Do Baptists celebrate Lent?
This is a question I have been asked in the past, and one that I have asked myself as well. And as with anything relating to Baptists, the answer is complicated, and there is also virtually no agreement on the subject. I have been part of Baptist churches who celebrate Lent fully, as well as those who do not even acknowledge its existence, and even ones in the middle, who would acknowledge Lent but refuse to celebrate Ash Wednesday. So I thought I would take my column this month to explain why Baptists in the past may not have celebrated Lent, and why I think it is still a valid practice.
For many Baptists, the primary reasoning behind not celebrating Lent comes down to the fact that our primary basis for everything is Scripture. Now don’t get me wrong; Scripture is at the heart of most Christian denominations. However, Baptists have always believed in Scripture alone being sufficient, which means that they have tried to only do that which is explicitly commanded to do in the New Testament. This is why you will see several holidays celebrated by other denominations not celebrated by Baptists. This also includes Advent, which many Baptist churches did not celebrate.
Here is where I differ from some of the Baptist traditions over time. I believe that we are not “required” to celebrate anything that is outside of scriptural tradition. Mandating that the church needs Advent and Lent is not necessary, and many churches feel comfortable without those periods. However, should those traditions be valuable to the people who experience them, I think there is a lot of merit in utilizing them.
The way that plays out is this. For some denominations, Lent brings with it specific requirements, primarily in the form of fasting. This does fly against my Baptist beliefs. Fasting is listed in the Bible as a valuable practice, but it is not listed as something required by all believers. Jesus and His apostles, the primary sources for the New Testament, understood that spiritual practices were not one-size-fits-all. Some people might benefit from fasting, but others might find it an impediment to their faith. As a result, fasting did not become a mandated spiritual practice. But if it is a valuable practice for you, I don’t think you should be scared away because “Baptists don’t ‘do’ Lent.”
Ultimately, Baptists believe that each individual, and each community, have different needs. I consider Lent to be a valuable time for us as a congregation to prepare our hearts for Good Friday and Easter. It is a spiritual focusing that reminds us of what is important. Is it absolutely necessary? No. The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the most important thing. But I hope that as we journey together in Lent you will find it valuable as well.