A good friend of mine, Ethan Harrison, also went with me to Ireland. We decided to celebrate Lent since it was being emphasized by the church we were attending. I knew absolutely nothing about Lent. I think I thought it was a practice that Roman Catholics thought you had to do otherwise you'd go to hell or something though I don't think I'm sure about what I thought.
I did it because I thought it would be helpful, still do.
Since that spring, I have participated in Lent by giving up something in my life. Other students at Taylor University also followed the practice so it we were sacrificing things together. We weren't disciplining our lives alone, it was in the context of the body.
Since graduating from Taylor, I am still celebrating Lent. More so now then when I was at Taylor, I've noticed there is a bit of tension between my denomination and the practice of Lent. Those who went before me (The Scottish Covenanters), disagreed with the Roman Catholic Church's stance on things like Lent. They saw it as unnecessary and unhelpful. (And the Anglican Church...) They went as far as dying so they didn't have to follow traditions like Lent.
So now here is me, about 300ish years later practicing Lent in a denomination that has a history of not being a fan of Lent. (And other such practices.) I know why, but I want to think that I can celebrate Lent in good conscience.
There is a Difference
A major difference between me today and the Covenanters back then was that I'm not persecuted for my beliefs. No organization is telling me I have to celebrate Lent and is going to get an army, walk over to my apartment and make me. More importantly, I don't connect Lent with salvation, as have many. No work makes me a better person, much less makes me acceptable to God.
The Covenanters saw Lent as being connected with "works salvation." Hence, we ought not celebrate it. I agree that there is the danger of believing Lent is a work that is meritorious when the truth is that nothing makes us good except the work of Jesus Christ. It was a good thing to get rid of all the pomp and circumstance surrounding worship.
So if one sees Lent as a practice that will bring about this belief in their lives then by all means don't celebrate Lent. This is true for any practice one participates in to bring about spiritual growth. All disciplines in the Christian life must be understood as not meritorious. If a practice does bring about that belief, the individual who is in danger ought to stop.
Disciplines of the Christian Life can all be seen as Meritorious
On the other hand, just because a practice has been seen as meritorious to some, doesn't mean it is seen as meritorious by all. In 300ish years people may become extremely critical of the discipline of Bible memorization because people began to think that the quantity of scriptures you memorized equaled to the amount of righteousness in your soul. Just because this came about, it doesn't make Bible memorization a forbidden practice. Paul says that all things are lawful for me but not all things are beneficial. (1 Corinthians 6:12) The question for all disciplines is whether they will beneficial, Lent included.
I have the freedom to celebrate Lent, and I have the freedom not to celebrate Lent. I celebrate Lent because it helps my spiritual life. Once it doesn't, I'm going to stop. Likewise, no one should celebrate Lent if it is not helpful to them.
So, should protestants celebrate Lent? That depends on whether it will help protestants or not. For some it will and others it won't. Recognize that salvation does not come from not following Lent and not from following Lent. Salvation is found only in Christ, Lent has nothing to do with it. This is true for all discipling the Christian takes part in.