Monday, April 16, 2007

Hospitality 2

As I was preparing to talk about hospitality in the early church at Hills on Sunday, I was amazed at how much I had looked at the book of Acts through the eyes of my late 20th century church eyes. You know, the church that has 3 or 4 hundred people in a nice church auditorium used a couple of times a week with everyone sitting in rows and facing the front listening to one person drone on and on and afterwards trying to find someone to go out to eat with so you could practice the hospitality you were shown by someone else last week.

Now (with my 21st century eyes) I am seeing stuff in the book of Acts I never realized was there. I am seeing that the house churches were the embodiment of biblical and Christian hospitality. These house churches were not preacing points but places where dialogue happened. (Preaching was primarily for the proclamation of the glad tidings to people who had not yet experienced the reality of the risen Christ.)

In my life the theological aspects of hospitality had been left unstudied. If I had ever heard a message on it, the main ideas were neighbourliness or inviting someone home for dinner after church. I never saw that the core of Christianity and the success of the movement revolved around hospitality. Hospitality resulted in household salvation and was the medium of the growth of Christianity

In many ways this is counter cultural teaching but Christians need to excel in this virtue and transform it into a distinctly Christian principle. We are called to a higher level of living than the society around us and so must live as relational people. A commitment to hospitality confronts our society's rampant individualism and it actually protects our life together as the people of God.

A few Scriptures ... Hospitality is our duty and the duty of elders Titus 1:8; it is a spiritual gift Rom 12:13; practice hospitality without grumbling 1 Peter 4:9; by hospitality we may entertain strangers Heb 13:2; in the gospels, the very success of the mission depended on hospitality – finding a man of peace and being welcomed into homes Mt 10:5-42; Mk 6:7-11; Lk 9:2-5; 10:1-16.

The challenge remains: can we break out of the individualistic culture around us (and deeply ingrained in us) in order actually practice what is commanded? I know it is challenging me because hospitality is exercised as a household and everyone in the household needs to cooperate - or at least comply - in order to make hospitality effective. The last post about the role of women in hospitality neglected to mention that it is a combined role requiring husband and wife (and often children and extended family) to participate together "without grumbling!"

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