Archives For hospitality

Today Christian families are often also military families but at the beginnings of our religion that was definitely not the case. Up until about the time Constantine made Christianity a State religion (about 350 CE) to be a Christian meant you refused military service. Of course Augustine in the fifth century disavowed this belief and put forth the first rationalization of a “just war”. After that this belief, like so many others, was all but thrown out the window by many future church leaders.

Here is a story by Diana Butler Bass from her book  A People’s History of Christianity: The Other Side of the Story — 

Martin of Tours (ca. 316–397) was born into a pagan family, but as a young man he expressed interest in Christianity. His father, however, was appalled by the religion and forced Martin to join the Roman army. While he served as a soldier, Martin’s curiosity about Christianity grew, as did his strong sense of morality, until he became a catechumen. The cloak episode supposedly occurred when he was still an inquirer. The cloak is most likely the stuff of pious legend, a story told to make a point. But the point was clear: Martin was devout, even before baptism, and followed the way of hospitality and sharing. When he was baptized, Martin demonstrated yet another early Christian practice by asking to be released from the army. “I am Christ’s soldier,” he maintained; “I am not allowed to fight.” Martin was not a conscientious objector in the modern sense; he was merely stating early Christian practice.

Before theologians Ambrose and Augustine in later decades made a case for just war, Christians were not allowed to fight. No record exists that Christians served in the Roman army before the year 170. The strong consensus of the early church teachers was that war meant killing, killing was murder, and murder was wrong. In the third century Cyprian of Carthage noted, “The world is going mad in mutual bloodshed. And murder, which is considered a crime when people commit it singly, is transformed into a virtue when they do it en masse.” Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Hippolytus, Tertullian, and Origen all specifically condemned participation in war. “The Christian fathers of the first three centuries,” states theologian Lisa Sowle Cahill, “were generally adamant that discipleship requires close adherence to the nonviolent and countercultural example of Jesus’s own life and his sayings about the nature of the kingdom.”

About the only current day Christian denomination to continue following this practice is the Quakers and lately even they have been lax in forwarding this principle. There are even some churches today that put a sword in Jesus’ hands and proudly announce that he will kill our enemies.  That brings back dreadful thoughts of the Crusades where millions were killed in the name of Jesus. I think Jesus is totally shocked by all of this.

I think the words of Cyprian are as applicable today as they were eighteen hundred years ago when he wrote them:

“The world is going mad in mutual bloodshed. And murder, which is considered a crime when people commit it singly, is transformed into a virtue when they do it en masse.”

No this post is not about anything in today’s world. There are some Christians who are on evangelism missions abroad who are doing risky things but for the most part Christians are pretty well settled down in their safe lives much like everyone else in this country.  But that definitely was not the case for many in the early church.

Here are some words about early Christians doing very risky things to show that they were followers of Jesus and were intent on following his examples.  This quote is from  A People’s History of Christianity: The Other Side of the Story by Diana Butler Bass.

During the second century’s great epidemic, known as the Plague of Galen (165–180), in which hundreds of thousands of people died in the streets, Christians proved their spiritual mettle by tending to the sick. As Bishop Cyprian of Carthage would later claim, that plague was a winnowing process, in which God’s justice was shown by “whether the well care for the sick, whether relatives dutifully love their kinsfolk as they should, whether masters show compassion for their ailing slaves, whether physicians do not desert the afflicted.” Because they did not fear death, Christians stayed behind in plague-ravaged cities while others fled. Their acts of mercy extended to all the suffering regardless of class, tribe, or religion and created the conditions in which others accepted their faith. Christianity succeeded because it “prompted and sustained attractive, liberating, and effective social relations and organizations.” Translated from sociologist-speak, that means Christians did risky, compelling, and good things that helped people.

The basis of this story is centered around the early Christian concept of hospitality.  Hospitality is defined as the practice of welcoming those whom Jesus calls “the least of these” into the heart of community.  It was a central theme in the early church. Lets review those Bible verses about the least of these.

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)

This testimony represents Jesus’s notion of hospitality. It seems that so many Christian congregations put up walls against the “least of these” instead of welcoming them. From personal experiences I know churches do occasionally have a project usually around Christmas or Thanksgiving where they collect canned goods and such and some even buy small gifts for a needy family. While this is a good first small step it does little to satisfy the actual overall need.  It is estimated that church giving accounts for about 3% of the overall need of the poor and homeless. The other 97% is usually met by our government.

If only today’s churches took to heart the words of Jesus to even a small degree of the early Christians our government would not have to do as much in our place.

Hospitality….

July 12, 2012 — Leave a comment

Hospitality was a very important thing to the early Christians. They put it above beliefs in their understanding of Jesus. I will use a quote from Diane Butler Bass’ book Christianity After Religionto illustrate this point:

Not offering hospitality was a much greater failure than not believing that Jesus was truly God and truly human. Early Christians judged ethical failings as the most serious breach of community, even as they accepted a significant amount of theological diversity in their midst. 

Hospitality to these early followers meant following Jesus’ command to love one another. But just what did they mean by hospitality? It was sharing whatever you have with those who don’t have as much. It was caring for those who had no one else to care for them. It was loving the unloved. These were things that the People of the Way were most concerned about.

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)

This testimony represents Jesus’s notion of hospitality. Unlike today, the early Christians were extremely good at hospitality.  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 works in the fifth century, early Christian writings extol hospitality toward the sick, the poor, travelers, widows, orphans, slaves, prisoners, prostitutes, and the dying. It totally astounds me that the current political party in the U.S. that claims the Christian banner is so unlike any of this characteristics!

From what historians can gather, hospitality—not martyrdom—served as the main motivator for conversions. People just saw how these early Christians lived and wanted to be a part of it. Hospitality was a BIG thing in the early churches.

Lets finish up this post with a quote from A People’s History of Christianity: The Other Side of the Story (Bass, Diana Butler). She talks about an early Christian document call the Epistle to Diognetus (no unfortunately this one did not end up in our current day Bible as it just might have changed some of our beliefs about Jesus) :

The early Christian text (from the second or third century) known as the Epistle to Diognetus explains that Christianity is neither an ethnicity nor earthly citizenship but a way of life that is somehow at odds with the societies in which the faithful reside. Christians may look like everyone else, but their actions—including practices of hospitality, charity, and nonviolence—make them different: For the Christians are distinguished from other men neither by country, nor language, nor the customs which they observe…. They dwell in their own countries, but simply as sojourners. As citizens, they share in all things with others, and yet endure all things as if foreigners. Every foreign land is to them as their native country, and every land of their birth as a land of strangers. They marry, as do all [others]; they beget children; but they do not destroy their offspring. They have a common table, but not a common bed. They are in the flesh, but they do not live after the flesh. They pass their days on earth, but they are citizens of heaven. They obey the prescribed laws, and at the same time surpass the laws by their lives. They love all men, and are persecuted by all. They are unknown and condemned; they are put to death, and restored to life. They are poor, yet make many rich; they are in lack of all things, and yet abound in all; they are dishonored, and yet in their very dishonor are glorified. They are evil spoken of, and yet are justified; they are reviled, and bless; they are insulted, and repay the insult with honor; they do good, yet are punished as evil-doers. When punished, they rejoice as if quickened into life.