A few days ago I reminded my Facebook friends that Christmas actually begins on December 25th and lasts through the Feast of the Epiphany (January 6). That prompted one of my friends to ask why Baptists do not observe Ash Wednesday and Lent. Here are a few reasons that come to mind, feel free to add more if you think of others.
First, it should be noted that many Baptist churches do, in fact, keep in tune with the Christian calendar and encourage their congregation to recognize the importance of the Lenten season. It seems I have noticed more Baptist churches engaged in the observance of Advent but then ignore much if not all of the calendar until the following Advent season. My hunch is that most Baptists in this camp do not recognize the Advent season separate from Christmas and subsequently do not think of it in terms of the other seasons, such as Epiphany or Lent. Nevertheless, celebrating Advent is a great starting place.
Second, Baptists still have a concern, perhaps even a subconscious concern, of being too Catholic. I have written about this before as it relates to Jesus’ statement of the “rock” of the Church and the apostle Peter. The famous “Affair of the Sausages” was an event during the Swiss Reformation in the 16th century where reformers, especially Ulrich Zwingli, gave permission and even urged Christians to eat sausage during Lent because “Christians are free to fast or free not to fast…” This was, in part, against the Roman Catholic church and in support of one of the 5 Solas of the Reformation – Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone). Baptists are really, really, really concerned about things becoming repetitive and subsequently meaningless. Bring up the possibility of observing the Lord’s Supper every Sunday in a Baptist church and the first or second argument against the concept will be, “it will lose its meaning if we do that.” They may be right. However, it is ironic to discover much in Baptist churches that is as repetitive and consistent, such as the order of worship.
Second, Baptists generally rally behind the notion of “no creed but the Bible,” building off another Reformation concept, the Regulative Principle. Since the command to prepare, fast, and observe the 40 days before Easter is not explicitly commanded in the Bible, Baptists typically believe we should avoid doing it. This takes things a bit too far. If we followed this argument consistently, then we would also stop observing Christmas, since any kind of ecclesiastical worship and observation of the birth of Jesus is never explicitly commanded in Scripture. Ready to do that one? I think not.
Third, some Baptists believe the observance of Lent is not only absent from the Bible’s commands, but it is actually outright condemned. Consider Matthew 6:16-18:
“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.”
With the advent (pardon the pun) of social media, it does seem the world-wide announcing of the great pain and sacrifice of “here is what I gave up for Lent” might be a bit much. But again, I’m not sure the intent of Jesus’ words would necessarily conflict with a Lenten fast. Jesus also says to pray in a closet, but most of us are very content with praying in a public worship service. Therefore, a fast that coincides with Lent, even if others know you are participating, does not contradict Scripture.
I am blessed to have a fellow laborer at Graefenburg Baptist Church, Dr. Jay Padgett, who understands and appreciates the various Christian seasons. He has been thinking about Lent and Easter since August. We will be providing several resources and opportunities for our folks to take steps toward the cross during the 40 days of Lent. And I can promise you Dr. Padgett will not sing the Alleluia until Resurrection Sunday!
I may be wrong, but I think Baptists are coming around on the Christian calendar, even in small steps. That is a good thing.