@Cleo, thanks for your question! This is something which interests me due to its practical relevance, having come out of a polytheistic Hindu background just as the Gentiles. While I agree with others that we should not sacrifice unity or pass judgement in the body of Christ over matters of law or opinion, I do however think that we need a more nuanced understanding of Acts 15.
One aspect as others have described is of maintaining unity in the body of believers, since everyone is acceptable unto God only through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. The criterion of Christ alone essentially levels all the differences of background, knowledge, works and abilities in approaching God. This understanding is evidenced by the fact that the Holy Spirit was given both to the Jewish and Gentile believers showing God’s acceptance of all. Jerusalem council therefore decides to not burden the Gentiles to keep the Mosaic law in order to be considered saved and included among the Jewish believers. This is the principle of love based on grace expounded in Romans 14.
The second aspect is of admonishing the Gentile believers to abstain from idolatrous practices, lest they be tempted to revert to idolatry or compromise their witness for Christ. In pagan cultures just as it is today, the civic and social life were very much intermingled with pagan rituals. So, if Gentile believers exclusively devoted themselves to Christ, there is the risk of being ostracized. To avoid the risks, two temptations for a Gentile believer are 1) to rationalize continued participation in idolatrous practices to feel included and 2) Accept Jesus in a non-exclusive manner by adding Jesus to their pantheon of gods. I remember feeling such pressures to compromise when I first became a Christian as our family celebrated many Hindu festivals and hosted Hindu gatherings at home. So, it makes sense that both the Jerusalem council’s prohibitions in Acts 15 and Paul’s statements in 1 Cor 8-11 are about fleeing idolatry and even avoiding the appearance of Christians sanctioning idolatry by eating food offered to idols publicly. The prohibitions of Acts 15 have been related to pagan idolatrous worship by many bible commentators. James Burton Coffman writes in his commentary on Acts: “Idol feasts were shameful debaucheries, marked by the most vulgar and immoral behavior… In fact, it is possible that all four of these restrictions relate to idol worship” (1977, p. 299). Dennis Gaertner in his commentary on Acts, writes “in some pagan practices blood was drunk apart from the meat” (1993, p. 240-241).
The nuance in understanding comes down to the differences in how we define ‘strong’ and the ‘weak’ Christian in the context of Romans 14 and 1 Cor 8-10. All would agree that the ‘strong’ in faith per Romans 14 (v 13-23) is the one who understands that the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating or drinking or observance of days but about pursuing things that make for peace and mutual upbuilding. Rom 14 is about how Gentile believers and Jewish believers ought to respect each other for what they did, knowing that the intent behind was to bring honor to the true Lord. Rom 14 however does not have any insight on food sacrificed to idols and only talks about vegetables and days of observance. Perhaps it is because food offered to idols, was always to pagan gods, and participating in that activity would never honor the true Lord!
Now let’s look at 1 Cor 8-10 - the ‘strong’ Christian according to 1 Cor 8 is the one who has the understanding that there was one God Father and one Lord Jesus Christ (monotheistic) and the ‘weak’ is defined as the one who lacks the knowledge (polytheistic) - in other words the weak one does not believe in Jesus exclusively and still believes that eating the food offered to a pagan idol would somehow help them. So, in this context the weak Gentile is involving himself in practices that does not bring honor to the true God. The strong Christian then is not the one who avoids offending the weaker believer by letting the weak believer go ahead with food offered to pagan idols but the one who relinquishes the rights for the sake of the weak believer and encourages the weaker believer to do the same. This line of thought of relinquishing rights seems to be further exemplified by Paul in 1 Cor 9 (v 12, 15, 19). Paul then shares in 1 Cor 10, an example of how the Israelites desired evil through idolatry, complaining and testing God and urges the Corinthians to not desire evil and resist being tempted into idolatry (6-12). This suggests that the Corinthians were being tempted into idolatry, rationalizing eating idolatrous food by saying that an idol is nothing and not really paying the cost of separating themselves from their pagan life. The ones who ate food offered to idols were then not actually strong but weak! Not surprisingly, Paul therefore exhorts them to flee from idolatry as it would be equivalent to participating with pagan sacrifices offered to demons (v20). When it comes to food of questionable origin sold in the meat market, Paul says they are free to eat anything as long no one informs them of its history, suggesting food offered to idol is not inherently unclean (v25). However, if someone discloses that the food was offered to idols, Corinthians were never to eat food offered to idols for the sake of the conscience of unbelievers, as it could be misconstrued that Christians sanction idolatrous practices (v 27). So except for the case where the history of food is unknown, there is no endorsement by Paul to adopt pagan practices that are overtly idolatrous. I think, even if a Christian does eat food offered to idols to show love to the unbeliever, it would be important to clarify that food has no effect on sanctifying or bringing us closer to God so that the unbeliever’s faith in pagan ideas is not strengthened.
In conclusion, while many seem to view based on 1 Cor 8, that a strong Christian is the one who understands that it is acceptable to eat food offered to idols and the weak as the one who places restrictions on eating food offered to the idols, what Paul seems to be really saying is that a strong Christians is the one who is willing to relinquish the right of eating food offered to idols for the sake of unbelievers and the new gentile believer with a syncretistic understanding (the one who includes Jesus into their polytheistic framework). 1 Cor 8-10 deals with interactions between Christians and pagan idol worshippers mainly. This is different from what we see in Rom 14 which focuses on maintaining love and unity between Jewish believers and Gentile believers. Rom 14 is about carefully exercising liberties in Christ to not offend a weaker Christian who pays attention to laws and opinions to honor the Lord. David Gardener, in commentary of Corinthians explains these differences in Romans 14 and 1 Cor 8-10 with more detail and clarity. I also think that through generalization of the context of Rom 14 to the context of 1 Cor 8-10, the sincere believer who flees idolatry to honor Christ is made to appear factious and weak in faith which ultimately does not bring about the unity or the upbuilding in faith that is being sought in the body of Christ.
Would appreciate questions or thoughts on this understanding.