By Jacqueline J. Holness
If you grew up in a Protestant church like I did, you probably never learned about Lent in Sunday school or heard a sermon about it. It was only recently that I made the connection between Lent and people walking around with what looked like charcoal smudges on their foreheads. I’m not even sure how I discovered that the charcoal smudges weren’t charcoal smudges at all. Somehow I finally realized they were ashes in a cross formation, and people wear the ashes on their foreheads to signify Ash Wednesday. Ash Wednesday begins a 40-day fasting period referred to as Lent, which culminates in Easter.
According to a Barna Group report, Celebrating Lent 2014, Catholics are most likely to observe Lent as expected, but “many Protestants have also adopted the habit: one in six practicing Protestants (15 percent) say they have fasted for Lent in the past three years, and about the same number (16 percent) say they plan to fast this year.” And it seems that Protestants are becoming increasingly open about why they practice Lent, which started on February 18 this year and ends on April 4.
Supporters of Lent
Here are three perspectives from Protestants who observe Lent:
• Nathan A. Finn, a Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary associate professor, wrote about his decision to participate in Lent in a 2014 blog post. “For my part, I choose to observe Lent because it affords me an opportunity to disengage a bit from the culture. . . . As a relatively affluent American evangelical, at least compared to most believers in the world, I’m particularly prone to satiation” (nathanfinn.com).
• Susannah Kellogg, who has a nondenominational background, wrote that Lent is “simply a season that is already in place to remind us of our commitment to the Lord and give us a little kick in the rear if we need to make some changes” (simplemomentsstick.com).
• Trevin Wax, a LifeWay Christian Resources managing editor, said that he has “engaged in fasting during Lent a few times” (thegospelcoalition.org).
Opponents of Lent
However, other Protestants have written about not observing Lent, no matter the shifting cultural trend:
• Blogger Timothy J. Hammons wrote that he is “truly saddened by the number of my friends on Facebook who are celebrating Ash Wednesday and Lenten[sic] this year” (timothyjhammons.com).
• Steve Simmons, minister of Fifth Street Presbyterian Church in Tyler, Texas, wrote on the church website that he is also saddened that “seasons of prayer and fasts are sought after while little is done to promote the ordinary routines of prayer meetings.”
• Roland S. Barnes, senior minister of Trinity Presbyterian Church, Statesboro, Georgia, wrote, “If something is sinful, we ought to abstain from it, fast from it, every hour of the day, every day of the week, and every week of the year” (theaquilareport.com).
Fasts for Lent
For those who fast for Lent, Protestant or otherwise, Barna reports that chocolate, meat, and sugar are the most popular items people give up. According to openbible.info, three of the top 10 things that “Twitterers” gave up during Lent 2014 were chocolate, Twitter, and soda.
• Christian author Karen Ball suggested that authors ignore their Amazon rankings for Lent (stevelaube.com).
• Representative Paul Ryan, from Wisconsin’s 1st congressional district, challenged Iowa Republicans to give up “infighting” for Lent last year, according to The Des Moines Register newspaper.
• John Acuff, founder of the website stuffchristianslike.net, recommended a digital fast. “The irony is that if you are on a digital fast right now, you won’t be able to read my helpful article. Have a heathen friend read it to you.”
• And if you have no idea what to give up, the website whattogiveupforlent.com promises to help.
Whether or not we observe Lent, as we prepare for Easter may we all agree that Resurrection Sunday is the basis of our faith and the tie that binds us together.
Jacqueline J. Holness, a member of Central Christian Church in Atlanta, Georgia, is a correspondent for Courthouse News Service, an online, national news service for attorneys. Contact Jacqueline at afterthealtarcall.com.