February 23, 2003


In Mark 2:18-20, the disciples of John and of the Pharisees were fasting. And they came and said to Jesus, "'Why do the disciples of John and of the Pharisees fast, but Your disciples do not fast?' So Jesus said to them, 'Can the friends of the bridegroom fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them they cannot fast. But the days will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast in those days.'"

Fasting is refraining from the eating of common meals for a prolonged period of time, usually associated with religious activity. Let us note a few facts about the Scriptural subject of fasting.

1. John's disciples followed the tradition of the Pharisees in frequent fasting. Jesus gives us some insight into their practice in Luke 18:12 where He quotes from the prayer of a certain Pharisee who fasted twice a week.

2. The Lord, in our text, connected fasting with grieving: "Can the friends of the bridegroom fast while the bridegroom is with them? ...But the days will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them, and they will fast..."

3. The only fast commanded by the law of Moses came once a year on the Day of Atonement, the day on which every Israelite was to mourn for his sins as the high priest offered the sin-offering in the Holy of Holies of the temple. See Lev. 23:27-29 and related passages.

4. Other periods of fasting were not wrong. They were permitted but not commanded.

5. Since Jesus connects fasting with grieving, He insists it would be improper for His disciples to practice the frequent fasting of the Pharisees while He was with them. To be with Him was a thing of joy, not of grieving.

6. Soon He would be taken away from them by His death on the cross. Then they would mourn, not by commandment, but by the natural circumstances. Thus they grieved for three days as His body lay in the tomb.

7. After three days, their weeping was turned into joy by His resurrection. He remained with them for another 40 days, then ascended to heaven, Acts 1:3. Though He would no longer be physically with them He sent another Comforter, the Holy Spirit as promised in John 14:16-17, 26; 15:26-27 and 16:7, thus even though some Christians may occasionally fast for various reasons, such as the appointment of overseers in a local church, etc. (Acts 14:23), fasting has never been an integral part of New Testament Christianity.

--Clarence R. Johnson


One of the more difficult issues when studying God's word with people who come from denominations can be the subject of their immersion. In many religious groups, baptism by immersion in water is practiced, even though they don't believe it's a necessary condition for receiving God's grace. Baptism, they believe, follows salvation and is done to show other people that one has become a Christian; it's "a profession of their new faith in Christ", they may say. Immersion may even be required to become a member of their congregation. Do the conditions surrounding one's baptism matter? If one is immersed in water, for whatever reason believed at the time, would he ever need to be re-immersed? Let's examine the scriptures to determine if we have a pattern for such a situation.

Most would agree that in order to be saved, we must be in Christ. So the question becomes, how do we get into Christ? If salvation comes before baptism through some other means (i.e. faith alone, saying believer's prayer, coming forward to the "alter", etc.) then it must be reasoned that one is therefore in Christ at that time. Baptism would therefore put that person into nothing they weren't already in. If that were so, it would contradict what Paul said in Galatians 3:27, "For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ." Paul wrote in similar manner to the church in Rome, "Know yet not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death." I've searched the New Testament cover to cover and have not found another passage that tells us another way to get "into Christ", or to "put on Christ". So it is clear, if we simply rely on what the scriptures teach, that one gets "into Christ" through obedience to Christ's command to be baptized.

It's important to realize that being scripturally baptized means being baptized under the authority of Jesus Christ. Matthew 28:18-19 tells us, "And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost." To do something "in the name of" someone is to do it under his authority (cf Col 3:17). According to Jesus' words above, His disciples are commanded to baptize them [all nations] in the authority of the Father, the Son, and Holy Spirit. However, in many religious groups, one is voted on and approved for baptism by the congregation. Whose authority would that be under?

The Ephesian disciples in Acts 19 had indeed been baptized (verse 3), however, they were baptized into John's baptism, not into Christ. If one act of immersion in water is as good as any other, then those in Acts 19 would have not had need of being re-baptized, as recorded in verse 5. Their former baptism was not into Christ, and it was not in the name of, or in the authority of, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Scriptural baptism is for the forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38, Acts 22:16); it brings one into the Lord's church (Acts 2:41,47); through it one is buried with Christ and then born again (John 3:5, Rom 6:3-4); it saves us (1 Pet 3:21); and puts us into Christ (Gal 3:27). So, let each ask himself honestly, "Into what then where ye baptized?"

--Michael Cox


Several years ago, a Christian who was the president of a large state university stated his belief that students do not lose their faith because of evolution in the science department or humanism in the philosophy, psychology, or sociology departments. Rather, he felt that they become so absorbed with secular studies and secular activities that they do not take time for spiritual things. They neglect attendance at services, neglect Bible study and make their friends among worldly people. They die spiritually, not from poison but from spiritual malnutrition. Today, this is happening to children long before they get to college. And some of the finest, best intentioned and most sacrificial and loving parents are contributing to it. 

Please pardon a personal reference. My parents were very concerned about keeping control of their children. My father complained 50 years ago that the schools were trying to take over the rearing of children and he was determined not to let that happen to his family. Anything the school planned that conflicted with church activities was considered an encroachment by the school. We did not participate in organized sports, either in school or in summer programs. We did not play in the band or join the scouts. As a rule, when school was out we came home.

You may think my parents extreme. Perhaps they were. But one thing was certain: We had time for whatever Christians were doing anywhere in the areas where we lived. We not only attended every regular service and every service of gospel meetings in our home congregation, but we attended most services of any meeting anywhere in driving distance even when meetings lasted the greater part of two weeks. Preachers who came preaching in the area learned to expect the Hall family near the front of the building night after night. I never remember going out of town for a ball game, but I remember many trips out of town to gospel meetings and lectureships. Those gospel preachers became our heroes and the members of those congregations became the friends whose respect and confidence we most desired.

This is not to say that all parents should adopt the policies of my parents. I did not adhere to all of them in raising my children. But surely some limits need to be imposed on the run-away secularism now so common. Children are the busiest people in town. Schools have lengthened the school day and long bus rides often require children to leave home very early in the morning and return late in the afternoon. Then they have homework to get. Much extra time in school is spent in humanistic activities. Children are constantly exposed to vulgarity and profanity not only from fellow-students, but even from teachers. They desperately need counteracting spiritual influences.

Many conscientious parents, however, want still more secular opportunities for their children than the standard curriculum provides. They encourage participation in extra-curricular sports organized by the school and in others that are privately organized, occupying afternoons and Saturdays and even portions of Sundays as well as the summer months. Students not inclined to sports are encouraged to join the band with long hours of after-school practice, summer band camps, compulsory Friday night football in the fall and concerts in the spring. In addition, there are often private music lessons. Scouts also provide wholesome experiences, and parents want their children to be involved. In fact, they feel that their children are deprived if they miss any of these opportunities, and so to provide them parents pack their own schedules full, taxiing the children here and there and sacrificially spending their energy and money.

What is wrong with these things? Generally nothing. The problem is that they are dominating children's lives. No wonder it has become impossible to plan a gospel meeting at a time when it does not conflict with some kind of secular activity! No wonder it is exceptional when students attend every night of such a meeting! No wonder very few parents and even fewer young people are to be seen at special services beyond their own congregation!

A negative attitude seems to be developing toward anything the church plans beyond the usual Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night assemblies or toward any extension of evening activities beyond one hour. The church is considered insensitive when anything is planned that encroaches on children's busy secular activities.

When do we expect our children to change from this heavily weighted emphasis on this world to "seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness?" If they become accustomed to a secular schedule in elementary school, high school will only increase the pressure. College allows still less time for the Lord unless there is a purposeful determination to keep the lid on secular demands. If such priorities have not been learned under the guidance of parents, it is unlikely they will be developed when students are on their own in college. By the time those school years of immersion in secularism are over, there is usually very little spiritual life left in them.

And it all begins when they are young!

--Sewell Hall, Christianity Magazine, January 1998



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