How should Christians handle a call to fast with outsiders?

Questions about God, the Bible and the Christian culture 

(Click here to read Monday Musings ... the place where I discuss the thinking that went into this article.)

Question: On April 10, 2020, there was a widely promoted worldwide fast for Good Friday. But this was no ordinary fast. People of many different beliefs came together for this. Catholics, LDS, Hindu, Muslim, Jewish, Atheist, Wiccan, Buddhist, Scientologists, Pagans, and even Christians did this fast as one united group. There are many that are applauding this but I feel as though there are some red flags with this event.

Speaking as a Christian, this event seems to promote all the gods of other religions as if they are all true and equal — even though they are not! I haven't seen anything in scripture that is for or against fasting with unbelievers. I feel like we shouldn't, though... because its promoting doctrines of demons. So, my question is, should Christians participate in worldwide fasts with other religions?

Answer: I remember seeing this call-to-fasting in my newsfeed, but I scrolled by it without engaging. I tend to agree with you on this issue... but I’ve mellowed toward ecumenical things as I’ve gotten older. You are right, though: we are the ones who have the truth. Salvation is found in Jesus Christ alone! (Acts 4:12) So, if we are seen participating in god-flavored events with pagans, won’t that take the edge off the Gospel message that Jesus saves — and perhaps imply that God will save anybody who approaches life with good intentions?

The other side of the argument is equally compelling, though. If we do not engage the world as kind and tolerant people, we will likely lose the opportunity to influence them for Christ. The thing is, not every moment is a theological moment. Most moments are people moments. As such, we must resist the temptation to sweep people aside for theological reasons. When we do that, we are lessening the chance that they will get to know what we know about Jesus Christ.

Now, no one was more exacting about salvation’s particulars than the apostle Paul, but look how he comported himself towards others — and that’s what’s at issue here: our comportment, not our theology.

“Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.” (1 Corinthians 9:19–23, NIV)

The feeling I get when I think about fasting-with-pagans is the same one I get when I see those “coexist” bumper stickers. You’ve probably seen them... the ones that have different religious symbols integrated into the word “coexist.” When I see these, I am acutely aware of my ambivalence. I too want to coexist! I too want peace in the world! I too want a clever bumper sticker! — and I don’t think I am betraying Christ by wanting every country and every religion to get along so we can have a more livable world. Paul seems to agree with me.

“If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” (Romans 12:18, NIV)

But like you (and like Paul), I know the truth — that ultimately, there can be no peace without the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6). Bringing peace to the world prematurely — that is, before Christ brings it with the consummation of his kingdom — is (by some interpreters) one of the signs of the antichrist.

As such I will always be suspicious of any peace-bringers who are making big ecumenical promises. But that should not keep me from hoping for peace, working towards peace and encouraging people to pursue peace. So, even though I know “the truth,” I feel that coexistence for the wrong reasons is still better than war for the wrong reasons... and I think most of us feel that the world has had enough of war.

I don’t want you to get the wrong idea, though. I am not encouraging you to abandon the truth. Indeed, those of us who poke around in the gray areas of Scripture and Philosophy had better have a firm grip on the truth or we will lose our moorings. But one of the signs of intellectual, emotional and spiritual maturity is finding ways to progress in our kingdom work despite less-than-perfect conditions… because life is rarely perfect… and life rarely delivers Christ-centered consensuses.

Take this fasting issue as an example. If you are convinced that not participating in this fast is the correct path — but you are only 51% convinced — logic says that you should still pursue that path. Now, 51% is nobody’s idea of a slam-dunk... but that’s where Christians are on many issues.

As such, it is unreasonable (and sometimes naïve and/or immature) to wait for perfection or insist on one-hundred-percent agreement on social issues before participating in life with a mixed crowd. Yet legalistic Christians do just that; they purposefully do not mix with the world... despite what Jesus taught.

“I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.” (Matthew 10:16, NIV)

I think that there are many people like us — Christians who know the truth — who participated in this fast in good conscience… and you should not condemn the ones who did. Fasting is neither here nor there. The condition of the heart is what matters (Proverbs 4:23) … and the conviction that this activity would more likely than not harm the kingdom of God — and that, therefore, you should not participate in it — is a valid conclusion for a Christian… but it’s one we don’t necessarily share across our culture.

I’m with you, though. I think it would harm my personal Christian “brand” to perform an overtly religious act with a group that includes people those religions cannot stand as logically true if ours is logically true. So, even if I could turn back the clock, I would not participate in this fast... but neither do I condemn any people in our camp who chose to do so. To me, this is a meat-sacrificed-to-idols type of issue (1 Corinthians 8).

What I find interesting about this call-to-fasting is that so many of our opposing religions agreed to do it on Good Friday — on our turf, so to speak. It seems to me that this would be an awkward day for people like the observant Jews who are knowledgeable about their role in Jesus’ death. After all, it was their leaders who delivered Jesus to the Roman executioners (Matthew 27:1). So, how could fasting on the day that we commemorate Jesus’ death not be embarrassing for the Jews on some level?

Here’s a thought experiment: Imagine that we have some modern-day Nazis that have “evolved” socially and have a politically correct stand on inclusion — and they agree to fast in memory of the Jews lost in the Holocaust on January 27th — International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

The whole thing would be too incongruent for me to make either logical or emotional sense of it... yet, there they’d be... doing this good thing... honoring the memory of the Jews by fasting. Since this is how I see the fasting in your question, I tend to agree with you more than I disagree with you. But I have to acknowledge that people are infinitely variable... and that we all process the facts through our feelings differently... and that there is more than one “right” answer on this.

I hope these perspectives helped.

(Mainsail Ministries articles often have a preamble where I discuss the thinking that went into them. These are called Monday Musings — and if you haven’t read the one associated with this article — consider doing so at the following link: 20200420 should Christians participate in religious activities with outsiders?).

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