Volume 11, Issue 2: Stauuron
Cry aloud, spare not, lift up thy voice like a trumpet, and shew my people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins. Yet they seek me daily, and delight to know my ways.
"You deserve a break today" is not just a fast food mantra. This same consumer mindset has throughly infected almost everything the modern church does. Whereas the ancient apostles preached a gospel of "repent and believe," today's preachers often "evangelize" by appealing to self-esteem and promising temporal prosperity. Even though the Scriptures reveal that the early disciples frequently practiced prayer with fasting, our modern churches routinely schedule prayer with breakfast, with effectual emphasis on the suppingnot the supplication. Rather than renewing our minds through study of and meditation on God's Word and reading good, classic works of Christian discipleship, we find our pleasure in cultivating Christian consumerism. We conform our habits to the world and buy faddish "Jesus junk" at the local Christian souvenir shop. Last year alone, modern disciples snapped up more than 15 million WWJD? bracelets. Barnes & Noble is offering a 1999 WWJD? calendar, while Hallmark sells huggable WWJD? stuffed toys.1Is it any wonder that with such depth of discipleship, the conservative evangelical Christians of today virtually parallel the nation at large when it comes to sin statistics (divorce, unwed teen pregnancy, etc.)?
The salt is no longer salty. Rather than transforming our culture, we have become conformed to it. Our pew potatoes are driven by the same materialistic values and definitions of success that the world uses. Our consumer definition of discipleship leads us to seek instant gratification in everything, including our spiritual growth. Our pursuit of spiritual shortcuts has yielded a wilted crop of spiritual superficiality, much as in ancient Israel. And God calls such superficiality, this ignorance and hypocrisy, sin.
God reprimanded Israel when they asked why He did not hear when they fasted. His response was that their fasts were wickedness and pleasure, not the self-denial of charity as He desires.
The early church understood both the kindred chastisements of Isaiah 58 and Zechariah 7, and the command of Christ charging each of His followers to "deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me" (Luke 9:24). Possibly because the very next verse talks of losing one's life for Christ's sake, many commentators have incorrectly reduced the application of this verse to a simple willingness to become a martyr for Christ if it came to that. Since the English-speaking church today is largely free of such a threat, many ignore this essential charge of Christ. While the command certainly could apply to the case of "ultimate sacrifice," its intent goes well beyond thatas the verse says to "daily sacrifice." It is here that we stumble and sin.
The Didache, a second-century catechism, exhorted the early disciples to fast and pray. But it was not prayers for healing or prosperity, nor petitions of self-pity that they were encouraged to make. Rather, they fasted for their enemies and prayed for those who persecuted them. Nor were these fasts to seek protection, but instead to seek God's mercy upon their enemies, that He would graciously grant repentance and forgiveness to their persecutors.
We often hear the cross of Christ preached, as well we should. However, how often does today's pulpit tickle the ears of those same pew potatoes by avoiding all declaration of that cross which Christ commanded His disciples to take up? As a result, ignorant Christians, like the Pharisees of Matthew 23, may go through the motions of a religious life (e.g., tithing, fasting, prayer, church attendance, or even WWJD? trinkets), but lack the "weightier matters" of substance: justice and mercy and faith. We must see to these three and present our bodies as living sacrifices (Romans 12:1), while not neglecting the less weighty observances given to us in the Scriptures (Matthew 23:23).
In Matthew 6, Christ pairs charitable deeds (elsewhere called alms, acts of righteousness, mercy, or compassion) with prayer and fasting. Isaiah 58 and Zechariah 7 do the same. Those passages detail just the kind of justice, mercy and faith which God requires. Returning to the example of the early church one last time, history tells us that they would give the food saved in fasting to
feed the poor.2 Christ's ministry was characterized by mercy and self-denial. We are called to follow by faith. In His footsteps, we are to bear our cross, daily.
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