Brussel sprouts and Lent

During Lent I usually inform the congregation that I have once more decided that I would sacrifice and fast from the eating of Brussel sprouts. This is usually met with a knowing grin as I have always and ever found such vegetables lacking in appeal and will not eat them.

Joking aside, I find the Season of Lent becoming more important to me each year as I grow in Christ. There is a lot written by reformed folks against and in a favor of participating in such services as Ash Wednesday and fasting. I do not suppose for an instant that this brief article will be a final word of wisdom on the observance of Lent I pray it may help establish a middle ground for ongoing discussions.

 I am a Presbyterian, Reformed, and Evangelical pastor. I believe and accept the Apostles and Nicene Creed and believe no one is saved apart for Jesus the Christ, whose death on the cross paid the penalty we owed for our sins. I further believe that nothing we do can add to that salvation or take away from the grace of God in Christ Jesus. And that who God saves is God’s work and not ours.

Salvation by works

I do not believe that our fasting or the imposition of ashes or the participation in other Lenten observances wins us special favors with the Father or adds to our salvation. I do believe that our participation in this ‘Season’ of the Church year can enable us to focus more clearly and intensely on the work of Christ on the Cross and to humble us as we consider our own salvation.

Spiritual Growth

Adult baptism and full communion into the Christian Church is at the very heart of the history of Lent. With a growing number of people embracing Christ in the first centuries Lent became the way to ensure people were serious in their confession of Jesus.

An article by Jon D. Witvliet on the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship page describes the 4th Century adaptation of Lent (it’s a long quote but Witvliet says it best):

So the church developed a 40-day course of preparation for baptism—a time of Bible study, catechism study (that’s right—catechism study 1,200 years before John Calvin), and spiritual disciplines including prayer and fasting…

Lent became about focusing on our union with Christ’s death and resurrection in baptism. Romans 6:3-4 served as a theme text: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.”…

In terms of doctrine, this put the emphasis not only on God’s gift of forgiveness (justification), but also on the gift of new life in Christ and the Holy Spirit (sanctification). Lent was a time for new and veteran Christians to live into—to “practice”—the basic moves of the Christian life: to deny oneself, to turn to Jesus, to put off gossip and bitterness, and to put on patience and compassion. Just as athletes need to drill key skills and musicians need to practice scales, so too Christians need to practice self-denial and self-giving love.

In other words, Lent was developed in what we now call a “missional context.” It was a pastoral innovation for a time much like our own, where vast numbers of people do not grow up in the church. Lent was the church’s way of saying yes to the free offer of salvation and no to cheap grace—baptism without discipleship.

Lasting impact of Lent

Some Reformed writers have, in my humble opinion, tossed out anything worthwhile in Lent with their total rejection of the Roman Catholic Church.  They seem to think that 40 days of a spiritual practice can have no lasting effect on one’s life. Let me suggest two practical steps to take in observing Lent.

  1. Start by fasting from something that has importance in your life. It can be twitter, facebook, Xbox, watching TV, soda, fast food or,(Lord forbid) coffee. Whatever it is that controls you give it up.
  2. Use the time, money, and energy you put into that action or item to do something honoring to God. For example, if you give up a food or snack donate the money saved to the church. If you give up an activity use the time saved to not just Read the Bible but to study it.

My prayer is that as we move through these next weeks toward Easter our celebration of the Lord’s Resurrection will be more powerful than ever.