Should Protestants Practice Lent?

The Historical Roots Of Tradition

Should protestants practice lent?
Traditions are the backbone of any good family. Gift exchanges, Christmas pajamas, summer vacations, and fall treks out of town for family Thanksgiving dinners are traditions my family and I try to practice every year. These traditions are meant to foster family relationships, thankfulness, and generosity. We are not better than others because we enjoy these traditions, nor are others worse for not observing them.
Christian traditions function in the same way; they are merely practices passed down through generations, playing an optional role in shaping our faith and community life. Certainly, some traditions can draw us away from God. Jesus indicts the religious leaders of His day when He said, “You nullify the word of God by your tradition” (Mark 7:13). However, they are not inherently dangerous when they point us to the teachings and character of God. Jesus Himself observed traditions, such as attending synagogue – an act not explicitly commanded in Scripture. However, He chose to participate out of liberty, not obligation, recognizing its value in drawing closer to God and engaging with His teachings. This example underscores the importance of discerning which traditions draw us nearer to God, highlighting the principle that traditions, when aligned with the character and teachings of God, can be used to edify.
Easter and Christmas are good examples of this. Neither of these traditions is commanded in Scripture, and both point us to the work of Jesus. Eusebius talks about observing Easter as early as 325, while we have records from Hippolytus (170-235) choosing to celebrate the birth of Jesus on December 25th in his commentary on the Book of Daniel.
Another tradition passed down through the centuries is that of Lent. Lent is not mandated in Scripture but serves as a seasonal marker for Christians to reflect on Jesus’s life and ministry. Lent serves two purposes. The first and primary function of Lent is to reflect on Jesus’ fasting and faithfulness in the wilderness. Under the leadership of the Holy Spirit, Jesus chooses to enter into voluntary weakness through the practice of a 40-day fast. Jesus in the wilderness for 40 days redeems the history of Israel’s unfaithfulness in the wilderness for 40 years. The second purpose of Lent is to prepare the heart of the believer for the celebration of Easter.
Like Christmas and Easter, Lent is a tradition with deep historical roots. Lent is not a Roman Catholic tradition, nor is it rooted in the Eastern Orthodox Church. We have a record of Irenaeus discussing a pre-Passover spring fast that he leaves unnamed, but by 325, Canon five of the Council of Nicaea mentions Lent by name. In his commentary on the Sermon on the Mount, Martin Luther critiques the fasting practices of his time, particularly those of Catholic leaders, with his characteristic fervor. But even Luther specifically endorses fasting during Lent, as well as before Pentecost and Christmas.
This year, Lent begins Wednesday, February 14th, and I would encourage you to participate in this rich Christian tradition. Fasting, a biblical discipline, has diminished in prominence within modern Christianity. Traditions like Lent offer a structured opportunity to reintegrate fasting into the rhythm of Christian life, addressing the spiritual malnourishment that can arise from its neglect. By participating in Lent, believers can rediscover the spiritual benefits of fasting, aligning their practices with those of the early church and Jesus’s own example. This period of voluntary abstinence serves as a reminder of our dependence on God, offering a time for reflection, repentance, and renewal.
In contemplating what to “give up” during Lent, let us prayerfully consider what distracts us from full reliance on God. May this season of fasting be a time when we surrender our wills and desires, choosing to abstain from those things that keep us from fully trusting in Him. Let us ask God to reveal what hinders our relationship with Him, seeking His guidance on what to set aside, not just for the season of Lent but as a step towards deeper faith and reliance on His provision and grace.

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