Most churches today would say that they practice “hospitality“. They don’t! At least not in the same sense as the early church did during it’s 1st 500 years. Diana Butler Bass in her book, People’s History of Christianity, has researched this and points out a radical “hospitality” in the early church that we seldom see today. She also believes that radical hospitality is what set the early church apart from the rest of society and was the reason for the large number of converts in the early years.
She says: “Unlike almost every other contested idea in early Christianity,….the unanimous witness of the ancient fathers and mothers was that hospitality was the primary Christian virtue. From the New Testament texts that unambiguously urge believers to “practice hospitality” (Romans 12:13) through St. Augustine’s work in the fifth century, early Christian writings extol hospitality toward the sick, the poor, travelers, widows, orphans, slaves, prisoners, prostitutes, and the dying.” ( p.62, A People’s History of Christianity) Lucian (ca. 160) a pagan critic of Christianity, wrote of the lavish hospitality offered a local prisoner: “The efficiency the Christians show whenever matters of a community interest like this happens is unbelieveable, they literally spare nothing.” Bass tells of Cyprian of Carthage writing of the Plague of Galen (165-180 c.e.) when thousands died in the streets. Cyprian tells how Christians proved their spiritual mettle by tending to the sick. Because they did not fear death, they stayed behind in the plague-ravaged cities while others fled and their acts of mercy were extended to all regardless of race, tribe or religion. And many of the survivors were attracted to Christianity because of this.
The early Christians apparently took the words and actions of Jesus seriously. They believed that the Great Commandment Jesus gave to “love your neighbor as yourself” was what he meant. Jesus followed this commandment himself in his ministry as he extended his hospitality to the poor, the outsider, the sick, the deranged, the outsiders—unloved and unwanted human beings whom he called “the least of these” . amd took them all into his circle of care and protection. Listen to his words addressed to those who practiced such radical hospitality in the Gospel of Matthew: “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing. I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me…. (Matt. 25:34-36)
How do Christians today practice radical hospitality? Most of them don’t. When they say they practice hospitality they refer to greeters at the church door on Sunday a.m. to say hello and give a church bulletin; perhaps also to recognize “visitors” (why can’t we call them “guests” or “brothers and sisters”?) and have them stand and/or give them a small gift for attending. That’s about it! Some furnish coffee before and after church on Sundays but they are in the minority, I fear. I recently read an annual report from one of the churches in Hutchinson that had a hospitality committee report. Almost all of what they did , a fairly long list, last year was only for their own church family. No outreach to any of the above.
I was saddened to hear that when a community outreach program in Hutchinson, the Bread and Cup , was forced to move from the church where they originated, this program that fed 60-100+ poor and needy people every Friday, provided clothing and a food pantry and fellowship with followers of Jesus—and was practicing the Jesus-type of radical hospitality asked 7 ( seven) churches in the downtown area of Hutchinson for a place to move to and continue their ministry and were turned down by all seven of these churches. Even the Salvation Army turned a deaf ear to them. One church finally responded—they agreed to rent some small space to the Bread and Cup just for Friday’s—they can’t bring any of their equipment there!
My fellow Christians—I feel strongly that Jesus meant what he said when he gave the Great Commandment: “You shall love the Lord Your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength and your neighbor as yourself.”
When will Christians and their churches start to follow it?