Forty days focused on Lent might keep us from a privatistic faith and lead us to a robust public faith.
Baptist Center for Ethics' eight-week, online Bible study for Lent is designed to help Christians reclaim real faith and reconnect with the global community. This photo shows makeshift housing in post-quake Haiti. (Hungarian Baptist Aid)
Look what happened to Jesus during his 40 days of prayer and fasting in the wilderness. He rejected the temptations of economic, political and religious power. He determined his direction. He delivered his agenda in the Nazareth synagogue. He proclaimed that his mission was to deliver good news to those at the margins of society, to liberate others from real oppressive structures and to turn the economic structures upside down through the year of jubilee.
Forty days focused on Lent might be just what we – wealthy and powerful global Baptists – need to reconnect with a more robust faith that leads us to a deeper resolve to remember our fellow Baptists who suffer from poverty, injustice and violence. Lent offers such a time for reflection, repentance and renewal.
Simply put, Baptists in America need to observe Lent, a 40-day period before Easter (excluding Sundays) often associated with the liturgical Christian tradition and ignored by many non-liturgical church traditions to our spiritual and moral impoverishment.
An increasing number of Baptist leaders recognize the value of Lent, however.
Speaking about the release of our undated, online curriculum unit titled Eyeing Easter, Walking through Lent, Denton Lotz, now the former general secretary of the Baptist World Alliance, said: "In our reaction to the evils of the medieval church, we Baptists threw out some customs and traditions that for centuries were an encouragement to the church to practice holy living, including fasting and the observance of Lent.
"In rejecting such practices, we have sometimes failed to hear their original call for repentance and change of heart," said Lotz. "The 40 days of Lent should lead us to repent where we have failed God and our neighbors and challenge us to unite as a community of believers to be witnesses of God's kingdom."
Heather Entrekin, senior pastor of Prairie Baptist Church in Prairie Village, Kan., lamented in an EthicsDaily.com column several years ago that Lent had "become nearly invisible in Protestant church life" and noted the deepness of Lent's biblical roots.
"Following the way of Jesus, Lenten observance tends to involve introspection, self-examination and repentance. It invites withdrawal and testing which can equip a person for faithful living," wrote Entrekin.
In another column, James Evans, pastor of Auburn First Baptist Church in Auburn, Ala., wrote: "Lent is often trivialized as a time when Christians give up some bad practice, like eating chocolate or drinking coffee. But Lent is more than just giving up something. For Christians, Lent is a time to take on something – we are challenged to take on a renewed faith."
He said, "Properly understood, Lent is a time for Christians to reclaim and restore the meaning of their faith."
Recognizing the value of Lent, the Baptist Center for Ethics produced an eight-week, online Bible study designed to help Christians reclaim real faith and reconnect with the global community.
Baptists from Argentina, Britain, Canada, the Czech Republic, Lebanon and the United States offer their theological reflection on Lent in this educational unit.
Lesson writers include: Martin Accad, dean, Arab Baptist Theological Seminary; Daniel Carro, professor of divinity, John Leland Center; Dina Carro, member of the BWA study and research executive committee; Randy Hyde, pastor, Pulaski Heights Baptist Church in Little Rock, Ark.; Emmanuel McCall, vice president, BWA; Paul Montacute, director, Baptist World Aid; Carla Nelson, education consultant, Canadian Baptist Ministries; Parush Parushev, professor, International Baptist Theological Seminary; and Craig Sherouse, now pastor, Second Baptist Church in Richmond, Va.
Ash Wednesday is two weeks away and the first Sunday of Lent is Feb. 21. It is not too late to order Eyeing Easter, which will challenge you and your fellow church members to reflect on God's history of deliverance, to repent of self-centered and self-sufficient living, to reaffirm dependence upon God and to recommit to walking the life of faith.
Will you travel with global Baptists for 40 days through Lent to Easter?
Robert Parham is executive editor of EthicsDaily.com and executive director of its parent organization, the Baptist Center for Ethics.