This happened when I was living in China. I was in the mood to cook something at home. I’d tried some local mutton and no amount of cooking could turn what I had purchased into anything easier to eat than my American shoes. Into the trash it went.
Then I headed to a little meat shop around the corner, quite unaware that it was Muslim owned. Little did I know that Muslims are not allowed to sell meat to “infidels” which, according to their religious system, I definitely am. After I saw him in his get up, I was glad to know why I was rejected and I left relieved.
It is against the New Testament rules to eat meat dedicated to a foreign god, in this case Allah. The vast majority of Christians pay no attention to what they buy for meals, believing that the Department of Agriculture has things nailed down in terms of inspection.
However, we have never had to worry about our food being offered as a sacrifice to Allah until now. Alas, the Butterball people have been allowing an Islamic priest to say prayers over our favorite turkeys when they are slaughtered, a clear violation of this passage.
This passage from Corinthians is long but if we as Christians join in with idol worship, we can ruin our public testimony, even though we have no belief that our behavior is wrong. Let Paul explain it. The Message version is very clear.
1 Corinthians 8:3-13
8 1-3 The question keeps coming up regarding meat that has been offered up to an idol: Should you attend meals where such meat is served, or not? We sometimes tend to think we know all we need to know to answer these kinds of questions—but sometimes our humble hearts can help us more than our proud minds. We never really know enough until we recognize that God alone knows it all.
4-6 Some people say, quite rightly, that idols have no actual existence, that there’s nothing to them, that there is no God other than our one God, that no matter how many of these so-called gods are named and worshiped they still don’t add up to anything but a tall story. They say—again, quite rightly—that there is only one God the Father, that everything comes from him, and that he wants us to live for him. Also, they say that there is only one Master—Jesus the Messiah—and that everything is for his sake, including us. Yes. It’s true.
7 In strict logic, then, nothing happened to the meat when it was offered up to an idol. It’s just like any other meat. I know that, and you know that. But knowing isn’t everything. If it becomes everything, some people end up as know-it-alls who treat others as know-nothings. Real knowledge isn’t that insensitive.
We need to be sensitive to the fact that we’re not all at the same level of understanding in this. Some of you have spent your entire lives eating “idol meat,” and are sure that there’s something bad in the meat that then becomes something bad inside of you. An imagination and conscience shaped under those conditions isn’t going to change overnight.
8-9 But fortunately God doesn’t grade us on our diet. We’re neither commended when we clean our plate nor reprimanded when we just can’t stomach it. But God does care when you use your freedom carelessly in a way that leads a fellow believer still vulnerable to those old associations to be thrown off track.
10 For instance, say you flaunt your freedom by going to a banquet thrown in honor of idols, where the main course is meat sacrificed to idols. Isn’t there great danger if someone still struggling over this issue, someone who looks up to you as knowledgeable and mature, sees you go into that banquet? The danger is that he will become terribly confused—maybe even to the point of getting mixed up himself in what his conscience tells him is wrong.
Studying other religions
In addition, there is the issue to studying other religions. We are told not to do it. The same principles apply here too. Someone who is not able to be discretionary about what he puts in his mind may become confused. People with little spiritual foundation can easily get off track with occult information that they are not ready to absorb. You are free to read those books but why would you if there is nothing there but religious junk food?
11-13 Christ gave up his life for that person. Wouldn’t you at least be willing to give up going to dinner for him—because, as you say, it doesn’t really make any difference? But it does make a difference if you hurt your friend terribly, risking his eternal ruin! When you hurt your friend, you hurt Christ. A free meal here and there isn’t worth it at the cost of even one of these “weak ones.” So, never go to these idol-tainted meals if there’s any chance it will trip up one of your brothers or sisters.”
What you are free to do and what you should be doing publicly are two different things. And you can apply this to some concerts and musical events, plays and other creative venues that glorify evil in some measure.
Now back to turkeys. To me personally this is no big deal because I don’t like turkey and I never buy it for myself. But my children do.
But Paul does show how our public behavior can be a stumbling block. Muslims need to know that Christianity does not accept any Muslim doctrine, and since many of them will be moving to the USA our public stance is going to be much more important.
If you think this is nutty, you can read more online about it at How do you like your Butterball turkey?
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