Augsburg Confession, Articles 26-27: Compulsory Fasting and Monastic Vows

TMonastery (610x352)hese articles are too long for a one-hour class, if we were to read through them in their entirety. Because these topics do not loom large in the Church today, we will have an overview of these articles.


AC XXVI: The Distinction of Foods 

Johann Eck, was the main Roman-Catholic theologian who spoke against the Lutheran Reformation at the Diet of Worms, where the Augsburg Confession was presented. He summed up Article 26 well. He said, “[Lutherans] are under no obligation to … fast in Lent and on other days, and to abstain from eating meat on six festival days.”

Eck was correct: The Lutheran Church does not teach that we must fast–all the while, Lutheran belief encourages fasting–if done in the right way!

Article 26 makes three points:

  1. The Church doesn’t have the authority to mandate human-originated traditions, such as abstaining from certain foods during certain times. The concern was not that we wanted to eat bratwurst on Good Friday, but that such practices had distorted and twisted the Gospel.       Roman Catholicism had taught that by following such rules, someone could earn approval from God. In this way, it “obscured the teaching of grace and the righteousness of faith” (AC 26, 4). Remember, the Lutheran Church’s use of adiaphora (something neither commanded nor forbidden) centered on upholding the truth of the Gospel.
  2. The Roman-Catholic understanding about fasting was harmful because it placed so much value on doing something that was far removed from a person’s God-given vocations, such a being a parent, etc. Roman Catholicism exalted fasting as more exalted than one’s normal vocations through which the Christian served his neighbor.
  3. By Rome’s emphasis on these activities, it would lead a person to despair because the rules had become so plentiful that no one could do them all.


Rome’s Response:

What the Lutherans teach on “the distinction of meats and like traditions … must be rejected. For we know from the Apostle [Paul] that all authority is from God, especially churchly authority that God has given for edification. This is why … the [teachings of the ] holy, catholic, and apostolic Church should be received as are useful to the Church, as well for promoting divine worship as for restraining the lust of the flesh.”

Today, within North American Roman Catholicism, fasting and abstaining from certain foods does not loom as large as it did in times past. Vatican II only made a passing reference to fasting in its document, “That Sacred Liturgy.” It highlighted that abstaining from food and fasting should take place on Good Friday and Holy Saturday.


Jesus and Fasting

In Matthew Chapter 6, Jesus taught His disciples on what the Christian life looked like. Specifically, Jesus described the spiritual disciplines that His disciples included into their lives. We know that from Jesus’ use of the words, “When you…”

Matthew 6:2: “When you give to the needy…” Matthew 6:5: “When you pray…” Matthew 6:16: “When you fast…”

  • Does Jesus command giving to the needy, praying, and fasting?


  • What does Jesus mean then by “And when you fast”?


  • Discuss: What purposes do such spiritual disciplines have in the life of a Christian?


Excursus: When You Fast 

Reprinted from The Lutheran Study Bible, pg. 189

The Appearing of Christ 

Before the birth of Jesus, the Pharisees mandated twice-weekly fasting (Lk 18:9-12)…. For the unfaithful, fasting was something done to curry God’s favor–a duty, a work, a law. But for the faithful, fasting continued as an expression of repentance and reverence for the Lord, who created them and promised to redeem them.

After Jesus’ Baptism, He went into the wilderness and fasted for 40 days and 40 nights (Mt 4:2). This recalled the devotion of Moses (Ex 24:18), the great prophet Elijah (1Ki 19:8), and the 40 years of wilderness wandering for Israel. During this fast, Satan repeatedly tempted Jesus, but He used God’s precious Word to defend Himself.


Fasting for You 

During the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus spoke against fasting as a means of salvation. Instead, He commended fasting as a private, voluntary act of humility before God (Mt 6:16-18)…. It is hard [for us] to imagine a daylong fast…. Yet our Lord’s words clearly reveal that fasting should be part of a Christian’s life: He said, “When you fast” (Mt 6:16), not “If you fast” (cf Mt 9:14-15). The early Christians fasted (Ac 13:2-3; 14:23). Why shouldn’t a twenty-first-century Christian do likewise?

As you fast, let the feelings of hunger you experience remind you to pray. Spend the time you would normally spend eating by reading God’s Word and meditating on the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Through His Word, the Lord will bless and nourish you. “Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily; your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer; you shall cry, and He will say, ‘Here I am’” (Is 58:8-9).


How You Might Fast 

Consider fasting for a meal or two before partaking of the Lord’s Supper. Spend your extra time studying God’s Word and singing Communion hymns.

Fasting during Lent can be a wonderful way to remember the perfect obedience of Christ and His sacrifice for your salvation. Money not spent on food may be donated for the poor.

You might follow this routine for a daylong fast:

(1) rise before dawn and eat breakfast;

(2) examine yourself as you would prior to partaking of the Lord’s Supper;

(3) offer your life to God in penitent prayer;

(4) go about your day, breaking your fast at evening….


If abstaining from food is not possible, consider abstaining from something else. For example, turn off your television and spend time in prayer and study of God’s Word.



AC XXVII: Monastic Vows

The Lutheran concern with monastic vows was two-fold:

  1. Article 27 brings out that choosing to be a monk or nun is a voluntary vocation for a Christian.       Yet, many children were put in monasteries for various reasons, vowed to become a monk or nun before they had reached a “legal age,” and could not leave.
  2. Monasteries were seen as a way to earn God’s favor. Some had even claimed that being in a monastery was equal to Baptism! (AC 27, 11)

Although having a monastery is not wrong in itself, we contend that even a monastic vow cannot nullify God’s Command in 1 Corinthians 7:2: “because of sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife, and each woman should have her own husband” (AC 27, 18).


Rome’s Response:

Monastic vows have their foundation in the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments…. In the Old Testament, God approved the vows of the Nazarenes (Numbers 6:2-8), and others vowed not to drink wine or eat grapes (Jeremiah 36:6, 19)…. St. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 7:28, “If you do get married, you have not sinned, and if a virgin marries, she has not sinned. But such people will have trouble in this life, and I am trying to spare you.”


The Roman Catholics were right that “God approved the vows of the Nazarenes.” Numbers 6:2 reads, “Speak to the Israelites and tell them: When a man or woman makes a special vow, a Nazirite vow, to consecrate himself to the Lord…”

What Rome did not consider were the following Bible passages:

  • Ecclesiastes 5:4-5: When you make a vow to God, do not fail to keep it, for he does not delight in fools. Fulfill what you vow. Better that you do not vow than vow and not keep it.
  • Proverbs 20:25: It is a snare to say rashly, “This is sacred,” and only afterward to consider what he has vowed.


Apart from the works-righteousness aspect of monastic Roman Catholicism (which was the largest concern we had), Lutheranism was also concerned about knowingly making vows that someone was not sure he could keep. For Lutherans, it is better not to make a vow–if you know it is impossible for you to keep. Such a deliberate vow-making is sin.

Rome was stressing that making vows is Scriptural and they were within the “rights” to have people make vows in the Church, as both Scripture and Church history have shown.

  • How serious is making a pledge or vow to God?


  • Discuss: The Lutheran Church rites say, “I do with the help of God” or “I do so intend with the help of God.”


  • Discuss: May monasteries have value in the Church if vows were made voluntarily and were not ways to earn God favor but, instead, a way to serve others?



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