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23 October 2006 

Vespers Vending

In response to the question that Tim posed in a previous comment thread, I have finally gotten around to typing up a response: should churches sell coffeer (or anything else) at a service? When I first thought about it there was some sort of instant feeling that it was wrong, that turning a church into a Starbucks to Go was just something that was inherently, well, not so good. The more I thought about it though, the less convinced I became. There are few biblical texts to go on, the most prominent being Jesus' clearing of the temple in Matthew's gospel. Starting from there you may wonder how then I might approve of commercial enterprise in churches, but there are important differences to be made. Firstly, the temple in Jerusalem is not a church, the buildings themselves are not even analogues aside from their place in culture. The temple was the dwelling of God, the place where people came to worship and make atonement for their sins. The things being sold there, the practices that occured, were defiling to the place and God cannot be defiled. Churches today, however, are not the dwelling of God. Today God dwells in heaven and in the hearts of his followers through the Holy Ghost while the atoning sinless life, death, and ressurection of Christ ensure that he is not defiled there.

So then, what is the chruch building? It's just a building. A structure. Churches often sell books and recordings of sermons or events and various other items without giving us pause. Why then should we condemn the selling of coffee by a corporate chain? Perhaps because in those other circumstances it is the church organization selling the items itself, and there is no danger of distraction or who is working there. Having an outside organization selling raises other concerns, such as who is in control and who are the people working there, will they respect the congregation? But if not, then why would the church allow such people in its building? Theologically though, there is nothing that I can find that prohibits such. I mean, I know of churches that have met in coffee shops in their early days simply for lack of space. The church goes with God's people and is therefore no more or less holy than anywhere else God's people may be found. Parts of creation are not made sacrosanct, unable to be touched and holier than others. Creation itself is beautifully inert, and we should care and protect it, but only when necessary.

So, to conclude, I believe that churches are no more or less sacred than other places. Business practices are not evil, and are not defiling to the church building. Christ ensures the holiness of his followers and therefore the temple of God (which makes his cleansing of the physical temple much more symbolic, don't you think?). At the same time, wisdom must be consulted if this sort of thing is being considered. While I don't think there's anything sinful about it, I think it could be a detractor from a worship service. If outsiders are given control over part of the church at worship (which indirectly could be happening) the church much weigh the cost of such ammenities against the control and freedom to worship as commanded. That said, I think it's okay if caution is exercised.

The end.

I can't stand coffee.

But if they had a Slush Puppie machine...

Josh sir, thanks for the response. Your thoughts were useful and I am in agreement. I do not think there is necessarily a theological/doctrinal basis for not selling things or coffee in church, or even having an outside company set up shop in the church, but I will offer an addendum:

I. A church is a non-profit organization selling goods that are generally sold at for-profit locations giving the church a largely unfair advantage in the market: they will have little overhead because they already have a building paid for and they will have all of the nice financial/tax benefits of being a non-profit. Is it wrong for the church to unfairly compete with businesses?

II. Having Coffee, Scones, and Hot Pumpkin Spice beverages in church is not beneficial and, actually, may detract from the church's purpose and what they are trying to convey. Paul writes in 2 Cor 2:17, "Unlike so many, we do not peddle the word of God for profit. On the contrary, in Christ we speak before God with sincerity, like men sent from God." I know it is coffee, not the gospel they are selling... but it seems like (at least in the example I am using of my old home church) that the motives for having Starbucks in church are to make it attractive. They are trying to "sell" the church as a "cool" place that has good coffee. The message Paul is trying to convey in those surrounding chapters is that commendation of ministry should not come from outwardly visible things, but from changed hearts. I would rather the church call people to it with sincere truth, rather than good coffee. Paul recognizes that the aroma of Christ is "the smell of death" to those who are perishing... do churches try and cover up the difficult aroma of Christ with a... coffee aroma? haha...

III. At least, if a church was going to sell coffee (if their motives were good) they would pick some kind of fair trade coffee and sell something that served other people rather than their paritioners coffee-habits.

IV. Sugary Coffee drinks are expensive and bad for your health.

Hope things are well with you Josh. Update on me: I am not going to graduate school just yet (if ever?)... so next year I will be involved in some ministry (church?) work in Pittsburgh. What are you up to?

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