Your Protestant church probably doesn't observe the church calendar that marks such events as Epiphany and Pentecost. You might even regard this structure as legalistic, subversive of the true gospel of grace.
But make no mistake: you follow some calendar. It might be the school year, based on the agricultural seasons of planting, growing, and harvesting. Or it might be the so-called Hallmark Church Calendar: Valentine's Day, Mother's Day, Fathers's Day, Fourth of July, Veterans Day, and so on. The same goes for our liturgy. Every church has a liturgy. The only question is whether it's edifying and biblical.
Perhaps responding to the secular calendars adopted by so many Protestant churches, many congregations across the denominational spectrum have reached back into Christian history to clean up and capture structures that follow the story of Scripture. Lent is one such season leading up to Easter marked by fasting, repentance, and anticipation. Though typically associated with Roman Catholics, Lent has been infused with gospel-centered theology by many evangelicals today.
But not everyone thinks it's a good idea to observe Lent. After all, it's not prescribed by Scripture. The fast may send mixed messages to believers with a Roman Catholic background. By requiring Christians to practice something not mandated by God's Word, we may be inhibiting spiritual freedom. And the church calendar—even Easter—may imply that some days are more holy than others. Good Friday and Christmas might have gone mainstream, but many Protestants even today believe they distract from the Lord's Day and thus do not mark them on their calendars.
In the latest edition of Going Deeper with TGC, host Mark Mellinger and I talk about the origins, theology, and practice of Lent with Ligon Duncan, senior minister of First Presbyterian Church in Jackson, Mississippi. He traces the roots of Lent to Pope Gregory the Great in the 500s and explains its explicitly meritorious purpose. And he cites the history of Reformation in Switzerland, which began with eating sausages during Lent. Whether you side with Duncan or agree with Lutherans and Anglicans that we can keep liturgical ceremonies while adapting their theology, you'll benefit from listening to Duncan and going deeper with the sources he mentions:
As the podcast continues, The Gospel Project managing editor Trevin Wax talks with 9Marks editorial director Jonathan Leeman about the Old Testament wisdom literature. How do we read and rightly apply these passages? Leeman walks through Psalm 20 to show how we read through the lens of what Jesus Christ has accomplished on our behalf. Wax closes by asking Leeman how we should interpret Song of Solomon: is it a love poem or allegory of Christ and the church?
Finally, Mark and I wrap up by previewing Kathleen Nielson's new series on Flannery O'Connor. I also discuss Wheaton College president Phil Ryken's workshop at The Gospel Coalition National Conference on How Pastors Can Encourage Artistic Gifts. You can register for the conference and sign up to learn from Ryken. Stay tuned to the very end of the podcast to learn about an upcoming series led by Ryken on a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel beloved by many pastors today.
You can stream the full podcast below, download the mp3, or subscribe to Going Deeper with TGC on iTunes or through your other mobile devices.
Going Deeper with TGC, 2-22, with Ligon Duncan
Collin Hansen serves as editorial director for The Gospel Coalition. He is the author of of Blind Spots: Becoming a Courageous, Compassionate, and Commissioned Church, Young, Restless, Reformed: A Journalist’s Journey With the New Calvinists, and co-author with John Woodbridge of A God-Sized Vision: Revival Stories That Stretch and Stir. He earned an MDiv at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and an undergraduate degree in journalism and history from Northwestern University. He previously worked as an associate editor for Christianity Today magazine, co-edited Four Views on the Spectrum of Evangelicalism, and co-edits the Cultural Renewal series with Tim Keller. He and his wife belong to Redeemer Community Church in Birmingham, Alabama, and he serves on the advisory board of Beeson Divinity School. You can follow him on Twitter.