Three Disciplines of Lent and the Christian Life

Almsgiving

almsWhat? Almsgiving is the discipline of giving to those in any need.

Why? We are freed in Christ to give knowing that God will provide for our needs. We give because God is a giver and because he uses our giving to bless all in need. We serve him by serving others.

How? The one giving does so in many ways. They may help a neighbor with a need noticed or revealed. They may donate money to the parts of the Church which help the needy. The one giving does not limit their giving to money alone but uses any gift entrusted to them.

Cautions: “When you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do…that they may be praised by others…But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Matthew 6:2-4

How did Jesus fulfill this discipline? He gave countless needy people food, health, and good news. He also gave his very life for all those needful of salvation due to their sins.

Praying

prayngWhat? Praying is responding to God’s words and promises with words directed heavenward asking for mercy, rejoicing in blessings, and praising him for his goodness.

Why? We are freed in Christ to pray knowing that because of Jesus our Heavenly Father hears and answers our prayer. As we pray, our relationship with Christ is nurtured and strengthened.

How? Prayer should be both regular and constant. The one praying is gathered with his congregation for corporate prayer often. At least one time is set apart each day for prayer in the home. Other prayers are offered as need arises. The one praying use the Lord’s Prayer as both the ultimate prayer to be repeated and a guide for all other prayers.

Cautions: “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. …But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words…your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” Matthew 6:2-4

How did Jesus fulfill this discipline? Jesus was a man of constant prayer. He often went away to speak with his Father. He prayed even on the cross. He knew that there was never an occasion were prayer would be improper.

Fasting

fastingWhat? Fasting is the practice of doing without something for a time.

Why? Fasting reminds us that man does not live by bread alone but that man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. We learn that things we thought necessary for our lives are not essential. Fasting is often therefore accompanied by repentance over the ways we have turned earthly as into idols on which we depend. How? The one fasting may do several things. Certain days or parts of the day can be set apart as a time to not eat or to eat less than normal. Likewise, a specific item precious to the one fasting can given up for a number of days. Sometimes congregations or other groups of Christians will all fast together on prescribed days in prescribed ways.

Cautions: “And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. Matthew 6:16-18

How did Jesus fulfill this discipline? Jesus fasted at the beginning of his ministry right before his temptation. He also fasted during his passion being deprived of many and various good things including his Father’s presence. No doubt he fasted at other times as well.

While these disciplines are laudable and given by our Lord, we must admit that no one keeps them perfectly in Lent, let alone our entire Christian lives. Therefore let us turn again to the One who gave, prayed, and fasted perfectly in life and then gave his life for our sin and our salvation. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

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This entry was posted on Wednesday, February 13th, 2013 at 9:36 am and is filed under Theology and Practice. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

9 Responses to “Three Disciplines of Lent and the Christian Life”

  1. Chris Says:

    Phil,

    You write: “While these disciplines are laudable and given by our Lord, we must admit that no one keeps them perfectly in Lent, let alone our entire Christian lives.” This almost sounds like an invitation to NOT do them, since you can’t do them perfectly. Typical Lutheran double speak: These are good things, but you don’t have to do them and since you don’t have to, you shouldn’t. These are good virtues to have at all times and not just in Lent. As Fr. Alexander Schmemann said, “Lent is the school in which we train to live our entire live.”

    As far as no one keeps them perfectly in Lent, they can with God’s help. And many great saints have.

  2. tom Says:

    Again Chris you ascribe words to Phil that he does not say, nor even imply with a careful reading (and even not-so-careful reading). How you get from, “these are great things, but difficult things that non of us can achieve with perfection” to “they are good things, but you don’t have to do them, so since you don’t have to…don’t”. That truly boggles the mind. I know you have a self-professed great mind, but really, even you can’t be serious about this illogical leap of thinking.

    By the way, if any great saints have kept them perfectly (that being a totally debateable statement in and of itself)…they would be the first to admit how far from perfect they actually kept or did those (or any) disciplines.

  3. Chris Says:

    Tom,

    I know Phil didn’t say those words, but I know Lutherans and I know Lutheranism. Lutherans will talk great about great disciplines like confession, the Divine Liturgy, the fast, the almsgiving, etc. but as soon as that is mentioned, you will immediately hear the word, adiaphora, right behind. When disciplines and virtues such as these are mere options, then how long before they are proscribed? Such is the history of the reformed churches. Many of the disciplines and practices and feasts were kept, but the strain of pietism infiltrated and what was not required was made optional; what was made optional was made taboo; what was made taboo was outright proscribed. I’m not the only person who notes this. I don’t know how much you search around the Lutheran blogosphere, but Fr. Peters (Pastoral Meanderings) has made this exact same observation many times over. What’s the point of bringing out these disciplines if the next thing you hear is, “but you don’t need to do them.” Ok, I don’t necessarily need to do them, but I want to do them. “No, then you’re being legalistic.” My will is not being constrained so how can that be legalistic? “Because it is.” Essentially, that was the substance of conversations I had growing up in a Lutheran household. It was also reinforced by my pastors.

    As to your second point, I’m well aware that the saints would never boast of such things, but that does not mean they were not successful. They were humble about it, never out for praise, but they still accomplished those things.

    BTW, my intellect is far from self-professed. It is self-evident.

  4. tom Says:

    Perhaps you are being facetious…but, when you proclaim that your intellect is not professed but self-evident…how is that not a proclamation promoting your own intelligence?

    To the saints: according to whom did they accomplish these things perfectly? According to them they did not. A true saint would never boast of their accomplishments nor be so foolish to think they could have achieved them perfectly. So are you saying that you can go further than the saints by proclaiming your own perfections in the disciplines? And if not, why not? You told Phil that “by God’s help people can keep disciplines perfectly in Lent”.

    So you know that Phil didn’t say the words you tagged him as saying…and, yet, you are using bad experiences growing up to continue an argument with someone completely different, in a different time, saying something that is completely different than what you are attacking against. I’m not convinced that Phil would see the disciplines simply as options. And even if he did I don’t think he would say that since they can’t be kept perfectly you might as well not even do them. I think Phil would always bring us around to the One who has done and kept everything perfectly and say “the disciplines are good, needed, and some even required of the Christian life…but ultimately keep your eyes focused on Jesus.” I don’t know for sure, but that is my guess.

  5. Chris Says:

    Tom,

    When it comes to my superior intellect, I am always serious.

    You ask according to whom? The Church, the guardian and bulwark of Truth.

    With regards to what he said, my point is, reiterated yet again, that Lutherans engage in double speak. They will say that things like the Divine Liturgy, private confession, fasting, abstension and almsgiving are all wonderful and good disciplines, but then immediately after saying they are good and beneficial, shout from the rooftops: ADIAPHORA! When these disciplines are made optional, then there’s no reason to do them. If they were required, then you would have legalism. The Lutheran church has tried to take a media via but more often than not has come down against people actually engaging in such practices saying that the only reason people do such things is to earn points with God when that is clearly not the case. Lutheranism suffers from a problem in that these disciplines are either treated with scorn (the evangelical wing), looked upon favorably but with a hint of suspicion (the mainstream) or promoted (the catholic wing). The latter is the smallest of these. WHen the Lutheran church fails to speak as a church with one mind, one practice, one faith, that is precisely how what is optional becomes taboo and what is taboo becomes illegal. The confessionals are trying to make a come back but they are engaged in a holding pattern. They will promote the traditional wisdom of the church, but then immediately retreat with “adiaphora” again and again.

    The argument should not be with me. THe argument should be with the Lutheran churches which have so clouded the teachings of the ancient church (which it claims to guard) to make every good practice a source of confusion to the average parishioner.

  6. tom Says:

    Chris,

    I am just curious as to how you would respond to these quotes by a Greek Orthdox Father.

    “First, keep the Church’s fasting rule as well as you are able, then decide on additional disciplines, in consultation with your priest.”

    “Though few laymen are able to keep the rule in its fullness, it seems best to present it mostly without judgement of what level is “appropriate” for the laity, since this is a matter best worked out in each Christian’s own setting, under the guidance of his spiritual fathers.”

    And I am also trying to find where the Church with a single, unified voice said that the saints did these disciplines perfectly. Any helps (outside of your own understanding of this issue)?

    More to say but I will let you respond first.

  7. Chris Says:

    Tom,

    Would you first provide the source? The first quote is good advice. Spiritual acesis should only be undertaken with the assistance of a spiritual father. As for the second, nothing wrong. Now, if this seems like the same advice that Phil is giving, I’d say it is. However, and this is the part that you keep missing is that modern Lutheranism has NO one voice. Every divergent voice is given weight from the outright dismissal to the very tepid embrace. The Church, on the other hand, has always spoken with one voice that fasting, almsgiving, and prayer are not just options, but are disciplines that are to be cultivated within the ability of the parishioner (particularly with regards to fasting) and are not to be simply disregarded. That’s the difference I am speaking of which you seem unable to grasp.

    As for your continued insistence that since there is no way for us to know whether the saints attained these virtues perfectly, we must assume that the answer must be negative, I find this most tedious. Why is it that Lutherans are so immediately dismissive of such things like St. Antony’s ascesis in the desert or the ever virginity of the Theotokos, which are almost unheard of in this fallen world, but nonetheless, it DOES HAPPEN! Do you absolutely need a hand written note from someone? Or since it seems impossible, it must be impossible. I guess Christ’s Resurrection from the dead is impossible, too. Absurditas per absurditatem.

  8. tom Says:

    Chris,

    Everyone gets your point. You keep rambling on about it. Stop. Everyone in this conversation (you, me, and Phil) understands that the church, historically, has spoken unified about the necessity and importance of the disciplines. Nobody has denied or questioned that point of yours. Yet, this is the point you keep wanting to make. Which is great, but it has little bearing on what Phil’s post is actually saying.

    Again, how you jump from Phil’s point of “these disciplines are what we are called to but we will never be able to keep them perfectly” to proclaiming that Phil is saying “that since we can’t keep them perfectly, in the end, that people should or can disgarded the disciplines” is such a leap of logical inconsistency. Talk about someone not being able to grasp something.

    Could someone go through life, in your example, and never have sex? Sure. Could that person live without ever lusting about someone in their thoughts? Most likely no. If not, they haven’t truly done the discipline with perfection. It is not just about outer actions. Could someone live life by observing every fast and doing the fast exactly like they should (in terms of what to eat, how to eat, when to eat, etc.)? Probably. Yet the fast just isn’t about the outward observance of the fast. If my attitudes are all jacked during the fast and I’m hating every minute of it…then am i truly keeping the fast with perfection? No. Could one person keep both the outer and inner observances of the disciplines perfectly during Lent or the Christian life? I think i have not only experience on my side, but more importantly church history, and, dare i say, Scripture on my side.

    The things about Jesus were written so that we may believe (John 20). So hand written notes aren’t a bad thing. At least God felt it were important to make sure this stuff was written down.

    Really? You are going to make an argument against me that I am not even bringing up? Why do you keep doing this? I questioned a flawed, imperfect person’s ability to do anything with absolute perfection and now you want to make the leap that because I question that I am going to assume, or have a problem with Jesus’ resurrection from the dead? Just stop. You are embarrasing yourself.

    And as to your Absurditas per asburditatem. To be honest, I was unfamiliar with this phrase so I have looked around. I have found nothing that gives this phrase. Is this one of your own making? It sounds cool, but as far as I can tell (and I could be very wrong, I will be the first to admit that I don’t have a handle on all things Latin, or Greek, or Hebrew, or theological, or whatever it is) but again, as far as I can tell…it’s meaningless as a real latin phrase that describes a fallacy.

  9. Chris Says:

    Tom,

    If you got my point, why do you force me to remake it every single time? The Lutheran Church has never spoken with one voice about fasting, almsgiving and a more active prayer life. In fact, growing up, I never even heard of these disciplines. It was only because of my historical interest and research. WHenever I would bring it up to a pastor, I was told, more or less that we don’t do those things any longer. There wasn’t even an option. So, the fault lies there. And it continues to lie in poor catechesis and the Romaphobia which continues to infiltrate the LCMS and other Lutheran confessions.

    You talk about the importance of inward discipline, but that is more likely to happen, indeed, even most likely to happen, if the outward desires (i.e. those of the flesh) are kept under control. Can we not even agree on that?

    Third, the Latin phrase “Absurditas per absurditatem” means “Absurdity through the absurd.” In other words, pointing out that which was absurd by being absurd myself. That particular fallacy doesn’t have a name so I invented one for it and since it is in Latin (which I speak along with Greek, both ancient and modern as well as several other language), we can admit it sounds much cooler, right?

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