One of the things that is not widely talked about in Christianity or anywhere else is called fast offerings. I have heard the term several times among Christian churches and with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS). I studied Mormonism and the LDS teachings in preparation for several missions trips to Manti, Utah and Salt Lake City to share the true Jesus Christ to the Mormon people during the Manti Mormon Miracle Pageants, as well as witnessing to their young missionaries when they come to my door. As we dig into this deeper, you will find that this is not really mentioned in Scripture, but at the same time, not condemned either. It should be practiced at the discretion of the person fasting, and not held as a standard rule.
A fast offering is when you fast from food for a period of time (1-3 days) and whatever food you would have bought, you donate that money to your church to cover alms or benevolence to the poor. That’s the basics of it. Sounds good even when you use the verses you shared in Isaiah 58:6-11. The LDS church also uses these verses, among others in the Doctrines & Covenants, Book of Mormon (which are not Scripture) and is thoroughly described in their publication, “True to the Faith.”
Therefore there are problems when looking at this as a standard rule and can dive headlong into legalism and compulsory giving. As an example: in “True to the Faith”, the LDS church states, “Your fast offering should be at least the value of the two meals you do not eat. When possible, be generous and give more than this amount.” (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints 68) Where does it say in the Bible this is the amount to give? It doesn’t. Where does it say that I should give more? It doesn’t. How much more than the amount is considered generous? A penny? A dollar? A hundred dollars? No one knows.
Christian churches also can get into legalism in dealing with fast offerings or issues that the Bible never says is a standard rule. Scripture does not command Christians to fast. Nowhere in the Bible are Christians told to fast.
The verses many churches, including LDS wards, use to justify this are Isaiah 58:6-8. I have purposely added Isaiah 58:5 as well. The title in my Bible for this chapter is called, “Fasting That Pleases God.” First, let’s set the tone and follow with me in your Bible. Isaiah 58:1-4 states that the people were complaining that they were fasting to God and God was not hearing them. But there was sin that needed to be dealt with. God then exposes the shallow worship of His people. They were delighting in learning about God, but not interested in obeying Him.
'Why have we fasted,' [they say], 'and You have not seen? [Why] have we afflicted our souls, and You take no notice?' "In fact, in the day of your fast you find pleasure, And exploit all your laborers. Indeed you fast for strife and debate, And to strike with the fist of wickedness. You will not fast as [you do] this day, To make your voice heard on high. Is it a fast that I have chosen, A day for a man to afflict his soul? Is it to bow down his head like a bulrush, And to spread out sackcloth and ashes? Would you call this a fast, And an acceptable day to the LORD? [Isaiah 58:3-5 NKJV]
They were fasting and afflicting themselves, spreading sackcloth and sitting in ashes, but they were exploiting their workers, in strife with their neighbors, and pursuing pleasure and sin. Their fasting was all for show, and God was calling them out.
"Is this not the fast that I have chosen: To loose the bonds of wickedness, To undo the heavy burdens, To let the oppressed go free, And that you break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, And that you bring to your house the poor who are cast out; When you see the naked, that you cover him, And not hide yourself from your own flesh? [Isaiah 58:6–7 NKJV]
God was telling them what a real fast looks like. To loosen the bonds of wickedness, to undo heavy burdens, to free the oppressed, and break every yoke. A fast to alleviate another’s misery rather than parade one’s own spirituality. Love your neighbor as yourself. The following is the blessings that would follow if they performed the fast as God intended them to in verses 6–7.
Then your light shall break forth like the morning, Your healing shall spring forth speedily, And your righteousness shall go before you; The glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard. [Isaiah 58:8 NKJV]
Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer; You shall cry, and He will say, 'Here I [am].' "If you take away the yoke from your midst, The pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness, [Isaiah 58:9 NKJV]
[If] you extend your soul to the hungry And satisfy the afflicted soul, Then your light shall dawn in the darkness, And your darkness shall [be] as the noonday. [Isaiah 58:10 NKJV]
The LORD will guide you continually, And satisfy your soul in drought, And strengthen your bones; You shall be like a watered garden, And like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail. [Isaiah 58:11 NKJV]
First, where does it call for an amount of money in this section? Is there a percentage? Is food even mentioned in these verses? Yes, food is mentioned but only in feeding the hungry, not in the giving up of food. Does God insist on giving up food for a dollar amount to feed the hungry? No. The point of these passages was to expose false worship and direct them to true worship. With that said, a Christian can, if they choose to, fast from meals and give that money they would have spent to feed the poor and needy. That is their choice, but it should not be chosen for them by their church or fellowship as a standard or grounds of membership. If a Christian Church chooses to do a congregational fast offering, the individual Christians can choose to participate or not. It is up to the individual.
Don Whitney’s, Spiritual Disciplines For The Christian Life is a fantastic resource and has a very large section about fasting. In it, he says the following.
“In the most extensive passage of scripture dealing exclusively with fasting [Isaiah 58:6–11], God emphasizes fasting for the purpose of meeting the needs of others… Fasting cannot be compartmentalized from the rest of our lives. The Spiritual Disciplines do not stand alone. God will not bless the practice of any Discipline, including fasting, when we reject His Word regarding relationships with others. …The kind of fasting that pleases God is one that results in concern for others and not just for ourselves.
‘But,’ Someone objects, ‘I’m so busy meeting my needs and those of my family that I don’t have the time to minister to other people.’ That’s where you can fast for the purpose of ministering to the needs of others. Fast for one mean or one day and use that time for ministry. That way you haven’t lost any of the time you say you must give to your other commitments.
…There are other ways of fasting to meet the needs of others. Many fast so that they can give to the poor or to some ministry the money they would have spent on food during that period. How could you minister to the needs of others with the extra time or money fasting could provide?” (Whitney 1991, 174–175)
So, as you can see, this is not a hard fast rule, but totally voluntary and optional to the person fasting. You don’t have to give to the poor for a fast to be recognized by God. Don Whitney offers two ways a person could fast for – time to ministry or funds for ministry.
Don Whitney goes on to say that, without a spiritual purpose for your fast it’s just a weight-loss fast. He mentions that fasts can be used to strengthen prayer, seek God’s guidance, express grief, seek protection, repent, humble oneself before God, express concern for the work of God, minister to the needs of others, overcome temptation, dedicate oneself to God, and express love and worship to God.
With anything like fasting, giving, prayer, serving, etc…God wants your heart in the matter. We are to be cheerful givers (2 Corinthians 9:7). When we fast we are to clean up our faces and have joy (Matthew 6:16–18). When fast and pray, we are not to be seen by men, but to be humble and have a contrite heart (Matthew 6:16–18; Psalm 51:17; Isaiah 57:15). If you are doing these things under compulsion from your church or minister to fulfill rules and regulations like the LDS…then you are not doing it with joy unto God and He will not bless.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 2004. True To The Faith: A Gospel Reference. July 2004 ed. Salt Lake City, UT: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Whitney, Donald S. 1991. Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life. first ed. Colorado Springs, Colorado: NavPress.