Below are some recent thoughts on hospitality and the church. I’d like to hear your thoughts:
We can gain a lot of information from the perspectives of even those who were hostile to Christianity. Celsus, in his observations, writing around 180 AD, picks up on the “close-knit structure and coherence” of the Christian movement. Celsus cites this intimacy as a strength of the movement, but attributed this strength not to anything fundamental within the teachings of Christianity but as a result of being persecuted (Chadwick, 54). Celsus’s observations of the close-knit social group her despises and writes about, are really an indicator that these 2nd Century believers were taking the words of Jesus very seriously in Jn. 13:134-35, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Celsus is write to note the intimacy, care, and concern that was evident in Christianity, but is wrong in his assessment that is not the result of an internal principle. For Christians, this coherence as a people is the principle which holds us together. The church is family, the church cares for one another, because we are connected together with Christ as His body on earth! I think also, that the early church would cling to Jesus’ words so passionately illuminates the importance of the teachings of Jesus, and the Word of God in the early church, especially in the face of opposition.
Chadwick cites the importance of hospitality as probably the most important tool for the cause of the success of Christianity (Chadwick, 56). Chadwick goes on to cite examples of what the early church did for others, not just those inside the church, but for “outsiders,” as well: Christians took care of the poor, cared for widows and orphans, visited brothers in prison, or those working in work camps, and were (as I take it) first responders and provided enduring care in the face of calamitous events such as earthquakes, pestilence, and war. Also, the early Christians provided hospitality to travelers for up to a period of three nights, without dealing with the “red-tape,” people were helped, no questions asked! The only requirement was that the traveler would prove his faith in Christ.
Wow! The early church practiced what they believed, and had heard Jesus and his first followers do for the less fortunate, and the poor and marginalized in society. Hospitality in the early church was apparently messy, and these early Christians were not afraid to get their hands dirty, or open their homes or purses to alleviate the sufferings of those they were ministering too. I think hospitality differs today in the 21st century in uneasiness that Christians and churches have of “outsiders,” or “strangers.” It seems that we as the church are afraid of being taken advantage of. What I read in the Bible, and read this week in Chadwick, it seems that the church today has lost a practical theology of hospitality. While there are good things that do take place all over our country, and the world, by Christians, I think in America we are more loyal to our comfort and our liberties that we have forgotten what it means to truly be the hands and feet of Jesus! If hospitality is meant as an open door if you will for unbelievers, or fellow believers to see Jesus on display through the lives of his people, then the church has to be willing to take risks and immerse ourselves in people’s messy lives.
Henry Chadwick, The Early Church (revised edition 1993)