Idol Meat

The argument is often made (by weaker brothers) that listening to Christian rock music is the same type of issue as the church of Corinth eating meat that had been sacrificed to idols. They tell the Christian rock fan that since Christian rock music causes them to stumble, that Christian rock fans must abstain - lest they make people stumble. They go on to quote the last verse of I Corinthians 8:

Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause him to fall.

as a way of "settling" the issue once and for all. But is this good Biblical scholarship? Is that what the Word of God really has to say about listening to Christian rock music - or eating meat that had been sacrificed to idols for that matter.

A series of sermons by my pastor illuminated this issue better than I had ever heard it before. In fact - the Lord made absolutely sure I was in church to hear the messages, in spite of having the flu with a temperature of 102! So I believe the Lord wanted me to expand on this issue more than I have previously. I only hope that I can remember each point as well as it was presented to me.

Does the idol meat principle even apply to listening to music?

If we are to be completely honest in examining the issue, we have to ask this question. To me personally, I think it is a real stretch. There are general principles of love for the unbeliever and weaker believer that apply here, but the parallels break down rapidly if you get too technical.

To begin with, if the passage were to apply to music, it would have to be applied to music that is especially dedicated to satan or demons. There is secular music that fits this description - "Sympathy for the Devil" by the Rolling Stones, "Running with the Devil" by Van Halen, etc. I would never recommend that a Christian listen to such songs. But there is a world of difference between music that is written specifically to honor satan, and Christian rock music - which is specifically meant by the artist as an attempt to worship the Lord Jesus Christ and further His kingdom on earth. The Christian rock critics might differ with me on this point, but they then have to prove that every single Christian rock artist is deluded by the devil, and they are unknowingly using music art inspired by the devil himself with rhythms and instruments that conjure up demons. NONSENSE!!! Unless this is true, their entire "idol meat" argument falls apart - because they are faced with the reality that thousands of Christian rock artists are sincerely singing music dedicated to the Lord Jesus Christ - not demons.

Nevertheless, if you assume that there is a parallel between the idol meat and Christian rock music, lets examine the scripture to see if Paul's admonition is binding on Christian rock fans:

The Historical Perspective

Paul had a problem. A controversy had arisen in the church at Corinth. Some Christians believed it was all right to eat idol meat, and others did not. So what, exactly, was this "meat sacrificed to idols" that was causing so much trouble?

Corinth was a large port city. Like all large port cities of that time - or this - it was a focal point for the mixing of people, goods, ideas, news, and religions. Many sects were present - Jews, Christians, and the whole spectrum of the cultural Gods of Greece and Rome - and a lot of evil religions from central Asia. Corinth was one of the places in the ancient world that had something approaching what we would call "freedom of religion". The new Christian church there would hardly have raised an eyebrow - if it hadn't have been for the tendency of Christians to go out and try to win the lost. This eventually caused the church in Corinth - and Paul - some problems. In a society (like ours) that valued pluralism - Christians were a voice for absolutes. The reputation of Christians as judgemental and narrow minded was a major hindrance to the spread of the gospel in Corinth (and in our day and time).

The majority of religions in Corinth had temples where animal sacrifice was practiced. There is some confusion when the word "sacrifice" is used. Most people equate "sacrifice" with "destruction" of the animal sacrificed. This was not the case. There were many religions where almost all of the animal carcass was not used. The priest would only actually burn the heart or other organs - or would take the internal organs or "entrails" and try to foretell the future with them. That left the rest of the animal carcass unharmed. There was a profit motivation in Corinth the same as today. Faced with the choice of simply discarding the carcass or selling it, the pagan temples sold the carcass. Because many religions demanded "perfect" animals - it was choice meat indeed, much better than was usually sold in the meat markets - and considerably fresher! But --- was it wrong for a Christian to do business with these pagan temples? After all, the proceeds of the meat would go to the upkeep of the pagan temple. And what about the meat? The fact that it had been on the alter of the pagan God - shouldn't that bother a Christian? Wouldn't that be like the Christian partaking of a feast in honor of the pagan God? These were real issues that Christians in Corinth debated.

Paul wrote to them with the final word from God on the subject. And his advice is saturated with situational ethics! Since there is no more problem with idol meat, Paul's advice is for these controversial issues - the grey areas where the Word of God is mute because there was no way for Paul to anticipate the development of something - like Christian rock music. These grey areas, therefore, must also be dealt with on a case-by-case basis. What is right one time will be wrong another time. The basis of whether it is right or wrong is the law of agape love, and the need of the unbeliever to be saved.

The scriptural answer, with analysis

1 Corinthians 8:1 Now about food sacrificed to idols: We know that we all possess knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. 2 The man who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to know. 3 But the man who loves God is known by God.

Paul had obviously been asked the question by concerned church leadership, who could not answer it on their own - or perhaps thought that the answer would have more authority coming from Paul. Paul promptly takes the discussion away from logic and "the law". He is about to introduce a situational ethic, based on love and salvation - which will defy the traditional characterization of something as absolutely right or absolutely wrong. Much was at stake here. Had Paul sided with the anti-meat side dogmatically, no doubt many would have left the church. Had he sided with the pro-meat side, no doubt those with the other viewpoint would have left the church. But his concern was deeper than just that. He wanted to establish that there was a higher principle that merely eating meat or not eating meat - an issue of love and salvation. He no doubt remembered incidents of Jesus encountering the Pharisees - incidents he never witnessed, but had studied in detail. And Jesus' answer was always that the greater good was love and the salvation of the lost. Those who used the law to merely extend their own authority were regarded by Jesus with utter contempt - for their authority, their teaching, and their piety. Paul was an excellent student of Jesus who understood the meaning behind these encounters well. There were those in the Corinthian church who had a hidden agenda - of making themselves more self important because they were "better Christians" than others. I wish I could say that this is not the case today. But there is a hidden agenda of those who would attempt to use this passage to condemn Christian rock music. It is an agenda of extending their own authority and influence over others in areas where they have no business having control. Paul spoke to this clearly when he discounted their type of "knowledge": "Knowledge puffs up .... the man who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to..." The next time somebody tells you - the Christian rock fan "The Lord has revealed to me that Christian rock is wrong" - you can quote Paul right back to him. If the Christian rock critics insist on using Paul's words to attempt to prove their point, you can do so as well.

4 So then, about eating food sacrificed to idols: We know that an idol is nothing at all in the world and that there is no God but one. 5 For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many "gods" and many "lords"), 6 yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.

Paul had to state the obvious - that the idols were nothing but lifeless chucks of stone, while our God is alive and living. By inference, since the idols are in no condition to appreciate or even know that something has been offered to them, the offering is meaningless.

7 But not everyone knows this. Some people are still so accustomed to idols that when they eat such food they think of it as having been sacrificed to an idol, and since their conscience is weak, it is defiled.

Here is where Paul introduces the concept of the weaker brother, who does not have the knowledge or experience that a more mature believer might have. It still amazes me to this day how the Christian rock critics try to have it both ways. On the one hand, they play the weaker brother that is offended, and say we must abstain for their sake. Yet on other topics they hold themselves up as AUTHORITY in the church - authority that should be obeyed. If they say that Christian rock is bad, we are supposed to believe "thus sayeth the Lord", and abstain. They simply cannot be both! If they are weaker brothers, they do not need to be in a position of leadership. If they are authority, then they ought to bypass this scriptural passage as being inapplicable to their case.

8 But food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do.

This is another place where the analogy between Christian rock music and idol meat falls apart. Food is necessary to sustain life, but cannot of itself lead us closer to God or further from Him. But - Christian rock music CAN lead us closer to God, if listened to with the right attitude of the heart. The Christian rock critics would argue that Christian rock leads someone astray - but both sides would agree that it is not neutral, and therefore unlike idol meat.

9 Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak. 10 For if anyone with a weak conscience sees you who have this knowledge eating in an idol's temple, won't he be emboldened to eat what has been sacrificed to idols?

Paul presents a limitation to freedom here. If the Christian rock fan believes the music is a blessing that leads them into fellowship with the Lord Jesus Christ, into worship in Spirit and in Truth - and their walk gives testimony of this, they are then free to listen. But they should not impose their musical taste on believers who are opposed to Christian rock music. Many of those who are opposed to Christian rock music came from a secular rock music background, and the entire musical style is repugnant to them. If they hear Christian rock music, which they believe is no different from secular - they are tempted to go back and listen to secular music. It is like giving an alcoholic a glass of wine, or somebody trying to quit smoking a cigarette. It could draw them back into the world.

11 So this weak brother, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge. 12 When you sin against your brothers in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ.

This is a strong warning from Paul NOT to bring somebody back into the world. When we excercise our freedom to listen to the music, we should do so with the wisdom to stop around people who are offended by it. That may mean that a young person may have to leave a church, and find another church where the music is welcomed.

13 Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause him to fall.

This is an example of hyperbole. Hyperbole is a statement not meant to be taken seriously, such as "if your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away" or "cut off your hand if it causes you to sin", or "if anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother - he cannot be my disciple." I do not see any Christian rock critics who only have one eye or one hand - and I doubt any have disowned their parents! Yet they try to apply this scripture literally to Christian rock critics.

Now - I will admit that Paul might have kept this vow, but I would not be a bit surprised if he only abstained from meat in front of the people who would be offended by idol meat. It is one of those questions I will ask him when I see him in heaven. Still, the principle of love for the weaker brother is unmistakable here. Paul's vow only applied to him, but there is a certain imperative to it, that if you really want to be like Paul - a true disciple, then you should abstain from all idol meat as well. Or Christian rock. It is not a command, but strongly suggested. If this was all that Paul had to say on the topic, the Christian rock critics would have a compelling argument. But it is not all that Paul had to say!

1 Corinthians 10: 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. 22 Are we trying to arouse the Lord's jealousy? Are we stronger than he?

Paul begins this passage with re-iterating the point he made before, that idols are nothing. This passage is subtlely different from the passage before. Idol meat is no longer literal meat. Paul is comparing it with the things of the world. At this point, my pastor had a long list of things of the world that infest the homes of Christians - cable channels that have pornographic channels, bookmarked pornographic web pages, and inappropriate books and magazines. The primary concern here is not with the weaker brother, but the home of the Christian. The heart attitude of the believer towards the things of satan must be clear.

Christian rock critics would say "aha!" at this point - thinking that this is an even stronger condemnation of Christian rock music. Unfortunately, they have yet to produce a single scripture that defines which music is Christian, and which is satanic - what the dividing line is on tempo, musical notes, or the use of instruments. Therefore, this passage does not apply to Christian rock music - although it does apply to secular rock music.

23 "Everything is permissible"--but not everything is beneficial. "Everything is permissible"--but not everything is constructive. 24 Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others.

This is yet another concept that limits the freedom of the believer. Is it beneficial? This is a two pronged test - is it beneficial to the believer, and is it beneficial to the unbeliever. The Christian rock fan must examine their heart attitude. If the music is benefitting their walk with the Lord, then it is beneficial. If it leads them back to secular rock music, then it is not beneficial and should not be listened to. The believer who knows it helps their own walk should then make sure it does not negatively affect the walk of others in proximity. If a Christian rock fan has a father and mother who are adamantly opposed - and will suffer a crisis of faith if they see a teenager growing spiritually as a result of listening, the teenager should probably lay off for a few years until they are out of the home. If the teenage Christian rock fan is have their faith "greived" by their parent's position, and absolutely needs the music as part of their spiritual growth, then they should probably go "underground" with it.

The point of this passage is not to be confrontational about the freedom you have in Christ. I would definitely not roll down the car windows with Christian rock booming on the radio near a known opponent of Christian rock. You would not want them booming their opera screeching or barroom crooning style Christian music at you any more than they want to hear your Christian rock. Nothing would be accomplished that way, except to create a division between yourself and your Christian brother. It would not be constructive, according to the verses above.

But - what about a bumper sticker for a Christian rock station on the back of your car? Isn't this a way of telling the weaker brother "I eat idol meat!" If the Lord convicts you of this, then stop. If your church, for instance, teaches against Christian rock music, I would not have the bumper sticker. Frankly, with so many excellent churches out there, it would be a simple matter to go to one that is more closely aligned with your spiritual needs. But the mere act of having the bumper sticker on your car is nothing more than an advertisement for a fine ministry in your area, and an attempt to inform other believers of the existance of this resource for their spiritual walk. If a believer you do not know sees the bumper sticker and thinks the worse of you - whom they do not know, I tend to think it is their problem - not yours! The chances are very good that they would also be offended by the existence of churches of certain denominations in the area where they live. Those churches should not shut down so they won't offend him - any more than you should rip off the bumper sticker so you won't offend him. You ARE seeking the good of others by informing them about the station that enriches your life, just as the churches are seeking the good of others by advertising their existance and the time of their services. The weaker brother who does not like the fact that your station - or a church of another denomination - exists is not seeking the good of others, they are concerned with their OWN good. They cannot deal with the fact that other people have different ways of worship, and feel threatened by them. Their simple minded solution is to silence everybody who does not agree with them. They are self-centered. You are under no obligation to cater to their self-centeredness.

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."

Here is the freedom that you, the Christian rock fan, have to eat the idol meat! As long as the music is a genuine attempt on the part of the artist to worship Jesus Christ, and they are not hypocrites about it - listen!!!

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.

This scripture has no direct application to the field of Christian rock music, because it is very unlikely that an unbeliever would have it playing in their home. If an unbeliever does have Christian rock music playing in their home, this is a direct command to the OPPONENTS of Christian rock - if they an unbeliever's home, and happen to hear Christian rock music playing - they are to REMAIN SILENT about their objections! It is more important that the unbeliever hear the message of salvation in the music, than it is for the Christian rock opponent to voice their objections.

The Christian rock opponents frequently say that we, the Christian rock fans, are not saved - because we are in rebellion against God's will for music in our lives. They have just talked themselves into a corner if they apply this scripture, because if we aren't saved because of our musical taste, then they have to be SILENT when they enter into our homes (or discussion with us, by extrapolation)!

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.

This is an interesting extension of the matter of conscience. If we invite a group of believers over for a Bible study, and play Christian rock music, then the opponents should remain silent. But, if we turn around and say - we are listening to this music regardless of whether you like it or not - then I believe we violate the spirit of these verses. Since it is impossible not to partake of the music, then the opponents would have no choice but to leave. This is another way to create divisions in the body. Up until the time that you, as a host, made it a matter of their conscience, they were under obligation to stay and be gracious. But the moment you made it a matter of their conscience, they were forced to act according to their convictions.

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? 31 So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.

This is Paul's final word on the subject to believers. Enjoy your music without fear of another believer's conscience. The only requirement is to thank God for the music, and enjoy it to the glory of God. If it appeals more to your flesh than your spirit, then quit.

32 Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God-- 33 even as I try to please everybody in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved.

Just as Paul re-stated the freedom, he also re-states the qualification on that freedom. The greater good, that outweighs your decision that Christian rock music is good for your spiritual walk - is the greater good of the many. If you are around opponents of Christian rock music, you are not to make them stumble. That is one reason why I do not engage these people in debates. What is the good of that? Does it win the lost to Christ? NO! The music does - our music wins those to Christ who are like us, their music wins people to Christ who are like them. God does not limit our freedom - or theirs. God's only concern is that as many as possible be saved. That should be our concern as well, when making the decision to listen to Christian rock music.

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