The faithful Christian looks around the table, sees who is sitting with him, and he loves them. The fellowship and thanksgiving sanctify whatever is on the table — and pretty much anything can be on the table. If we can get it down, there is not much that gratitude can’t sanctify (1 Tim. 4:4).
The mentality of unbelief approaches the problem in quite a different fashion. This mentality wants to focus on the nature of the food, and provided that is copacetic, then the people around the table are thereby approved.
Which sanctifies which? The gold the altar or the altar the gold? Having established the principle, i.e. that the altar does the sanctifying, we have to ask, in matters of table fellowship, whether the altar is on the platters or in the chairs.
The criteria for approved food can cover a vast range. There are denominational differences within this broad outlook — there are factions that support “like mom used to make,” high end restaurant food, food eaten by manners snobs, food applauded by organic foodies, social justice food, my ethnic food as over against your ethnic food, food that doesn’t provoke my phantom allergies, food that has not been contaminated by microwave cooties, and more. You name it, we can supply the necessary food coloring that will help us divide the body of Christ. We draw divisions on the table, and the necessary result is divisions between those in the chairs. But Jesus hates the latter a whole lot worse than He might hate the former.
Now here is your test — and this is one of the first lessons the New Testament church was required to master, long before Nicea or Chalcedon. When the Gentiles showed up in the church, some of them continued to eat their bacon. What is more important to you? The presence or absence of bacon, or the presence or absence of Demetrius?
Imagine you have been invited to dinner somewhere, and suppose you just can’t get past the fact that your hosts are, apparently without malice, serving up carcinogens covered in gravy. Well, Jesus said that we had to take up our cross in order to follow Him. Your obligation is to die for your brother. At least in this case your obligation is covered in hot gravy.
Uptight food scruples, as they commonly operate in the church today, are an insult to justification by faith alone, the principal glory of which is table fellowship (Gal. 2:14-16). Pastors should be far more jealous on the point than they are. But confronting food divisions within a congregation takes courage, and we think the apostle Paul used all of that kind of courage up.