–by John Crawford
What if I told you that Christian hospitality was a necessary key to reclaiming our culture for Christ? It may sound extreme, but it makes sense. As Christians effectively show hospitality by opening their lives to and serving others, they will begin to affect their surrounding communities and culture at a very fundamental level.
Open homes, open hearts
As my family and I were travelling out of town over a Sunday, we found ourselves in a small church where the richness of community was apparent. Following the service, we fellowshipped with the congregation during their weekly meal together. The invitation for fellowship was extended beyond the lunch and later that afternoon we found ourselves in the home of one of the families. The spontaneity on their part was quite planned in that they set aside each Sunday not only for rest, but for merriment with others in their home. Their extension of Christian hospitality was both enjoyable and meaningful.
The Church has distanced itself
This expression of Christianity was characteristic of the early Church. In the late 300s, the Emperor Julian ordered that hostels be established in every city for needy strangers. He did this chiefly to combat the spread and influence of the Christian faith as well as to re-establish Hellenic religion. The church was active in providing hospitality and charity and he rightly observed how effective it was for advancing her cause.
Hospitality is central to the Gospel
These practices find their root in Scripture. Paul instructs believers to practice hospitality (Rom. 12:13), the writer of Hebrews reminds believers not to neglect hospitality (Heb. 13:2), the author of 1 Peter challenges the community to offer hospitality ungrudgingly (1 Pet. 4:9). These instructions to early believers stem from the reality that Christian hospitality is central to the Gospel. Without Christ, we are all destitute strangers. In His grace, He takes us in, opens His table to us, and offers fellowship. He expects His people to emulate this act of grace. “But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.” – Luke 14:13-14.
If the practice of hospitality is encouraged in Scripture, practiced during the early advancement of the Church, and so closely linked to the Gospel – what happened? Why has the practice seemingly disappeared? While pockets of the practice are still present, the focus moved from extending hospitality, to entertaining peers, or those from whom one could further social advantage.
The modern lifestyle of busy-ness
Perhaps the death knell came with a number of other dynamics that emerged during the industrialisation of society and the all-consuming “busy-ness” wherein we find ourselves today. Given the current pace of life, it is no wonder we find ourselves at a place where opening our home, extending hospitality, and providing charity is something that seems impossible to carry out. It is much easier to let specialised institutions – private and state-run – take care of the charity. And as for our homes, they have become smaller and more private… a cherished retreat from the world into which one admits few strangers. After all, we have to protect the limited time with our families, right?
Regain our cultural influence
This would be all well and good if it were not for God’s Word providing us a different picture. To not roll up our sleeves and engage at a very personal level would be an affront to Christ Himself. “For I was hungry and you gave Me food, I was thirsty and you gave Me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed Me”. – Matthew 25:35. Christian hospitality and charity are indispensable to the mission of the Church. If we truly want to expand our cultural influence, we will have to regain an understanding of this important truth.
*First published in American Vision.
AMERICAN VISION has been at the heart of worldview study since 1978, providing resources to exhort Christian families and individuals to live by a Biblically based worldview. www.americanvision.org.