Dr. Christine Pohl is professor of Church and Society/Christian Ethics. She has taught at Asbury Theological Seminary since 1989.
Hospitality is at the center of the Gospel. A life of hospitality is essential to the life of a follower of Jesus. “Hospitality condenses a lot of the meaning of the Gospel.”
A Rich Tradition
There is a rich tradition of hospitality in scripture:
Genesis 18 – Abraham and Sarah – Unexpected guests are offered hospitality… food and rest. They discover they’re hosting angels and receive a message of joy and hope.
John 1 – Jesus was not received hospitably but he was hospitable. He welcomed people and fed them.
Luke 24 – The Road to Emmaus. When he breaks the bread they recognize him.
Rev 3:20 – Jesus standing at the door knocking.
Eden – humans hosted in a garden, Exodus – food from heaven, Jesus says he himself is the bread of life, the bread form heaven…
A Powerful Apologetic
In the first century hospitality marked the gospel as authentic because people from diverse ethnic backgrounds shared meals together and treated each other hospitably. This was a great witness to the watching world. It was a very powerful apologetic.
Almost everything happened around hospitality and shared meals. In the context of hospitality they nurtured new believers. It wasn’t easy even then. They had to remind each other to remain hospitable. The overlap of household and church is where hospitality happened.
But it was not just a Christian practice. Hospitality was generally viewed as a pillar of morality on which the universe rested. It was seen as a form of mutual aid and was often connected to the divine. But only Christianity tied it so closely. The ancient church was convinced that opening their doors to the poor and helpless was the way of Jesus but also did it because they might be entertaining angels. (Heb 13:2)
Our welcome to strangers will reenact God’s welcome to us. We welcome one another as Christ welcomed us. The practice of hospitality roots us in mundane things: food, security, shelter…
Hospitality is at the heart of congregational and pastoral care and outreach and worship. Christian hospitality is different. It isn’t a way of reinforcing social standing but a way of negating it. We are to welcome everyone, not just people who are able to return a favor.
Protestant Reformers recovered the practice. We’ve domesticated it, turned it into hosting only family and friends. The loss of a biblical hospitality practices was at the root of the formation of welfare and other social services.
Why Recovery of Hospitality is Important
1. Gives us a fresh lens to think about our faith
2. Crucial to the credibility of the gospel. People today are convinced less by rational arguments (although those too are important) than lived-out beliefs
3. The number of people who are coming to faith from non-Christian backgrounds. It encourages personal mentoring, accountability and relationships that are formed through hospitality
4. It helps to reconnect church and home. “The front door of the home is the side door of the church.”
5. Our culture is open to mystery (in fact, dangerously so) and as Christians we have a window into the ultimate mystery.
Challenges when we embrace this practice
Why do we hesitate? What makes it hard?
It rearranges our lives and lifestyles. Our lives are more exposed. When we invite people and share ourselves it exposes our deficiencies and weaknesses. It unravels our attempts to project a certain image. Vulnerability. Hospitality stretches us.
It is riskier today; we can’t always welcome everyone. But people don’t always need a social worker or a therapist; they need a friend, someone to care for them.