Fasting: Words from Church History

Here are some words from the past two-thousand years about the topic of fasting. I found these words alternately challenging and inspiring.

  • The Didache, a first century document relating core teaching of the early church, “prescribed two fast days a week: Wednesday and Friday” for early Christians; this was seen as a regular part of daily discipleship [1]
  • “Regular fasting was made obligatory at the Second Council of Orleans in the sixth century.”[2]
  • “Whenever men are to pray to God concerning any great matter it would be expedient to appoint fasting along with prayer.” – Jean Calvin, 16th century pastor and reformer [3]
  • “Constant propaganda fed us today convinces us that if we do not have three large meals each day, with several snacks in between, we are on the verge of starvation” – Richard Foster, 20th-21st century pastor and author[4]
  • “John Wesley sought to revive the teaching of the Didache and urged early Methodists to fast on Wednesdays and Fridays. He felt so strongly about this matter, in fact, that he refused to ordain anyone to the Methodist ministry who did not fast on those two days.”[5]
  • “Some have exalted religious fasting beyond all Scripture and reason; and others have utterly disregarded it.” – John Wesley, 18th century pastor and author
  • “First, let it [fasting] be done unto the Lord with our eye singly fixed on Him. Let our intention herein be this, and this alone, to glorify our Father which is in heaven.” – John Wesley, 18th century pastor and author  [6]
  • “The king of Britain called for a day of solemn prayer and fasting because of a threatened invasion by the French in 1756. On February 6 John Wesley recorded in his Journal, ‘The fast day was a glorious day, such as London has scarce seen since the Restoration. Every church in the city was more than full, and a solemn seriousness sat on every face. Surely God heareth prayer, an there will yet be a lengthening of our tranquility.’ In a footnote he wrote, ‘Humility was turned into national rejoicing for the threatened invasion by the French was averted.’”[7]
  • “During the early days of our nation, Congress proclaimed three national fasts. Presidents John Adams and James Madison each called all Americans to fast, and Abraham Lincoln did so on three separate occasions during the War Between the States.”[8]
  • “Fasting helps us to express, to deepen, and to confirm the resolution that we are ready to sacrifice anything, even ourselves, to attain the Kingdom of God.” – Andrew Murray[9]
  • “One of the goals of fasting is to determine levels of addiction or…levels of idolatry.” – John Piper, contemporary pastor and author

[1] Foster, Celebration of Discipline, 51.

[2] Ibid.

[3] In Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines, 165.

[4] Foster, Celebration of Discipline, 47.

[5] Foster, Celebration of Discipline, 51.

[6] In Foster, Celebration of Discipline, 55.

[7] In Foster, Celebration of Discipline, 50.

[8] Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines, 162.

[9] In McKnight, Fasting, xviii.

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