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5 Reasons Evangelical Christians Should Consider Observing Lent

February 24, 2023

If you didn’t know, Wednesday February 22 was Ash Wednesday. On this day, Christians, for centuries and around the world, drew the sign of a cross on their foreheads. The cross was made by dipping a finger into ashes and leaving the mark of an ash cross on the forehead. Christians would then repeat the words, “Repent and believe in the Gospel.” This begins the period of Lent, which eventually leads to a celebration of Good Friday and then Easter Sunday.

Most modern-day North American Evangelicals have only a vague understanding of this celebration. They do know that it is celebrated by Roman Catholics, the Orthodox Church and Anglicans. For this reason alone, many simply assume it is not a celebration for evangelicals.

Should we be celebrating Lent? I begin by noting there is no biblical mandate for doing so. In that sense, at the most, it would be entirely voluntary. But lest we dismiss the practice out of hand and an individual decision only, let’s be reminded that the celebration of Advent leading to Christmas also comes to us from Roman Catholic tradition. Christmas did not come to be celebrated until, at the earliest, the 3rd century. There is no biblical mandate for celebrating Christmas. And yet, many evangelicals feel a sense of suspicion towards Christians who do not celebrate Christmas. We simply assume that to do so is rooted in our faith.

Interestingly, historic Protestants have had differing opinions regarding Advent and Christmas. Martin Luther encouraged it. The Puritans utterly condemned it.

But let’s get back to Lent. We need to acknowledge there is no biblical mandate to celebrate Lent. But there are some good reasons for churches do so. Let me suggest 5 of them:

1. Evangelicals are starting to ignore Easter, but continue to revel in Christmas. Many evangelical churches no longer recognize Palm Sunday. On the other hand, Christmas celebrations come replete with trees in our sanctuaries, special events, endless banquets and a string of sermons and plays made to remind us we are in the Christmas season. Easter never seems to merit such a celebration.

2. Making Christmas a larger event than Easter betrays a lack of understanding of the gospel. If we are going to have special days of celebration for our faith, doesn’t it make sense that the greatest celebration should be a celebration of the center of our faith? Paul, writing the Corinthians, says that the event of Christ dying for us, being buried and being raised from the dead is the matter of first importance (1 Corinthians 15:3-5).

If this is of first importance, shouldn’t our celebrations reflect the nature of our faith?

3. I have long suspected that the importance of Christmas in the contemporary church simply follows the lead of the wider secular culture, and not a careful examination of Scripture. Hence, by our practice, we testify we are being swept along by culture and not by the teachings of our faith.

4. Lent is a period of fasting, of self-denial and of re-reading the account of our Lord’s sufferings. But in recent years, the gospel has been reinterpreted. We have made the gospel the story of fulfilling our greatest aspirations with the help of God. Instead, we should have told the story of forsaking the world and its pleasures, of denying self and picking up our cross to follow Jesus. A proper celebration of Lent can remind us of that. It might shock our sensibilities!

5. Lent bears with it a sense of expectancy. In the end, the cross and the grave are resolved in the empty tomb. Jesus is Lord of all, even of death itself. Our hope is not in the promise of better finances, better health or in optimistic forecasts. Our only hope in this life is in the resurrection of Jesus. For this reason, we gladly forsake the world and cling to the eternal promises in Christ. Making much of Easter will remind us afresh of what is enduring and what is temporary.

Of course, biblical Christians may choose not to celebrate Lent. Where there is no biblical command, there is freedom. However, by having this discussion, we might think of how we can emphasize the cross and resurrection. Perhaps it is time to reconsider our patterns.

Dr. John Neufeld

Dr. John Neufeld

Dr. John Neufeld is the national Bible teacher at Back to the Bible Canada. He has served as Senior Pastor, church planter, conference speaker and educator, and is known both nationally and internationally for his passion and excellence in expositional preaching and teaching.


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