Thursday, February 01, 2007

A Titch of Aceticism

The Reformation was an attempt to reform that which had got bent and out of shape. The Church, the Roman Catholic Church, had become a bloated and ill looking bride. The stated goal of our Lord is that she be without spot or blemish or any such thing. The spots must go. The blemishes, too.

It is interesting that modern day Protestants, perhaps especially we Presbyterian types, see the shadow of Rome looming over many Christian practices. Every attempt at a modern Reformation, even say back to what our Reformers taught and practiced, is seen as another step ‘back to Rome.’ This might include the church calendar, a formal liturgy, robes for ministers, baptizing and communing children, or even regular fasting.

Many of us grew up with RCatholics eating fish on Friday, thought it was weird, and couldn’t even get an answer from our RCatholic friends as to why they did so. Just do, that’s why. But it really isn’t that weird.

I sit here with a fat belly from another lunchtime feast. Food is plentiful in my part of town and I greet it gladly. But I do not want it to be my god, my own personal Buddha to carry around with me. I ought to remind myself often that God is my God, not wealth, not pleasure, not food. What is wrong with eating some simple fare, regularly, to show myself that I can, to focus on the Lord’s goodness, to put down the flesh’s ever-present demands? I’m no Gnostic but what is wrong with a titch of asceticism now and then? Is there no truth in abstaining, even for a season, for the purpose of prayer?

We have not yet put anything like this in practice in our church but I see no biblical reason why it would not be a healthy and wise practice, especially if we insist on the glory of feasting on the Lord’s Day, especially if we practice the principle, not just our own favorite method. Live simply. Eat simply. Rule the flesh. Do not let it rule you.

Feasting on the Lord’s Day. That’s the real rub. Many stodgy Sabbatarian types get it all backwards. Sunday is the fast day. Perhaps that is not what their text books say. Just their voices. Just their faces. Perhaps they don’t abstain from food. Just joy. Don’t do this. Don’t do that. Put on a long face.

Stop! Not so! Jesus rose from the dead on Sunday. We get to go to church to eat with Jesus and His friends that day. We have the whole day, with an empty agenda, to do whatever the Lord would have us do, with family, with friends. What joy!

But Augustine was not in Rome. “And yet, if any one were to think that the Lord’s Day should be appointed a day of fasting, in the same way as the seventh day is observed by some (the Roman Church of AD 396) such a man would be regarded, and not unjustly, as bringing a great cause of offence into the Church.” (Letters of St. Augustine, Letter XXXVI, AD 396).

His point here is that the Lord’s Day should be a feast day and not a fast day. He proves both points for us. Fasting is allowed and even good. Fasting on the Lord’s Day is an offence to Christ’s Church.

Is this Catholic? I hope so. Is it Roman? Nope. Not in a thousand years.

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