During the Reformation many of the reformers spoke out against Lent. Ulrich Zwingly said Lent “had more to do with obeying Rome than the Gospel”. Martin Luther denounced apparent church teaching that strict observance during Lent could “cancel” out sin. John Calvin called Lent “superstitious”. So – clearly – they were not fans of Lent. Many of the protestant denomination that grew out of the reformers teachings solidified their founder’s opinions on Lent into official theology. And – in their defense – you cannot look up “Lent” in any translation of the Bible and site chapter and verse where Jesus or any of His Twelve Disciples ever sermonized on the observance of Lent. It’s not in scripture anywhere – and – again – to their defense – the earliest writing of it is the little tid-bit from Iraneous’s letter, which was probably written at least 150 years (probably more) after Jesus death. And – this letter also doesn’t prescribe any particular command to observe Lent or explanation of how to celebrate Lent. The reformers could have cited this sparing mention and teaching on Lent as proof that it was not important to Jesus’ first followers.
The protestant denominations that are more closely related to Catholicism (Anglicans & Episcopalians for instance) have retained Lent – whereas the restoration/back-to-the-Bible fundamentalist denominations generally not only don’t celebrate Lent – but zealously reject giving up chocolate as a means of being “spiritual” They site the abuses of Lent in the church’s history – and to be sure – one doesn’t have to be an analytic genius to understand that a generally poorly educated flock of church attenders could be “beneficially” motivated to give more, serve more and generally bolster the generally accepted power of the church with their efforts during Lent. In that environment, Lent could easily be abused and lowered to a mere annual live-portrayal of the absolute power of the church – not only over people’s meager resources in this life – but over their fate in the next.
It is easy to imagine the reformers’ strong opinions on these ideas. While I’m no historian and have never made a thorough study of the reformers – it is easy to imagine that they could have spoken out against the potential problems of legalism and self-righteousness possible in observances of Lent. Though I have not read specific texts where the reformers spoke out against this – I have for a fact heard sermons by their followers who did.
The reformers complaints and charges regarding the abuses of Lent were valid – and yet they don’t change the fact that:
1. Reflection with prayer, fasting and giving is useful for believers – and Easter is a logical season to engage in this
2. Jesus’ disciples themselves engaged in this practice.