This is another post on the subject of clean/unclean meats in the New Covenant. The more I read the Bible for myself, without the 'guidance' (read 'control') of Armstrong's ministers, the more I see that HWA was very much wrong. I would like to look at select verses from I Corinthians 8 & 10 because these chapters always appear in COG booklets. How do they compare to what I had always thought while I was attending a COG?
Paul lays out his teachings a little more plainly in the eighth chapter of First Corinthians than he did in Romans 14.
(I COR. 8: 4-6) 4 Therefore concerning the eating of things offered to idols, we know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is no other God but one. 5 For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as there are many gods and many lords), 6 yet for us there is one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we for Him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and through whom we live.
Paul makes it clear that the food is nothing. The point isn’t to focus on eating foods offered to idols, because eating the food is nothing at all, because the idol is nothing at all. It is all about the unintended consequences. Paul talks about conscience and how we either affect our mind and the minds of our neighbors negatively or positively. We who are used to Christianity and have faith in Christ know there is no God but the Father and no Lord but Jesus Christ alone. Paul reminds us that not all (including those who are new in the faith) fully understand this.
Is there really such a thing as idolatry? Yes. Is it a victimless crime? No. Paul takes it seriously. Idolatry is a lie, and as such t is against God. God takes it seriously. Weighing heavy on God's mind is the ability of His children to have a close and meaningful relationship with Him. Are there false gods - literally? No. The only God if the Father and the only Lord is Jesus - if you want to look at it like that. So the idol is just material and the offering is just food. Then what's the big deal? The deal is that when the conscience is injured we can separate ourselves from God out of guilt. We can injure our own conscience in doing what we know we shouldn't - but what we do not intend is when we do what we know we can... and it injures someone else's conscience. Paul wants us to be acutely aware of this!
(I COR. 8: 7) However, there is not in everyone that knowledge; for some, with consciousness of the idol, until now eat it as a thing offered to an idol; and their conscience, being weak, is defiled.
This is such a confusing sentence; please let me explain it as it was explained to me:
The new Gentile converts, because they were idolatrous for so long, still regarded the idol as something real. They were not yet experienced enough in the faith to disregard their lifelong customs. The foods which they once ate during their time in idolatry, they ate without hesitation and without knowledge that idolatry was sinful to the one true God; polytheism is what they had always done. But now, knowledge has come in that the idol is contrary to God but that knowledge is not yet mature. Guilt is associated with the entire process - the idol, the food, and all. It shouldn't be, but at this natural and completely understandable phase it is.
(I COR. 8: 8) But food does not commend us to God; for neither if we eat are we the better, nor if we do not eat are we the worse.
Armstrong most certainly taught we are the worse if we eat, contrary to Paul’s clear instructions not just here but in many other places. And not just about the clean/unclean meats issues either (many will recall the white bread, peeled potatoes, etc teachings). This statement from Paul is important in that it can certainly assist in showing the Old Covenant meats laws are not binding on the New Covenant Christian. Armstrong's version of dietary law is cherry-picked and does not completely match the Bible's version anyhow.
How many times and in how many different ways must this truth that God does not judge what goes into our mouths be illustrated in the Bible before it becomes 'true' to the reader? For some, there simply aren’t enough times. Armstrong trumps all.
(I COR. 8: 9-13) 9 But beware lest somehow this liberty of yours become a stumbling block to those who are weak. 10 For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, will not the conscience of him who is weak be emboldened to eat those things offered to idols? 11 And because of your knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died? 12 But when you thus sin against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. 13 Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never again eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.
There is liberty in the New Covenant. Even in doing what is perfectly acceptable a Christian should be mindful of others. This goes along well with Matthew 5: 19.
So far we have been discussing how certain verses in the Bible deal with Gentile conversion and idol worship. This is one place where I think my study is different than others. I do not conclude that because people misuse and misunderstand the previous verses (and Armstrong was right - people have), it means the dietary laws are still valid. On the contrary, since we have not proved the law of clean and unclean meats was carried over into the New Covenant - we have clearly shown the Gentiles were taught no such thing - we add weight upon weight that Armstrong was in error in this area, being zealous for the Old Covenant as the Jewish converts who troubled Paul. The Word of God, the main party to the Old Covenant, died, thus relieving any burden to keep the Old Covenant. The burden of proof is now on the COGs to show the burden was reinstated, and they do not come through in that in any way. Not that there is any real problem with observing dietary restrictions. However, the problem comes in when judgment and condemnation come in, or when legalism is depended on for a qualities (such as God's righteousness) that it can never bring.
We now shift focus to I Corinthians 10. Our first question in the tenth chapter of First Corinthians should be, “what is the context of the verses we’re about to read?” Verse 14 sums it up.
(I COR. 10: 14) Therefore, my dear friends, flee from idolatry.
The context of this entire chapter is idolatry again - I should say 'still'.
(I COR. 10: 18-21) 18 Consider the people of Israel: Do not those who eat the sacrifices participate in the altar? 19 Do I mean then that a sacrifice offered to an idol is anything, or that an idol is anything? 20 No, but the sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons, not to God, and I do not want you to be participants with demons. 21 You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons too; you cannot have a part in both the Lord's table and the table of demons.
This was this kind of honest talk that frightened some of the new converts. Paul knew that sacrifices hold no special power or significance. But we must avoid idolatry (I COR. 10: 14). These rituals were not in God’s honor, but demons. We cannot be the resurrected body and blood of Christ, as the Passover meal pictures the broken body of Christ, AND yet take part with demons. However, Paul now works to reassure. Paul was telling the Christians not to worry about meat they were unsure of – but definitely avoid eating as a part of an idolatrous act.
(I COR. 10: 25-26) 25 Eat anything sold in the meat market without raising questions of conscience, 26 for, "The earth is the Lord's, and everything in it.”
Paul is not directly dealing with the clean and unclean meats laws here. However, I will remind you that the majority of what was sacrificed to pagan idols was not “clean” by Jewish standards. That Paul isn’t talking about meats here is probably the biggest argument against them; in other words, he didn’t mention unclean meats because it isn’t a New Covenant issue in the first place. Indeed, this is about idolatry, and not about clean or unclean.
The COGs would exclaim, “We cannot read clean and unclean meats into this verse!” Paul is dealing with meat sacrificed to idols. But just in case someone ever stopped to think that most meats sold in Gentile markets were unclean – offered to idols or not - the COGs would usually add “Eat everything sold in the market… except unclean meats.” Thus, they wrote their own Bible, adding to as it fit them, and taking away where they pleased. I very much respect Fred Coulter, but in his version of the Bible (he authored his own version) those words are clearly added in. Italicized or not, I feel it is incredibly inappropriate to add in your own personal beliefs into the text of the Bible (DEU. 4: 2; REV. 22: 18-19).
Even so, Paul taught that we should not judge each other. If someone believes they should avoid something, be accommodating and let them believe this way, praying they mature in the faith. Do not cause them to do what they honestly believe to be wrong, or to worry about it unnecessarily, or flaunt your freedom in their face. Even though meats laws were not carried forward into the New Covenant, it may not always be expedient or edifying to eat. Think of others. (I COR. 10: 23-24)
Paul also refers to what we often find ourselves doing, having dinner.
(I COR. 10: 27-30) 27 If some unbeliever invites you to a meal and you want to go, eat whatever is put before you without raising questions of conscience. 28 But if anyone says to you, "This has been offered in sacrifice," then do not eat it, both for the sake of the man who told you and for conscience' sake -- 29 the other man's conscience, I mean, not yours. For why should my freedom be judged by another's conscience? 30 If I take part in the meal with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of something I thank God for?
First off, Paul says plainly "eat whatever is put before you". This directly contradicted Herbert Armstrong's theology, and accepted practices in the COGs. This leads to yet another important principal expounded here – the well being of the unbeliever! (Who is a child of God and a potential believer.) Do not unnecessarily cause them to worry about offending you. This is a rule the COGs regularly overlook – asking many questions for conscience’ sake, and making it immediately and openly known to all that they will not eat what is set before them if it is “unclean”. This makes many people feel uncomfortable and hurt and their effort unappreciated, and makes Armstrongites look like callous and inconsiderate zealots. We gave God a bad name in their eyes. We should have just eaten what was set before us with thanks given to God as the Bible says to, and done what we were shown by asking no question for conscience’ sake.
I do not agree with people who say the host in verse 28 is informing the guest that the meat was in the past offered in sacrifice. That doesn't mesh, in my mind, with Paul's flow of logic. However, I agree with Jamieson Fausset and Brown's Commentary, and Vincent's Word Study, who say it is not the host who is commenting on the meat but a fellow Christian guest who is young in the faith. It makes a good amount of sense. I can perhaps agree with Matthew Henry's Commentary that the host is at the time performing a non-Christian rite or service. But I would think that this would be a gathering I would excuse myself politely from. The blunt reality is that participating in the body of Christ which God has called us to is something that is more important than making everyone feel good. (I COR. 10: 14) "Flee idolatry."
I like to visualize it like this: when you both go before the Judgment of God, how will you explain to God and that person why you allowed that one to cause you to sin? You have then sinned against him as well.
We have still not seen anything that shows meats laws were carried forward into the New Covenant. We have seen evidence to the contrary, however. I would summarize I Corinthians 8 and 10 like this: be mindful of giving offense, and do not be easily offended (I COR. 10: 32). This is love. And to love is the command we have from Christ.