In our multicultural societies with multiplicity of religions, Christians are confronted daily with other religions and their practitioners. Scripture teaches us to love and tolerate people of other faiths. However, Christianity’s belief in religious exclusivism means that other religious faiths must be wrong in their beliefs for Christianity to be right. The Bible teaches that the Judeo-Christian faith is the only true faith, and that all other religious faiths are false and idolatrous. How are Christians to love people of other faiths while distancing themselves from their erroneous beliefs? How are we to relate to people with contrary religious beliefs when they celebrate their religious festivals? We shall examine Scripture to find out how we ought to comport ourselves in ways that show love and tolerance for our neighbours, without compromising our faith in Christ.
The first two commandments are uncompromising in their declaration of Jehovah as the only God deserving of worship. According to the Judeo-Christian tradition, any god other than Jehovah is false, as is any mediator between Jehovah and mankind other than the Lord Jesus Christ! The worship of any god beside Jehovah is therefore idolatrous, while salvation can only be found in Jesus Christ. These are the self-evident truths of Christianity.
Exodus 20:1 And God spoke all these words, saying:
Exodus 20:2 I am Jehovah your God, who has brought you out from the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage.
Exodus 20:3 You shall not have any other gods beside Me.
Exodus 20:4 You shall not make a graven image for yourself, or any likeness in the heavens above, or in the earth beneath, or in the waters under the earth;
Exodus 20:5 you shall not bow to them, and you shall not serve them; for I am Jehovah your God, a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of fathers on sons, on the third and on the fourth generation, to those that hate Me;
Exodus 20:6 and doing kindness to thousands, to those loving Me, and to those keeping My commandments (LITV).
John 14:6 Jesus said to him, I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me (ESV).
1 Timothy 2:5 For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus,
1 Timothy 2:6 who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time (ESV).
The participation of a Christian in the religious festivals of other faiths is considered by Scripture as identifying with those faiths in their idolatrous practices. To celebrate a heathen religious festival is to participate in the worship of a heathen god. Some Israelites were invited to participate in the religious festival of the Moabites who did not worship Jehovah, and God was angry with them and sent a plague upon them that killed thousands of Israelites in one day!
Numbers 25:1 While Israel lived in Shittim, the people began to whore with the daughters of Moab.
Numbers 25:2 These invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people ate and bowed down to their gods.
Numbers 25:3 So Israel yoked himself to Baal of Peor. And the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel.
Numbers 25:4 And the LORD said to Moses, Take all the chiefs of the people and hang them in the sun before the LORD, that the fierce anger of the LORD may turn away from Israel.
Numbers 25:5 And Moses said to the judges of Israel, Each of you kill those of his men who have yoked themselves to Baal of Peor.
Numbers 25:6 And behold, one of the people of Israel came and brought a Midianite woman to his family, in the sight of Moses and in the sight of the whole congregation of the people of Israel, while they were weeping in the entrance of the tent of meeting.
Numbers 25:7 When Phinehas the son of Eleazar, son of Aaron the priest, saw it, he rose and left the congregation and took a spear in his hand
Numbers 25:8 and went after the man of Israel into the chamber and pierced both of them, the man of Israel and the woman through her belly. Thus the plague on the people of Israel was stopped.
Numbers 25:9 Nevertheless, those who died by the plague were twenty-four thousand (ESV).
That example of Jehovah’s fierce anger with his people, for participating in the religious celebrations of an idolatrous nation, is held out for Christians in the New Testament as an eternal warning: if Jehovah punished Israel severely for taking part in the celebration of an idolatrous festival, he won’t spare us today if we do the same! Let’s take heed and beware! Our God is a jealous God who doesn’t tolerate spiritual adultery (idolatory) from his people!
1 Corinthians 10:1 I want you to know, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea,
1 Corinthians 10:2 and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea,
1 Corinthians 10:3 and all ate the same spiritual food,
1 Corinthians 10:4 and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ.
1 Corinthians 10:5 Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness.
1 Corinthians 10:6 Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did.
1 Corinthians 10:7 Do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.
1 Corinthians 10:8 We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day.
1 Corinthians 10:9 We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents,
1 Corinthians 10:10 nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer.
1 Corinthians 10:11 Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come.
1 Corinthians 10:12 Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall (ESV).
It’s worth remembering that the Moabites and the Israelites were cousins. The Moabites were the descendants of Lot, Abraham’s nephew, while the Israelites were the descendants of Abraham through Isaac. Even though Israel and Moab were blood relations, they worshipped different gods. The Moabites worshipped the idol chemosh, while Israel worshipped Jehovah, the only true God. Even though Israel and Moab were cousins, Israel was forbidden by God from celebrating with Moab in their religious festivals, because Moab was an idolatrous nation! Anyone who doesn’t worship Jehovah through his son Jesus Christ is an idolater, even if they are close family relatives! As God warned Israel to stay away from the religious ceremonies of their idolatrous cousins, so are Christians called upon to keep off the religious celebrations of idolatrous kith and kin.
We may not be invited today by our idolatrous kith and kin to celebrate with them in idol temples. We may not be called to the sacrifices of idol worshippers. But, what happens when we are presented with meals that have been offered as sacrifice to other gods? What should we do when adherents of other religious faiths offer us their sacred religious meals as part of the celebration of their religious festivals, like when Muslims distribute meals to their Christian neighbours during their religious festivals? Let’s look at Scripture to see how we’re supposed to respond to such a scenario.
1 Corinthians 10:14 So, my dear friends, flee from the worship of idols.
1 Corinthians 10:15 You are reasonable people. Decide for yourselves if what I am about to say is true.
1 Corinthians 10:16 When we bless the cup at the Lord’s Table, aren’t we sharing in the benefits of the blood of Christ? And when we break the loaf of bread, aren’t we sharing in the benefits of the body of Christ?
1 Corinthians 10:17 And we all eat from one loaf, showing that we are one body.
1 Corinthians 10:18 And think about the nation of Israel; all who eat the sacrifices are united by that act.
1 Corinthians 10:19 What am I trying to say? Am I saying that the idols to whom the pagans bring sacrifices are real gods and that these sacrifices are of some value?
1 Corinthians 10:20 No, not at all. What I am saying is that these sacrifices are offered to demons, not to God. And I don’t want any of you to be partners with demons.
1 Corinthians 10:21 You cannot drink from the cup of the Lord and from the cup of demons, too. You cannot eat at the Lord’s Table and at the table of demons, too.
1 Corinthians 10:22 What? Do you dare to rouse the Lord’s jealousy as Israel did? Do you think we are stronger than he is?
1 Corinthians 10:23 You say, “I am allowed to do anything”—but not everything is helpful. You say, “I am allowed to do anything”—but not everything is beneficial (NLT).
The spiritual implication of participating in sacred religious meals is profound. Religious meals offered in worship to idols unite the partakers in a spiritual way to their objects of worship. Like those who partake in the Lord’s supper become united with Christ at the Lord’s table, so do idol worshippers become united with the demons behind their idols during their religious feasts! Sacred meals offered during religious festivals are not ordinary meals! They are not things to be treated with levity! The sacred meals of pagans are offered to demons, and participating in those meals imply fellowship with demons!
Now, it’s a different thing if you don’t know a meal was offered as sacrifice to an idol as part of a religious feast. Eating such a meal ignorantly does no harm to a Christian. If a Christian is invited to the house of an unbelieving friend or relative, he/she should eat whatever he/she is offered without asking questions as to whether or not such food was offered as sacrifice to an idol. Giving thanks and praying over the food sanctifies it, even if it was part of a sacred religious meal offered to an idol. However, if we’re told the food was part of a meal to celebrate a non-Christian religious festival, we should not eat it! Eating such a meal with the knowledge that it was sacrificed to an idol means accepting to fellowship with the demons behind those idols. Don’t think it means nothing! God says it means something and we shouldn’t take it lightly!
1 Corinthians 10:24 Don’t think only of your own good. Think of other Christians and what is best for them.
1 Corinthians 10:25 Here’s what you should do. You may eat any meat that is sold in the marketplace. Don’t ask whether or not it was offered to idols, and then your conscience won’t be bothered.
1 Corinthians 10:26 For “the earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.”
1 Corinthians 10:27 If someone who isn’t a Christian asks you home for dinner, go ahead; accept the invitation if you want to. Eat whatever is offered to you and don’t ask any questions about it. Your conscience should not be bothered by this.
1 Corinthians 10:28 But suppose someone warns you that this meat has been offered to an idol. Don’t eat it, out of consideration for the conscience of the one who told you.
1 Corinthians 10:29 It might not be a matter of conscience for you, but it is for the other person. Now, why should my freedom be limited by what someone else thinks?
1 Corinthians 10:30 If I can thank God for the food and enjoy it, why should I be condemned for eating it?
1 Corinthians 10:31 Whatever you eat or drink or whatever you do, you must do all for the glory of God.
1 Corinthians 10:32 Don’t give offense to Jews or Gentiles or the church of God.
1 Corinthians 10:33 That is the plan I follow, too. I try to please everyone in everything I do. I don’t just do what I like or what is best for me, but what is best for them so they may be saved (NLT).
We may have faith enough to believe an idol is nothing, and therefore eat anything we’re offered, even with the knowledge that it was offered in sacrifice to an idol, since the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof. However, what about weaker Christians who believe an idol is something? Such may be emboldened by our actions to eat foods sacrificed to idols and defile their weak conscience thereby. We would have caused a brother or a sister to stumble and wound their weak conscience. That’s not walking in love!
1 Corinthians 8:4 So now, what about it? Should we eat meat that has been sacrificed to idols? Well, we all know that an idol is not really a god and that there is only one God and no other.
1 Corinthians 8:5 According to some people, there are many so-called gods and many lords, both in heaven and on earth.
1 Corinthians 8:6 But we know that there is only one God, the Father, who created everything, and we exist for him. And there is only one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom God made everything and through whom we have been given life.
1 Corinthians 8:7 However, not all Christians realize this. Some are accustomed to thinking of idols as being real, so when they eat food that has been offered to idols, they think of it as the worship of real gods, and their weak consciences are violated.
1 Corinthians 8:8 It’s true that we can’t win God’s approval by what we eat. We don’t miss out on anything if we don’t eat it, and we don’t gain anything if we do.
1 Corinthians 8:9 But you must be careful with this freedom of yours. Do not cause a brother or sister with a weaker conscience to stumble.
1 Corinthians 8:10 You see, this is what can happen: Weak Christians who think it is wrong to eat this food will see you eating in the temple of an idol. You know there’s nothing wrong with it, but they will be encouraged to violate their conscience by eating food that has been dedicated to the idol.
1 Corinthians 8:11 So because of your superior knowledge, a weak Christian, for whom Christ died, will be destroyed.
1 Corinthians 8:12 And you are sinning against Christ when you sin against other Christians by encouraging them to do something they believe is wrong.
1 Corinthians 8:13 If what I eat is going to make another Christian sin, I will never eat meat again as long as I live—for I don’t want to make another Christian stumble (NLT).
In the first church council in the book of Acts, the apostles and elders, led by the Holy Spirit, agreed on the portions of the Mosaic Law that are still relevant for Gentile Christians to observe. Part of what was agreed in that historic council was that Gentile Christians should abstain from foods sacrificed to idols. We are to shun meals that are part of the religious feasts of other religious faiths. Eating foods sacrificed to idols was forbidden in the Old Testament, and it remains forbidden in the New!
The Acts 15:23 This is the letter they took along with them: “This letter is from the apostles and elders, your brothers in Jerusalem. It is written to the Gentile believers in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia. Greetings!
The Acts 15:24 “We understand that some men from here have troubled you and upset you with their teaching, but they had no such instructions from us.
The Acts 15:25 So it seemed good to us, having unanimously agreed on our decision, to send you these official representatives, along with our beloved Barnabas and Paul,
The Acts 15:26 who have risked their lives for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The Acts 15:27 So we are sending Judas and Silas to tell you what we have decided concerning your question.
The Acts 15:28 “For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay no greater burden on you than these requirements:
The Acts 15:29 You must abstain from eating food offered to idols, from consuming blood or eating the meat of strangled animals, and from sexual immorality. If you do this, you will do well. Farewell.” (NLT).
Whenever we celebrate with idol worshippers as they celebrate their idols, we strengthen their faith in idolatory and become complicit in their practice. Even wishing them happy celebration during their idolatrous festivals is encouraging and strengthening them in their faith. As Christians, even though we should love, respect and tolerate people from other religious faiths, Scripture forbids us to celebrate their faiths or encourage them in it. We should not hesitate to tell them they’re spiritually wrong, rather than wish them well in their error! Wishing them happy religious celebrations is wishing them happy idolatory! Anyone who does that is a partaker in their idolatory! That’s what the Bible teaches!
2 John 1:7 Many deceivers have gone out into the world. They do not believe that Jesus Christ came to earth in a real body. Such a person is a deceiver and an antichrist.
2 John 1:8 Watch out, so that you do not lose the prize for which we have been working so hard. Be diligent so that you will receive your full reward.
2 John 1:9 For if you wander beyond the teaching of Christ, you will not have fellowship with God. But if you continue in the teaching of Christ, you will have fellowship with both the Father and the Son.
2 John 1:10 If someone comes to your meeting and does not teach the truth about Christ, don’t invite him into your house or encourage him in any way.
2 John 1:11 Anyone who encourages him becomes a partner in his evil work (NLT).
The word of God is against eating foods sacrificed to idols. The Holy Scripture condemns not only eating food sacrificed to idols, it also condemns those who teach that it is alright to do so. Christian leaders who teach that it’s permissible to eat meals sacrificed to deities of other religions, as part of religious worship, are provoking God’s wrath upon themselves and those they minister to! Such teachers are enticing Christians to sin by encouraging idolatory which is spiritual fornication! By participating in the worship of idols, Christians are being unfaithful to their vow to worship and serve only Jehovah as their God!
Revelation 2:14 Nevertheless, I have a few things against you: There are some among you who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin so that they ate food sacrificed to idols and committed sexual immorality.
Revelation 2:20 Nevertheless, I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophet. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols (NIV).
In conclusion, a Christian participating in or encouraging the religious practices of other religions is committing a sin and violating the word of God. Such a person is guilty of idolatory by association. Such idolatrous practices frowned upon by Scripture include the eating of meals used in the religious feasts of heathens, as well as wishing heathens happy religious celebrations. To avoid God’s wrath, Christians should stay clear of practices and actions that aid and abet idolatory.