by Chris Freet
Is hospitality something that has, in a sense, been co-opted in the West? Perhaps a quick Google search could shed some light on this for us. The result of this search brings up websites pertaining to restaurant and hotel management topics and issues. It would indeed seem that hospitality in the West has become an industry focused upon making a profit. When compared with the teachings of Christian scripture it would seem that there is a divide between biblical hospitality and what is passed off as hospitality within our Western culture today.
A simple definition of hospitality is “welcoming the stranger/other.” Our cultural understanding of hospitality seems to thrive on welcoming the stranger, but for a small (or not so small) fee. The Western business model of hospitality appears to view the stranger/other as a commodity or a “consumer” rather than a blessing or an opportunity to build bridges with someone who may be different in some way. I understand that our culture is not equated with the Church, so I want to be careful not to equate the two. However, has the Church in the West been effected by this business approach to hospitality? I think if we take an honest look at ourselves we could say “yes, we have.”
God as Host
I think (and I argue in my book) that hospitality is rooted in the very nature of God himself. Within the creation account according to Genesis chapters 1 and 2, we witness what I call God’s “great invitation” to humanity. The Garden belongs to God; it is his “home” into which he invites humanity. In this great invitation, humanity finds identity, purpose and life. These elements reside at the core of the practice of hospitality. Whenever a stranger is welcomed in, a space is created in which these elements begin to work, thus changing both guest and host in profound ways. In light of this, the fall of humanity recorded in Genesis 3 can be viewed as humanity rebelling against God’s hospitality. The result of this is a closed door, a significant picture within the realm of hospitality.
Hospitality and the Church
In the pages of the New Testament we see that hospitality is mentioned numerous times (cf. Acts 28:7; Romans 12:13; 1 Timothy 3:2; 5:10; Titus 1:8; Hebrews 13:2; 1 Peter 4:9; 3 John 8). Within each context the focus is on the practice of hospitality within the life of the Church. Hospitality is to be a hallmark of the Christian faith. In part, it is tied to the reality and it is a reminder that we, too, are strangers in this place so the church needs to welcome the stranger/other. The church is to show hospitality to (1) other believers and (2) those outside the Church. As followers of the God who has shown hospitality to us, especially in Jesus Christ, we are to be a people that imitate God by showing hospitality to those around us.
In what ways have you, your family, or your Church family experienced or practiced hospitality?