So, Lent starts a week from today.

In the past, Lent was primarily celebrated by Catholics and a few Protestant "high church" denominations. More recently, it has become faddish for the rest of the Church to fast something for Lent.

Honestly, I think fasting is a fairly healthy practice, not just for Lent, but as a part of Christian worship throughout the year. But only insofar as it's done within the context of biblical guidelines for any other fast. My estimation is that a lot of Lent fasting is the exact opposite of what Jesus and Paul indicated should be true of people who decide to fast.

1. Fasting is to be private - Jesus is fairly explicit in Matthew 5:16-18 that the fact you are fasting should be a secret kept between you and God. I considered writing a post today chronicling any Lent plans I might have. I've done that in the past. But I think that was a mistake. Lent isn't about seeing who can come up with the most creative, most disciplined, most exotic fast; it's a private act of worship between a person and God. If you do a lot of talking about what you're fasting, you defeat the purpose.

2. Fasting is less about what you don't do, more about what you do in its place - In 1 Corinthians 7:5, Paul wrote to the carnal Corinthians about their practice of fasting sexual activity. He makes it clear that the purpose for a fast was that the Corinthians should devote their extra time to prayer. Lots of people give up something for Lent, but that's only half the discipline. If you decide to fast something during this season, make sure you're as committed to filling the space with something that extends your worship.

3. Fasting is an opportunity, not an obligation - The New Testament never commands believers to fast. It certainly allows for that form of worship, providing even the example of Jesus (Matthew 4:2). But the New Testament never makes fasting an obligation for the believer, nor does it specify exactly what should be fasted or for how long. As a result, it provides us with quite a bit of freedom to choose to fast (or not fast) in a way that brings honor to God. It's wrong to imply that someone who does fast is more spiritual than someone who doesn't when the Scriptures simply don't make that connection.


Dan said...

I've heard it taught that because Matthew 6:16 says "When you fast..." rather than "If you fast..." Jesus is implying that all Christians should. Do you think that's a leap in logic?

Chris Freeland said...

Hey Dan,

Yes, I think that's a bit of a leap. Jesus' words certainly allow for the practice.

In Jesus' day, fasting seems to have been a pretty big part of Jewish ritual and tradition. If anything, Jesus was implying that (at least during the first century) most Christians _would_ fast. That's pretty different from saying they should.

It would be like me saying "When you play drums in the worship center, don't play them so loud that people lose their hearing." It would be wrong to reason that I'm giving a command for all Christians to include drums in their worship. I'm simply instructing those who do to keep the volume down.