NASHVILLE, Tenn. (ABP) — Though traditionally viewed as a Catholic rite, increasing numbers of Baptists are discovering the discipline of Lent.
Growing from the free-church branch of Protestantism, Baptists traditionally have been highly suspicious of virtually all of the rituals associated with the Roman Catholic and Anglican traditions. That began to break down in recent decades as more Baptist (and other Protestant) churches began observing Advent, the four Sundays immediately before Christmas. Some of those congregations also began to incorporate other parts of the liturgical calendar into their worship planning, including the 40-day period of fasting and prayer before Easter known as Lent.
As Advent is intended to prepare Christians by identifying with ancient Israel in its long anticipation of Christ’s birth, so Lent is intended to prepare Christians by identify with his sufferings in preparation for the Resurrection.
Bo Prosser, coordinator for congregational life with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, said he sees interest in Lent growing in Baptist churches every year. “It’s not a program,” he said. “It’s an appreciation of liturgy.”
Not all Baptists are jumping on the bandwagon. Randel Everett, the former Virginia Baptist pastor who recently became executive director of the Baptist General Convention of Texas, reported receiving a mild rebuke when he suggested a season of prayer, fasting and repentance for Texas Baptists during Lent.
“After I had mentioned this idea at a pastors conference, one of the pastors helpfully reminded me that I was no longer in Virginia but back in Texas, and our Baptist churches don’t celebrate Lent,” Everett wrote in a column for the Baptist Standard. “He is right. Some of our churches emphasize Advent, but not many mention Lent. So, I began to say, let’s celebrate 40 days of prayer between the first day of deer season and Super Bowl Sunday. Use whatever calendar works for each church.”
Seasons of prayer and self-denial are nothing new in the Baptist tradition. Southern Baptist churches observe a “Week of Prayer” leading up to annual offerings for both home missions and foreign missions that are promoted — like Lent and Advent — during the seasons leading up to Easter and Christmas.
The notion of a 40-day focus on renewal gained traction in evangelical circles with the runaway success of Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Life.
New Baptist resources focus specifically on Lent. Passport, Inc., a student-ministry organization, produces a web-based Lenten devotional called d365.org. The Baptist Center for Ethics sells an online group study for Lent that was produced in partnership with the Baptist World Alliance.