Friday, April 8, 2011

No Baptist Rituals?

A friend gave me the heads up on a Baptist preacher's take on "why we don't observe Ash Wednesday and Lent."  It is a short but interesting perspective on the ancient and nearly universal practice of the Church Year, especially with respect to the Queen of Feasts and the days leading up to it.

A couple of things... One is the accusation that the fickle crowd one day cried "crown Him" only to change their tune to "crucify Him."  While it is a common belief that these were the same voices, the Palm Sunday crowd and the Good Friday crowd are often seen as two different groups by many commentators.  Besides this, what does the fickleness of one crowd have to do with us today?  Oh, yes, those who observe Ash Wednesday and Lent are also fickle.  Aren't we all?!

Second is the equation of the excess of Mardi Gras or "fat Tuesday" with the people who observe Ash Wednesday and Lent.  I have lived in the heart of the South for going on 19 years and nearly everyone here knows something of Mardi Gras but hardly any know of Ash Wednesday or Lent.  In fact, I would suggest that those whose piety follows the Church Year are hardly those whose "moral abandonment, gluttony, and drunkenness" have so painted the picture of the day before Ash Wednesday.  Just the opposite -- those who love a party will use nearly any pretense for holding one -- like the end of Baptist softball season!

He makes a point.  "True repentance and true humiliation is not just a forty day fast but a lifestyle change..."  True enough.  But there is nothing to preclude a lifestyle change from springing from the Spirit of God at work during such a time of self-denial, additional prayer and church services, alms giving, fasting, and Scripture reading -- all the stuff of which Ash Wednesday and Lent are about (supposed to, anyway).

A minor correction -- many people give up things in Lent without marking their foreheads with ashes and many people mark their foreheads without giving up things -- they can go together and often do but not always.

But the damning charge is that there is nothing in Scripture -- not one word -- that suggests or supports Ash Wednesday or Lent.  Hmmm.  There is not one word in Scripture that suggests or supports the use of a PA system, Powerpoint slides on large screens, soloists with wireless mics, red carnations on Mother's Day, a big floppy Bible in the hand of a preacher, an altar call, the sinner's prayer, a heated walk in baptismal font, pastoral waders for baptisms, or a thousand and one other things commonplace in Baptists and most other churches not in favor of Ash Wednesday or Lent.  So what?

In the end there is one part the author got right -- "this is not a bad thing."  Not required, no one says that, but not only not bad.  It is good.  The Lenten discipline is a good thing.  And beginning it with a remembrance that we are dust and return to dust is a good thing.  And ending it at the foot of the cross is a good thing.  If the author would have kept his commentary to those six words I would have had nothing to say.... but then where would have been all the fun....


Anonymous said...

In the Protestant churches it all
comes down to this: Do you follow the
Church Year Calendar or not?

Thankfully the Lutherans have a fine
tradition of observing the Church
Year with Advent, Epiphany, Lent, etc. The Methodists, Presbyterians,
Baptists have no clue on lectionary
readings of pericopes in Divine
Worship on Sunday. Usually the pastor
just reads the Scripture for his
sermon text and that is it.

Anonymous said...

In our city of 250,000 there was one
Presbyterian Church who did a sermon
series on King David of the Old
Testament during this March and April
and another Presbyterian Church had
a sermon series on the Book of Esther
during the same time period.

It is refreshing that the Lutheran
tradition observes the Church Year
which focuses on Christ and his work
of redemption and not O.T. heroes.

Jerry said...

In our community of 2000 it appears that our LCMS church is the only one observing anything to do with Lent. There is a large RC contingent here but I haven't seen any action there during the Lenten season. Many LPC's (Little Pink Churches) here also but nothing there either. Our Pastor is doing a series on Isaiah 52-53 which has been pretty good.

Note to Anon #2: At least their subjects are Biblical.

Anonymous said...

Your second to last paragraph, "But the damning charge is..." is simply ridiculous. An alter call and the sinners prayer are valid examples, but the rest are not. No one anywhere has ever tried to say that PA systems or Powerpoint slides, or the rest are in the bible. They are just tools or ways of doing things. They are not elevated to doctrine or anything of the sort.