Lent begins — for billions

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The vast majority of the Christian world is entering the season of Lent. Lent is a solemn season in the liturgical calendar that begins on Ash Wednesday and concludes just before Easter. It is a time of reflection, self-examination, prayer, fasting, and repentance. It is a time of “laying aside” unproductive habits, attitudes, practices, and sins and a time of “taking up” spiritual disciplines, prayer, scripture reading, and holy living.

This “laying down” and “taking up” is not restricted to Lent (but something that Christians should be doing continually) but Lent, it seems, is when these issues are addressed seriously.

Recently, a person on social media referred to Lent as a “Catholic superstition.” While I think he may have been joking, there are those Christians who do hold to this belief. But Lent, and for that matter the liturgical calendar, is not limited to Catholicism but, rather, is shared by a majority of Christians.

There are, currently, approximately 2.2 billion Christians on the planet. Of these, 1.2 billion are Roman Catholic. Another 300 million or so are Eastern Orthodox. Anglicans make up well over 85 million, even if one restricts “Anglicans,” to the Anglican Communion.

Sacramental Protestants include the Methodists (80 million), Lutherans (80 million), Presbyterians (75 million), and those numbers do not include myriads of sacramental denominations that are not listed. All of these share the season of Lent and the other seasons on the church liturgical calendar.

Non-sacramental Christians comprise a minority of Christians. In fact, even the large evangelical denominations (Southern Baptists, 15 million, Assemblies of God, 1.8 million, Church of God in Christ, 6 million, Christian Church/Disciples of Christ, 500,000, Church of Christ, 2 million) are a very small segment of the larger Church.

In the South, where Protestantism dominates, it is easy to believe that nearly all Christians are Protestant Evangelicals, but this would be a mistake.

Compared to either the Catholic Church or the Eastern Orthodox churches, the largest Protestant church in the world, the Southern Baptist Church, is tiny. My own denomination is even much tinier.

This isn’t to denigrate any of these faithful communions but merely to state that the Church is far, far larger than most of us believe. The Church is far, far older than most of us have been taught. And the church is far, far richer in history and tradition than most comprehend.

While the Catholic Church observes Lent, so does the vast majority of the global Church. It is not a “Catholic superstition,” but an ancient season observed for centuries by nearly everyone. These days, a growing number of Evangelical Protestant and even Independent Churches are observing the seasons of the Church. It is no longer a strange thing to hear of a Baptist congregation having an Ash Wednesday service or a Charismatic church returning to some ancient traditions and observances.

Observing the church calendar or neglecting it does not make one a “better” or a “lesser” Christian. But, as humans, we are all tuned in to a calendar, often many different calendars.

Why? Because they denote seasons or time periods which help us in our life. There is, of course, winter, spring, summer, and fall. There are also the seasons of football, basketball, baseball, and other sports. Perhaps the world’s largest sports season is “soccer season.” But not in the United States. In the world, however, American football is a very small event compared to soccer.

So, welcome to a worldwide and ancient event practiced for centuries in all times and in nearly all places by almost all Christians — Lent begins.

[David Epps is the pastor of the Cathedral of Christ the King, Sharpsburg, GA between Newnan and Peachtree City (www.ctkcec.org). He is the bishop of the Mid-South Diocese which consists of Georgia and Tennessee (www.midsouthdiocese.org) and the Associate Endorser for the Department of the Armed Forces, U.S. Military Chaplains, ICCEC. He may contacted at frepps@ctkcec.org.]