Lancaster: Emerging Church to Blame for Lent Observance

It seems a lot of us are observing Lent right now. I am not drinking caffeine and my kids have given up chocolate and sweets. During this time, I have discovered “FEAST DAYS”, those 6 occasions, normally falling on a Sunday, that allow for breaking the rules and scoffing whatever food or drink one is fasting for Lent. In fact, not only have I discovered and employed these Feast Days, yea and behold, I have even added to their number.

Why stop at 6 when you can have 10 Feast Days during Lent? Or 12? Heck – Why not have a Feast Day EVERYDAY during Lent like most Protestants I know.

Interesting article in Lancaster Online regarding Lent observance among Protestants. They blame the emerging church for this trend . . and they might be right:

“The trend toward Lenten observance by Protestant churches isn’t brand-new. It has been boosted in the last few years, though, by the “emerging church” movement, which increasingly looks to the ancient church as a pattern for the future.

Too, more Protestants are turning to spiritual disciplines, another tradition once viewed as “Catholic,” to deepen their faith at a time when contemporary megachurches are being accused of producing shallow Christianity.”
Lancaster Online

Jonny Baker from London is going over to Lancaster, PA, at the end of this month to sort them all out. Look out for him at the Lancaster Seminary March 21-28. Hope he has a great time. When our family passed through Lancaster in our Winnebago (1999) we stayed at an Amish campsite and learned about how they did house church. Ate a few shoo-fly pies. And my kids bought the Amish gear – hats, bonnets etc. We looked like an Amish family, except the dad [me] who looked like a backslidden Amish father with a ponytail.

Also on Lancaster. I just read a book on the Reformation by Stephen Nichols, who teaches at the Lancaster Bible College. The Reformation: How a Monk and a Mallet changed the world. [thats mallet . . not MULLET] Nichols says, and I like this, that the Swiss Reformation was started when Ulrich Zwlingli refused to observe Lent and demonstrated his newfound freedom with a now famous sausage supper in March 1522. More on this book on Thursday when i do a book review party here.

And so you can see why a lot of Reformers are not happy with the Emerging Church. After effectively getting rid of quite a number of meaningless rituals like Lent [and Christmas in Scotland] as well as the English monastic system and other things associated with Popery, the emerging church seem to be undoing some of these gains.

Don Carson describes the emerging church as a protest movement. Is it true? Are we protesting the protest? Are we rebelling against the Reformation or are we helping the church to reform again to regain its status as the one holy catholic church? I hope its the latter.


Andrew Jones launched his first internet space in 1997 and has been teaching on related issues for the past 20 years. He travels all the time but lives between Wellington, San Francisco and a hobbit home in Prague.


  • Lyn says:

    I think you would have looked great in Amish gear!
    It’s just my perspective, but I think that the emerging church is getting back to the basics and is trying to emulate church as it was intended. I definitely agree that we are helping the church to reform. I disagree with Don Carson – it is definitely not a protest movement, what would be the point in that? I feel a mini sermon coming on so I’ll stop here …

  • andrew jones says:

    how does one protest a protest movement?
    by not protesting?

  • + Alan says:

    Aah, words very close to my heart Andrew. And I think, getting very close to what a good chunk of this “emerging” thing is really about, as I see it. Some of it, frankly, is nothing about this, but a good healthy strain is definitely. Thanks for saying it. Peace to you.

  • brad says:

    i think this is far more complex than whether this is a ‘protest’ or ‘reform’ or ‘regain’ or ‘restore.’ i suspect that ALL OF US tend to confuse our abstract doctrinal concepts with concrete biblical facts, and confuse our so-called ‘biblical’ methodologies practices with actual biblical prescriptives.
    one of the tasks of each disciple and each generation of disciples is to act as Bereans to investigate the Scriptures to see what FACTS are so and to keep working on improved CONCEPTUALIZATIONS of how the facts fit together. i would hope we could learn from both past and present approaches, ALL OF WHICH ARE IMPERFECT.
    we should ALWAYS be ‘protesting’ or ‘antithesizing’ even our own theological patterns, if we are being as Bereans. it doesn’t mean we’re pro-papists or re-reformers or anti-authoritarianists or non-inerrantists, etc. we may not use the same language of theological concepts that others use, but isn’t it part of our responsibility to the continuity of our faith to keep pressing toward a comprehensive, holistic, integrative worldview AND part of our presponsibility to the discontinuity of our times to embody that faith in authentic ways before all peoples?

  • Mark says:

    Good questions… love the last two paragraphs… BTW we missed you last week!

  • chad says:

    maybe reaction is a better word…

  • Never knew the Scots were so dour…..thanks

  • why lent?

    Why Lent? “And so you can see why a lot of Reformers are not happy with the Emerging Church. After effectively getting rid of quite a number of meaningless rituals like Lent … the emerging church seem to be undoing…

  • RobH says:

    The possible difficulty with Lent, as opposed to Christmas and Easter, is that it can so (very) subtly become a means of justifying oneself through penance.
    If that’s the direction of travel then watch out for an agitated apostle in a tizzy (Galations 1:6, 4:10 etc..).

  • I don’t think observing Lent by Protestants or Emergents is a way to “regain” “lost spiritual disciplines”. Trying to regain status as the one catholic church is going backwards and not thinking forward the future and the consequent progressive changing of mind that us as Church of God require.

  • andrew says:

    i think both are necessary – understanding the essential unity that Jesus gave us as his body, respecting our history through the centuries, acknowledging our church fathers and mothers . . . and . .. thinking through our present challenges and culture today.
    we should not jettison our church history and be acting like we aint got no fathers but tap into that history to guide us today.

  • Fr. Simon says:

    Disagree with the suggestion that Lent is meaningless ritual. It is not about what we give up, but about what we take up, not by what we deny our bodies, but about what preparation and spiritual discipline we adopt in preparation for holy week: extra bible study, compline, extra works of charity or social justice. I encourage the parish to forget about giving up chocolate to improve your waistline, and get ready for the race or the fight.
    Treat it like this, and that protestant misery ethic will melt away.

  • bea says:

    we reacted against the ‘giving up’ part of lent a few years ago. we decided we’d rather ‘take up’. then this year we both felt a real sense that we should ‘give up’ alcohol, then ‘take up’ an intentional response to this – generally in form of charity and social justice.
    as Fr. Simon suggests, the protestant misery ethic certainly does melt away!

  • ally simpson says:

    If emergent is helping the “church to reform again to regain its status as the one holy catholic church” surely this is a process of going back to the past. Whether you agree with the finer points of the reformation or not by picking up “rituals” that its followers have abolished surely this is going back and not going forward, is it not?

  • Pastor Astor says:

    I like the english word “reinvent” and I think it gives us a clue to what is going on. We are all suckers for simplification – we tend to choose simple identitiy markers instead of complex issues. I donĀ“t think the reformers turned against the institution of lent per se, but against the notion that it somehow earned you holiness or whatever, and since you could’t get the rid of the notion without dumping the institution, they did what they needed to do. We however, forget that the REAL question was holiness, and keep focusing on the institution, which in it self is not only good, but also very useful in the life of the believer. In our situtation reinventing Lent is a good thing.
    I think a good tool in understanding what is helpful and what is not, is to ask whether it brings us closer to Christ or not. This is a much better tool than the sin-catalogues.

  • andrew says:

    len sweet once described postmodernism as “openness to the past.”
    i have described the postmodern shift in terms of time and space, history and geography.
    before we move forward, we look back.
    both/and . .

  • lisa says:

    i fasted from a number of things during Lent season last year. it was a good experience and God quite surprised me with the way he chose to impact me during that time. i like the way he’s always getting out of the box.

  • steve says:

    For some reason trackbacks are not working but I have commented on this in my blog Andrew, until the title “Why Lent?” ( offering some explanation of why I as an ec pastor encourage Lent in terms of discipleship and faith formation.

  • chad says:

    i just spent the last few hours reading over greek orthodox lent patterns for class. It really shows a robust theology of the incarnation and atonement…and the liturgy doesn’t mention that much about fasting…but alot more about forgiveness as an integral part of lent. This was a great read…anyone really interested in lent should pick it up. The book is “Orthodox Lent, Holy Week and Easter” by Hugh Wybrew. Just the theology about Christ’s action in the Passion is enough to really knock down any arguement that the EC is using Lent just to downplay a good Christological Stance. Here it is at amazon

  • barry says:

    i gave up shoes for Lent a few years ago. it was a really helpful experience. i’ve come to think that fasting/giving things up is primarily about solidarity
    thanks for starting a helpful conversation!

  • andrew says:

    yes steve, i see that trackback. thanks. i get a lot of trackback spam so i run it all through a filter.
    hope all is well in NZ and thanks for meeting my Scottish friend Carrie. She really enjoyed your church service last month.

  • steve says:

    cheers andrew. it was an unexpected delight to hear that scottish accent again. reminded me of a wonderful 3 months in aberdeen TOO long ago.

  • updated: why lent?

    Why Lent? “And so you can see why a lot of Reformers are not happy with the Emerging Church. After effectively getting rid of quite a number of meaningless rituals like Lent … the emerging church seem to be undoing…

  • Paul Morriss says:

    Thanks for this post. I was wondering why a movement which sometimes seems to be saying “if we were starting from scratch how would we do things?” observes something so traditional as Lent. How about Harvest Festival?
    I questioned Harvest Festival in a recent Youth leaders meeting in our church. I asked that given you can get strawberries all year round in the supermarket, and the payrises often happen in January, why were we stuck with such an irrelevant festival. I didn’t get very far. I’ll raise it again in a couple of years.

  • There is a big difference between embracing old practices in order to develop a more holistic faith and attempting to return to the power of the medieval church that the reformers left.
    I would hope that the EC will adopt lent in the same playful way as it has adopted other ancient church practices, embracing the core message, but dumping the baggage.

  • Aleah says:

    Dios te bendiga!Kisses

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