Other religions and the worship of demons
Posted by Ro Mody, 5 Jun 2018
In the light of recent events in Newcastle Cathedral, Ro Mody examines 1 Corinthians 8-10 to see how Christians should view sharing meals with other faith communities.
When I was a curate in Wolverhampton, the clergy chapter were invited to an event in the city centre. There we were led through the scriptures and prayers of non-Christian religions. My vicar and I refused to participate. When we asked the event organizers for their rationale for the event, they said that it was not meant to question the doctrine of the Church of England, but merely foster good understanding.
But what does the Bible say? The key chapters that tackle this issue are 1 Corinthians 8-10. In these chapters, Paul tackles the issue of whether Christians should participate in the worship of other religions. The Corinthian church used to participate in the eating of food offered to idols, probably on the grounds of friendship and to maintain social links (see 1 Corinthians 8:1,4, 7; 10:14, 18, 28; also, Revelation 2: 14, 20.) Paul’s purpose is to prevent participation with non-Christians in eating food offered to idols.
Paul concedes that food is not the real problem (1 Corinthians 10: 25, see Mark 7:19.) Food as food is just food. But the problem is not with food per se but with its relationship to other religions. He reminds the church of the Old Testament view in 1 Corinthians 8:4 “an idol has no real existence.” In 10:1-13 he points out that in the OT, Israel, the People of God, was judged by God for its participation in idolatry. Paul also asserts that we must love the true God in Christ exclusively (1 Corinthians 8:6.) In 1 Corinthians 9 he defends his own example of putting the unique gospel of salvation for all above all social considerations and rights.
But, in 1 Corinthians 10:20-22, that Paul explodes his ‘bomb.’ He says that Christians eating food offered to idols in the company of non-Christians are in danger of coming into the realm of demons:
“I imply that what they sacrifice they offer to demons and to what is not God. I do not want you to be participants with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons. Shall we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than he?”
Paul is saying that behind the empty idols of other faiths is the realm of evil: the demons who co-opt the worship meant for the idols: “what they sacrifice they offer to demons and to what is not God.” Paul urges the Christians not to eat or drink food and wine offered to idols because that eating and drinking, unintentionally bring you under the power of demons: “I do not want you to be participants with demons.”
Even more terrifying, Christian participation with those of other religions in sharing sacred meals provokes Jesus Christ, the Lord of the church, to jealous wrath against the church, because his right to pure and exclusive worship has been violated: “Shall we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than he?”
What does this mean for us? Of course, not all other religions hold sacred meals and those religions which do hold sacred meals have different approaches to them, nevertheless the Bible holds that all other religions are false. Indeed, we could say that for the sake of hospitality and good relationships with other faiths, we can invite them into our churches and cathedrals to celebrate their own faiths, so long as we do not actively join in their worship. But we must be clear that in other religions, matters like food are not merely ‘social.’ It constitutes communion, fellowship, and identity. Members of other faiths usually see food as more than merely social. Generally, in other religions, there is no real separation between the sacred and the secular.
Paul’s and the Bible’s teaching is clear: The people of God serve a unique and exclusive God, therefore it is prohibited to violate the covenant by any communal participation with another faith community, whether there is a social or any other purpose to it.
Rev. Dr. Ro Mody is a lecturer in New Testament at the Evangelical Theological College of Asia, Singapore and the author of Empty and Evil: The Worship of Other Faiths in 1 Corinthians 8-10 and Today (London: Latimer Trust, 2010.)
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