Ask a Pastor Ep. 35 - Fasting, Closed Communion, The Trinity
Welcome to Ask a Pastor, a podcast from Orchard Hill Church! Have you ever had a question about the Bible, Faith, or Christianity as a whole? Submit your question and one of our pastors will answer on the program. New episodes every Wednesday.
This episode our Senior Pastor, Dr. Kurt Bjorklund, talks with Butler County Campus Pastor, Brady Randall.
Question #1 - How/why was fasting done in the Bible? How/why we should still practice it today?
Question #2 - Is closed communion biblical?
Question #3 - Can you help me understand the Trinity?
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This is an auto-generated transcript. Please excuse any errors.
Kurt Bjorklund: Hey, welcome to Ask a Pastor. I'm joined by Brady Randall, who pastors our Butler County Campus, and we're excited just to have a few minutes to spend with you today. On Ask a Pastor, we're going to be talking about several issues that different people have submitted via questions. If you have questions, you can send them to firstname.lastname@example.org, and we will be happy to interact with them. And if you're regular to listening to this, especially via the Podcast, any likes or kind of subscriptions are really helpful. So even if you listen on Facebook or somewhere else, if you can go and subscribe on the Podcast, that just helps others find that content as well.
Kurt Bjorklund: So Brady, welcome, thanks for joining us today. The first question we have is about fasting, and it's basically, how and why was this done in the times of the Bible and how or why should we practice it today?
Brady Randall: Yeah, and that's sort of an interesting question coming out of lent, many Christians around the world sort of celebrate that, a lot of people fast or give up something. While it's not a direct command in Scripture from my understanding, Jesus seems to assume that his followers would fast. When He talks in the sermon on the mount in Matthew 6, He says “When you fast,” as if there's an understanding that will be a part of a follower of Jesus, and He says, "When you fast, don't be like the hypocrites who make it plain that they're fasting and their faces look like it, but go and do it in secret and your Father who sees what is done will reward you."
Brady Randall: There's a lot of instances with people in Scripture fasting, often times it was for preparing for a certain season or ministry. In fact that's how Jesus sort of began, His public ministry was a period of 40 days in the desert fasting. And fasting almost entirely in Scripture is often coupled with prayer, it's not just fast but it's coupled with prayer, it's a way to say, I want more of You God, I want to see more of You in my life, I want to see more of Your kingdom come to earth as it is in heaven. People would fast, they would couple fasting with repentance and often when I say fast, it's often giving up in most cases food.
Brady Randall: So today, when people fast, it doesn't necessarily have to be food, it could be social media, or sports or television. But there's also people who would fast when they're making important decisions. In the early Church in Acts, they were selecting elders, and people would fast and pray and ask God for discernment. I think one of the best texts about fasting in Scripture is Isiah 58. And a lot of people can think of fasting as a way to sort of curry God's favor, like if I fast, God will honor that. In fact, in Isiah 58, the people were fasting and God says “I'm not looking at that, the kind of fasting that I've chosen is that you would be about justice, and my name and then you will shine like the noonday.”
Brady Randall: That's a great text, but preparation, repentance, fasting can help with worship. There was a woman named Anna, who's worshiping in the temple and she was fasting, and there's a variety of ways to fast. And I would say again, it's not a way to gain God's favor, it's a way to say, Lord I want more of You. And in fact, when you think about giving up food, sometimes other things come to the surface, maybe you'll fast for 24 hours and maybe there's different idols in your life that just sort of come out, and it's like man, that sort of what was in there Lord?
Brady Randall: And the other thing I would say about fasting is, again it's not a way to say, God now You have to honor what I've done. It's a way to say, Lord, I can give up food, but the reality is if I eat food, in four more hours I'm gonna be hungry again. Jesus said that He is the bread of life, and so He's what we're ultimately fasting for, we're longing for more of God, more of God's glory and His kingdom.
Kurt Bjorklund: If I were to put it a definition on it based on what you just said, it would be basically some kind of self denial for a spiritual purpose. Would that be a fair definition?
Brady Randall: I think that makes sense. I think it's a little broader than that, but there is a sense of self denial.
Kurt Bjorklund: What's the broader aspect?
Brady Randall: I just think about Isiah 58, it's not just the giving up something, it's actually being for justice. In fact, I love that text and I will read it on now. “But God says,” in Isiah 58, “On the day of your fasting, you do as you please, you exploit workers. Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife. You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high.” And then He goes on to say “The kind of fast that I have chosen is not just the day for people to humble themselves, but rather to lose the chains of injustice, to untie the cords of yoke, to set the oppressed free. Is it not to share your food with the hungry, provide the poor wanderer with shelter, when you see the naked to clothe them, not to turn away from your own flesh and blood.” And He goes on, and that's why I say it's a little broader.
Kurt Bjorklund: Yeah, and I think that would be your spiritual purpose, giving up something for a spiritual purpose for saying about more, but it sounds like when you read that, what that really is saying to us is that we have to be careful that you don't fast and see it as an ending itself, because if your life isn't lining up in the cause of justice, and you fast, you're actually in a way making a mockery of God rather than in a sense, honoring God.
Brady Randall: That's right.
Kurt Bjorklund: Okay. So for somebody who says, I've never really gone without food, I've heard about intermittent fasting for health reasons, maybe I should try this thing. What's your wisdom for somebody?
Brady Randall: When I got this question, it was actually convicting for me 'cause actually, to be honest, it's been a while since I've coupled prayer with fasting. One of my excuses for not is I'm on some medication for migraines and I shouldn't go without food for a long period of time. But then I was reminded that fasting doesn't just have to be food and for me I think a healthy fast might be, give up social media or give up watching The Pirates or sports, and taking that time intentionally to be with God.
Kurt Bjorklund: That's not self sacrificial.
Brady Randall: Come on, you don't know who you're talking to here.
Kurt Bjorklund: I do, I'm just kidding. So yeah, it's interesting, I hear that and I agree with it. I also think that sometimes the Christian community can be quick to say, let me sub other things for the technical definition of forgoing food and that sometimes saying, I'm going to forgo some food, feel some hunger to be reminded of my need for Jesus and to seek Him, is just a helpful thing. I mentioned intermittent fasting, because I think sometimes people will almost say, “Well I'm fasting, and 'm doing it to lose weight or for health reason,” and then try to make it spiritual. And I think that's backwards. I think it's important to say, if I'm going to practice this, do this to seek God, get our physical things met in other ways and then if you can, than that's a healthier approach.
Kurt Bjorklund: I think it's fine for some people to say, let me cut off social media, let me fast from whatever it is, golf, Pirates, things of that nature, but I think that the real key as I've watched this is saying, I need to break from something that I normally do and deny myself in some sense, in order to seek God. If I don't seek God in it, then the denial hasn't been complete, and if I seek God while still doing everything else, than I haven't practiced fasting, I've just sought God, which is a good thing.
Brady Randall: Sure.
Kurt Bjorklund: But there's something that happens when you put those things together, that God almost multiplies your seeking of Him, and I think that's the point of people saying, in seasons of peek discernment, “Have I done this?” in order to say, “I want to make sure that my brain is as able as possible to discern the voice of God, or the direction of God in something that I'm doing.”
Kurt Bjorklund: So yeah, thanks. Second question is about communion. It says, is closed communion a biblical idea? And probably what's in view here, if you're not familiar with the idea of closed or open communion, is some Churches practice what's called closed communion, meaning only members of that Church can take communion. So if you've ever been to say a Catholic mass and you're not Catholic, the Catholic Church generally practices closed communion, meaning if you're not a Catholic, they say “We're glad you're here, but don't come partake of this Sacrament in this Church, because this isn't your faith that you own.” Other Churches practice open communion, meaning you don't have to be a member of the Church, they just say if you're a follower of Jesus, come and partake.
Kurt Bjorklund: So help us understand, just a little bit, about this idea of closed or open communion in terms of a biblical rational.
Brady Randall: I think probably when Churches operate with a sort of a closed or restricted communion, what they're trying to do, there's a passage in First Corinthians 11, where Paul talks about someone can sort of take communion in an unworthy manner. I think often times, Churches that celebrate a closed communion, they want to make sure people are in good standing, not eating and drinking judgment on themselves. They want to sort of protect the Sacrament that Jesus said to offer, and so they restrict it so that there's not a lot of maybe hypocrisy or that they think that they're actually helping protect someone from eating in an unworthy manner.
Brady Randall: If you read First Corinthians 11, it's a sort of an interesting passage where some people are getting sick, some people are dying as a result of that, and that's a whole another, you know, got to get into that context. But that's a pretty serious thing that Paul talks about and it sure feels like.
Kurt Bjorklund: It is serious.
Brady Randall: I mean so.
Kurt Bjorklund: No way around it.
Brady Randall: So Churches, I think that's sort of the heart behind it, wanting to protect it, but then you sort of become the communion police or maybe the morality police or maybe you're not in good standing or you're in certain sin and maybe it's the elders or the Pastor ... It can become a little bit selective, and I think that's where maybe some of the problem could lie with that. But I think the heart behind it is to say, we want to honor the Sacrament, we want to make sure people are not drinking and eating in an unworthy manner.
Kurt Bjorklund: Well, one of the ways I've heard it explained is, it's wise to fence the table, meaning to say here are some other parameters. If you're in a Church context that takes communion on a fairly regular basis, it's hard to say the same thing every single time you step up and put five minutes of caveat and fence around it. And so sometimes, you state it really clearly, and sometimes it's a little less clear or fully stated, but I think the concept of saying, “Hey here's who this is for, and don't come do this if it isn't for you,” is a healthy concept.
Kurt Bjorklund: And at the same time, I like what you said about, you want to be careful you don't become the morality police. It seems like in a lot of Churches, that what happens is there are sins that are known and obvious that the Church will take a stand on this, well you can't take communion, you can't be in membership, you can't be in leadership if these things are true. And then there are a whole hosts of sins, that it's like, oh nobody really talks about or makes a deal of it. One of the things I've probably said at different times is, in American culture, rarely do people in the Church call out other Christians for consumerism or greed. We just assume that it's the American way of life and that the only person who's greedy is somebody who might have more than me, but it can't possibly be me.
Kurt Bjorklund: So, like with communion, people may say, well, if you're going through acts, you can't come to take communion, but greedy people we're all good and that's when you run into danger. Now the flip side of that, is as soon as you start saying, well, because we don't call out one thing we're not going to call out the other, that also can be its own self defeating thing 'cause then you never say anything about anything, if that's your rational. I've been able to sleep really well at night as a pastor saying, “My job is to explain and then to let people make their decision.” That it isn't my job necessarily to stand there and go “Yes, no, yes, no,” my job is to say "Here it is, and if you feel right before God, then you can come, if not then you should take precautions.”
Brady Randall: Yeah.
Kurt Bjorklund: That to me feels like it's a sufficient enough thing. So yeah, good.
Kurt Bjorklund: The last question here Brady, and it's from a student in our student's ministry, they asked several of the students just for questions that they'd be interested in. It was help us understand the Trinity.
Brady Randall: Wow.
Kurt Bjorklund: Let's hear you, just a couple minutes, explain the Trinity and succinct in compelling form.
Brady Randall: Wow. Well, these students are in good standing with Christians and theologians across the ages. I mean, this has been a controversial topic in the Church, this has led to different heresies in the Church, this has led to really wise godly men and women coming together in counsels, trying to understand what is the truthfulness of Scripture, what is being said and how do we understand it ... Does it transcend reason, maybe not irrational, but does it go beyond just logic and reason. I think what people have said is that in Scripture, there's a theme throughout Scripture that God is one. In fact, Deuteronomy six, talks about God being one and yet you read about, Father, Son, Holy Spirit.
Brady Randall: You see, that the Father is not the Son, the Son is not the Father, the Holy Spirit is not the Father and yet the Holy Spirit is considered divine, a divine person, a divine being. Jesus says the Father and I are one, and yet they're distinct. And so, why you don't see the term Trinity in the Scriptures, the concept of God being one and it's hard to describe one what, one essence but three distinct persons. And by that we mean, God is one substance.
Kurt Bjorklund: All right, hold on, let me ... I know you're about to get to the good part of it.
Brady Randall: Yeah.
Kurt Bjorklund: Hang on. I just had flashbacks to seminary there. You have a three year old son, right? Nash is three?
Brady Randall: Yeah.
Kurt Bjorklund: All right, so fast forward two years, imagine Nash is five, and he says “Dad, explain the Trinity to me.” Let's back off the seminary and give it to me like I'm five year old Nash.
Brady Randall: All right. Well here's the thing, I've heard some analogies that help you sort of understand it but they're also heretical at the same time. Like I've heard people say, the Trinity is sort of like water, right? It can be liquid, gas and ice. I said, “Okay, that's three different things but the Trinity is not different modes.” I've heard some people say, “The Trinity is like a person. A person is a father, and an uncle and a brother.” Well that's bordering on heresy because it's not like God puts on different masks.
Brady Randall: One such analogy that I think is helpful maybe you can help if this is helpful. A man named Agustin came up with the analogy of sort of a mind being it's the will, and the understanding and reason. I don't know what you do with that. People have talked about the analogy of like a three-leaf clover, like a stem and the leaves. Here's how the best sort of way that I wrap my mind around it, and maybe this is above a five year old, but if you think of the idea of marriage, two people becoming one. Now that sort of mysterious but you can understand that from a physical standpoint, kind of coming together in one accord. I think that's helpful in seeing how two distinct people can be one coherent unit while being totally distinct at the same time. The marriage analogy helps me get my head around it.
Brady Randall: Have you heard any really solid analogies, where you'd say, this is really. Like I said, water that's understandable, but that, I think, can be heretical too. Have you heard any really good?
Kurt Bjorklund: I've heard people use the pretzel, you know, it's got three things. I think the analogies as you said, they all have some danger, because if they're taken too far, like the idea of water, you end up with, to use a seminary word, modelism, where you have three different modes of God that He acts in, rather than it's one God and always the same as you said, distinct in three persons.
Kurt Bjorklund: If I were to try to explain it to a five year old or somebody who's really new to thinking about faith, probably the first thing I would do is say, “This probably isn't fully understandable even by somebody who's been around a long time, studied a lot." In that, you probably don't want a God that you can completely explain and categorize, because that probably defeats the whole definition or point of a God that would be worthy of worship. But having said that, I would say that God the Father is the one who controls and is sovereign over everything. Certainly that doesn't mean that Jesus or the Holy Spirit are not, 'cause that's where you get into modelism, or a different person. Jesus became the tangible physical expression of God, again not that the others are not expressions of God but, Hebrews One tells us that He's the exact representation, that that's how you get a window into who God is, this is what helps us get a hand around it.
Kurt Bjorklund: And then the Spirit is the abiding presence, the ongoing presence of God, and that you need all three to have a full picture and yet all three are distinct. So, is there a good analogy? You used the analogy of marriage, I think if you just think about a person, again to a five year old to say, you as a dad to say, “Well, I as your dad, sometimes I'm your dad, sometimes I'm Susan's husband, sometimes I'm the Pastor of Orchard Hill Butler County, and I'm always all of those, and all of those matter, and I'm not not one when I'm the other, but I function in all three realms.”
Kurt Bjorklund: That's close but it still leaves you a little empty, and again, I go back to why we can't fully understand that and probably, again if I can fully understand God, there would be a piece of me that would say "Okay, then there's no mystery nothing to worship or ponder."
Brady Randall: One way I've heard it expressed I think as helpful as in terms of thinking about salvation, and in the three As, so that God the Father authors salvation, Jesus the Son accomplishes salvation, and the Holy Spirit applies salvation to the believer. I thought that's sort of an interesting way to conceptualize that.
Brady Randall: The other thing I think that's helpful about the Trinity, that God has existed for all time, and so some people have said, “Oh, God needed to create humans so he wasn't lonely,” that sort of thing. And the thing that the Trinity demonstrates is that God is totally complete in and of himself, and so the reason that you and I are in the picture is purely out of God's love for us, it's not that He lacks anything so He had to create us, and I thought that was helpful.
Brady Randall: I just want to read this quote. There's a guy named Bruce Malm, and he said this about the Trinity. You sot of alluded to this, but he said “For all of its difficulty, the Trinity is simply the price to be paid for having a God who's great enough to command our worship and service." And so, there's just something that's wow, the concept is there and are we going to totally get it? I don't think so, but the truthfulness is there, how can we sort of understand it, digest it and at the end of the day say "Wow, God, You are so much more above us, Your thoughts and Your ways are so much higher than ours, and the Trinity," and the Trinity, the concept is I think, part of that.
Kurt Bjorklund: Yeah, good. Well thank you Brady and again if you have questions, feel free to send them to email@example.com, we'll be happy to address them in future episodes, times of discussion and roundness. Brady, give us a quick update about Butler County, how's it going for the campus there and the work there?
Brady Randall: Yeah, we're really excited. God is really on the move at Orchard Hill Butler Campus and I've been really excited about people coming out of Easter and needing to find some more space and more parking space and it's just been a lot of fun. It's been great to see all the kids there and events that we have around there. We're really looking forward to the summer months, to even ... Some Churches sort of take it easy, we're looking forward to really ramp up ministry and connection. Having people connect to God, connect to people and really connect to the Butler community. So we're excited about what has happened and we're really excited about the future as well.
Kurt Bjorklund: Yeah, we're living in a time when a lot of Churches struggle just to have people and it's great when a campus or a Church is struggling just to have enough place to put everybody, and that's kind of where we've been in Butler County. So thanks, again, send any questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Have a great day.