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Why Lent, why Now?

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Lent-imageThere were certain traditions in my Mennonite Brethren upbringing; Lent wasn’t one of them.

So why Lent, and why now?

I’ve wrestled with this. Here’s my answer: my main motivation is birthed out of what I see as a lack of preparation and thoughtfulness connected to the Easter season.

Lent helps battle that tendency. Lent doesn’t just remind us of the cross; it prepares us for it.

Lent invites people to join Jesus on the way to the crucifixion. Fasts – one or many – assist in that process. Obviously, the joy of Good Friday comes because the tomb was empty Sunday; however, in the sacrament of communion we are called to remember Jesus’ death.

Lent doesn’t end at the cross. In fact, the Easter Week following Easter Sunday celebrates the resurrection and the coming of the promised Helper, the Holy Spirit.

Lent reminds us of Thursday night, Friday morning and the silence of Saturday. Lent reminds us of our call to pick up our cross daily. That’s one of the reasons I like the active way we take part in communion every Sunday at Westside. Standing and coming forward is a visual reminder that we are called to follow Jesus to the cross.

Why fast as part of the Lent season? It’s a call to seek God’s face and ask, What is that thing, that practice, that gift that divides my loyalty and keeps me from experiencing the cross-centred life? It’s a call of surrender.

“During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission” (Hebrews 5:7).

My prayer is that this Lent season serves as a revealing time that stretches us individually and corporately, touching dead areas needing the life and joy only the cross of Jesus can bring.

—Norm Funk is founding pastor of Westside Church, Vancouver, which meets in The Centre in the city’s downtown. A version of this article first appeared on the church blog Feb 12, 2013.

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10 comments

Richard Peachey February 1, 2015 - 11:33

The Bible teaches nothing about Lent.

Or about observing an “Easter season.”

Or about “join[ing] Jesus on the way to the crucifixion.”

Or about fasting “as part of the Lent season.”

Or about a “Christian calendar” at all.

None of these things are commanded or recommended by Scripture. They are remnants of a medieval Catholicism from which history has freed us. Why go back to them now?

“You are observing special days and months and seasons and years. I fear for you, that somehow I have wasted my efforts on you.” (Galatians 4:10,11)

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Larry Schmidt February 2, 2015 - 22:02

Rom. 14:5 – 6. TNIV¶ One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind. Whoever regards one day as special does so to the Lord. Whoever eats meat does so to the Lord, for they give thanks to God; and whoever abstains does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God.

Quoting bible verses works both ways brother Peachey. :)

It seems to me that the good apostle wouldn’t be too concerned about anyone dipping into Lent – so long as no one gets legalistic. Nobody is moving to Rome by the way. Specially as, Pastor Funk, writes he is motivated by the lack of preparation and thoughtfulness for Easter. Doesn’t this beat hiding Easter eggs and baking Paska?

Blessings

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Richard Peachey February 2, 2015 - 23:12

Brother Larry, you haven’t really addressed my observation that “none of these things are commanded or recommended by Scripture.” Nor does Scripture require us to have “preparation and thoughtfulness for Easter,” any more than it commands “hiding Easter eggs.”

Regarding your thought (based on Romans 14) that all is well as long as no one gets legalistic, I have a couple of concerns:
(1) The apostle appears to have been dealing with a situation in which some believers still felt obligated to honour Torah commands, and others felt more free under the New Covenant. Paul was not dealing with a scenario where people were inventing brand new holy days that had never been commanded at all.
(2) When a pastor like Norm Funk starts recommending — via his writing in the MB Herald — the observation of practices not mandated in Scripture, people are going to be influenced by this, whether subtly or overtly. Something like legalism may not be long in coming.

Have the Scriptures not given us enough to do, so that we feel we must layer on more human-devised traditions?

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Larry S February 3, 2015 - 20:59

Hi brother Richard

You seem to hold the view that “human-devised” traditions/practices are to be viewed with suspicion or outright rejected (sounds like the regulative principle?). I simply do not agree. Your concern that Pastor Funk’s article may introduce “something like legalism” is unwarranted. There is no hint of legalism or harmful agenda in the article. (if he starts selling indulgences let me know :).

I love the human devised tradition of anticipating the Incarnation of the Messiah by engaging in many practises such as: attending Christmas Eve Services, saying Merry Christmas etc. I suppose we could view repeating the Creeds as something not commanded also and to be viewed with suspicion.

Surely, the Spirit has been been active through the centuries – for all the faults and sins of the past. Surely we can learn from and thoughtfully interact with Christian brothers/sisters from other Church traditions and other eras.

We could probably have great fun posting back and forth. I doubt we will convince one another of anything.

Blessings on your Easter regardless of how you choose to either prepare or not prepare for the day.

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Richard Peachey February 4, 2015 - 15:45

“We could probably have great fun posting back and forth.”

This isn’t my idea of “fun,” brother. I am concerned for the simplicity and purity of the gospel, and my comments have the serious intent of standing against practices that would interfere with that.

“You seem to hold the view that ‘human-devised’ traditions/practices are to be viewed with suspicion or outright rejected (sounds like the regulative principle?). I simply do not agree.”

Mere human traditions are indeed potentially dangerous for our spiritual lives, as the Bible makes abundantly clear. As a pastor, Norm Funk’s job is to focus on propagating the clear teachings of Scripture, not to waste God’s time on a lesser task of promoting human-invented practices having a questionable history.

Matthew 7:6-8 — [Jesus] replied, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.’ You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.”

Colossians 2:8,20-23 — “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ. . . . Since you died with Christ to the elemental spiritual forces of this world, why, as though you still belonged to the world, do you submit to its rules: “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”? These rules, which have to do with things that are all destined to perish with use, are based on merely human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.” [Sounds like Lent?]

“I love the human devised tradition of anticipating the Incarnation of the Messiah”.

The incarnation is not something to “anticipate”, brother. This wonderful event took place over two thousand years ago, and was followed by Christ’s crucifixion, resurrection, ascension, and much more. So it seems that buying into this particular human-invented tradition has led you to say something strangely non-Scriptural.

“Surely we can learn from and thoughtfully interact with Christian brothers/sisters from other Church traditions and other eras.”

Certainly, but our learning from them must happen, as you say, thoughtfully. Test all things, and, like the Bereans, hold fast to that which is good and matches Scripture.

“I suppose we could view repeating the Creeds as something not commanded also and to be viewed with suspicion.”

Creeds are indeed human creations. They ought to be tested by Scripture, like anything else devised by fallible mortals. But if we’re going to have congregational readings, why not use actual words from Scripture? (That would seem to accord with 1 Timothy 4:13.)

Matt February 4, 2015 - 09:09

Thank you for these reflections on Lent. I know many people who share a passion for all things spiritual, and reconnecting with the rich history of the Church. Though I grew up with much skepticism and negativity towards Christian Calendar Practices rooted in history, I now find several (including Lent) to be life-giving. In addition to the positive aspects of Lent you’ve already raised, I would add spiritual discipline to the mix.

The practice of giving something up during Lent requires discipline, it costs us something. Whatever we choose to do, the goal is the same: to draw our minds and hearts closer to Jesus. Like tithing, lent costs us something. I have friends who have given up some form of media (e.g. tv, movies, facebook, etc.) or others who chose foods (e.g. sweets, soft drinks, eating out, etc.). These are just a sampling, but they all requrie something of us. The simple practice of giving up something is important-even if only for a short season-because it enables us to reconnect with Jesus.

In a world marked by so much excess and consumerism, Lent is a breath of fresh air. It draws our focus away from the world and towards God’s Kingdom.

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Larry Schmidt February 4, 2015 - 21:00

Hi Brother Peachey

This will be my last post, although there is a part of me that would love to continue with this but as a spiritual discipline I’m giving up posting on the MB Herald site for Lent.

Thank you for pointing out my error: Yes, Jesus was born 2000 years ago. Rather than anticipating the incarnation, I actually anticipate the Christian season of remembering his incarnation. My bad.

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Richard Peachey February 5, 2015 - 23:21

So, Larry . . . based on your last post, it appears to me that you view commenting at the MB Herald as a borderline self-indulgent non-necessity . . . akin to soft drinks, candies, and movies (Matt’s examples) . . . what you referred to earlier as “great fun.”

If that’s your view, perhaps you ought to give up posting here for longer than just one season.

Some of us, on the other hand, take the view that our commenting is a serious business, a part of our Christian service of “destroy[ing] arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and tak[ing] every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5).

For those who approach it that way, there is no reason ever to discontinue such an activity.

Anyway, all the best to you as you serve the Lord Jesus Christ. Each of us must stand or fall to his own Master.

“Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Colossians 3:17).

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adyck1 February 17, 2015 - 15:13

Norm, thanks for this article. I took the article as a reminder to take advantage of the tradition of Lent to reset my heart onto the path of repentance, and of receiving the gift of lifelong conversion. And all this through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. (And I’m delighted to read that Westside celebrates communion each week.) God bless you in your ongoing ministry.

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Carey Miller March 9, 2015 - 12:48

I agree with the intentions of biblical fasting and self-denial as a very legitimate and useful practice. I do have a problem with attaching the man-made concept of Lent to this practice. Why not just align and perform the beneficial activities and leave out the “branding” of Lent that is so associated with man-made tradition (especially the Catholic leanings) and often non-biblical?

Non-biblical spirituality and mysticism are running rampant among the uninformed of the Church. A mature Christian may discern this. However, it becomes a stumbling block when a newer Christian sees mature, influential Christians delving into the traditions of men and holding these out as legitimate and even by implication even necessary to the Christian life. It is a slippery slope for some to realize what it is truly biblical and what isn’t. Better to error on the side of safety, at least as far as public pronouncements.

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