This blog is devoted to discussing the pursuit of eternal life.
Discussion and participation by readers is desired,
but contributions should correlate to the book,
The Race Set Before Us: A Biblical Theology
of Perseverance & Assurance

Thomas R. Schreiner
& Ardel B. Caneday

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Rick Warren and the Apostle Paul

Recently, reports make it clear, by his own testimony, that Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, CA, eats Iftar. In 2006 Warren and his wife began eating Iftar meals at the Mission Viejo mosque. What is Iftar. Iftar is the evening religious meal that Muslims eat after fasting all day during the month of Ramadan, the month of fasting.

Pastor Rick Warren has been asked about his eating Iftar. Warren explains,
It’s called being polite and a good neighbor. For years, we have invited Muslim friends to attend our Easter and Christmas services and they have graciously attended year after year. Some have even celebrated our family’s personal Christmas service in our home. So when they have a potluck when their month of fasting ends, we go to their party. It’s a Jesus thing. The Pharisees criticized him as “the friend of sinners” because Jesus ate dinner with people they disapproved of. By the way, one of my dear friends is a Jewish Rabbi and my family has celebrated Passover at his home, and he attends our Christmas and Easter services. I wish more Christians would reach out in love like Jesus.
Pastor Rick Warren receives praise from some outspoken Evangelicals, even concerning his eating Iftar.

Is Pastor Warren's eating Iftar permissible by Scripture? Do the apostle Paul's directives to the Corinthians permit a follower of Jesus Christ o eat the Muslim religious meal, Iftar? What does Paul say? Ponder carefully 1 Corinthians 10:14-22.
Therefore, my dear friends, flee from idolatry. I speak to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all share the one loaf. 
Consider the people of Israel: Do not those who eat the sacrifices participate in the altar? Do I mean then that food sacrificed 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. 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?
Of course, I realize that the Iftar meal does not entail sacrifices offered to idols. Yet, anyone who dismisses applicability of the apostle Paul's instructions to the eating of Iftar because the foods eaten are not actually offered to idols exhibits a kind of "literalism" that the passage does not warrant. To skirt the prohibition by appeal to "literalism" is to violate Paul's instruction. Muslims regard Iftar as a religious meal, a sacred meal, for it is integral to their Ramadan fasting, which is expressly religious. Hence, Paul's apostolic instruction forbids the eating of Iftar by Christians. Does it not?
Now, of course, if we love our Muslim neighbors, we will not eat Iftar with them, as Paul's further instructions make it clear, for the sake of their conscience, not for our own conscience. If we truly seek the good of our Muslim neighbors, which is their salvation, then, according to Paul's directives, we must not eat their religious meal. For when a Muslim declares that a particular meal is "Iftar," does this not fall under Paul's instructions when he says, "But if someone says to you, 'This has been offered in sacrifice,' then do not eat it, both for the sake of the one who told you and for the sake of conscience"?
I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but not everything is constructive. No one should seek their own good, but the good of others.
Eat anything sold in the meat market without raising questions of conscience, for, “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.”

If an unbeliever invites you to a meal and you want to go, eat whatever is put before you without raising questions of conscience. But if someone says to you, “This has been offered in sacrifice,” then do not eat it, both for the sake of the one who told you and for the sake of conscience. I am referring to the other person’s conscience, not yours. For why is my freedom being judged by another’s conscience? If I take part in the meal with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of something I thank God for?

So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God— even as I try to please everyone in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved.

Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ. 
Paul's apostolic instructions seem counterintuitive, given Rick Warren's practice and the practice of many Christians who seek to evangelize Muslims. They eat Iftar in the hope that by doing so they will win their Muslim friends and neighbors to Christ. Paul directs us not to eat meals that are specifically identified as religious meals, whether in the shrine, temple, mosque or home, in order that non-believers might be saved. If Rick Warren desires the salvation of his Muslim neighbors and friends, should he not refrain from eating Iftar, in keeping with the apostolic Scriptures? 

As for me and my house, we will follow the apostle Paul's instruction and his example, not Rick Warren's example. As for me and my house, we will not eat Iftar with our Muslim neighbors, though we may eat ordinary meals with them. 


Anonymous said...

Dr. Caneday,
I have been personally struggling with both your interpretation and application of 1 Corinthians 10:14-22. This is probably attributed to my love and respect to my Muslim friends and the many hours that I have spent both sharing and talking about Jesus over Iftar meals.
I desire to be obedient to the Word of God and I love 1 & 2 Corinthians as the revealed Word of God but also a “missions manual” for cross-cultural ministry as my wife and I have been preparing and training to live and share Jesus in the Muslim world. Once you have spent any time in a Muslim country or with friends that are Muslim, you realize that religion and culture are inseparable- literally one and the same. Iftar is just as much a celebration of who they are just as much as it is religious to them.
According to your understanding of Paul’s instruction in chapter 10, how then can we share any meal with an unbeliever, let alone with a Muslim? Are you comparing Iftar to communion? The implication of your interpretation is very challenging as we, out of love and respect, are making efforts to build bridges with Muslims. Sharing meals with Muslims is so important and when you have opportunities to share meals, it comes with open doors to “bless” the meal in Jesus’ name.
Can you give me any more clarification on this Dr, Caneday?

Respectfully and along this journey with you,
A past student of yours (’04)

A. B. Caneday said...

For the benefit of others, I post the following response which was posted elsewhere with some additions.


Of course neither Paul nor I say that we can never share any meal with an unbeliever, including a Muslim, who by definition is not a believer. We have Muslim neighbors. I'm not forbidden to have a meal with them, as in our home or in their home. I am forbidden to eat a meal with them that is expressly of a religious nature, such as Iftar.

The connection with the Lord's Table is not my own. Paul is the one who excludes eating religious meals with non-Christians on the basis that we cannot eat the pagan religious meal and then eat and drink at the Lord's Table. The two are hostile to one another.

The question I think that you need to ask in your situation, ministering among Muslims, is if Iftar, an expressly religious meal is not included in the apostle's prohibition, then what meal among Muslims would be excluded from a Christian's participation.

I'm quite keenly aware of Muslim culture, for I had an uncle who served as a missionary among Muslims for the vast majority of his life. I do understand how entwined meals religion and culture are among devout Muslims. Yet, is it not obvious that Muslims regard Iftar meals differently than ordinary meals?

In one sense, of course, for Christians, Christianity and culture are thoroughly entwined, too. Yet, not every meal that we eat is regarded as sacred as we properly regard eating and drinking at the Lord's Table. Surely, Muslims distinguish one meal from another as sacred. Otherwise, why do they call this particular meal Iftar?

Just as Christians ought not to take part in Ramadan's Iftar, so beleivers ought not to take part in Ramadan fasting. It is not for our sake alone that we ought not to do this, though we ought not mingle gospel fasting and the gospel meal with that which is contrary to the gospel. It is also for the conscience of our Muslim neighbor or friend, as Paul instructs in 1 Corinthians 10, as I show in the blog entry above.

I also understand the difficulties and pressures on missionaries serving among Muslims. But I am persuaded that Paul's directives are not ambiguous, even for our practice among Muslims.

I trust this helps.