In the majority-Catholic country of Brazil, the biggest cultural festival is Carnival, a spectacle of eye-popping costumes, samba dancing, and raucous parades in the week leading up to Ash Wednesday. Due to its popularity, everyone in the country is aware of when Lent begins.
Established in 325 at the First Council of Nicaea, Lent had long been observed by the time the Portuguese landed on what is now Brazil in 1500. But despite its long history, the recent exponential growth of evangelicals—especially Pentecostals and neo-Pentecostals—in Brazil has led to a decline in the observance of Lent. Unlike Easter, Lent receives little attention from many Protestants, either because they assign less importance to liturgical rituals or because they want to distance themselves from Catholic traditions.
CT asked six Brazilian leaders and pastors from different denominations: Should Brazilian evangelicals leave Lent to Catholics? Answers are arranged from those who don't observe Lent to those who do.
Esequias Soares, pastor of the Assembleia de Deus (Assembly of God) in Jundiaí, São Paulo, and a leader with the Sociedade Bíblica Brasileira (Brazilian Bible Society)
The Brazilian Assemblies of God do not celebrate Lent because they do not follow the Christian liturgical calendar like the Catholic and Reformed traditions. However, we celebrate traditional Christian feasts such as Christmas and Easter, and in some places, we have begun to make room for Pentecost.
Also, the founders of Pentecostalism wanted to draw a clear distinction between Roman Catholicism and the churches that came from the Protestant Reformation. For example, the 1937 general assembly of the Assemblies of God discussed the use of the cross on the façade of churches. Despite the cross being used by evangelical churches in other countries, they decided to not use any symbols because of “Brazilian idolatrous culture, full of fetishes, symbologies, idols, and icons.”
It is likely that these are some of the reasons why we do not follow the liturgical calendar.
Vanessa Belmonte, lecturer in the area of spiritual formation, collaborator in L'Abri Brasil
Evangelicals should not follow this tradition as a duty or an obligation. However, they can see it as a spiritual formation resource. I would not suggest that they observe Lent in isolation but that they consider adopting the full Christian calendar, as each season highlights a different theme from the narrative of redemption.
We like the season of Easter and the celebration of the Resurrection. However, there would be no Easter without Lent, for there is no resurrection without the cross. Lent can enrich us by allowing us to reflect on our fragility, vulnerability, and dependence on God. We are encouraged to reflect on Jesus’ sacrifice for us and to make space in our routine for self-examination, fasting, and prayer. Lent is a time to exercise self-denial and self-giving in love. It ’s a period where we can prepare ourselves to celebrate Easter and ensure we understand the meaning of what we practice.
Tiago de Melo Novais, assistant editor at Associação Brasileira de Cristãos na Ciência and guest professor at Campinas Baptist Theological Seminary
Unlike other periods of the Christian calendar, such as Christmas and Easter, we evangelicals are not familiar with the Lenten tradition—but we should be! This period preceding Easter is an especially important time because in it we set aside 40 days for a continuous exercise of self-evaluation and repentance before God, which prepares us to relive the apex of our history: the Savior’s death and resurrection.
What ’s more, in times when the demand for productivity seizes control of our days and forces us to seek profit and consumption, we have the opportunity to experience an alternative time, marked by pauses, fasting, and prayer. Ironically, fasting during Lent satisfies the hunger of our souls by allowing us to deeply reflect on the Cross and Resurrection. When evangelicals practice Lent, it's a sign of a penitent heart, one that is content and ready to do the will of God.
Daniel Vieira, director of the Lectionary Project
Lent, like every liturgical tradition, directs our imagination toward the kingdom. Christians who follow the entire church calendar recognize that it helps us follow Jesus week by week, from the beginning of his kingdom mission in Galilee, to his travels through Gentile territory, to his journey to Judea.
Lent is a season that prepares us to relive the story of the Messiah who entered Jerusalem on a donkey and received judgment in the temple, before being arrested, tried, sentenced, and crucified on a Roman cross, ensuring the victory of God’s kingdom.
Lorrayne Muniz , pastor of Trinity Anglican Church in Vitória
In an attempt to demarcate an aesthetic and theological distance from Rome, evangelicals often close doors that connect us to church history and bring depth to our faith. Lent is often one of those doors. This approach minimizes one of the highlights of our faith: the celebration of Easter—that is, the death and resurrection of our Savior.
Lent is an invitation to experience this date with all the strength and intensity it deserves. In a movement of conversion, immersion, and growth, we are inserted into the narrative of Christ’s life. We experience expectation and anguish as we understand the value and cost of the Cross. There is a richness in this experience that all evangelicals should participate in.
Gutierres Fernandes Siqueira, author and journalist
The importance of Lent lies in the cultivation of a time of contrition. We evangelicals have a tendency to engage in triumphalism and to see faith as entertainment and festivities. But it is also necessary to cultivate times of memory, lamentation, and silence. Lent fills this role.
Additional reporting by Marisa Lopes.
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