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What's a Christian to Do with Harry Potter?
Chapter Four - Page Three

Continued from page two            Footnotes page

          V:19      Let us make every effort to do what leads to peace and the spiritual building up of individual Christians and of the church.

·        V:20-22      Keep your opinions on disputable matters between yourself and God. If you have freedom, don’t flaunt it before those you know are troubled by what you do.

·        V:22          Blessed (happy) is the man who does not condemn himself for what he approves. This applies to everyone, once each one is fully convinced in his or her own mind, that individual can happily enjoy what others might not be able to enjoy. (This is in keeping with the “whatever you do” verses in 1 Cor. 10:31, Col. 3:17 & 23. If you can do “whatever you do” -- in this case, reading Harry Potter-- heartily, as unto the Lord, to the glory of God, with all your heart, and commit it to the Lord as in Pr. 16:3, then you can be happy about it.)

·        V: 23      If you’ve taken responsibility for your own opinion as you stand accountable before God, fully convinced in your own mind (v.5) on the basis of true information, prayerful consideration, and the leading of the Holy Spirit, but you still have doubts about Harry Potter, don’t read it. The rule for personal conduct in disputable matters is this: when in doubt, don’t! If doubts remain, you would be in sin to do whatever you’re in doubt over, because everything that does not come from faith is sin. This is how something that is not a sin for one person could be a sin for another.

·        15:2      Make it your aim to build each other up in the body of Christ.

·        15:2      Accept one another -- even if you come to different conclusions about the suitability of Harry Potter.

·        15:7      Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.

 

When Did You Last Have a Rousing Debate over Eating Meat Sacrificed to Idols?

            Contemporary Christians in western culture haven’t had to struggle much over whether or not it’s a sin to eat meat sacrificed to idols. However, that was a hotly debated topic that the first century church had to grapple with. That controversy, which is taken up in 1 Corinthians chapters 8-10 has principles that apply directly to the debate over Harry Potter we are engaged in today.

            The Christian faith was birthed out of Judaism, with its a long history of Jewish culture preceding it. The Jews were commanded to remain separate from the Gentiles (non-Jewish peoples) as a crucial part of their devotion to God. Much of their concept of holiness had to do with not being contaminated by other non-Jewish cultures and customs. They were not to intermarry with Gentiles, nor were they to eat certain forbidden foods, nor were they to worship idols.

            That was clear as far back as the giving of the Law on Mount Sinai. The first command God spoke to Moses and wrote on the holy tablets was "You shall have no other gods before me. "You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.” While the Jews were forbidden to worship idols, Gentile culture was full of idol worship (which historically became a snare for the Jewish people from the start, even before Moses got down the mountain with the commandments written in stone!).

            Then, after Jesus ascended back to the Father, God revealed a great mystery: salvation was not only for the Jews, but for all who would put their faith in Jesus Christ! This was truly good news to the Gentiles. Jesus himself intimated what was to come when he gave his followers (who were originally all Jews) the Great Commission. “He said to them, ‘Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned’.” [7]

            The apostle Paul, raised as a strict Jew but in a Hellenistic culture, was appointed by God to take the good news of salvation to the Gentiles.[8]            When preaching the Gospel, it took one approach to convince Jews, trained in the law of Moses and looking for the fulfillment of Old Testament messianic prophecies. You can see this displayed in the Gospel of Matthew which quotes the Old Testament over sixty times and stresses the phrase, “Just as it was written...” to prove the case that Jesus was the fulfillment of prophecies written in the Old Testament.

            However, preaching the gospel to Gentiles took an entirely different approach. They were raised in a pagan world, in a culture immersed in idolatry, pagan rituals, and worship of many (so-called) gods. When Paul preached to Gentiles he accommodated himself to their culture, using metaphors they could relate to, eating their foods that were previously not sanctioned under Jewish dietary laws established in the Hebrew scriptures. During his missionary journeys, Paul converted many Gentile populations in metropolitan cities far from the influence of Jewish customs. There, new converts to Jesus Christ had challenging cultural questions dealing with how to live out their faith in the midst of a pagan culture.

            Christian converts living in Corinth found themselves facing a controversy which caused division, arguments, and confusion among the body of Christ in that city. Corinth was full of idolatry.  Those who became Christians in Corinth had grown-up in a culture immersed in idol worship, and chose to turn their devotion away from idols to Jesus Christ. However, they had to apply their new faith in a city where idol worship still permeated every facet of daily life. “Temples for the worship of Apollo, Asclepius, Demeter, Aphrodite and other pagan gods and goddesses were seen daily by the Corinthians as they engaged in the activities of everyday life. The worship of Aphrodite, with its many sacred prostitutes, was a particularly strong temptation.”[9]

            Not only did they have to overcome the obvious temptation presented by the temple prostitutes, whose services were offered as part of pagan worship to this goddess of fertility; they had to deal with the question of whether or not they could eat meat that had been sacrificed to an idol.

            The local temples provided a service of butchering and preparing meat for the city. The people would bring the animals to the temple, it would be sacrificed on an altar to an idol. Some of the meat went to the temple priests, some was burnt up, and some was given to the idol worshiper. This meat that had been sacrificed to an idol in the butchering process might be prepared and eaten in a feasting hall there at the temple, or the idol worshiper could take it home to prepare there. Some that was apportioned to the idolatrous priests made its way to the local meat market where it was sold to the public.

            So a heated debate arose over whether or not it was a sin for Christians to eat meat sacrificed to an idol. The Corinthian Christians finally wrote to the Apostle Paul, asking him to settle the question. He did not respond with a clear-cut: Yes or No. Instead, he gave an answer in the category of: Well, it depends... His thorough answer is found in 1 Corinthians chapters eight and ten.

Let touch on the points Paul raised and show how this relates to our debate over Harry Potter:

1.      What’s the real question? Their question was not “Is it wrong to practice idolatry?” It was a question of whether Christians were free to do something closely associated with practicing idolatry.

·        Those who struggle on both sides of the Harry Potter debate are not quibbling over whether Christians should practice witchcraft and do spells, charms, and so on. The Bible is clear that practicing witchcraft and doing magic in our world is WRONG. So we are not asking “Can a Christian practice witchcraft?” We are asking, whether or not Christians are free to read stories that are closely associated with such practices and treat them positively.

2.      The Question of Opening Up to Unseen Demonic Forces: Idolatry was popular in that pagan world, and people who practiced it did not believe there was anything wrong with it. They in no way associated their religious rituals and worship of their gods and goddesses with demons. However, those who believed God’s word knew that God declared the real power behind all idols comes from unseen demons. (See Deuteronomy 32:16-17, Psalm 106:36-37) Paul clearly stated, “No, but the sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons, not to God, and I do not want you to be participants with demons.”[10] So they wondered if eating meat sacrificed to an idol could open Christians up to the demonic forces at work behind the scenes.

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