Noted theologian and author John Piper has listed five ways that he believes congregations can move away from what he describes as a “casual,” “coffee-sipping” church culture, adding more context behind one of his viral tweets from last year.
In an episode of “Ask Pastor John” posted on the Desiring God website on Thursday, Piper spoke about the need for “reverence and awe” when gathering together in worship.
The episode comes after Piper sparked debate last September when he tweeted about whether churches should “reassess whether Sunday coffee-sipping in the sanctuary fits.” The post drew around 3,000 likes and about 1,500 comments, many of which were critical. The new episode seeks to “[build] out the context behind” the tweet, which is the desire to shape a church with a “reverential vibe.”
“I argued last time that sipping coffee in the holiest hour of congregational worship does not fit with the reverence and awe that Hebrews 12:28 calls for. ‘Let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe,’ Hebrews says,” Piper stated.
“But I argued that sipping coffee is not the heart of the matter. The heart of the matter is that people and leaders don’t have a heart that resonates with what I mean by ‘reverence and awe’ and the holiness, the sacredness of that hour of congregational worship on Sunday morning (usually),” he continued.
“Those realities are not prominent in their mind and heart, those reverent realities. They know those words: reverence, awe. They know the words, but the words don’t have compelling existential content, with the kind of serious joy that makes people eager for reverence and awe. They’re just words.”
Piper, chancellor of Bethlehem College and Seminary in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and a former pastor at Bethlehem Baptist Church, sought to provide “a possible way forward for pastors to lead the church gradually” away from “the atmosphere of casual, chipper, coffee-sipping, entertainment-oriented gathering to a more seriously joyful, reverent, deeply satisfying encounter with God.”
He urged pastors to “rivet the people’s attention on the Bible,” with Piper saying the “way you handle the Bible and the glories you see in it will bring about this kind of congregation.”
“Some people will leave the church because of this orientation; it’s too frightening and threatening to submit to the Bible like this. Others are hungry for this, and they’re going to come,” he said.
The second way, Piper said, was for pastors to “make the glory of God and all that He is for us in Jesus the main reality people sense over years, as they hear you preach week in and week out.”
“God is the primary reality. Help your people see this and feel this, that God relates to everything in their lives, all the time, as the main thing. He is the main thing in their lives,” Piper said.
Piper said the third way was for pastors to “make sure that the ugliness of the disease of sin in us and in the world and the fury of the wrath of God against that disease are felt by your people.”
“If they do not feel the fitness of the outpouring of the cup, of the fury of his wrath against sin, they will never be amazed that they’re saved,” noted Piper.
The fourth way, Piper said, is for pastors to “exalt Christ in his majesty and lowliness, and in suffering and resurrection, and in the unimaginable riches of what he purchased for us.”
The final way Piper listed is for pastors to “teach your people the miracle of their own conversion,” adding that clergy must “teach our people that they are supernatural beings.”
“You’re a miracle,” he continued. “This is not a moment of gathering natural people. Our faith, which is our life, is a miracle. God created it.”
“May I venture to say that preaching like this will, over time, create in your people an eagerness to encounter God in His word in a way that will make coffee-sipping seem out of place?”
Piper’s tweet last September caused quite a stir as it amassed over 2.7 million views and was covered by international news outlets. Among those who replied to the tweet was Evangelical podcaster Jimmy Humphrey.
“Considering the New Testament church primarily met in folks’ homes, and often shared a common meal together, sipping coffee in the sanctuary should not only be practiced, but encouraged,” replied Humphrey.
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