Viewed by a reductionist, eating is a mere biological necessity, the organic equivalent of putting fuel in your car. And of course, if we ever saw someone carrying on at the gas station the way we carry on in the dining room, we would want to have them committed. But unfortunately, this ridiculous example is actually working the other way—far too many of us treating the dining room as a mere filling station.
1Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; 2Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron; 3Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth. 4For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving: 5For it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer (1 Tim.4:1-5).
What sort of thing would devils teach, if given the opportunity? What would a seducing spirit say if given the chance to sear the conscience of a Bible teacher with a hot iron? At the very top of the list would be prohibitions of food and sex. But for those who believe and who know the truth, such things were created by God in order to be received with thanksgiving. This means gratitude, gladness, and contentment. If God made it, there is a good use for it, and frequently this good use includes having been sauteed in butter. The word of God and prayer sanctifies all creatures, including the creatures on the table for those creatures around the table.
IDOLATRY & FOOD
We have to begin by guarding ourselves against error. We are a fallen race, and John’s admonition to keep ourselves from idols has to be constantly kept in mind (1 John 5:21). This is particularly true for Americans, who have a long tradition of locating righteousness and unrighteousness in the food and drink. Those locations change, but the basic orientation does not. But Jesus taught us that a man cannot be spiritually defiled by what goes into his mouth (Mark 7:18-19).
We can check our hearts in this by the presence or absence of religious indignation over “violations.” If you react to fast food like an orthodox rabbi watching someone fry bacon, then you are a food idolater. If you are watching what you eat for simple health reasons, then this is not the case. But we even have to be careful here, because health is another idol.
Carrie Nation attacked demon rum. John Harvey Kellogg invented corn flakes as breakfast food without meat, designed to reduce the sexual drive. Reducing bestial animal desire through food was the order of the day, and it was even thought you could pass on less original sin to your kids this way. Sylvester Graham invented Graham flour for this purpose, a shield against vile affections. We see in the development of s’mores a triumph of trinitarian practice over cultic ideology. Americans are culturally predisposed to believe that one can be “put right,” whatever that means, through what is put in the mouth.
THE NOBILITY OF DINING
As mentioned earlier, eating can be viewed (by the dull materialist) as simple fueling. His mind thinks of chewing, swallowing, enzymes, gas, esophagi and colons. But the human race is created in the image of God, and this means that eating is overwhelmingly treated as a ceremonial activity. This ceremony, this liturgy, these manners, are not any less real than the biological realities. The manners may differ from culture to culture, just as the sauces do, but the presence of them is nearly universal. In our casual era, with our on-going revolt against giving honor to one another, this is something we must emphasize.
Now manners are simply an exhibition of love in trifles. Manners help us learn how to be considerate of one another, where everyone knows what is expected and thus knows how to give to others. But as you teach manners to your children, it is important to guard against certain pitfalls.
rabbinical excesses—you live in suburban American, and not in the court of Louis XIV. A mania for manners is in itself discourteous to others. So do not become an overzealous nutcase
don’t forget the point—manners are to be a help for us as we seek to enjoy one another at the table. Forgetting the point can be seen in harsh correction of a violation. Fundamental rudeness in correcting incidental rudeness is a common problem. In correcting manners, remember your manners.
The practice of sharing bread together is what gave our word companion. In a very important sense, the way you spend time at the table as a family is a second meal. It is a familial koinonia or fellowship, and results in true companionship. If your thousands of shared meals do not result in companionship, then something is seriously wrong.
the head of the table—the husband and father has important responsibilities here, but his gifts and his office should not be confused.
taking turns—everyone eats, so why shouldn’t everyone talk? But not all at once. The head of the table moderates.
one anothers—the “one anothers” of Scripture are quite striking. One of the best places to practice them in the home is at the table. We show affection and honor here (Rom. 12:10); we love one another (Rom. 13:8); refuse to judge one another (Rom. 14:13); receive one another (Rom. 15:7); admonish one other (Rom. 15:14), and many others such things we do.