Day: January 25, 2011

why hospitality is such a big deal in the New Testament

Now a bishop must be above reproach, married only once, temperate, sensible, respectable, hospitable, an apt teacher, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, and not a lover of money. (1 Tim 3.2-3)

A bishop, as God’s steward, must be blameless; he must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or addicted to wine or violent or greedy for gain; but he must be hospitable, a lover of goodness, prudent, upright, devout, and self-controlled. He must have a firm grasp of the word that is trustworthy in accordance with the teaching, so that he may be able both to preach with sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict it. (Titus 1.7-9)

Does it surprise you that hospitality is right up there in the qualifications for ‘bishops’ (overseers)?

It’s not the only qualification of course. But it’s clearly a big deal. Big enough to make Paul’s list (when I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t have made mine).

Why is hospitality such a big deal?

In her extremely helpful book, Making Room: Recovering Hospitality as a Christian Tradition (pages 29-33), Christine D. Pohl attempts to explain its prominence in the New Testament.

To begin with, Pohl points to the overarching storyline of Old and New Testaments and observing how much emphasis is placed on the fact that God’s people either are or had once been strangers in need of hospitality and welcome.

In the Old Testament it’s encoded in constant reminders of Israel’s slavery in Egypt. In the New Testament it’s bound up with the pilgrim status of the church, which ‘is nothing if it is not an assembly of migrants, answerable finally to the law of another city’ — to use Rowan Williams’ memorable phrase (Why Study the Past, page 41).

Pohl then identifies three aspects of early Christian life that converged to make hospitality central:

  • The ongoing tussle in the early church over precisely who was to benefit from the fulfilment of God’s promises to Israel through Jesus. Who you extended hospitality to (or accepted hospitality from) gave a very concrete answer to this question.
  • The way the initial spread of the message about Jesus depended on travelling Christians — whether itinerant evangelists, ‘economic’ migrants who took the message with them or believers fleeing persecution.
  • The importance of the family household as the typical context for Christian gatherings.

For Pohl, then, hospitality is a big deal because of the interplay between the theological identity of God’s people and the particular circumstances (at once theological and cultural) the early Christians found themselves in.

If she’s right, then I wonder where that leaves hospitality today?