Coffee in the Sanctuary? John Piper & Propriety in Worship

The Church Revitalization Podcast – Episode 215

Is there a place for modern, casual customs like coffee-sipping within the sanctity of worship, or does it detract from the reverence owed to God? That’s essentially the question that John Piper posed on Twitter/X Back in September, asking, “Can we reassess whether Sunday coffee-sipping in the sanctuary fits?”

John Piper is certainly an influential voice, so it’s no wonder that this Tweet garnered nearly three million views and thousands of comments. As is expected with most things posted on social media, responses were varied, and many with rather polarized knee-jerk reactions. I think Piper’s question is a good one for discussion. There is certainly more to it than just a surface glance and final conclusion, and it’s good for us as church leaders to wrestle with modern questions like this. Better to continuously question and adjust than to go for centuries and find ourselves in another reformation.

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Where did we come from?

Most people would say that “worship” services have gone from formal to casual since the dawn of the Church age. However, the first-century home churches likely were less formal compared to what we see today gathering in purpose-built buildings, so it may be more accurate to plot church formality like a bell curve. Of course, certain high-church denominations peaked at the top of the formality curve and have continued flat from that point, where some protestant branches of the family tree moved less formal over the last several centuries.

We get a pretty early view of how church leaders interpreted the New Testament in the Didache. There we see, in regard to the weekly gathering of the believers, very high value placed on holiness, prayer, confession, communal worship, fellowship and communion. A meal was shared which begs the question, “would they have included coffee had it been “invented” yet? No reason to think not. Is what we’re drinking the real question, though, or are we really asking, “What is getting our attention?”

Why do we do what we do at church?

Just because a practice may have started in the 4th century, the 9th century, or the 15th century doesn’t make it necessary or right in and of itself by virtue of longevity or tradition. Everything should have purpose and intentionality. A broad look at the western and western-influenced protestant church today certainly is different from several hundred years ago. Even now, the changes the church has seen in the last 20 years are notable.

Many churches have music now that attempts to sound more contemporary to be more pleasing to contemporary listeners. The length of services has decreased to better-fit people’s fast-paced, crowded lifestyles and attention spans. Architecture is more utilitarian, comfort is sought in attire and seating, and yes, coffee is often made available. 

Any of those elements may be debated as bad or good, but most have happened with intentionality toward welcoming people and making them feel comfortable. Is that a bad thing? Hospitality is of great value in Scripture, after all. If we’re to be a church on mission to make disciples of Jesus, is it not a good thing to welcome people well?

Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.

To drink coffee, or not to drink coffee. That is the question. I don’t think God cares where or when you drink coffee unless it comes between you and him. What does that mean for you? Sometimes I bring a cup of coffee into the worship center at my church. I sip before the service starts. I enjoy it. Especially when it’s cold outside. When it’s time to stand and sing praises to God, I put it down. When that portion of the service has concluded and the sermon starts, I pick it back up along with my Bible, sermon notes, pen, and reading glasses. I don’t think it distracts from hearing and understanding the teaching.

We are biblically aligned when we’re communal with God and others, but casual can sometimes go too far.

If there is fault to be found in the modern church, I suggest it is in a loss of understanding and teaching of just how great the gap is between who God is and who we are. Though justified through faith in Christ by his grace, we are but vile wretches. If we rightly understood the magnitude of the gap, I think we’d not let anything divide our attention when seeking to enter into the presence of God to give him the praise and adoration he deserves.

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A.J. Mathieu is the President of the Malphurs Group. He is passionate about helping churches thrive and travels internationally to teach and train pastors to lead healthy disciple-making churches. A.J. lives in the Ft. Worth, Texas area, enjoys the outdoors, and loves spending time with his wife and two sons. Click here to email A.J.

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