By Chris Higgins
In his fascinating book, The Greatest Stories Never Told, Rick Beyer recounts the ecclesiastical controversy which brewed when the coffee craze first began some six centuries ago.
In Turkey during the 1500s, coffee was such a necessity that a woman would divorce a man who didn’t provide her with enough coffee. But when coffee hit Europe in the late 1500s, priests at the Vatican argued that it was a satanic concoction of Islamic infidels and wanted it banned. Pope Clement VIII, however, thought otherwise. He tasted it and pronounced that it was good—very good. “This Satan’s drink is so delicious,” he supposedly said, “it would be a pity to let the infidels have exclusive use of it. We shall fool Satan by baptizing it.”
Legalistic Lines in the Sand
I can see some well-meaning priest daring to ask Clement, “Why do you dare to break our tradition? We don’t drink coffee! It’s bad, very bad! You call yourself a Christian?”
It seems that Jesus found it necessary to regularly remind people of the error in judging someone’s faith by what they ate or didn’t eat—or how they did or didn’t wash their hands. He didn’t care about offending the Pharisees or anyone else who would present personal conviction as a scriptural command to be obeyed by all.
I think of the many non-salvation and non-biblical issues Christians have fussed and fumed about: praise choruses, contemporary Christian music, different instruments in church, Bible versions, proper attire for worship, Harry Potter, Halloween, Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and even acceptable cars to drive.
Our Heart Condition
We should be discerning of our culture. But I suspect that Satan does a lot more of his work among the beliefs and attitudes that slide in largely unnoticed. Jesus says what really matters is our hearts, not our external displays of religiosity.
As a minister (somewhat akin to the Pharisees and teachers of the law) I need to be on my guard against assuming this sort of mentality. It’s so easy for “professional” ministers to get overly concerned with appearances. I need to guard my heart, lest I become someone who honors God with my lips and my outer life but whose heart is far from him. It’s a constant battle requiring much vigilance.
Chris Higgins ministers with First Church of Christ in Owosso, Michigan. He and his wife, Lori, have three children: Daniel, Andrew, and Becca.
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