Roman Cups

If you’re on Facebook, you’re sick of it by now.  The righteous indignation of those against and in favor of (or indifferent to) the Starbucks holiday cups.  Somebody on the Internet claims that Starbucks is against Christianity because their holiday cups are red and don’t mention Christmas, and Facebook erupts with people weighing in – back and forth on this issue and,more disturbingly, often in insulting language to their brothers and sisters in the faith who feel differently about it than they do.

Frankly, I suspect highly that Starbucks marketers found this video online and posted it themselves to generate publicity.  It’s genius.  The only more genius thing would be if they payed the guy to make the original video, but I guess even I’m not cynical enough to allege that.

Now I’m depressed to find out I’m not as cynical as I could be.

For all the non-Christians out there, this undoubtedly doesn’t make sense to any of you and I can’t blame you for being perplexed and fed-up.  You can quit reading now.  But if you’re a Christian, I invite you to read on.  Instead of going with our emotions or our friends or even our pastor or with whatever drives our need to be outraged 24/7 at something or someone somewhere, I’d like to suggest the oddity of going to Scripture.  And not necessarily a verse that any of us will like.  Those are the best kind!

Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather never decide to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother.  (Romans 14:13)

The issue with Starbucks isn’t an issue.  The real issue is between Christians.  Starbucks is a corporation that has not made any statement indicating that it is or desires to be seen as Christian.  They are free to make their cups any color they want.  They are free to not acknowledge Christmas at all if they were so inclined.  They make holiday-colored cups not out of ideological reasons but out of profit reasons.  Nobody freaked out that the pumpkin-spice insanity of the last six weeks was anti-Christian.  It was, but let’s not get started on that, OK?

For Christians, the issue is not what Starbucks does or doesn’t do, but how we treat our fellow Christians.  Do you think the guy who posted the original Internet video about this issue is an idiot?  Good.  Now confess your sin and accept the forgiveness of Jesus Christ.  Do you agree with the Internet video guy and think that your Christian brothers and sisters who don’t see the larger picture are foolish sheep?  Good.  Now confess your sin and accept the forgiveness of Jesus Christ.  No matter which side of the issue you’re on, you’re at risk of making your brother or sister in Christ stumble if you feel the need to scream about it on Facebook or wherever else you get into conversations.  Or even if you just belittle them in your head.  Do what we are called to do daily – confess and accept forgiveness.

But this is important!, you say.  Ok.  Let’s roll with that.  You have your opinion about it – your theological interpretation, if you will.  I’m bound by the Holy Spirit to warn my brother or sister about the dangers in this issue, you say.  Not so fast.  Are you?  Is this a matter of salvation?  Is what Starbucks does or doesn’t do, or whether your brother or sister in Christ agrees or disagrees with Starbucks a matter of salvation?  Is their eternal soul in danger?  Probably not.

I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean.  (v.14)

This is not some Internet guy talking, this is St. Paul.  He has discerned the truth of this matter, in other words.  At question is whether Christians should be vegetarians or not (What, you thought diet obsession was a modern problem? Puh-leeze!).  Paul is convinced by the wisdom of the Holy Spirit that there is no problem with that hamburger or tri-tip you want to tuck into.  Paul knows the truth, the truth as divinely revealed to him (which frankly, I don’t know that the Internet guy or you or I have).  Yet Paul also makes it clear that this truth does not give him a right to browbeat his brother or sister in the faith who feels otherwise about the issue.

Note what Paul is not doing here.  Read the beginning of Romans 14.  Paul classifies the two respective parties as the “strong” and the “weak”.  One is right, the other is wrong.  There is a right answer to be had, but not everyone sees it.  But this does not give the right party permission to dictate to the other party what they must do.  In most non-intuitive fashion, Paul instead mandates that while there is a right and wrong position on this topic, those who are incorrect about it should continue to abide by their consciences!  Those who know they are right (like Paul) are to respect the choices of their weaker brothers and sisters in faith.

Paul is not being a relativist here.  He’s not saying that there isn’t a right approach to this topic.  What he is saying is that there is a right approach, and in Christ he is not permitted to demand or force his brother or sister in the faith to see that truth, or to act contrary to the truth that they hold fast to, even though it isn’t really the truth.

To me this implies that the goal is a time in the future when everyone has arrived at the same conclusion on the issue, guided by the Holy Spirit.  But until that time, both sides are to deal with one another in love and respect.  Those who want their steaks are not permitted to belittle the vegetarians for their lack of understanding or immaturity in the faith.  Those who are aghast at eating one of God’s creatures are not to treat the carnivores (or omnivores) with disdain for their lack of spiritual discipline.  Both sides are to respect the other not because they believe the other party is right, but for the sake of Christ, so that nothing they say or do will cause the other party to possibly stumble in their faith and, in a worst-case-scenario, actually walk away from their faith in Jesus Christ.

In other words, our attitudes towards our brothers and sisters in Christ, and how we express those attitudes, have potentially eternal implications.  And since in a situation like Starbucks’ cups we can’t be sure which party is the “stronger” or the “weaker”, all the more reason to treat one another with grace and love and respect.  Not because there may not be a truth to be discovered together, but so that Christ might be glorified in all that we say and do, and that our brother and sister might continue to feel the love of Christ in Christian fellowship, regardless of which side of this issue they happen to stand on at the moment.

One final note – Paul’s words here apply to a specific situation, the issue of what to eat or not eat.  My words are likewise intended to one particular subject – how we treat our brothers and sisters in faith on non-salvific issues.  Paul is NOT saying that it is always wrong to judge a brother or sister in Christ or even to condemn them.  Read through his letters to the Corinthians and you’ll see this is the case.  There are times and situations that require us to judge our brothers or sisters in the faith, to condemn what they are doing or saying as sinful and therefore harmful not just to themselves but to the entire Christian community.  Truth is truth.  Sometimes that truth can mean the difference between life and death, between harmony and discord in the body of Christ.  Other times, the truth does not carry such heavy repercussions provided we continue to above all seek to love one another in Christ (which means love one another in accord with the word of God, not with what we or someone else wants us to accept and love about them).

So, get over the coffee cup issue.  More importantly, watch how you talk about your brother or sister in Christ.  Make sure that what you say and think is motivated by love.  Accept the forgiveness of Christ when it isn’t and pray for the Holy Spirit to change your attitude.

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