Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Ancient social identity shedding light for today's urban Christians 2

"Kindliness is their nature. There is no falsehood among them. They love one another. They do not neglect widows. Orphans they rescue from those who are cruel to them. Every one of them who has anything gives ungrudgingly to the one who has nothing. If they see a traveling stranger they bring him under their roof. They rejoice over him as a real brother, for they do not call one another brothers after the flesh, but they know they are brothers in the Spirit and in God. If one of them sees that one of their poor must leave this world, he provides for his burial as well as he can. And if they hear that one of them is imprisoned or oppressed by their opponents for the sake of their Christ's name, all of them take care of all his needs. If possible they set him free. If anyone among them is poor or comes into want while they themselves have nothing to spare, they fast two or three days for him. In this way they can supply the poor man with the food he needs."
(Aristides, Apology 15, dated circa 125 AD. Quoted in Brain J. Capper, "Jesus, Virtuoso Religion, and the Community of Goods," in Engaging Economics: New Testament Scenarios and Early Christian Reception, ed. Bruce W. Longenecker and Kelly D. Liebengood, [USA: Eerdmans, 2009], p.75-76)

The most intriguing and penetrating part is the last two sentences. The Christians at that time do not fast so that God will answer their prayers. How many pastors today are encouraging their members to fast to get their prayers answered? It is stupid to think that we can compel God to work according to our desires. The other reason that Christians apprehended to fast is for themselves to focus on God, like a Zen monk: Don't eat, just meditate. We are told that fasting helps us to focus on prayer and God. Clear sign of a religion that teaches individualism spirituality.

How many local Christian leaders are encouraging their congregations to skip meals, to stop shopping for more clothes, to stop buying latest gadgets, and to cancel annual vacation trips so that they can send money for relief work or to those who are in dreadful need?

Not many, if not none. Why so? Perhaps pastors do not want to be hypocrites because they themselves do not want to go into such social practice. So without preaching this, they save themselves from being accused of not doing what they preach.

Or could it be that pastors do not want to upset the congregations, make the members' middle class lives less comfortable? But is that a pastor's calling, to shove along by the members' lifestyle? I wonder if during job interviews, are pastors to be hired be told that they must not encourage anything that reduces the comfort level of the congregation (the hiring churches are afraid that they will lost their members to other churches since there are so many churches around for Christians to hop about)?


SHWong said...

For churches who observe Lent, fasting and almsgiving are basically linked. It should be a common practice.

As for the link between fasting and prayer, that's found in many parts of the bible. Naturally, I also agree with you that compelling God is just silly, with or without fasting.

pearlie said...

I wonder along the same line ... about praying as well ... I don't take on to loud emotional "fiery" prayer, as if the louder one shouts, the more convincing one sounds, the prayer will be answered ... private prayers maybe, since it is between you and God and you can shout as much as you like and God will deal with you ... but public prayers? ... and as you brought up, fasting ... but Esther requested for a fast so that she will meet the king and not get killed ...

Tony Siew said...

Hi Joshua, very good blogpost and quote. I agree with SHWong that fasting and prayers go hand in hand in many biblical texts and that fasting can be a time of intense and focused prayers without the distraction of having meals. It's not about individualism or selfishness but about achieving God's purposes for the church and the world through prayers. But your point about fasting for the poor is well taken.

reasonable said...

The churches can together organise a fast during the upcoming Great Singapore Sales. That fasting shall be a fasting from buying anything that is not really necessary such as new sets of clothings, new IT gadgets and so on.

The fast during the Great Spore Sales will serve at least 3 purposes:

1. as a witness against consumerism
2. the money save shall be donated to the needy
3. a time of reminder of our dual-citizenship status (or to put it in pious language, a time to focus on God and God's kingdom-project or world-transformation project)

Sze Zeng said...

Hi SHWong, I didn't know Lent links fasting to almsgiving. Thank you for note.

Hi Pearlie, I share your concern on prayer as well. As for Esther..hmmm..she slept with the king who already had a wife before officially become his concubine. So context is the main drive here, I guess.

Hi Tony, thank you for your comment.

Hi reasonable, that's a fantastic proposal. Are you going to start a movement of that sort?

Steven Sim said...

We sometimes occupy too much space, becoming colonists ourselves over the space of others, forcing them to be refugees in their own space.

When we die to ourselves, we live for others, and ultimately to the Ultimate Other.

Jesus said, "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow me..."

Steven Sim