By Jeffrey Asher
The following statement appeared in The Southwest Story (Vol. 23, No. 11), a publication of the Southwest Church of Christ in Amarillo, Texas:
I am anticipating a wonderful day Sunday as we spend a whole hour devoted to the Lord’s Supper. To prepare our minds and bodies for Sunday, the elders have called a church-wide fast. The fast will begin Saturday afternoon and continue until we break the fast with communion Sunday morning. This is a perfect opportunity to share your beliefs about Jesus to your children. I pray that this fast will focus your mind and cleanse your heart for our worship time Sunday. Please include in your prayer time a special request that God opens the doors of opportunity to you to bring a guest for our special Resurrection Sunday service.
The above was written by Brad Small, the new “pulpit minister” at Southwest. The front page of the newsletter contained a large announcement, Day of Prayer and Fasting.
The above is of great concern to me. I believe that it is representative of a progressive departure into denominationalism, characteristic of many Churches of Christ in Amarillo. It is the same behavior that led eventually to the formation of the Christian Church denomination. For the truth’s sake I ask that you read and study with me concerning what the Bible has to say about this matter. Honest hearts will realize that the danger is real.
Where Is Authority?
The apostle Paul taught, “And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by Him” (Col. 3:17). This verse, and many others, teaches the necessity of Bible authority for all that we believe, and practice in religion. We are not at liberty to accept whatever pleases us, or is convenient, or is approved by the majority. Rather, we are limited to “the things that I say” (Lk. 6:46) which are “the will of my Father which is in heaven” (Matt. 7:21).
There are several things in the statement, quoted above, which raise the question, “Where is the authority?” Churches of Christ have long pleaded that men “speak where the Bible speaks and be silent where the Bible is silent” (cf. 1 Pet. 4:11). Where then is the Scripture that authorizes the elders at Southwest to “call” a “church-wide fast” and observe “Resurrection Sunday”?
Biblical authority is established either by direct statement or command, approved example or necessary implication. All that the Bible has to say on the subject *of the Lord’s Supper is found in the following passages of Scripture: Matthew 26:26-29; Mark 14:22- 25; Luke 22:14-20; Acts 2:42; 20:7; 1 Corinthians 10:14-21; 11:17-34. From these passages, there is not found one statement, command, example or necessary implication to authorize the “call” for a “church-wide fast.” There is not one mention, stated or implied, that fasting is either necessary or helpful preparatory to the Lord’s Supper.
Neither brother Small, nor the elders at Southwest, made any effort to show that their “call” was authorized in the Scriptures. We think it strange that preachers and elders do not feel the need to give book, chapter and verse for their practice.
Jesus and Fasting
Did Jesus think fasting, as brother Small does, would prepare our minds and bodies for worship, specifically the Lord’s Supper?
First, consider the context in which the Supper was established (Matt. 26:17,18; Mk. 14:12-14; Lk. 22:7-13; cf. Jn. 13:1-5). Jesus and his disciples were eating the Passover (cf. Exod. 12:3-10). This meal was a religious festival, but nonetheless a meal, consisting of lamb, bitter herbs, unleavened bread and fruit of the vine. It was after they had eaten (Lk. 22:15,20) that Jesus instituted his Supper. Thus, it is evident that a fast is not necessary to prepare to eat the Lord’s Supper.
Neither did Jesus regard fasting helpful as preparation for worship (Matt. 9:14; Mk. 2:18-20; Lk. 5:33-35). The disciples of John asked him why his disciples did not fast. Jesus’ reply was that it was not appropriate for them to fast (Matt. 9:15). Surely, if Jesus was of the same opinion that brother Small is about fasting, i.e., it produces spirituality, then he would have had his disciples fasting (cf. Jn. 13:10). Yet, Jesus clearly taught that fasting did not make men spiritual (Lk. 18:9-14; Matt. 6:16-18), and what one ate had nothing to do with whether or not his heart was defiled (Matt. 15:1-20; 23:25-26).
Jesus taught that men are clean through his word (Jn. 15:3). By it they are sanctified (Jn. 17:17; Eph. 5:26), not through fasting. If we are in need of the forgiveness of sins we are told to “repent and pray” (Acts 8:22), not fast and pray. The spiritual mind is obtained by subjection to the law of the Spirit of Life (Rom. 8:1-14), not by fasting. Jesus exemplified this truth in the temptation when he said, “It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4). Jesus had been fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry, and this is when the Devil came to tempt him. That which Jesus relied upon in this situation was the word of God. Jesus did not tell men that they should fast in order to overcome sin and resist Satan: He said, “It is written.”
Fasting in the Book of Acts
There are several examples of fasting in the book of Acts. With respect to examples one of three things is true: (1) We may do what is exemplified; (2) We must do what is exemplified; (3) We must not do what is exemplified. What is true in this case?
I have found four approved examples of fasting that someone might consider as justifying the elders’ action at Southwest. These are: (1) Saul of Tarsus prior to his conversion (9:9); (2) Cornelius prior to his conversion (10:30); (3) the prophets at Antioch prior to the sending out of Paul and Barnabas (13:2,3); (4) the Christians in Galatia at the appointment of elders in the churches (14:23). However, notice that in not one of these examples is there any association with the Lord’s Supper.
Furthermore, each of these examples represents the private, voluntary devotions of individual Christians. The elders did not “call” the entire church to fast and make an announcement to the public that thev were observing the fast in connection with “Resurrection Sunday” (cf. Matt. 6:16-18). In each of these cases the individuals chose to fast because of the circumstances. Paul and Cornelius were anxious about their salvation. The prophets at Antioch were moved by the revelation concerning the evangelistic efforts of Paul and Barnabas. The Christians in Galatia were responding to the somber occasion of the appointment of overseers. There is absolutely no indication that these saints were fasting in order to prepare themselves to worship God or to eat the Lord’s Supper.
These verses clearly teach that it is right to fast at some time (Matt. 9:15). Yet, in each case the fast comes as a result of the circumstances, and that voluntarily and privately. The indication is that times of sorrow, distress, and occasions of deep solemnity will naturally lead to fasting (cf. Matt. 15:32; 2 Cor. 6:1-11; 11:23-28; 1 Cor. 7:5). However, never do we find such imposed upon the church by the elders as an impetus to spirituality. Nor do we find that such was efficacious to the cleansing of men’s hearts. At the time of their fasting, both Saul and Cornelius were alien sinners who knew they were lost, but did not know what to do to he saved. Once they heard the gospel, obeyed it and were saved they stopped their fasting (Acts 9:19; 10:30). Fasting did not have anything to do with cleansing their hearts, and they did not continue the practice on the way to the Lord’s Table after their baptism.
Fasting and the Law of Moses
Fasting is often times mentioned in the Old Testament. -However, there was only one day appointed by law as a day of fasting, the Day of Atonement (Lev. 26:29-31; 23:27-32). All other fasts observed by those under the Law were either voluntary fasts or those appointed by religious authorities. In either case, they were observed in connection with great occasions of calamity, mourning, or as public demonstrations of repentance in the face of judgment from Jehovah.
To seek justification for the elders to 14call” a “churchwide” fast on the basis that Phinehas, Samuel, Jehoshaphat or Ezra called a “nationwide” fast is to make the same mistake the Christian Church people do regarding instrumental music. They have long contended that David, Solomon and Hezekiah used the instrument in praising God; therefore, we may use the instrument in praising God now. Yet, what they fail to recognize is that Christians are not under the Law (Col. 2:14-17; Eph. 2:11-18; Gal. 3:10-22; Heb. 7:11-19: 8:6-13: 9:15: 10:1-10). If this argument has any merit, then consistency demands that we tolerate every item that some would wish to bring into the worship from the Old Testament (e.g., incense, ceremonial washing, clerical robes, etc.).
However, to call upon Christians to observe such things is to lead them back into the weak and beggarly elements of bondage (Gal. 4:9-11; 5:4). It is to bring us back under the curse of the Law and burden us with the obligation of sinless perfection (Gal. 3:10-12). The consequence of this practice is to frustrate the grace of God (Gal. 5:4; 2:21).
Brother Small and the elders at Southwest are guilty of adopting or promoting numerous other errors in this “call” for a “church-wide” fast. Space will not allow a thorough treatment of them at this time. Yet, we believe that we should encourage you to consider the following. I am prepared to show any that are interested that they are true.
(1) Neo-Asceticism. The idea that fasting promotes spirituality and sin cleansing is contrary to truth and is an example of will worship (Col. 2:18-23).
(2) Observance of Days. The setting aside of 17 March as “Resurrection Sunday” exalts one day above another in violation of Romans 14:5 and Colossians 2:16. It also apes the Catholic and Protestant practice of Easter.
(3) Not eating the Lord’s Supper. Paul said that those who treated the Supper as a common meal ate and drank damnation. Brother Small revealed such a view of the Supper when he wrote, “The fast will begin Saturday afternoon and continue until we break the fast with communion Sunday morning” (Acts 27:33-37; 1 Cor. 11:20-22,27-29).
(4) Conscience Searing. When brethren start turning to external rites and emotional inducements, they begin to sear their consciences (1 Tim. 4:1-3). The conscience is seared when we experience no mental pain at doing wrong and no mental pleasure at doing right. Why call this fast unless some, at least, have lost their enthusiasm for the scriptural observance of this beautiful memorial?
It is my sincere desire to call attention to what I believe is a serious departure from the ancient order and a gross perversion of a beautiful and sacred memorial. There is no desire to make any enemies, only friends who upon seeing the error will be thankful that someone pointed it out. I encourage brethren to discuss these matters with the elders at Southwest and with myself. Let us seek a “thus says the Lord” in all that we believe and do. In this way, and only this way, can we all be pleasing unto God and confident in our hope eternal.
Guardian of Truth XXXV: 14, pp. 436-437
July 18, 1991