Friday, January 22, 2016

Prayer Breakfast in Hell?

From the December 2012 E-Block.
1 Cor. 10:14-21 Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry. I speak as to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. Consider the people of Israel: are not those who eat the sacrifices participants in the altar? What do I imply then? That food offered to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be participants with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons.

Recently, on YouTube, an extremist fundamentalist sort appealed to this passage as a condemnation of those who participate in so-called "prayer breakfasts" in which members of different religious traditions (whether Christian, Jew, Muslim, or what have you) join in communal prayer. Is this a valid condemnation?

I'll start with a caveat: As an introvert, I don't see much personal benefit to such meetings to begin with. I'm also not familiar with the exact goings-on at each and every manifestation of these meetings. So, what I have to say will be in terms of a "what if" quality -- in other words, in what way would such a meeting violate the sense of 1 Cor 10?

The answer is a fairly simple one. As numerous commentators have observed, this passage specifically alludes to a certain types of religious practice in the NT world. Meals were an occasion for fellowship at all times, even when people of different religious traditions met. They may have had common cause on other accounts, such as having a fireman's club. Would that violate 1 Cor 10? No, because Paul here specifies the Lord's Supper, a specifically religious ritual, as a comparison.

What may escape us here is that the pagans had their own "version" of the Lord's Supper since table fellowship was a standard for life, and it was also a standard for religious practice. Commentators note that invitations to certain functions sometimes invited the participant to "dine at the table of ____" (fill in the blank with a deity). Such meetings could occur at a home, in a temple, or anywhere.

In such circumstances, the deity might be said to be the "host" of the function. It would then be clear why Paul would issue his warning as he does. The Christian truly ate at the table of what might be a demon.

So, how does this apply to a modern "prayer breakfast" function? I can't see that it would, in terms of the food, since no one (that I know of!) thinks that the tables and the food themselves belong to the other deities. What about the prayers? I can only see a problem emerging related to 1 Cor 10 if it is somehow presented that the prayers are all to one deity in reality , that, for example, the Muslim Allah and the Christian Jesus are in some way identical. In contrast, if the prayers are understood to be rigidly defined as being two different entities, and there is no mixing of them, then while that seems rather odd, religiously, it is not relevant to 1 Cor 10.

Prayer breakfasts of this sort, I gather, are more of an effort at social unity than a religious function. NT people would find this rather odd, but I can't see Paul condemning it under the principles of 1 Cor 10. He may have had other objections to it -- but those would be the subject of another study.

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