Gospel Gazette Online
Volume 17 Number 10 October 2015
Page 16

Questions and Answers

Send your religious questions to editor@gospelgazette.com

Fasting and Prayer

Louis Rushmore, Editor

Louis RushmoreSomeone inquires about “fasting and prayer.” Immediately, the Bible student is aware that one can read repeatedly in both testaments of the Bible about children of God who practiced fasting and prayer for a number of different reasons. Old Testament examples of fasting and prayer include when a loved one is deathly ill (2 Samuel 12:16), in the face of impending danger (Esther 4:16), coupled with contriteness and acknowledgement of sin (Nehemiah 9:1-2), during bereavement (1 Chronicles 10:12) and in response to wickedness among the people of God (Ezra 10:6). Fasting and prayer was commonplace in the first century before the establishment of the church and Christianity. The Pharisees and even the disciples of John the Baptist routinely fasted and prayed (Matthew 9:14). Further, we have the example of our Lord Jesus Christ also engaging in fasting and prayer following the Great Temptation (Matthew 4:1-2). However, since Jesus lived and died under Judaism, that He fasted and prayed as did others living under the Old Testament Law does not necessarily imply that fasting and prayer ought to be a part of Christianity as well.

Turning to the New Testament, though, the Bible reader discovers occasions of Christians practicing fasting and prayer under the New Law, too. The church of Antioch of Syria engaged in fasting in prayer at the appointment of Barnabas and Saul (the apostle Paul) to be foreign evangelists (i.e., what we call missionaries) (Acts 13:3). Since that congregation was predominantly or perhaps wholly of Gentile ancestry, its use of fasting and prayer cannot be linked to Jewish custom, but transcends Judaism and encompasses Patriarchal, non-Jewish people and times as well (Jonah 3:5-10). Next, one notes that fasting and prayer accompanied the appointment of elders in the early church (Acts 14:23). In addition, the apostle Paul in his first epistle to the Corinthian church anticipated that Christians would sometimes practice fasting and prayer (1 Corinthians 7:5).

Anciently, fasting and prayer was a universally adopted cultural practice, which was also engaged by the people of God with religious significance besides for personal family situations. Consequently, we find in Scripture numerous examples of fasting and prayer. Yet, we do not find that fasting and prayer was commanded under either testament. Apparently, fasting and prayer is a matter of voluntary personal choice or something to which mankind is often driven involuntarily because of great personal turmoil (e.g., death of a family member). Fasting and prayer is not a prescribed religious activity comparable, for instance, to preaching, the Lord’s Supper, the church contribution, singing and praying in the assembly – the five acts of New Testament worship.

Nevertheless, the solemnity and soberness accompanying fasting and prayer as well as the benefits of prayers themselves, if practiced today, would duly emphasize the seriousness of important congregational decisions (e.g., appointment of elders, deacons, preachers, etc.; the exercise of church discipline) or even other areas of pressing concern (e.g., the awful moral, political and judicial state of one’s country; etc.). While fasting and prayer cannot be legislated today under Christianity, it certainly could be encouraged on significant occasions on a congregational level or adopted as needed on a personal basis.

Finally, Jesus did regulate fasting so that it would not become a demonstration of hypocrisy (Matthew 6:16-18). Instead, it was frequently a personal activity of which onlookers were unaware, only God knowing about it. Furthermore, even when fasting and prayer was typically practiced, it was not obligatory (Matthew 9:14-17).

Dreams and Visions

Louis Rushmore, Editor

Biblical significance of dreams and visions pertained to the scope of miraculous activity. For instance, God caused the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar, to have an inspired dream. Then, God empowered the prophet Daniel to interrupt the king’s dream, which was prophetic about the distant from Nebuchadnezzar’s day and time and then future establishment of an eternal, spiritual kingdom – the church (Daniel 2:31-44). Neither my dreams nor the dreams of anyone else today are inspired of God since the miraculous period closed about 2,000 years ago (1 Corinthians 13:8-13) after miracles had served the purpose for which they were given (Mark 16:20).

Likewise, the prophecy of Joel 2:28-3:2 specified that dreams and visions would correspond to the establishment of the kingdom of God or of the church. That the Old Testament prophecies regarding the establishment of the kingdom pertained to the church one can be sure upon observation of our Lord’s conversation with the apostle Peter, whereupon Jesus used the words “kingdom” and “church” to refer to the same divine organization; likewise, the apostles Paul and John used “church” and “kingdom” interchangeably to refer to the same thing (Colossians 1:13; Revelation 1:9).

Dreams and visions were a part of the miraculous demonstration that eternal kingdom or church was being established in Acts 2. The apostle Peter quoted Joel 2 and applied it to the birthday of the church and noted that the miraculous manifestations on that day pertained to Joel’s prophecy.

But this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: And it shall come to pass in the last days, says God, That I will pour out of My Spirit on all flesh; Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, Your young men shall see visions, Your old men shall dream dreams. And on My menservants and on My maidservants I will pour out My Spirit in those days; And they shall prophesy. I will show wonders in heaven above And signs in the earth beneath: Blood and fire and vapor of smoke. The sun shall be turned into darkness, And the moon into blood, Before the coming of the great and awesome day of the Lord. And it shall come to pass That whoever calls on the name of the Lord Shall be saved. (Acts 2:16-21 NKJV)

Dreams and visions are not inspired of God, Jesus Christ or the Holy Spirit today. Our dreams are ordinary now. If we perceive that we are having visions today, we may well need some medical or psychological remedy, for as far as the biblical record is concerned, miracles out of which came inspired dreams and visions have long since ceased.

Singing During
the Lord’s Supper

Someone asks, “Is it permissible to sing during the Lord’s Supper?” The New Testament does not address this question. In other words, we have neither a directive nor an example to substantiate the practice of singing during the Lord’s Supper. However, it is also true that we do not have a single specimen in the New Testament of a worship assembly to observe precisely how it was conducted. On the other hand, we do have occasions in which facets of New Testament worship were addressed because early Christians were practicing it incorrectly (i.e., multiple speakers at the same time, 1 Corinthians 14:26-33; women speaking in the assembly, 1 Corinthians 14:34-35; confusion and disorder in the assembly, 1 Corinthians 14:33, 40). The apostle Paul also devoted a significant amount of space in 1 Corinthians 11:17-34 to address abuses of the Lord’s Supper observance (i.e., factions within the assembly, combining eating of food with the Lord’s Supper for the nourishment of the body rather than noting the spiritual memorial feast, partaking of the communion in an unworthy manner).

Especially abuses of the Lord’s Supper did – and continue to have – serious consequences. “Therefore whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body” (1 Corinthians 11:27-29 NKJV).

Though we do not have an example of a New Testament worship service in detail to examine, we do have sufficient information regarding the institution of that memorial supper to ascertain how it was observed – with or without singing. In this sequence after the Passover meal (Luke 22:20), Jesus Christ prayed for the emblems of the memorial feast, those present partook of the bread and the fruit of the vine, and then, they sang a hymn before departing (Mark 14:22-26).

Personally, I doubt that I ever would have thought up myself the practice of singing during the Lord’s Supper. The practice certainly is neither taught nor demonstrated directly or indirectly in the New Testament either. In addition, some Christians at least assume that singing during the observance of the Lord’s Supper would be distracting to their devotion at that sacred moment, despite other brethren proclaiming that singing during the Lord’s Supper heightens their spiritual involvement.

The safest pursuit would to be imitate Jesus Christ as He instituted the Supper. Furthermore, each child of God even aside from this question needs to make sure that he or she observes the Lord’s Supper in the correct manner to avoid divine, punitive judgment. “For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body” (1 Corinthians 11:29 NKJV).

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