is a short note I have sent our congregation on occasion to explain how we do and don’t use Lent (and the Church Year in general) in our church:
There are two ways a church can use the Church Year: as a helpful tool or as a legalistic burden. At our church, we use the Church Year (Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Palm Sunday, Holy Week, Easter, Ascension Day, and Pentecost) as a tool that guides our Scripture readings and hymns, directing our attention to the coming, life, sufferings, death, resurrection, and ascension of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Some church traditions, however, require the observance of certain practices during Lent like penitence, fasting, putting ash on one’s head, abstaining from meat, etc., some even believing that such practices earn us merit and favor with God.
At our church, we have two thoughts about this: First, we firmly believe that Christ sufficiently suffered on our behalf, and therefore those who believe in him need not “participate” in his suffering in any way, especially not in an attempt to earn favor with God. We are fully favored by God in Christ! So we want to deliberately avoid any notion of Lent that creates theological confusion.
Second, we believe that if individual Christians wish to fast or observe some of these other practices as spiritual disciplines, they certainly have biblical freedom to do so. But Jesus also clearly commanded that when we fast, we should do so in secret (Matt 6:16-18), and as a church we certainly may not make any of these practices a spiritual requirement (Romans 14:1-12).
So we will use the next six Sundays as a tool to remember various occasions in the life of Christ that led him to suffer for us on the cross. We do so, not to participate in his suffering or earn merit with God, but remembering that Jesus cried “It is finished,” having accomplished all the suffering necessary for our redemption!
If you are interested, here are a couple good articles that present the historic Reformed understanding of Lent: