Lent Is Methodist

Bill Smith, always worth a read, thinks Old Life has declared another war on objections to Lent. He acknowledges two chief objections among Reformed Protestants to Lent — the regulative principle of worship and the fear of Romish practices. The regulative principle should actually take care of the matter for the sake of corporate worship and the life of the church. If a Christian wants to engage in some kind of Lenten activities as a means to holiness, well, whatever floats your sanctification. But for officers in the church to make Lent the norm for a congregation or a communion, then they better come with something more than “it looks like a pretty good idea” and “our motives are generally pious.” Plus, if church members may opt out of Lenten abstemiousness, then what’s the point of officers calling for the wider body to “special” actions during a certain number of days in late winter?

Still, Bill is not content with those objections. He returns fire and argues that Lent is actually a reasonable form of temporary form of sanctification:

Another objection is that those who observe Lent use it as a time for the temporary repentance from certain sins which are normally indulged, while Jesus calls us to repent of all sins all the time. It may well be that some poorly instructed Christians view Lenten practice in that way, but in my experience I have never heard anyone who observes Lent speak of a temporary giving up of sin.

Fine. So a Christian who pursues holiness 365/12 now adds an intense time of repentance for a specified forty days before a Sunday some communions designate Easter. Maybe that’s how it works among Reformed Episcopalians.

But why THESE forty days and not another thirty in September and October, or maybe a dozen or so in late spring and early winter? Why not more intense forms of repentance sprinkled throughout the year? Or why not leave each family and person to decide when and for how long to engage in certain times of self-denial? Why these days that some designate as Lent?

Could it be that some churches embrace a formula for Lent and so follow the spiritual equivalent of an Excel spreadsheet for the pursuit of holiness? The Lent practitioner follows these forty days with the other saints of similar inclinations and so doesn’t have to consider whether another time of fasting and prayer is needed or useful for another time during the year?

That kind of methodical piety is what Charles Briggs called, “Methodist.” It was a word he applied to the proponents of the First Pretty Good Awakening who insisted that godliness manifest itself in certain predictable and uniform ways. Of course, the idea of likening the church calendar to revivalism is oxymoronic. But to everyone who concedes that believers mature and bear different kinds of spiritual fruit in the course of their lives, the idea that you can prescribe a certain number of days — the same ones every year — for extra special holiness, and the one that requires the same kind of religious zeal to prove your conversion, are not so far removed. Both pietism and prescribed liturgicalism promote a one-size fits all spirituality that is perfect for bureaucracies, but not so hot for the diversity of human experience.


24 thoughts on “Lent Is Methodist

  1. It’s not a private piety when you call for services and observance. Or particularly when you mark your face so everyone else knows. I’m pretty sure there’s something in scripture about washing your face and seeking God in private not like the pharisees who parade it in public. But what about liberty from over eager and just poor pastors?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. @letme Aren’t you in SanAntonio? That’s basically Mexico right? Speaking of which any local updates on Kawhi’s return?


  3. Isn’t Lent something like a temporary purgatory? Like going to an Al Martin or Mark Jones puritan church for a few months? Law before gospel and then straight back to law (to find evidence for or against one’s own justification)? Something a little more taxing than Billy Graham’s “the world is being taken over by the communists and Israel is losing” so the solution to this problem is taking 15 minutes to walk up here and agree with me that Jesus died for you….

    John Howard Yoder—Bonhoeffer was critical of what he called ‘methodism.” Many think that to win someone for the Christian faith one must speak to her at the point of her] weakness. One who makes this assumption is then predisposed to attend to the shadow side of human existence, since it is that which proves that ‘something more is needed.’ Such “methodism” jumps on a man when he is down’: it proves OUR NEED OF God This is for Bonhoeffer the opposite of the gospel itself, which should not be trying to convince people of their misery or their guiltiness.. Apologetic approaches that try first to make the point of human weakness are hopeless, not because they do not say something true, but because what they are interested in proving is not the good news.” The Priestly Kingdom: Social Ethics as Gospel, 185.

    View story at Medium.com

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  4. if Allan Jacobs and John Fea and Lutherans are not in bondage to the emancipation from Lent, why start calling Bill Smith a Methodist? At least he’s not an evangelical or a revivalist.

    John Mill —“He who knows only his own side of the case, knows little of that. His reasons may be good, and no one may have been able to refute them. But if he is equally unable to refute the reasons on the opposite side; if he does not so much as know what they are, he has no ground for preferring either opinion.”


    The First Sunday in Lent
    The Collect—O Lord, who for our sake didst fast forty days and forty nights; Give us grace to use such abstinence, that, our flesh being subdued to the Spirit, we may ever obey thy godly motions in righteousness, and true holiness, to thy honour and glory, who livest and reignest with the Father and the Holy Ghost, one God, world without end. Amen.

    The Epistle: 2 Corinthians 6:1—We then, as workers together with him, beseech you also that ye receive not the grace of God in vain. (For he saith, I have heard thee in a time accepted, and in the day of salvation have I succoured thee: behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.) Giving no offence in any thing, that the ministry be not blamed: But in all things approving ourselves as the ministers of God, in much patience, in afflictions, in necessities, in distresses, In stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labours, in watchings, in fastings; By pureness, by knowledge, by long suffering, by kindness, by the Holy Ghost, by love unfeigned, By the word of truth, by the power of God, by the armour of righteousness on the right hand and on the left, By honour and dishonour, by evil report and good report: as deceivers, and yet true; As unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and, behold, we live; as chastened, and not killed; As sorrowful, yet alway rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things.


  5. @sdb, yep I’m in San Mexico. Kawhi now says he’d like to get back this year. My opinion is that he let his Uncle(manager) feed him bad advice and now he’s starting to round into regretting it. The Spurs will dutifully speak well of him and his uncle and claim any hint of discord was in the imagination of the press. They’ll offer him a $219 Mil. max deal this summer and he’ll probably take it. Of course, I could be wrong and he says, I’ll take my chances in FA summer of 2019. The basketball question that has yet to be answered is whether they can develop an offense that compliments he and Aldridge( the defense will happen). We haven’t seen that yet, and until you do, you have to believe they haven’t figured that part out, yet.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Tim Duncan leads to a theology of glory. Rumor has it that coach pop is waiting until after tonight’s warriors game to explain an injury that lasts until the end of Lent.

    Goldilocks understands and explains how the two other beds are different from her “just right” bed. One bed is different because it’s too hard. The other bed is different because it’s too soft. Therefore the two different beds are in substance the same bed. And therefore the “federal vision” (“covenantal Arminian”) problem is not a paeodobaptist problem but really a credobaptist (or Lutheran) problem.

    Scott Clark– “We do not believe that in baptism the Spirit necessarily brings infants to new life . That is the doctrine of the papists, the confessional Lutherans, and others but it is not the teaching of the Reformed churches.”

    Doug Wilson “To see election through a covenant lens does not mean to define decretal election as though it were identical with covenantal election.”

    Scott Clark—“The Federal Visionist conflates the eternal decree with the external administration of the covenant of grace. This is his fundamental error. Paedocommunion and the doctrine of baptismal regeneration are errors but they are also really only symptoms of this underlying problem. The Federal Vision theology posits two parallel systems: the system of the decree, which they render merely theoretical and the system of baptismal union with Christ, which is their operative theology.

    Scott Clark–my Baptist friends—they have a very difficult time UNDERSTANDING the Reformed understanding of the distinction between the divine decree and the external administration of the covenant of grace.



  7. This is non-binding, mind you, but is in the PCA Directory for Worship:

    CHAPTER 62
    Days of Fasting and Thanksgiving
    62-1. The observance of days of fasting and of thanksgiving, as the
    dispensations of Divine Providence may direct, is both scriptural and rational.
    62-2. Fasting and thanksgiving may be observed by individual Christians;
    by families; by particular congregations; by a number of congregations
    contiguous to each other; by the congregations under the care of a
    Presbytery; or by all the congregations of our Church.
    62-3. It should be left to the judgment and discretion of every Christian and
    family to determine when it is proper to observe a private fast or thanksgiving;
    and to the church Sessions to determine for particular congregations; and to the
    Presbyteries, to determine for larger districts. When it is deemed expedient
    that a fast or thanksgiving should be general, the call for it should be issued by
    the General Assembly. If at any time the civil power should appoint a fast or
    thanksgiving, in keeping with the Christian faith, it is the duty of the ministers
    and people of our communion to pay all due respect to it.
    62-4. Public notice should be given a sufficient time before the appointed
    day of fasting or thanksgiving, that persons may so order their affairs as to
    allow them to attend properly to the duties of the day.
    62-5. There should be public worship upon all such days; and the prayers,
    psalms or hymns, the selection of Scripture, and sermons, should all be in a
    special manner adapted to the occasion.
    62-6. On days of fasting, the minister should point out the authority and
    providences calling for the observance; and he should spend more than the
    usual time in solemn prayer, particular confession of sin, especially for the
    sins of the day and place; and the whole day should be spent in prayer and
    62-7. On days of thanksgiving, he should give information respecting the
    authority and providences which call for the observance; and he should spend
    more than the usual time in giving thanks, agreeably to the occasion, and in
    singing psalms or hymns of praise. On these days, the people should rejoice
    with holy gladness of heart; but their joy should be tempered with reverence,
    that they indulge in no excess or unbecoming levity.

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  8. Hugh McCann says: Lent is stuck in Psalm 51, refusing to see Colossians 2 fulfillment.

    -Stuck in /get beyond Psalm 51?
    6 Behold, You desire truth in the innermost being, and in the hidden part You will make me know wisdom.
    15 O Lord, open my lips, that my mouth may declare Your praise.16 For You do not delight in sacrifice, otherwise I would give it; You are not pleased with burnt offering.
    17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; A broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.
    18 By Your favor do good to Zion; Build the walls of Jerusalem.

    Hugh McCann says: ..refusing to see Colossians 2 fulfillment.
    (“godliness doesn’t manifest itself in certain predictable and uniform ways” “a one-size fits all spirituality that is perfect for bureaucracies, but not so hot for the diversity of human experience”)?

    Colossians 2 5brejoicing to see
    your good discipline
    and the stability of your faith in Christ.
    6 Therefore as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord,
    so walk in Him,
    7 having been firmly rooted
    and now being built up in Him and established in your faith, just as you were instructed,
    and overflowing with gratitude.

    ps, don’t forget Bill Smith is a curmudgeonly …(everything) !

    Liked by 1 person

  9. At least Lent stops. But for Beale and Gaffin, the not yet aspect of justification continues.

    Beale—These verses in Romans 2:3-10 focus not only on the time of final judgment but also on the time of reward for those who “do good” . Verse 6 (“who will render to each person according to his deeds”) seems best interpreted in this context to mean that there will be a judicial evaluation of the works of all people; some will be found wanting and be judged, others will be found to have works and not be judged but will receive life. Accordingly, with this preceding context in mind, it seems best to understand Paul’s statement in verse 13 , “the doers of the Law will be justified,” to refer to the final judgment when those who have faith in Christ and possess good works, though not perfect, will be “justified” or “vindicated” on the basis of those works

    Two stage purgatory is a bitch

    James K Smith–That the English Puritan John Flavel constantly appears in this new collection of essays by Marilynne Robinson will surprise no one. He fits perfectly in the communion of Protestant saints that populate her essays, appearing alongside John Calvin and Jonathan Edwards and Oliver Cromwell. But there is a particular idea from Flavel that keeps recurring throughout this collection, and it tells us something about the burden of Robinson’s project. As she recounts again and again in different chapters, Flavel entertained the idea of a two-stage judgment: he “considers the thought that we might all be judged twice, once when we die and again when the full consequences of our lives have played themselves out.” The notion depends on a unique intersection of eternity and history. Appointed once to die, we face the judgment, but the judgment in eternity takes account of time’s arrow in history. It’s like your soul gets a callback when the repercussions of your life have played themselves out across subsequent generations. The end of your life is not the end of your responsibility.



  10. You Spur snob intellectual elitists- I’m kind of hoping that Houston wins it all this year. They might if Curry’s ankles don’t hold out. You can bet that everyone will be after Curry’s ankles for the rest of the year.

    I’m picking either Virginia or Michigan to win the NCAA basketball tournament/ Watching Virginia play defense is a thing of beauty. Michigan is playing like a team at the right time. Duke probably has the most talent, however they and Michigan State always busts my bracket. Blah!!. There is too many distractions going on at Michigan State.


  11. “But for officers in the church to make Lent the norm for a congregation or a communion, then they better come with something more than “it looks like a pretty good idea” and “our motives are generally pious.”

    Yeah, same goes for the “thou must have a second service” kind of ethos. But at the end of the day all NAPARC elders and pastors have to back that is also ….“it looks like a pretty good idea” and “our motives are generally pious.”

    We all have our forms of Lent it would seem.


  12. Reformed tradition = mountains. Biblical exegesis = 0
    The math with the ability to bind a conscience just does not add up.
    Second service is not the mark of orthodoxy that many strident NAPARC folks make it.


  13. The ethos of making second service a mark of orthodoxy does exist in many Reformed circles. So when you site the Ten Commandments and vigorously tie it to second service you are proving the point. No where can a must have second service be found in the Ten Commandments , nor the hyper strident dos and dont’s of WCF 21.8 be backed by solid exegesis.
    No where in Scripture is our Lord all over the Pharisees for not being strict enough on the Sabbath, but God in all His wisdom sustain many many references to Christ’s rebuke about being overly strident about the Sabbath.

    I am NOT pro- choice. When did you stop beating your wife?


  14. Mr. Burns, nowhere do the Ten Commandments say, “you shall not murder a fetus.” Nor do they say, “husbands you shall not beat your wife.”

    Then again, maybe you engage in similar exegetical moves as the second service folks you so deeply resent (isn’t there a Commandment about that?).


  15. I am not the one misapplying the 10 Commandments. No resentment from me on second (or a third for that matter) services. Second service is fine. As I have made clear (but continue to be mischacterized by your favoritism/bias) it is the ethos/ attitude that attendance of second service is the marker of spiritual maturity and better sanctification that I object to. That view of second service, even when done with a velvet glove, makes it hard to except with credibility your Anti- Lent harping…….

    New math for the Old Life I guess, but it still does not add up.


  16. Romans 14:5, Col 2:16-17, Mark. 2:27

    I have a very high view of the Sabbath (especially compared to our typical evangelical friends) , but I remain unconvinced of the semantical gymnastics of the verses above (to list a few) where reformed tradition tries to make the Sabbath more strident than even the Lord of the Sabbath did.

    All thought with in the reformed tradition on the Sabbath is not monolithic, despite what oh so earnest Sabbatarians like you try to convince us of. http://theaquilareport.com/why-i-am-sort-of-a-sabbatarian/


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