Baptist churches vary quite a bit throughout the country. Landing in a Southern Baptist Church will be a very different experience than a Baptist church in another part of the country. Though they are all biblically based and have the same basic beliefs, there are some practices that one may have that others do not. Lent is one of those practices.
Do Baptists Observe Lent? Because of differing sects, it is impossible to rule out all Baptists. However, for the most part, Baptists do not observe Lent. There may be some mention of the Lenten Season, and a request for individuals to give up things during a fasting period, but Lent is not fully practiced.
What is Lent?
“Lent” is derived from the Anglo-Saxon or Teutonic word “lencten,” which means “spring.” Lent is a period of preparation in which Christians remember the life lived by Jesus through prayer and penance. In many churches, Lent begins with a cross-shaped smudge of Ashes on one’s forehead on Ash Wednesday and ends on Easter Sunday.
The scriptural references for Lent include the forty days that Jesus spent in the wilderness after his baptism. Some will say that he also spent 40 days in the desert before His death, but this is a highly argued concept.
The three early Gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke, state that after Jesus encountered John the Baptist at the river Jordan, Jesus was led into the desert by the Spirit and there he spent 40 days and nights being tempted by Satan before calling the disciples in Galilee. As Jesus used these days to prepare for his ministry, we use them to prepare for His resurrection and to minister in His name through the rest of the year.
New Testament Scholars compare the time that Jesus spends in the desert to the forty days Moses spent with God on Mount Sinai. Within the Bible we also see 40 years spent wondering the wilderness before entering the promised land, 40 days of flooding during the time of Noah, and Jesus’ body laying for 40 hours in the tomb before he rose again. These events lead scholars to the conclusion that 40 is a Spiritual number.
Not counting Sundays, Lent is 40 days long. It lasts from Ash Wednesday to Holy Saturday- which is 46 days all together. Because Sundays celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus, they are considered days of Joy and cannot be considered in the days of fasting. This means that those who are fasting for Lent can break their fast on Sundays- though the Church does not promote this thought.
Lent culminates with Holy Week, beginning the Sunday before Easter and going up to Easter Sunday. The Sunday before Easter is Palm Sunday or Passion Sunday and generally celebrates Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. The Thursday is Maundy Thursday or Holy Thursday and remembers the last supper. Good Friday is the day that we commemorate Christ’s death on the cross. Finally, Easter Sunday is a great day of celebrating the resurrection.
In early times, Lent was observed, and fasting was much stricter than it is now. At that time, there was only one meal a day, taken in the evening. Meat, fish, eggs and milk products were forbidden. As time has gone on, these rules have been relaxed. Certain churches now only abstain from meat on Fridays, usually substituting fish for the protein.
Today, during Lent, many times we find people “fasting” things other than food. This might be social media or television. The question has become, “What are you going to give up for Lent?”.
Lent is also a time for penance. Abstaining, and devoting more time to your spiritual walk. The Catholic Church actually places more importance on those things nowadays than it does the physical fasting aspect.
Christians today should continue using the Lenten season for introspection, self-examination, and repentance. It has traditionally been marked with penitential prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Some churches still observe this schedule of fasting on certain days during Lent, especially giving up meat or other food types.
Some individuals give up other items during Lent. One thing that this creates is focus. Every time you think about the item that you have given up gives you a chance to be reminded about the reason for the fast. This leads to thinking about the suffering and death of Jesus. This really helps to prepare for the upcoming Easter celebrations.
Other churches may also focus more on charitable deeds during this time- especially those with physical needs that are not being met.
Why Don’t Baptists Participate in Lent?
It should be noted that many Baptists Churches keep up with the Christian calendar and consistently encourage their members to recognize Lent. It is true that there is more of a push to observe Christmas and Easter than the times in between.
Baptists sometimes equate Lent with Catholicism rather than Christianity. There have been disagreements between the two and even the purposeful eating of meat during fasting times by Christians just to show that they are able to. Another issue in the Baptist Church is the feeling that observing the Lord’s Supper more frequently will cause it to lose some of its meaning.
Baptists feel that there is “no creed but the Bible” which is a Reformation concept. Because Lent is not specified within the Bible, Baptists ignore the concept. Of course, if we actually followed this thought pattern, we would not participate in Christmas since observation of the birth of Christ is also not commanded in scripture.
Some Baptists feel that Lent is not only missing from the Bible, but it is actually condemned. Matthew 6:16-18 states:
“but when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”
However, it seems that this has been taken out of context. These words are not God telling us NOT to fast, it is just a statement that we should not boast about it- that is not what fasting is for. In the world of social media, too many times we see people living the, “Look at the good things I have done…” kind of life. This verse is telling us that fasting should be done for the right reasons and not to impress others.
Taking this idea a bit farther- Jesus tells us to pray in a closet… but how many of us actually have a prayer closet in our homes? And, would public church services not go against this scripture? We cannot pick and choose our verses, taking them out of context when beneficial. This, of course, is not the reason that Baptists use this verse, however it is important to point it out when it is used.
A big argument you will hear in Baptist Churches is, “We Celebrate Easter…”. Celebrating Easter is a given- but that should not replace the celebration of Lent leading into the Easter season. The number 40 is so prevalent in the Bible for a reason. Lent should be celebrated in conjunction with Easter as a way to reflect and bring yourselves closer to the Lord before celebrating his resurrection.
In religions, Baptists and others, we find that these exclusions and inclusions are generational. Things have been done a certain way for so long that the people do not see anything wrong with the way that they participate in their religion or belief systems. Through honest conversations, many Baptists have started to include Lent, to certain extents, in their lives.
Why Baptists should participate in Lent.
Over a billion Christians observe lent, meaning that not all Christians do. It is normally observed by Anglicans, Roman Catholics, Orthodox, Lutherans and Methodists. Other denominations do not observe Lent normally. Though some of these denominations do recognize, and even teach about Lent, they do it on a much smaller scale.
The extent to which individuals alter their day to day lives varies greatly and is mostly left up to the conscience of the individual. This can include restricting food, giving up luxuries, and engaging in charitable work. This should not be a celebration like Easter, but a period of reflection and good works.
Baptists should participate in Lent for a number of reasons.
- Because the majority of Christians practice Lent, joining them in some way is a good step toward solidarity in faith and ministry. Witnessing is also answering Jesus’ prayer (John 17:23)
- We are unable to appreciate Jesus’ resurrection unless we experience suffering ourselves. Fasting is an appropriate way to identify with Jesus’ suffering for us.
- We need time each year where we dedicate time for spiritual reflection and contemplation. We need to experience spiritual renewal and Lent can act as a break for our souls.
- How can a spiritual discipline practiced for more than 17 centuries be irrelevant for Baptists today?
Who are the Baptists?
Baptists are members of a group of Protestant based Christians who share some of the basic beliefs of the Protestants but who insist that only believers should be baptized through immersion. They believe you exit the water as a new person, a new soul. Infants are “dedicated” but they see Baptism as a personal choice that one must be cognizant enough to make on their own.
Baptists stress the belief of having no human founder, no human authority, and no human creed. Their beliefs are Biblically based. Some Baptists feel that the Baptist church has had an unbroken succession since John the Baptist and the Apostles of Jesus.
The Baptist Church has around 1.3 million members and 5000 congregations within the United States and more than 42 million Baptists worldwide. They place much importance in the local church, freedom of worship and opinion and the need to be Christ’s witnesses within their community. This means they do not depend on a figurehead that dictates to the entire Baptist group.
Baptists believe that Jesus Christ is the Lord and Savior and that the Bible is the divinely inspired word of God. They feel that the Bible serves as the final written authority and use it to live out their faith. For Baptists, the local church is the fundamental unit of mission in their lives. Many go into the mission field both at home and abroad.
Baptists believe in the sanctity of baptism and The Lord’s Supper. They feel that they should be able to approach God directly through prayer without the need for an interpreter. They also place a lot of weight on spiritual gifts and encourage members to share their gifts with others. Some churches even give members tests that help them to discover their spiritual gifts and help to guide them in the using of those gifts.
Baptists are called to missionary work and evangelism and create partnerships with others to minister to those around the world. They support religious freedoms and respect the expressions of faith of others. Through this, they acknowledge that God’s family extends beyond their local church and they know that God has called them to cooperate with various ministries as a way to spread love and Grace.
Within the broken society that we live, Baptists have been called to be Christ’s witnesses for justice- striving for holistic change within society. They celebrate racial, cultural and theological diversity and are a very diverse group. In the new millennium, they continue to heed the biblical call for renewal and revitalization.
Baptists have a remarkable history, a resilient spirit and a responsible commitment. They believe in the Trinity, understanding that the Bible teachers that God is eternally One in three Persons: The Father, The Son, and The Holy Spirit. The group feels that each is fully God, yet God is One.
God is the Father who created the world and all in it, who planned the redemption and who has a plan and purpose for their lives. God is Son and became a perfect sacrifice for all sins. He was fully divine, yet fully human. God is the Holy Spirit who is the very Presence of God in our midst today. Baptists feel He lives within us and guides us in all we do as He leads us to understand the depths of God’s word. He magnifies and glorifies Jesus Christ.
This all reveals a pattern that uniquely describes Baptists and how they perform their walk with Jesus.
Ways to celebrate Lent
Some individuals, Baptist and others, may be confused as to HOW to incorporate Lent in their church experiences. Here are some ideas that can help individuals and congregations to go above and beyond during the Lent season. First-timers may choose one or two, or partner this with fasting and other celebrations.
- Prepare a 40/46-day devotional for the congregation to share so that everyone is praying purposefully and is able to lead discussion on the lessons learned.
- Create a list of modern worship songs that your church will be dedicated to singing during this time.
- Encourage a daily Bible reading plan with
- Plan an Ash Wednesday service
- Write Lenten devotionals in your bulletin or newsletter
- Create Lenten focused Sunday worship services
- Plan Holy Week services
- Display Lenten focused artwork throughout the church
- Distribute nails or small crosses for members of the congregation to keep during Lent as a reminder of the reason behind Lent
- Encourage families to observe Lent at home- prepare resources ahead of time and have them available online and in hard copies so families have a guide
Lent does not have to be observed in a specific manner. The purpose and reasoning will be the same whether fasting as individuals within the Catholic church do or creating a more personal way to bring yourself closer to the Lord.
Baptists do not, traditionally, celebrate the Lenten Season, but they do celebrate Christmas and Easter. Baptist should be reminded that these are also not Biblical celebrations and that Lent is actually older than Christmas. Lent was first celebrated in the year 325, whereas Christmas was not referenced until 354. Many churches have prepatory seasons leading to Christmas, but not for Easter. The Lenten season should be that preparation.
In the Baptist church, Lent is a choice and not an obligation like it is with other religions. God gave us free will, and the Freedom in Christ means that we are free to make the choice to celebrate Lent or not. Observing Lent places us in sync with a larger Christian community. Baptists acknowledge that God’s family extends beyond their local church and they know that God has called them to cooperate with various ministries as a way to spread love and Grace. In that vein, the celebration of Lent will bring them closer to these other Christian communities.
The celebration of Lent allows believers time to fully appreciate Jesus’ resurrection and also spend time reflecting on his sufferings. Living in the privileged society that we do; we do not suffer because we are Christians. But maybe we should suffer because we are Christians, if only to bring more of our own attention to the suffering that Christ did on our behalf. This will also deepen our understanding of our own faith.
If you are interested in learning about other Religions in the world, then check out this book on World’s Religions on Amazon.