Questions About Lent

I’d like to hear some thoughts on Lent. Growing up, Lent was something I was only vaguely aware of. I had an Episcopalian friend in grade school that I remember mentioning it once; that was about the only conscious contact I had with someone who observed Lent.

Lent used to be pretty unheard of in Churches of Christ, but now it’s coming into fashion, especially among younger generations. John Mark Hicks has written a post in favor of observing the Christian calendar. Todd Bouldin has written a whole series: Pt. 1, Pt. 2, Pt. 3, Pt. 4, Pt. 5.

Richard Beck wrote an interesting post which comes closer to reflecting my feelings, entitled Ambivalence About Lent.

I’m still not in. Tell me what you think.

25 thoughts on “Questions About Lent

  1. nick gill


    Jesus made two things pretty clear in Matthew’s Gospel. “When you fast” sounds a whole lot like Jesus expected his followers to have periodic times of intentional sacrifice of something they had every gospel right to partake in, for the purpose of developing the spiritual fruit of self-control and self-discipline, and to remember the true source of our life.

    But contextually, that passage is surrounded by some pretty serious warning about dangerous motives driving such times of fasting, especially when any publicity is brought into the situation.

    So I don’t know. Fasting is good. Fasting together with other Christians is good. But making a public show of your fasting is dangerous. Were I to keep Lent, I would do it in the context of a small group and no one outside of that circle would ever know.

    I think your university setting also puts you in contact with more faddish spiritualities than most Christians. You couldn’t swing a cat at Lipscomb in the 90s without it choking on a WWJD bracelet.

  2. Lisa

    I know of a couple people who observe Lent who are in the CofC. I guess it’s a sort of fasting for them, and I think they find spiritual meaning in it. I am not sure about the biblical basis for the tradition, so I guess I will read your links and do some research and get back to you. :)

  3. Trent Tanaro

    Good post Brother! I know quite a bit of folks who observe it. Agreeing with Nick, it is more of a personal thing to me than anything or maybe a small band of brothers/sisters to participate in it with them. The main thing is to respect the practices of others and begin to look into what they do in order to get to know them and hear their story. I used to be afraid of lent observers, not sure why, but now I learn from the sincere ones. Good discussion Bro!

  4. K. Rex Butts

    Like many in the CoC, I did not grow up practicing Lent. This year is the first year I am striving to observe it, along with some other Christian friends. I won’t say anymore about that since I don’t want to sound my own horn.

    I do agree with Nick that there tends to be faddish trendsin Christianity. I can only say that so long as the trend helps us to be more like Jesus, it is a good thing. As far as the biblical basis for observing Lent…while there is no specific command to observe such practice that does not mean there is not a theological basis offered in scripture. Further, as Christians we ought to remember that we are part of 2,000 years of Christian history. While there certainly have been historical developments that violate scripture and therefore need to be rejected, if a tradition has developed within Christian history that does not violate scripture then maybe we ought not to be quick at rejecting that tradition. We must remember that Jesus went to Jerusalem to celebrate Hanukkah (The Festival of Dedication, John 10.22ff) even though such observance is not commanded in the the Torah. Thus, Jesus was not opposed to celebrating religious tradition which though lacking a scriptural basis nevertheless served a religious-faith purpose.

    Grace and peace,


  5. H Clay McCool

    LOL, why do I feel so radical?

    What is the difference in these three statements?

    I am going to fast next week.

    I am going to stop over eating for Lent.

    I am going to church to worship God Sunday.

    I honestly see no difference what so ever.
    But then again what would I know, I’m unschooled and ordinary.
    That is the very reason I dislike calling the assembly worship.
    I’m thinking worship occurs in one’s heart, in spirit and in truth.

    Grace and peace Clay

  6. Daryl Miller

    Lent has been a great spiritual exercise that my family and I have enjoyed participating in the past 10 years so our practice has nothing to do with any fad. As I have taught about spiritual practices/disciplines I have encouraged the classes to consider giving up something in the weeks prior to easter. While many people misunderstand what lent is all about and make fun of it (as I did for many years), it is a great way to renew yourself spiritually and help stay focused on God.

  7. Keith Brenton

    I used to fast from my favorite beverage – Mountain Dew – during Lent, because when I craved it, the craving was a reminder to pray – to thank God for how incredibly blessed I am to have a soft drink machine in walking distance and coins in my pocket to buy one in a world where some people don’t have decent water to drink. After a couple of years doing this during Lent, then running across Isaiah 58, I started sending the equivalent of those coins to a charity which digs wells in Africa.Leviticus 16 describes the Day of Atonement; the only prescribed fast in Moses’ law. It was to be a day of mourning for sin. The more I came across the concept of fasting in scripture, the more I saw it connected with mourning for sin or its consequences, and virtually always accompanied by prayer.These days, I’m a little more encouraged by Jesus’ question “How can the guests of the Bridegroom fast while He is with them?” (Mark 2:19). I’m not fasting this year at Lent. (Except from not-writing a book, a fast that I’ve observed too long.) I’m rejoicing in the Bridegroom’s presence through His Holy Spirit.I still see a great purpose in fasting; in purposing to sell one’s erstwhile possessions and give to the poor. But I’ve come to believe that should be a lifestyle, not a Lenten season.

  8. John

    This flirtation with Lent moves in the direction of Catholicism and away from our distinctiveness. Why do we want to be like the nations around us? We should focus on our Bibles and not what the Joneses are doing.

    If one wants to do Lent, let’s give up something that is actually wrong, do it every day, and focus on each Sunday. Let’s be a people that does not lose their DNA in a pool with the denominations, but a people who are distinctively known for observing the beatitudes and fruits of the Spirit in their real lives.

    Help me love God and my neighbor. Don’t nudge me into Catholicism. Mary will be just around the corner.

    May God bless you, my brothers.

  9. Tammy Marcelain

    I can only speak from my experience, but observing Lent has helped me in so many ways. It has helped me remember Christ more fully during the 40 days, several times a day I have to make a choice, to give in to my selfish desires or choose self discipline. To suffer in sacrifice, even though it is nothing like the suffering of Christ, reminds me often of what Christ gave up for me. It allows me to practice self-discipline in a very undisciplined world, a fruit of the Spirit that is probably my thorn in the flesh. It allows me to focus on scripture in a way that seems to be more meaningful/or maybe in a different way than with the ease that sometimes I have when reading about Christ’s time on earth. I have found that by journeying through some lean times in Lent let’s me more fully rejoice in the day of resurrection. Do I think that this is important for me? Yes. I loved what Dr. Wray said in my spiritual formation class last year about spiritual disciplines, the moment it becomes something we have to do, a rote chore, then the spiritual discipline misses the point. (loosely quoted). If it is a discipline that keeps me focusing on Christ in a way that brings me closer to Him I am all about it. I appreciate what Keith said in the post above, spiritual disciplines, whether adding or subtracting from our life should be a lifestyle. Sacrifice is a gift to ourselves as it brings us closer to Christ, God is full of mysteries and I have come to a place in my journey with Him that I don’t have to understand everything.

  10. K. Rex Butts


    The flirtation with Lent does not move us in the direction of Catholicism, it is intended to move us in the direction of Jesus Christ through a practice that is part of a Christian tradition that began to develop back in the post-apostolic church prior to the Constantinian legalization of Christianity…which makes it a tradition prior to what became Roman Catholicism. And as I stated in an earlier comment, Jesus’ participation in Hanukkah (Feast of Dedication, Jn 10.22) even though such observance was not commanded in Torah ought to imply to us that if Jesus has no problem with observing a tradition which developed subsequently to scripture then we should not think it to be wrong to observe a Christian tradition that develops subsequent to scripture.

    As for its practice…there are some people who belong to our church who were batpized into Christ about a year ago. They used to belong to the Roman Catholic church. They met a Christian who was practicing Lent which opened the door to a fruitful conversation about the Christian faith and now we know where that initial conversation wound up. Who knows what would have transpired if my friend was not observing Lent but because he was, it gave them some common ground from which to build a relationship that led to fruitful dialogue regarding the Gospel.

    So no…Lent, if understood right, does not lead us to Catholicism. It leads us to Christ.

    Grace and peace,


  11. heavenbound

    I agree with John’s comments, before long we will be talking about Mary the queen of heaven. Ash Wednesday, my secretary went to receive her ash cross. She felt very spiritual. Which is good for her. She is Catholic.
    Fat Tuesday, Ash Wednesday. Ahhhh, the traditions of men. The question still remains, Is celebrating holidays enhance our faith or take away from it. Does it diminish the cross or add to it? Nothing can add to it. so it must diminish, of course this is my opinion. Opinions are like noses, everybody has one……Col. 2:8-10

  12. Tim Archer Post author

    H.B., doesn’t it seem, though, that following that reasoning means that EVERYTHING takes away from the cross. As you said, nothing can add to it. Therefore, if all we have is adding to or diminishing the cross, then everything diminishes.

    Since that question (about the cross) can’t be answered positively, it seems that the other question is more appropriate: does it enhance our faith or take away from it? That’s the question each person must answer.

    Grace and peace,
    Tim Archer

  13. H Clay McCool

    Greetings Tim

    I believe when we promote acts of our flesh we diminish worship in spirit. We already just like the Catholics require church assembly on Sunday to properly worship in the flesh.

    I’m thinking we’re thinking flesh and special days (sunday) and doing physical worship correct already. Why increase that?

    Why not teach worship as something that occurs in my heart,
    in my shower each morning, on my way to work, at work with the fruit of the spirit showing all over the place and at home with my wife, my children and my neighbor and caring for the poor, needy, widows and orphans. Why isn’t that taught as religion?

    Why isn’t, who ever claims to live in Him must walk as Jesus walked
    taught as it was in the early church?

    What changed?

    Grace and peace Clay

  14. K. Rex Butts

    H Clay McCool,

    Just in case you missed it, Jesus himself assembled with God’s people, prayed and fasted…so was Jesus engaging in works of the flesh that make him like the Roman Catholics?

    Grace and peace,


  15. Freeman

    Can we really add anything of value to what the Apostle’s practiced? I really don’t think so. I know we tend to idealize the 1st Century Church in the Church of Christ but isn’t this for good reason? Has there really been any better period of Christian unity than that of the Apostolic period. This unity was not based on doctrine, but faith so there really is no huge problem with Lent.

    Sure, we are free to practice Lent or any other such thing (we are free to do all things). I just don’t see how it is actually beneficial.

    Also, fasting is very Old Covenant. The verse in the Sermon on the Mount is really about the Pharisees showing off while fasting (“when you fast” is directed at them, not us). The other time that Jesus talks about fasting he refers to it as an “old wineskin” that is not fit to carry the New Wine. This seems to indicate that Christians would not fast. Fasting was done in times of mourning but Christianity is a time of celebration. It just seems inappropriate for the New Covenant in my opinion (yes I am very well aware that the Apostles practiced fasting in Acts just throwing a few thoughts out there). That’s just my opinion.

  16. heavenbound

    As we look at the earthly walk of Jesus, some points have to be remembered. The law was in play, the temple was the center piece of Jewish religion, tradition, and prophecy was being fulfilled. Yes Jesus spent time in the synagogue. But when we start looking at being Christlike, out side of love of others and respect for others, striving for perfection leads to disappointment and futility, from my viewpoint.
    To the point of fasting and honoring feast days, (holidays)sounds Jewish to me. Feeling all fuzzy and emotional doesn’t help me to know God. Reading and studying his word does. Paul says pray without ceasing and leave the traditions of men to others.

  17. Tim Archer Post author

    I disagree with your thoughts on fasting. The book of Acts shows that during the apostolic period fasting was practiced in the church, both in Jewish and Gentile churches. No church can claim to have restored the apostolic church without making fasting a part of its practice.
    Grace and peace,
    Tim Archer

  18. Todd Bouldin

    Tim, I appreciate the link to my blog series above. I am grateful for the link because I am passionate about the experience of the Christian Calendar, and I hope that my readers will consider it seriously.

    I had a few reactions as I read the comments to your post, which I appreciate. I first was interested why you’re not “in” yet. :) The best advice I have, if you’re curious, is to “lean into it”. Try it. Experience it. Then evaluate it.

    I first want to comment on the first comments made by those who equated Lent with fasting. I know of no such connection really. I encourage readers to see my posting on “Transforming Lent”. I know that some Christians have fasted during the 40 days of Lent, but that’s not its goal. Lent literally means “spring”, and it’s a time of turning, a time for wildnerness so that new possibilities emerge. It is NOT about giving up something for the sake of giving up something — or for a show as some of your readers very wrongly suggest — but in order to gain something. For example, last year I gave up white carbs for Lent. This year, I didn’t give up anything. I am writing or calling one person per day that has been meaningful to me. I’m giving up time, but gaining the friendship. It is not a time for a reversion to legalism.

    Secondly, Lent is not an intellectual exercise. It’s not something to be evaluated, analyzed and considered. It is to be experienced. Dive in. Try it. I think you will find the blessing.

    Finally, I wonder why we insist on living by a secular calendar rather than the rhythms of God’s ordo — the time shaped by the gospel? John Mark Hicks and I both make this point in our entries. This is not about worship observances. It’s about reorienting your whole approach to time and to your life.

  19. H Clay McCool

    Greetings Rex

    You said:
    Just in case you missed it, Jesus himself assembled with God’s people, prayed and fasted…so was Jesus engaging in works of the flesh that make him like the Roman Catholics?

    I didn’t miss it Rex, nor did I miss the NC.
    1 Cor 14 Heb 10 indicate we are to assemble!
    Assembling to edify and uplift and encourage is good and we can
    also fellowship and wait on one another before we eat and not get
    drunk as Paul instructed the church at Corinth and when we break the bread and drink from the cup regardless of when it occurs and we can remember the Lord!

    We can even be circumcised, pray the rosary and burn candles
    or practice Lent.

    It looks religious and others will know that we are religious and it
    does have a way of making us LOOK superior religiously.

    But does it really help us in resisting the sins of the flesh?

    I’m thinking that may be the better question.

    Grace and peace Clay

  20. K. Rex Butts

    H. Clay McCool,

    You ask “But does it really help us in resisting the sins of the flesh?” I assume this is in reference to the observance of lent? I would suggest the answer to this question is found in the intention/purpose of Lent. One of the practices that myself and several of my fellow brothers in Christ are engaging in as we observe Lent is no-eating and no television at night and replace that time with more prayer and reading of scripture. Now we certainly can do that without the official Lenten season but if by paying attention to the Christian calendar and observing Lent in this manner draws us deeper into prayer and scripture, then I would hope that will empower us through the Spirit to resist the temptations of the flesh.

    Any ways…what did “NC” mean?

    Grace and peace,


  21. heavenbound

    About fasting: My grandmother who was Greek Orthodox, did this during lent. Since she was 1st generation American, she couldn’t read or write, but had a strong religious faith. To her disadvantage she couldn’t read but it didn’t diminish her faith. What was her faith in? Was it the priest of the local assembly? Was it in tradition? She had to depend on what others told her and what her priest told her. I asked her one time what her faith was in? She said it was Christ and that he died for her sins. A woman of simple faith. It was amazing she would quote proverbs from memory, I guess it was my aunt that read the bible to her. I think we get so far away at times from what really saves.

  22. nick gill


    I bet your grandmother felt kinda “fuzzy and emotional” when she thought about the Christ who died for her sins. Shame she didn’t know that that kind of feeling wouldn’t help her know Him better.

  23. nick gill

    “I believe when we promote acts of our flesh we diminish worship in spirit.”

    Clay, what Paul is combatting in Galatians and Colossians is the heresy of adding to what God says is necessary for justification. Certain “acts of our flesh” were being *required* in order to be known as (or to become) a true believer.

    When you think about acts of the flesh, does it trouble you that Christ came in the flesh? That his life, death, and resurrection were acts of the flesh?

    I’ve noticed that there’s nothing I can do that isn’t an act of the flesh. Even silent meditation is a choice to still my body, to calm my breathing, to slow my heartrate – these aren’t negating my flesh or acting outside of it. And prayer is as fleshly an act as there is! Lips and lungs and vocal cords and electricity sparking through my brain.

    It seems to me that this contrast between life in our bodies and life in the Spirit doesn’t actually match what most of Scripture is saying, and what God has done and is doing – so maybe Paul’s discussion of the flesh is rather more metaphorical than literal?

  24. heavenbound

    Wasn’t Paul concerned with the carnality of Christians, especially in Corinth? Isn’t this issue still with us today? Paul says he does the things he wishes he didn’t do and wishes he would do the things he cannot do. We have this sin nature we cannot get rid of. The constant battle we all face is what Paul talks about. Our spirit has this outer shell in which we have to contend with and it comes with the trappings we all have as humans in this existence to accept, whether we like it or not. When I lose and I lose often, I thank the Lord that this burden has been lifted. Thank goodness light has filled the darkness.

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