1 Corinthians 10:19–22
The amount of space that Paul devotes to the Corinthians’ participation in pagan worship meals (1 Cor. 8:1–10:22; about one-fifth of the book) indicates that it was a significant problem. After critiquing the practice as unloving toward other Christians and warning the Corinthians about the danger of idolatry, the Apostle in today’s passage brings his argument against taking part in these pagan meals to its conclusion. His essential point is that although the Corinthians are correct that pagan gods have no existence as gods and that eating in itself is a matter of indifference (8:4–6, 8), they are incorrect that these facts mean that eating meals in pagan temples—in the context of pagan worship—is not the worship of beings other than the Lord.
Formally speaking, the pagans were not worshiping Zeus, Artemis, or any of the other dozens of pagan gods to whom temples were dedicated in the first century, for no such gods have ever existed. However, the pagans were worshiping beings that had a real existence—namely, demons (10:19–21). This comment has ramifications for how we understand non-Christian religions. Apparently, worship takes place in these religions, but this worship is really the worship of demons no matter how it may appear to the contrary. Furthermore, Paul’s statement in 2 Corinthians 11:14 that Satan sometimes disguises himself as an “angel of light” implies not only that demons are the true objects of worship in false religions but that these false religions were given to their adherents by the demons themselves, at least in some cases. This certainly seems to be the case in Islam, where Muhammad claimed that the religion of Islam was given to him from Allah through the angel Gabriel. Surely it is not hard to imagine a demon, maybe even Satan himself, coming to Muhammad in the guise of a holy angel to originate a religious system that enslaves millions. In any case, whether the non-Christian religion is monotheistic such as Islam or polytheistic such as Hinduism, all faiths apart from biblical Christianity worship demons. We must take this into account and pray against these evil spiritual forces when we evangelize members of other religions.
Christians in Corinth could not eat of the Lord’s table and also of pagan temple tables because the latter entailed worshiping pagan gods even if the Corinthians thought otherwise. Similarly, we cannot join in interfaith worship services. That is idolatry (1 Cor. 10:21–22).
It is common to find people of many different religions joining in interfaith worship services, especially after a national crisis or for a non-sectarian holiday. We cannot ever do this. To join in worship with others who do not worship the one true God is actually to worship demons, no matter how kind the people from these other religions may be.