I was looking around yesterday when I stopped by the website for New Wineskins magazine. At the top right of the homepage, I saw something that surprised me: a button labeled "Lenten Devotional."
Now, I've read and talked with enough people to know; it's no longer unheard of for folks in the Churches of Christ to observe days and seasons of the traditional Christian calendar, and to practice various ways of worship and devotion that years ago our people would have avoided and even condemned. What surprised me was that a magazine that's basically by and for people in the Churches of Christ would be providing instruction and guidance about the purposes and the ways of Lent. That seemed to me like a step beyond.
Anyway, I clicked on the button to see what was there. No surprises. Most of the "Lenten Devotional" material comes from outside our circles. There are even some elementary question-and-answer sections (again, written by someone from outside the Churches of Christ) designed to teach readers what Lent actually is and how it's observed.
Also among the entries is a well-reasoned, finely-written article by John Ogren entitled, "Give Up SEX for Lent?" Ogren serves as "the Communities of Faith Minister" at the South MacArthur Church of Christ in Irving, Texas. Finally, I thought. Here's something extensive, about Lent, by one of us. Maybe he'll take up the question. I wasn't disappointed. Ogren writes:
"It should be acknowledged that Lent is offensive to many evangelical Christians, perhaps because it is a remarkable feature of the Catholic tradition that we have, historically speaking, rejected. Furthermore, Lent is trivialized to many by the caricatures of Lenten discipline that abound (maybe you've know someone who gave up candy bars for Lent). But hopefully it is clear . . . how richly evangelical an authentic pursuit of Lenten discipline might be. And what some have trivialized might yet be realized, even by Christians with no place for Lent in their tradition or experience of Lent in their own past."
"In Churches of Christ, the tradition in which I am happy to live and serve, there is no corporate observance of Lent, but we do practice something of a parallel to Lent in our weekly communion service. As long as I can remember, the Lord's Supper has been marked as a time for self-examination, following Paul's instructions in 1 Corinthians 11:27-29. If we have not always read this passage in its context or appreciated the corporate dimensions of this self-examination, we have still recognized the call to test our lives and behavior in light of what we affirm and proclaim when we eat the bread and drink the cup. Lent can be understood and practiced in a similar way: in parallel with the weekly testing that accompanies the celebration of our fellowship at the Lord's table, Lent is an annual season of testing and discipline that accompanies the celebration of the Resurrection. Like the self-discerning that Paul required of the Corinthians, Lent should be practiced in the context of relationships and community. We are not solitary individuals attempting to perfect ourselves, but rather we are members of a new humanity being built up to perfection in the Body of Christ."
A response or two. Then I want to hear what you think.
First, is it accurate to suggest that evangelicals and people in the Churches of Christ have rejected Lenten practice because "it was a remarkable feature of the Catholic tradition"? Was Lent something our forefathers objected to because it was Roman Catholic?
My own experience and reading suggest that those kinds of prejudices were probably never far away from a lot of our folks, including me. However, I would argue that in keeping with the best principles of the Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement, we in the Churches of Christ have objected to Lenten practices not because they seemed so Catholic, but because they were what we called "unscriptural."
This is where I would question any comparisons drawn between Lent and the Lord's Supper. If I grant that believers need a ritual and a time for self-examination in the presence of Christ and his church, I also say that, according to Scripture, those have been given to us by the Lord Jesus himself. The same cannot be said for Lent.
I am not suggesting that Ogren has put the two on a par. He hasn't. What I am suggesting is that if leaders in the Churches of Christ want to pinpoint the source of our much-discussed "idenity crisis," they need to look no further than the rationale, right or wrong, that Ogren provides, as well as the question he doesn't answer: What about the unscriptural character of Lent?
It strikes me as an abandonment of the interpretive principles that are very close to, and inseparable from, some of what the Churches of Christ have put forward as their reasons for being a distinct group.
What do you think?