In Japan, one of the things that many Christians struggle with is how to deal with Buddhist funerals and memorial services.
There is some disagreement in how to handle it. Some people avoid the funerals and memorial services entirely. Others attend but will not offer incense or follow the other outward rituals of prayer.
I can see both sides, and for the most part, I think I think attendance is a matter of conscience. But I do think we need to be very careful about how far we go. Whereas a person may go from one drink of wine and slip into becoming drunk or even becoming alcoholic, I think it can become easy to slide into compromise when attending these services. Some might start to think, “Well, I may be offering incense, or follow the outward rituals of prayer at the Buddhist altar, but I don’t really mean it. And after all, they are just things, not really gods.”
The Corinthians had a similar issue. Paul had told the Corinthians it was perfectly okay to eat meat offered to idols. But some had perhaps taken it a step further. Not only were they buying meat from the market or eating meat at friends’ houses, they were also actually participating in the feasts celebrating these idols.
Perhaps they were thinking, “Well, I’m not really worshiping the idols. I’m just having fun with my friends and family.”
Some may have even used the excuse, “I’m just showing love to my family and friends by celebrating with them. And besides, these idols are nothing anyway. They’re not really gods.”
But Paul says,
My dear friends, flee from idolatry. (14)
He then points out two things. He points to communion first, and says, “When you are joining in these communion feasts, aren’t you participating in the blood and body of Christ?” (16)
In other words, “By taking the bread and the wine, are you not showing the communion that you have with Christ? That you now have a relationship with him through his sacrifice on the cross?”
He then points to the sacrifices the Israelites gave in the Old Testament. One of the offerings they gave was the “peace offering.” They would actually take part of the burnt sacrifice home and the family would eat it together, as a sign of the peace and communion they now had with God.
So, Paul says, when you take part in these feasts, are you not doing the same? Are you not showing that you are having communion with these idols?
What was the real problem with these idols? They were just metal or wood after all. Paul tells us, saying,
Do I mean then that a sacrifice offered to an idol is anything, or that an idol is anything? No, but the sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons, not to God, and I do not want you to be participants with demons. (19-20)
In other words, when they participated in these feasts, they were really having communion with demons. And when people offer incense and pray at Buddhist altars, they really do so to demons. Can we do that?
Paul’s answer is an emphatic no.
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. Are we trying to arouse the Lord’s jealousy? Are we stronger than he? (21-22)
I think we would do well to remember to be careful whenever we deal with spiritual things, to think about what we are really dealing with. God? Or something else? Not only with idols, but with things like astrology, Ouija boards, or tarot cards. Some Christians think they are just games. But in reality, they are participating with demons.
Let us not do that. Rather, as Paul would say in another letter,
Let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God. (II Corinthians 7:1)