Why Don’t We Observe Lent?

I was asked a great question earlier today that’s relevant each year at this time. Why do Baptists (and many others) traditionally not observe the Lenten season, or Lent? To be clear, Lent is a partial fast held for 40 days prior to Easter Sunday, based on Jesus’ fasting after His baptism. It is ushered in on Ash Wednesday, in which the previous year’s “Palm Sunday” leaves are burned, the ash applied to participants’ foreheads. Here in the US, Mardi Gras precedes Ash Wednesday, ending on Fat Tuesday, which is a time of revelry to be indulged in before the fast.

The simple answer is that we observe the Regulative Principle of Worship. That means we only do that depicted or commanded in worship. Also, we do things that are a good and necessary consequence of that depicted or commanded. This principle is founded on the idea that scripture “throughly furnishes” us unto all good works. Since the Bible is silent about such a fast as Lent, we do not observe it. However, scripture does provide two rituals to be observed in commemoration of Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection: The Lord’s Supper and Baptism. While I love to reflect on the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ at Easter, there’s no biblical mandate for any connected, special observance of worship.

Lent is looked at as a Roman Catholic tradition but some variations of it predated the Papacy. That said, it hails from a time period when asceticism was practiced as a form of more devout orthodoxy. This was warned against in Colossians 2 (touch not, taste not, handle not) and also Paul’s writings to Timothy, specifically warnings against those who command to abstain from marriage and meats to be enjoyed (1 Timothy 4:3).

Another consideration is that Jesus prohibited public shows of fasting in the Sermon on the Mount. If one fasts, he is to make it completely unknown to others. Applying ash to one’s forehead is very public and outward. If and when we fast, we should make it a completely private matter between each individual and God alone. That’s not to say collective fasting is wrong. It isn’t – and would do our churches and country a lot of good at present. But the argument can be made that it violates Jesus’ instruction on fasting.

I hope these thoughts help!

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