Tuesday, March 13, 2007

updated: why lent?

Why Lent? “And so you can see why a lot of Reformers are not happy with the Emerging Church. After effectively getting rid of quite a number of meaningless rituals like Lent … the emerging church seem to be undoing some of these gains. Don Carson describes the emerging church as a protest movement. Is it true? Are we protesting the protest? Are we rebelling against the Reformation or are we helping the church to reform again to regain its status as the one holy catholic church?” Tallskinnykiwi wrote

Both at my previous church, Graceway, and now at Opawa, I have introduced a focus on Lent. This year this has included the Lenten 7-pack Practising our faith – a takehome resource with art and text, studies for our small groups and introducing mid-week Lenten study group/s. So why does this shortstubbykiwi support lent?

1. Easter is too important: For Christians, Easter is the highpoint of the church year. An event anticipated is much more likely to be an event celebrated. I liken it to a birthday party – the use of an invitation is crucial for building anticipation. Practising Lent allows us to send invitations to, and among, our church community. It allows the community of God to build toward Easter.

2. Lent is a great time to focus on discipleship: In Lent, Jesus is walking toward Jerusalem. The use of Lent, (and Advent) allows us to focus on the following of Jesus in discipleship. Every year Lent allows us to pause and remind ourselves of Jesus taking up the cross. Lent is thus like grit in our shoe. It works against “cheap grace.”

3. Lent allows us to accentuate the postive by building practises: I do not see Lent as time of denial, but as a time of building Christian practices. Here at Opawa we explore how Jesus lived (for example this year as part of the 7-pack Practising our faith we are focusing on his mission, his use of Scripture, who he ate with, who he included in his community, what his wallet said about his priorities). This has nothing to do with Don Carson’s “protest” but about our passion to live as Jesus lived.

Update: 4 – A comment by John Hebenton: Steve talked about some Lenten material he has put together around good practices. I really liked this. It reminded of the Irish Penitentials, which were about developing the virtues rather than penance for the sin. I have tried to approach Lent in that spirit this year Instead of just giving up computer games, I have thought about what virtue I wanted to build by doing that – spending time with my children. Instead of just giving up swearing at bad drivers, I decided to build the virtue of praying for peace for those who annoy me (bad drivers) – I keep forgetting this one. It has made all those silly giving things up for Lent so much more meaningful.”

Sorry tallskinny, I remain totally baffled about why a bunch of “Reformers” would be unhappy with my working with Lent as part of forming a community in the way of Jesus as revealed in the Biblical narrative of his walk toward the cross.

Posted by steve at 12:47 PM


  1. I’m with you Steve. I see Lent and Easter as a single movement. The cross would not be as vital as it is in the lives of Christians if it wasn’t for Jesus’ journey to it. Lent and Easter share a symbiotic relationship.

    Good on you for reclaiming what has been lost, particularly in protestant traditions.

    Comment by Glen — March 13, 2007 @ 2:47 pm

  2. Well, I can see where Andrew is coming from. After all, celebrating Christmas in Scotland post-Reformation was banned for almost 400 years.

    I’ve definitely encountered those within the Reformed tradition for whom the church calendar, seasons etc. all smack of ‘papist frippery’. Even celebrating Christmas and Easter ‘officially’ are downplayed. The focus is on celebrating the Resurrection every Sunday and that’s all the needs to be done. All else, Pentecost, Trinity Sunday, Ascension Day, Lent etc., might all get in the way of that.

    On the other hand, the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa/New Zealand has links to Lenten materials on its web site.


    Personally, I’m in favour of using the various church seasons and events as ‘hooks’ to encourage reflection and spiritual growth – and to make sure that parts of the Christian tradition don’t get lost.

    Comment by Stephen Garner — March 13, 2007 @ 9:13 pm

  3. Help me understand Stephen. If every Sunday is resurrection, why do we have all of the Bible? Why not just have the resurrection Scriptures?

    Me thinks there is also some irony – Reformers dismissing seasons as ‘papist frippery’ turns the Reformation into the “protest” movement and the emerging church into continuers of the tradition,


    Comment by steve@emergentkiwi.org.nz — March 14, 2007 @ 9:35 am

  4. As a Reformed Scot I’m very glad that after 400 years I can celebrate Christmas and Easter! We even have candles in some places!

    I think that one of the biggest downsides of the Reformation was that in their rush to be NOT Catholic the reformers ditched pretty much everything. Very slowly the reformed church has realised that candles, icons, ritual, responses, liturgy, seasons and all that stuff is good and helpful and nothing at all to do with how the church is governed. That can only be a good thing, especially in a world where images, smells, tastes, sounds and how things feel are such powerful ways to connect with God.

    Lent for me has to be a time when all that Jesus FELT is made real. To me the ‘resurrection every Sunday’ isn’t always helpful because it negates the journey to the cross.

    Comment by stewart — March 16, 2007 @ 9:58 am

  5. steve, it baffles me also. happy lent!

    Comment by andrew — March 17, 2007 @ 10:34 pm

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