Today, our church begins 21 Days of Prayer and Fasting. I'm very excited about it and so are many in our church. Last night I received an email from a great brother in our church asking why we're doing a public, corporate fast as opposed to fasting quietly and personally - especially in light of Jesus' teaching on fasting in Matthew 6:16-18. That is an excellent question and one that, I would guess, some others would have too. Here's what I wrote back to him, in part.
The reason I find value in a corporate fast is how it tends to draw a group of people together who share in a common experience. It also helps some people who would not feel "spiritual" enough to fast on their own to give the discipline a try. There is also strength and unity in numbers as we all share the same experience through praying and fasting together.
The scripture you mentioned (Matthew 6:16-18) is a really important one. It's one, I believe, that addresses where our hearts and intentions lie, when we fast. Jesus was urging his disciples to not operate like some people of their day who drew attention to themselves during fasting so that people would view them as spiritual giants. The did all the things Jesus mentioned in the scripture so people would believe that they were sacrificing so very much for their deep love for God. Well, Jesus called them hypocrites because the only reason they were fasting was to draw that attention to themselves.
I believe that scripture instructs us to not follow that pattern of drawing that type of attention to ourselves for those reasons. I don't see, however, that it discourages corporate fasting. Corporate fasting is found throughout the bible. Some scriptures where it can be found are 1 Samuel 7:5-6, 2 Chronicles 20:3, Ezra 8:21, Neh 9:1, Joel 2:15 and Jonah 3:5. There are also many examples in the Bible of individual fasts, which I believe are important too. This one just happens to be corporate.