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Forgotten Hospitality

· Church,hospitality,Christians

Somewhere along the way, the church in the West has forgotten its calling to be radically
hospitable. This is Christine Pohl’s provocative argument in Making Room: Recovering
Hospitality as a Christian Tradition
. I think she’s on to something.

In Scripture, it is almost inconceivable that God’s people would not be hospitable, since they
worship a God who consistently shows extraordinary hospitality. He creates for humanity a
world full of beauty and provision, and when later he rescues Israel from Egypt, he brings his
people into his land so that they could enjoy his bounty. Many centuries later, Jesus embodies
this hospitality, welcoming the weary to find rest in him, offering food and drink to thousands.
Through his death and resurrection, strangers—even enemies—are brought into the household
of God as sons and daughters who can say, “Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all my
days, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

Consequently, hospitality is not only suggested for God’s people. It is commanded by God. As
guests in God’s land, Israel was directed to welcome and care for the sojourner (Deut 10:18,19).
In the New Testament the church is commanded to pursue hospitality (Rom 12:13), to be
careful not to neglect it (Heb 13:2), and to practice hospitality without complaining (1 Peter 4:9),
implicitly acknowledging that hospitality is difficult! So important was this practice that Christians
could not be church leaders if they did not demonstrate a commitment to hospitality (1 Tim 3:2,

The early church recognized this. Above all, Christians were committed to caring for fellow
believers in need and welcoming them into their homes. Beyond this, Christians were so
effective in welcoming and caring for even those not belonging to the church that Emperor
Julian spoke with frustration of how he could not hope to stop Christianity if they kept caring so
well for the poor. Church leaders such as Basil of Caesarea established early hospitals to
enable the church to grow in their capacity to welcome and care for others.

Over time, however, believers became less focused on radically Christian hospitality. Caring for
the poor and needy was increasingly outsourced to hospitals and monasteries. People invited
others over for meals primarily for social and political advancement. According to Pohl, for most
of the western church, hospitality “got lost” by the 18 th century.

So here’s the question that has captivated me over the past few weeks since reading this book:
what would it look like if we remembered and recaptured the calling of hospitality? What would it
mean for our church to exhibit distinctly Christian, radical hospitality?

It’s certainly worth thinking about.

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