Not So Fast, Patrick!

By Joel Hess

st. Patric

First of all – happy St. Paddy’s day!  I love this day, because I love the story of its hero, Patrick, who under the Spirit’s compulsion returned to evangelize those who had once enslaved him. There are many myths about Patrick but the greatest falsehoods are that he was Irish and Roman Catholic! He was neither (or at least he would not recognize today’s Roman Catholic theology as being catholic)! Let the leprechauns start grumbling!

Ok now I shall offend you with more truth!


Every Lent the question arises – is fasting good or bad? Is it papist or pietist?  What do we do with it?  We Lutherans don’t seem to have a box for it!  It ain’t a means of grace.  It aint a good work.  Ahhhh!

Well who cares what you think!  Godly people – Grace clinging people – have been fasting since the fall – as recorded in the old and new testament, early church writings, the Book of Concord and even the fat doctor! Fasting is not a cute little cultural activity like Christmas trees and painting easter eggs.

The debate cannot be whether fasting is a biblical and important Christian activity.  It clearly is. The question is – was ist das?

In our proper horror toward works- righteousness we Lutherans now shriek when anyone even suggests employing discipline and habits in our life in Christ.  “You can’t tell me to do something, get behind me AntiChrist – I’m saved by Grace!”

If you tell us we can’t do something then we will do it harder!  If you tell us we HAVE to do something then we will declare with beer blessed breath – Here I stand!

Relax little Luther’s. No one is saying you MUST fast, let alone you MUST fast in order to please God.  You are right, you are a no good sinner and everything you touches turns to feces! We all can smell it. Jesus is our righteousness.

Also, Lutherans have properly protected the material from being separated from the spiritual that they get nervous when a pastor invites his flock to fast.  “Are you saying that these things are bad!? God gave them to us.  Get behind me ye gnostic!”  Again, relax – no one is saying these things are bad and can’t be enjoyed.  Calm down calm down.


Sometimes it appears that as Lutherans flee from Platonism they have unwittingly embraced Epicureanism!

So stop jerking your knee and enjoy some nuance oh defender of the faith and persecutor of the pietists!

In fact my anti fasting brethren, It is you who are the gnostic who deems the body/material so unqualified to participate in spiritual things!

Fasting and practicing temporary abstinences employs the whole person in prayer and meditation. We are not just soul. We are not just body. Both were baptized and all was baptized.  Not eating or even abstaining from sex with your spouse is a way to bring your whole attention to the matter at hand.  Fasting leads to focus.  But the focus is not upon fasting!  Fasting assists in fully embracing the will and gifts of God or at least it did for nearly every single godly character in Holy Scripture!  How peculiar that our Lord tells his disciples in Mark 9 that a certain demon would only come out by prayer and fasting.  See John Kleinig’s book ‘Grace upon Grace’ for more eloquent exploration than mine.  Yes, I know, he isn’t Gerhard Forde.


Yes the power of God’s Word lies in God’s Word not our reception, however reading scripture without the internet, radio and TV on is certainly more beneficial than having all these things blaring while you are trying to concentrate.  So it is with fasting.

Also Fasting and bodily discipline assists in training the Christian to not live by bread alone, to not allow things – even good things-become our little house gods.    Whether you like it or not, Paul commends such training in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 let alone the peculiar vow he made in Acts 18:18!  This is the same guy who suffered beatings for teaching that Salvation is a free gift. He was no false pietist, but he practiced piety and invited us to imitate him – which included more than reading scripture.


Now of course fasting can be used wrongly as the Pharisees vainly touted.  And fasting can become a shallow cultural custom like those stupid little elves people hide around their house before Christmas. And fasting can be misinterpreted as a belief that food or sex is bad or evil.  But even the sacrament of the altar can suffer the same abuse.  That certainly doesn’t make it wrong or dangerous.

Don’t worry; I’m not encouraging anyone to fast.  Holy Scriptures, Jesus and His church are.