Should Christians Practice Lent?

Lent as we know it today did not arise out of this biblical understanding of fasting. Rather, Lent came about as a superstitious misunderstanding both of the purpose of fasting in general and the purpose of Christ’s forty-day fast in the wilderness in particular. As a result, Calvin correctly summarizes, “the superstitious observance of Lent had prevailed everywhere, because the common people thought that in it they were doing some exceptional service to God, and the pastors commended it as a holy imitation of Christ. On the contrary, it is plain that Christ did not fast to set an example for others, but to prove, in so beginning to proclaim the gospel, that it was no human doctrine but actually one sent from heaven [Matt. 4:2] (emphasis added).” Here we see how a good practice, like fasting, can be turned into a terrible superstition. People began to think that by giving up food or other things for Lent, that these acts in and of themselves were a service to God. Sadly, they were too often encouraged in this by pastors. (It’s a reminder that even the best of pastors in history are still flawed human beings!) But Calvin laments that this could happen to otherwise good men of God: “And the marvel is that such sheer hallucination (which is refuted so often and with such clear arguments) could creep upon men of keen judgment…It was, therefore, mere wrongheaded zeal, full of superstition, that they justified and painted fasting [for Lent] as the following of Christ.” Read more»

Bill Godfrey, Should Christian Practice Lent?