Eating Food Offered To Idols & Bowing Before Them

by Pastor Mencarow

I recently received e-mail from a man in Malaysia asking some very interesting questions about worship.  Here are the e-mails for your perusal.

Rodrigo Vasquez, our brother in Guatemala who worshipped with Reformation Church for six months in 2010, wrote an exhaustive,  thoughtful response that is quite edifying.

Dear Pastor Mencarow,

I happened to be listening to your sermon on the church in Pergamos (“The Lord Rejects Religious Toleration” ) and you spoke on eating food offered to idols.  I understand exactly what you are saying, because I hear that from my own pastors here in Malaysia too, and my elders.  I do not deny the commandments of the Jerusalem Elders, nor do I deny the commandments in Revelation.

However, my pastors and elders are not able or willing to answer some of my questions.  I hope to get your views on this matter.

1) In Malaysia, being a muslim controlled country, every chicken, goat and cattle slaughtered must be prayed over to the muslim god before it is put into the supermarkets and wet markets to be sold.  Every piece of Kentucky Fried Chicken, McDonald burger meat has therefore been offered to the muslim god.  We live here as we were in the days of Corinthians.  How can we avoid eating meat offered to idols?  When we eat out, we often eat in muslim restaurants, too.  This religiosity would be the equivalent of the Halal and Kosher commandments of Islam and Judaism.  They cannot eat what is not Halal, and we cannot eat what is.

2) 1Cor8, clearly states that we are allowed to eat meats offered to idols for idols are nothing.  Did Paul contradict Jesus?

Your explanation would be appreciated.

My Stand: I think Paul would never contradict Jesus.  Yet Paul so clearly wrote what he wrote in 1 Cor 8.  Is the bible self contradictory?  I think not.

See this.  When I eat such meats, I had not participated in their worship.  When I eat these meats, I have no reverence for their gods nor do I even think that that prayed over food is anything more than food, created by my God in the first place.  When I eat these meats, I have prayed and thanked my God, and everything is sanctified by a word of prayer.  Therefore, I think it is too simplistic for you to teach in the way you do, for in your country you fail to remember the practicality of God’s truth as it applied to the Corinthians.  I believe my pastors and elders, being trained in Western based biblical seminaries have learned without discernment.

Therefore, the eating of meats offered to idols is only a sin because of involvement with the worship, fornication or with the believe that such food carry special blessings ( thereby giving reverence to idols ).

3) Incidentally, I also heard you speak on bowing before idols and images.  Again, I agree with you that bowing before images is prohibited by God, but provided that the bowing is to show reverence and worship for the idol.  Let me share with you our “Corinthianian” environment.

3a) A new believer is commanded by his parents to bow before dead ancestors, or idols for that matter. The consequence is to be cast out of the family. What should the new believer do?  My elders and pastors will point to the example of Daniel’s 3 friends.  But they will retreat from my question on #(4) below.

3b) the new believer therefore honors his father and mother, and bows because he honors the living parents commandment.  He bows not because he has anymore reverence to the idols, nor believe that his dead ancestors are able to receive acknowledge his bows.  Has he committed any transgression against the Lord?

I think not.

4) A much neglected and overlooked verse.  Let me point out 2Kings 5, on Naaman the Leper. At the end of the chapter, Naaman asked the prophet if he can be forgiven if he is to bow before Rimmon when he is going to the temple with his king.  The prophet said “Go in peace”.   Does this not illustrate the abundant grace of God in such matters?  It is the position of the heart that matters, not the action.  Naaman obviously wasn’t going to bow in reverence anymore to Rimmon, but he expected to be forced by circumstances to bow.  Does this not illustrate that the #3b above is not a transgression?

5) If a man wants to stand up for God, and say “I will not eat food offered to idols …..” or “I will not bow to idols .. because I want to honor God”.  So be it. For he who does not, does not to honor God.  And if this man is prepared to face death or persecution for his stand, may the Lord’s grace be upon him.  Surely God will save him for His gloryv( see Daniel’s friends ) , but God may also not save him for His glory ( see the many converts out of Islam who were killed by their own family ) .

6) But if a man says, “I will eat this food offered to idol because the idol is nothing, and my God is great” he does so does to honor God.

7) If a man bows to idols in obedience to his parents, and he honors his parents as is commanded by God.  This is not the same as denying God. To deny God is to honor the idols, while honoring God or forsaking God.

What you may not realize is that, as a Caucasian preacher many Asians hold you in awe, including our very well educated elders and pastors, and bible teachers, more so the ordinary believer.  In the internet age, you must also realize that your teachings are going beyond your own national borders.   In the same vein, false and careless western teachers as Joel Osteen, TD Jakes, Joyce Meyers and the likes are also greatly influencing our elders and teachers on the wrong path.

You are going cross culture.  You could do a lot more to help set our Christians free to worship in spirit and in truth.  I do not purport to challenge your teaching as I have not a single day’s seminary teaching.  My leaders do not listen to me for the cause that I have no formal bible training.  But it does not matter.  The truth must be rightly divided, and when it is rightly divided, the truth sets us free.

Your response is greatly appreciated.

(name withheld)

Dear Sir,

Thank you for your letter.  I can respond to some of it now, and, the Lord willing, some later.

You make an excellent point that preachers on the Internet must remember that their listeners come from many countries and cultures.

I believe the Jerusalem Council was respecting the “weaker brother” regarding eating meats offered to idols.  If it offended a brother, one was not to do it in front of them.  Paul explained that in I Cor 8:

7 Howbeit there is not in every man that knowledge: for some with conscience of the idol unto this hour eat it as a thing offered unto an idol; and their conscience being weak is defiled . 8 But meat commendeth us not to God: for neither, if we eat , are we the better ; neither, if we eat not, are we the worse . 9 But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumblingblock to them that are weak . 10 For if any man see thee which hast knowledge sit at meat in the idol’s temple, shall not the conscience of him which is weak be emboldened to eat those things which are offered to idols; 11 And through thy knowledge shall the weak brother perish , for whom Christ died ? 12 But when ye sin so against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, ye sin against Christ. 13 Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend , I will eat no flesh while the world standeth , lest I make my brother to offend .

Therefore, I agree with your analysis.  There is no contradiction.  Eating a piece of meat that was offered to an idol is meaningless.  It is not the meat that is defiled by doing so, it is the one who worships an idol.

Blessings in Christ,
W. J. Mencarow
Pastor, Reformation Church

Dear Pastor Mencarow  ,

Thank you for your reply.  It is comforting to know that at least one teacher openly agrees with my thoughts about eating food offered to idols. And you did it in writing.  Thank you again, and praise the Lord for it.

I do look forward to your advice on the other point I raised.  I am not really looking for someone to agree with me for the sake of being right, but I am questioning the way things in one bible passage are taught and shoved down our throats here in Malaysia, when the explanations are not explainable against bible verses found in other passages.  If the explanations are not properly explained, it makes Christian living so uncertain, so confusing, and so burdensome and impractical.  But if the teachings can be explained properly ( like the “ye are gods” ) the confusion goes away.

I have so many things that need confirmation, or a proper rebuttal.

Thank you in the Love of Christ Jesus.


Dear Sir,

I have been thinking about your question about bowing.  It is more complex than it may first appear, and I need more information about the situation you described.  To understand what meaning is attached to the bowing, I need to know in what religious context it is done (Taoist, Buddhist, etc.)  Without that information, it’s difficult to guess precisely what meaning is attached to bowing, and hence the reply might miss the point or carry little weight.   Also, what does you mean by “bowing before dead ancestors”?  Bowing before their ashes / bones / pictures / statues / graves / printed names?  What kind of bow is it?  Is it religious?  Does it denote allegiance, fond memories, prayer, obedience, acknowledgement of protection, self-sacrifice, devotion, offering-up of oneself?

In Him,
W. J. Mencarow
Pastor, Reformation Church

Dear Pastor
I am glad to furnish more info.

1) In all religions, bowing before an idol represent one form of showing worship of that idol. Bowing stretches from a low nod of the head to bending over at the waisting to a full prostration.  Other gestures could be saying words of praise, clasping both hand and waving in forward roll, offering of food on the altar, burning of joss stick etc.

2) As for ancestor worship, there are numerous forms of gestures, some of which are as above ( True Buddhism however does none of the above, being atheistic. Even the worship of Buddha with praises and burning of incense is not Buddhist in nature.  However, there is hardly any true buddhist practitioner these days anywhere in the world.)

3) Ancestor worship is commonly practiced in 4 ways among the Chinese community:    a) daily offering of incense ( or joss stick ) as a sign of worship, or respect to an ancestral plaque    b) once a year offering of food and worship at the grave ( equivalent to all soul day festival)    c) Offering of food during the annual hungry ghost festival by roadsides    d) Pouring of tea or wine at the altar before the plaque, and giving thanks on special occasions such as a wedding, or or auspicious occassion.

4) The new believer was asked to bow before the plaque on one of the auspicious occasions.

To an ancestor worship practitioner, such activities are of course religious and spiritual in nature, while it is also cultural.

Now, my stand is this:

5) If a person is compelled to bow ( as with Naaman the Leper ), and while he bows, his heart is not in a state of worship to that idol ( or dead ancestor ), then it does not constitute worship.  The person is bowing in obedience to a command from a person of superior status.  He obeyed the person, but he did not revere the idol or the dead. This is permissible.

6) But if the Christian who bowed before an idol ( in whichever position of bowing ) and he has fear ( of curse, or punishment or whatever) in his heart for that idol, or harbours a hope of blessing from that idol or ancestor, then the Christian has shown reverence for that idol, and it is not permissible. And in this case, it does not matter what kind of bow he performs.  Where worship is concerned, many Asians talk to spirits, and ancestors, and pictures of ancestor, to the tomb and the dead in the tomb ( in fact many Caucasian do this at the tomb too ) without bowing at all. This is still worship.  It is not permissible.

7) If a Christian bows before the bones or picture or plaque of dead ancestors as a mark of respect for forebears without harboring any hope of any blessings, or fear of curse, or any form of expectation of any response from the dead, then it is permissible as a cultural practice, having no spiritual connotations.

8) If we take the trouble to clearly teach and explain the above, then there should be no fear of leading any Christian astray.  Christians should be taught to stand firm against any command that violates God’s sovereignty, and discern what is religious and spiritual from what is cultural.  For example, the act of pouring tea before an idol with the expectation that the idol is appeased constitutes worship.  The same act performed without any expectation of anything from the idol is just a simple act of no religious value.
But because we are lazy to explain, we tend to come up with a simple embargo against the issue, not realizing that such a general embargo leads to superstitions of fear for the dead and for the idols.

Kindly consider 2King5 on the story of Naaman, especially the final few verses of the chapter.  The prophet did not admonish Naaman on his request, nor advise him to refrain from doing so. Instead the prophet merely said, Go In Peace.

In the love of Christ.

P.S..  I really appreciate your attention to the issues I raised.  Thank you.

(at this point I did not have the time to devote to giving him a well-thought-out reply, so I asked Rodrigo to respond, and he did it quite exhaustively).

From: Rodrigo Vasquez

My main observation is that Jesus gave the sum of the ten commandments, and indeed the “law and the prophets” in two parts:

1. The greatest: Love God with all your being.

2. A similar one: Love thy neighbour as thyself.

Both must be obeyed, and neither can be obeyed or disobeyed alone, since they stand or fall together (1 John 4:20).  My main verse is I Cor 10:24.

My main point will be that our brother is neglecting the “second table” and inconsistently trying to focus on the first.

Children in modern schools in the USA, Europe and Guatemala are taught that they may do whatever they please, (homosexuality, drugs, pornography, witchcraft, cursing, etc.), provided that they don’t hurt their neighbour: thus they claim that they may love their neighbour without loving God.  However, what he is describing is precisely the reverse: he claims that in performing the rite he described, a person is able to love God, but he is neglecting the love of the neighbour.  Hence he is working on the assumption that it is possible to love God without loving one’s neighbour.

I. Refutation (not point by point)

a.                One of my favourite phrases from Calvin is “soul-murderers”.  By this, he refers to people who are effectively murdering others spiritually, or rather facilitating their spiritual suicide by providing them with enticements, either physical or intellectual, that lead to their eternal destruction.  If I consciously bow before an idol or ancestor and reproduce a physical act of worship (even if I am not worshipping it), I become a stumbling block unto others because I am inciting others to do the same, and will be liable for their blood at the last day.

b.                 I quite agree that if you give a man a sleeping pill, and take his body and make it bow before an idol, it is incorrect, and even superstitious to say that the sleeping man has worshipped the idol.  Therefore, it is true that it takes more than a physical action to perform an act of worship.  Worship is intellectual, even though its expression may be physical.  He mentions those important elements of worship: harbouring hopes of blessing or fear of punishment.  In fact, I consider worship to mean the willful acknowledgement of the truth of everything that God has revealed about himself (demons acknowledge the truth of monotheism, but not that of his mercy and goodness and wisdom, etc.); and this may be done by means of words (that is the best means because that is precisely the means that God used in order to communicate to us the most important message: namely that of salvation in Jesus!), or sign language, or body language, provided that the meanings attached are convened upon.  Neither words nor actions have any meaning without a context.  The same word can be very polite in one language, and very rude in another.  There is a hand gesture that is very rude in Brazil, but extremely common outside of Brazil, and you can find thousands of such examples.

This brings our attention to the question of what God has said about himself.  The answer is to be found in the WCF chapters 2 ff, which is why the conscientious audible reading of the WCF is a very effective form of worship.  We are not to ascribe, e.g. Providence, or eternal Judgement, to anyone else… “the giving of that worship and glory which is due to Him alone.”

In Isaiah 1:10-20 we see the Israelites performing the “right rite” with the wrong faith.

Such is also the vein of WCF 29:8.

In the OT I remember an instance (Joshua?) where the Lord allowed some people to partake of the passover, even though they were not ritually prepared. This could be thought of as the “wrong rite” with the right faith, even though I would say it is the right rite (though imperfectly performed) with the right faith.

What our brother is referring to though, is a strange rite with the wrong faith.  It purports to be worship because obedience to the 5th commandment is always an act of worship, but in reality it is an act of disobedience to the 5th commandment because the 6th forbids soul-murdering.

Consider the following situation: a person of Jewish descent is capable of reading the Hebrew language out loud but does not understand a word of that language. He is asked by his parents to read out loud, before a native Israeli congregation, a message written in Hebrew wherein the name of Jesus is blasphemed, and His blood trampled upon. The young man is only told that the message which he will pronounce is completely incompatible with and offensive to the gospel, but he will not be able to understand the words he will utter. He reasons that since he is unable to understand the words he utters, the words will be meaningless to him, and hence he will not mean what he will utter; thus, his heart will be clean, even though the other people’s hearts might be murdering Jesus and the prophets whom their parents killed, from Abel to Zecheriah.  He concludes that it is lawful for him to read the message.  The people hear it, and some reprobates become convinced that they must reject Christ, others who are Christians are encouraged to repeat the same words either for money (as professional singers or otherwise working for pay), or for “peace´s sake” (of course peace with the world means enmity with God).  So as you can see, his arguments, completely unaltered, would fully justify these actions, which are clearly sinful.  It is in fact how people can commit massacres and not feel guilty (I was only obeying orders, I only pressed the button, it was the missile that killed them, I didn’t program the computer).  Ritualistic body language conveys definite meaning because of the context and the conventions, and can always be replaced by words; therefore, in its context, it is not significantly different from sign language or spoken language.

I Cor 10:24 ff. is quite significant.  Read it carefully and relate it to the foregoing example.  Once you are told that the Brazilian hand-gesture conveys a bad meaning, you have no excuse for making it, even if you meant something else by it, even if you didn’t mean anything by it, and even if it is commonly made in your homecountry.  You have consciously, offended or knocked down a Christian neighbour, or murdered a reprobate: and have no excuse, no matter how many arguments you come up with!

c.                 I Cor 10:14 says: “Flee from idolatry”.  This implies that we ought not to bow down to an idol: it is rather difficult to bend one’s body whilst one is fleeing you see!  Joseph, son of Jacob, fled from Potiphar’s wife.  The passage in Genesis is significant.  Idolatry is sometimes in Scripture compared with adultery or fornication, wherefore breaking the 2nd commandment is akin to breaking the 7th, and, since it belongs to the 1st table, more serious.  Joseph’s master was due to return (like our Lord).  Potiphar’s wife in Gen 39:10 was inviting him to simply “lie by her” or “be with her”.  (Similarly civil, parental or ecclesiastical authorities may entice us to commit idolatry, or perhaps just to lie by the idol or bow to it).  No harm in that, right? (wrong!)  But Joseph did what I Cor 10.14 tells us to do: he fled! (similarly, we too must flee). Joseph knew that his master would be jealous, (which is precisely why that word jealousy is used in 1 Cor 10:22, except that the Lord is jealous for His Law and His people).

d.                1 Cor 10:20 says that those who perform an eating ritual, whilst aware of the context and the meaning attached to that ritual, are in fellowship with the devils. Why?  Because it is the vocation of devils to steal worship and glory from God (8th commandment), and to murder him in their hearts (7th), and in performing this ritual, we are voluntarily helping them in their efforts.  It is a matter of great shortsightedness to confine this teaching to eating rituals to the exclusion of other demonic rituals.

1Co 10:21  “Ye cannot drink the cup of the Lord, and the cup of devils: ye cannot be partakers of the Lord’s table, and of the table of devils.”

Inference: Partaking of Lord’s table commits you to direct your outward religious worship to a single recipient.  Therefore, yes, all other customers are under a permanent  “embargo”.  Period.

e.                1Jn 5:21  Little children, keep yourselves from idols. Amen.

Are you obeying this by bowing down to an idol or ancestor in a religious context?

f.                I Cor 6:19-20.                Not only your spirit, but both your body and spirit are God’s private property (not your parents’): it cost Christ a lot (the Lord’s blood acts as a kind of currency in Redemption, so we are an exceedingly expensive item: both body and spirit).  Therefore you must glorify Him and Him alone in both.

g.                 II Cor 6.14-7.1                No concord, no companionship, no part, no communion: come out from among them, don’t touch (physical commands incompatible with bowing).  Remember Lot had to perform a physical action, not just a mental one.

h.                 II Cor 7:2                The 9th commandment requires us not to deceive anyone.  Mimicking demonic worship is an act of deceit on two accounts: 1. you are telling the spectators that you are worshipping the idol, when in fact you are not.  2. you are telling them (by means of a definite conventional body language) something about the worthiness of the idol and the unworthiness of Christ.  Hence, this verse is appropriately appended to the passage on idolatry.

II. Advice

a.                 I Cor 10:13 guarantees a way out.  Escape!

b.                Don’t be so arrogant as to think that you won’t be tempted to become an idolater Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.  I Cor 10:12                Be careful!  Don’t play with fire!  Gal 6:1; Proverbs 6:27.

c.                 Be brave: it is a requisite for entering heaven!  Rev 21:8.

d.                Follow the example of Moses, who “refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter” Heb 11:24-27.

e.                Matt 10:33-40                Be worthy of Christ.  Whoever loves mother and father more than Him is not worthy of Him.

f.                Don’t fool yourself, the Scripture explicitly says that Christ came not to bring peace, but sword, and to set a man at variance against his father.  Therefore peace with one’s family is not to be observed at just any cost.

g.                Instead of mimicking worship of deified ancestors, tell your parents exactly where the Scriptures say that those ancestors are: in Hell.

WCF 32.1; Luke 16:19 ff.  John 3:36.

Also tell them that if those ancestors could send a message to them, they would probably say what the rich man asked Abraham to convey to his family.  In fact, there is no need for consulting the dead: their message is already written in Luke 16:28 “don’t come to this place of torment”.

h.                 Confess Christ and He will confess you.

i.                 Disobey the tradition of the elders.  WCF 20:2,3.

j.                 You are actually required to despise the wicked (Psalm 15:4).  That doesn’t mean being rude to your parents or ancestors, but is certainly incompatible with the religious veneration of idolaters who worshipped demons.

See also Ps 139:21-22.

k.                 Don’t befriend the world!  James 4.4-5

l.                 Remember Mordecai.  Book of Esther.

m.                Do the math!  Calculate the cost of following Christ!  Luke 14:28.

n.                You can’t decide to be born in a certain country, but you can decide whether or not to be a child of the prophets’ murderers (Mat 23:29-36)

o.                Don’t receive those who worship demons; by doing so, you are guilty of their deeds. (II John 10-11)

p.                Read Acts 17:16 ff. and imitate Paul.  Be stirred in your heart by the idolatry, rather than letting them stir you into it. Denounce idolatry in clear terms.

q.                Prov 28:4                You are to contend with the wicked, not praise them, bow down to them or incense them.

r.                 Share with them Romans 1:22-25.


Christ alone is the King: his commands supersede any other person’s.  We are his private property, by creation, and purchase. To obey commands to commit (or mimic) idolatry is to obey commands to commit spiritual murder: no one can obey the 5th commandment by murdering his parents spiritually or assisting them in their spiritual suicide.

Mat 27:11  And Jesus stood before the governor: and the governor asked him, saying, Art thou the King of the Jews? And Jesus said unto him, Thou sayest.

1Ti 6:13  I give thee charge in the sight of God, who quickeneth all things, and before Christ Jesus, who before Pontius Pilate witnessed a good confession;

1Ti 6:14  That thou keep this commandment without spot, unrebukeable, until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ:

1Ti 6:15  Which in his times he shall shew, who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords;

1Ti 6:16  Who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto; whom no man hath seen, nor can see: to whom be honour and power everlasting. Amen.

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