Some readers of BFC OneVoice do not know what Lent is. What is Lent? Lent is the 40 days leading up to Resurrection during which time the individual is to focus on prayer, fasting, and almsgiving (giving to the poor). Lent is observed in the Roman Catholic Church, Lutheran Churches, Methodist Churches, the United Church of Christ, and other churches worldwide. Why not the Bible Fellowship Church?
The answer begins with our Mennonite origins. For centuries, the Roman Catholic Church dominated Western Europe and was the faith required by the governments. By the 1500s, reformers such as Martin Luther and Ulrich Zwingli spoke up against the Catholic Church because of doctrines the reformers saw as not coming from the Bible. Other reformers were Conrad Grebel, Felix Manz, and George Blaurock from the Swiss Brethren movement. Also involved in the reformation was Menno Simon of the Dutch Anabaptist movement, from whom the name “Mennonite” came.
The Swiss Brethren, like the Dutch Anabaptists, believed baptism was not for infants but for people who were old enough to declare they believe in Jesus Christ. When these people were baptized, it was a second baptism for them, having been baptized as infants, hence the name “Anabaptist” (re-baptizer). Other distinctives of the Anabaptists were nonswearing of oaths and nonresistance (they did not participate in the military). They called for the separation of church and state. They also let go of rituals such as Lent and Advent (the ritual season before the Christmas celebration).
In the late 1600s, William Penn invited the Mennonites (and people of other faiths) to leave Europe to populate his colony of Pennsylvania. In 1683, the first group of Mennonites arrived in America, settling in Germantown, PA. The Mennonites remained a “plain” church, also referred to as “Low” church, without the rituals of the Roman Catholic, the Lutheran, and other churches.
In the 1850s, several Mennonite preachers and deacons in the Lehigh Valley and Upper Bucks County wanted the Mennonite Church to be more passionate and aggressive about evangelism (telling people about Jesus). These men with their families separated from those churches to form the Evangelical Mennonites in 1858. Twenty-five years later, after several mergers with other likeminded churches, the denomination was called the Mennonite Brethren in Christ. Finally in 1959, the name Bible Fellowship Church was adopted which reflects our priority of God’s word and our love for each other.
A search for a mention of Lent in the yearbooks (minutes and reports of the annual conferences) yields nothing. It never was a part of our history.