Many of the songs we use in worship include familial language. For someone who grew up in church in the 1980s, the song “Father Welcomes” by Robin Mann, with its gentle, flowing melody (“Father welcomes all His children to His fam’ly through His Son, Father giving His salvation Life forever has been won”) immediately comes to mind. More recently, Third Day produced “Children of God,” which includes the lyrics “We are the saints, We are the children, We’ve been redeemed, We’ve been forgiven, We are the sons and daughters of our God.”
These songs often leave us feeling warm and fuzzy. They usually focus on the blessings and benefits that come with being members of God’s family.
The basis for the use of such familial language is, of course, the biblical text itself. The OT talks about God as father (although not as frequently as we might expect). In Jeremiah 31: 9, for example, the Lord declares “for I have become a father to Israel, and Ephraim is my firstborn.” While in the NT we find key passages such as Romans 8: 14-17, where Paul announces that “all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God” and “have received a spirit of adoption…heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ” (cf. Gal 4: 6-7).
But what did the biblical authors have in mind when they used familial language? Failure to ask this question means that we will simply rely on a process known as “cultural reflex”, whereby we uncritically import modern notions and perspectives onto the ancient text. This can be particularly problematic when we are dealing with social institutions such as marriage and the family. Some of the key points of difference between ancient and modern conceptions can be summarised in the following table:
|Family/marriage in the modern world||Family/marriage in the ancient world|
|The primary driver for marriage is the love of two individuals||The primary driver for marriage was the need to secure the wellbeing of the households of which the two individuals were a part|
|The basic family unit is defined along conjugal lines (father, mother, and their offspring)||The basic family unit was multigenerational, with primary emphasis on blood ties|
|Exogamous marriage (marriage outside of the immediate kinship group) is the norm||Endogamous marriage (marriage within the immediate kinship group) seems to have been the norm (at least in ancient Israel)|
But perhaps the key difference – the one that would be most noticeable to us if we were to travel back to ancient Israel – was the extent of the responsibilities that came about because of membership in a family. Being a member of a family brought with it certain privileges and blessings (not least of which was its positive contribution to an individual’s psychological wellbeing, including a sense of belonging), but it also brought with it significant duties and obligations, especially when one member or group within the extended family network was experiencing difficult times. While everyone contributed to the wellbeing of the family in their own unique ways, the role of the go’el (often translated as kinsman-redeemer) was particularly significant. Such an individual was expected to avenge the murder of a relative (or rape of a sister, Num 35: 9ff), to raise a male heir to his brother who died childless (levirate marriage; Deut 25: 5-10), to redeem land lost within the clan (Lev 25: 23-28), and to maintain (=support) a fellow kinsman and/or his dependants or redeem them from debt (Lev 25: 35-55) (Pilch, 2012: 117).
One of the reasons given for the frequent use of familial language in the NT is the disruptive effect that Christian conversion might have had on pagan households. Throughout the world today, converting to Christianity (= the decision to become a member of God’s family) may result in the expulsion from one’s birth family. While this is less common in modern Australia, it is likely that many people in our congregations come from families which are “broken” in some way (whether through divorce, substance abuse, unhealthy relationships, etc.). How then do we, the church, be the family of God? What might this look like in our context – with both its privileges and responsibilities?
In the limited space available, let me give one suggestion. Due to the nature and demands of the modern workforce, it is becoming increasingly common for people to have to move to find employment (this is especially the case for young people who are looking to get their foot in the employment door after graduating from university). These people often end up establishing themselves in a different city from the one in which they grew up. This means that when they come to have children they often lack the support structures (especially the help of their parents) that family provides. Conversely, this dynamic also means that grandparents no longer have easy “access” to their grandchildren, and thus miss out on the joy that young children bring. In this context a vital ministry would seem to me to involve creating linkages between “grandparentless” new parents with “grandchildrenless” grandparents. Of course, we would need to be careful in how this is done; there should be an appropriate level of concern for child safety, for example. Such a ministry, however, has the potential to be a blessing for all involved, a tangible expression of familial love for those who are united by the bonds of faith, embodying the concerns of a God who we praise as the one who “sets the lonely in families” (Ps 68: 6, NIV).
Dr Aaron Chalmers- Head of School Ministry, Theology and Culture
We thought we’d choose an uncontroversial topic this time around so we decided to focus on family. Inside you’ll find thoughtful articles on Jesus’ radical redefinition of the family, what it meant to be family in the ancient world and what it might therefore mean to be the family of God in the modern world, and a “conversation” between two of our faculty around an important recent work on domestic violence. I hope there is something that interests and engages you.
You’ll also find some information about a one-day conference we have planned for November in Adelaide: TheologiCon, an exploration of pop culture and the Christian faith in the 21st century. If you are a ministry leader, engaged with young people, or just have a passion for pop-culture, I’m sure you’ll love it. Further details will be available on the web shortly, and we’d really appreciate it if you could help spread the word.
Over the last couple of months I have been reminded again and again by the two pillars that hold up this place: the grace and provision of God and the support of Churches who work in partnership with us for the sake of the Kingdom here in Australia. As always, we’d love to hear from you. If you have any feedback, questions or comments, please contact us at email@example.com
Look out for the links to our articles in the coming weeks. If you would like hard copies sent to you please email firstname.lastname@example.org
In His Service,
Dr Aaron Chalmers
Head of School (Ministry, Theology and Culture)
Director of the Centre for Promotion of Church Health
A few years ago I had a disagreement with a politician about words. He was using a phrase that was understood in the popular media at the time as a ‘slogan’ with a particular emphasis. I assumed that was what he meant by using this phrase; he assured me he had a more nuanced perspective. The key to our disagreement was that he said it was my responsibility to make sure I knew what he intended to communicate, and my problem if I misunderstood him. Conversely, I suggested it was his responsibility to consider how I would hear what he was saying and to use words that ensured I would receive his intention. In the end we agreed to disagree, but it is a conversation I have often thought about. Does the onus lie on the speaker or the hearer to make sure communication is clearly understood? And what does that have to do with hospitality?
I believe that as someone who has a good message to proclaim, the onus is on me to make sure my words are being heard and understood, rather than expecting or assuming my hearers will know what I intend. This is what missiologists call “contextualisation,” making sure our message is communicated in a way that makes sense to those receiving it. To me, this is a form of hospitality. I invite someone into the conversation in a way that is welcoming when I focus not so much on what I want to say, but on what they will hear and receive.
The mental picture many people have of hospitality is inviting someone into their home. Which is a lovely, welcoming thing to do. However, there is an important caveat. Our home is our “turf.” It is the place where we feel most comfortable, where we do things our way. If we expect and assume someone will “fit in” with us, are we truly being welcoming? Or is hospitality about making the other person feel comfortable, choosing to accommodate ourselves to their way of doing things, making someone else feel at home rather than simply being in our home? What would it look like to live that kind of hospitality in speech and in action?
Rev Dr Melinda Cousins
I have been particularly interested in the dynamics of hospitality since our family welcomed a refugee from West Africa into our home some years ago. After a few months of getting to know him, Ali turned up unannounced at our dining room table one Sunday evening: “Can I stay with you?” His living situation had become untenable. With 5 kids in our family—including a newborn—our adventure began.
We learnt a lot over his 5 week stay. Hospitality invites the engagement of host and guest; we discovered hands on what these roles actually looked like. Hospitality involves the creation of space for another to both be and become; we learnt how to make space in our home and our hearts for Ali, modelling acceptance and providing practical help where we could for him to move forward.
What really surprised me, however, was the mutual nature of embodied hospitality. Even as I played ‘host’ to Ali, I experienced my own challenges and changes as I met some foreigners within myself: Bruce the racist, Bruce who felt so noble in helping this person, and Bruce the scrooge, to name a few. Until then I had never really met these strangers or had reason to converse with them. Ali formed strong bonds with our kids, and often his graciousness, warmth of spirit and rich contribution to our family life provided a strong contrast to the unsettling dynamics of formation occurring within myself.
Just who was hosting who?
Christine Pohl says that “[s]trangers rarely bring only their needs; within the hospitality relationship, hosts often experience profound blessing. Acts of hospitality participate in and reflect God’s greater hospitality and therefore hold some connection to the divine, to holy ground”. 1 Mutuality, I discovered, is a key aspect of such holy ground. And central to mutuality is vulnerability. Genuine hosting means relinquishing any ‘power’ we might feel as the host, and being open to receiving from the strangers in our midst.
Jesus embodied this as he messed with the usual protocols for hospitality. Often he brought God’s shalom to people while he ate their food. As a wedding guest he provided the choice wine. He sent his disciples out to manifest the kingdom as guests in people’s homes. For those who offer a basic hospitable act such as providing a cup of cold water, he insisted the encounter is divine.
Vulnerability and openness lie at the heart of hospitality, for both host and stranger. As soon as offering hospitality becomes a mechanism for feeling noble or subtly exercising power, it has lost its essence. Conversely, when we offer hospitality with a posture of vulnerability and openness, we may just find ourselves on holy ground as we embody the well-known exhortation: “Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it” (Hebrews 13:2).
Christine D. Pohl, Making Room: Recovering Hospitality as a Christian Tradition (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1999), 13
“Come over for dinner?” Much western hospitality has become an invite to friends or someone just met – often someone who thinks and looks like us. As Christians, when we’ve done this we may feel we have fulfilled the biblical injunction to “practice hospitality”. We may have done what we can – and that’s good, but if this is the only way we practice hospitality we have not understood the essence of hospitality in the world of the Bible.
In the pre-hotel ancient world, hospitality was the welcome of a stranger who arrived in your village or at your home or compound, and needed a place of shelter for the night. Hospitality was a sacred duty to your God in Judaism, Christianity and other religions. Hospitality was about making room for people and giving them a place at the table. A protocol of ancient hospitality was that it was undemanding in that the stranger was welcomed in without the host first determining their name, business, etc. It was impolite to ask the guest’s name until their animals were cared for and the guests had eaten.
We live in a different world. Strangers are danger, not potential angels (cf. Heb 13: 2). We don’t live in compounds with large extended families. Paid accommodation abounds. No one is knocking on our door seeking a bed, and if they did many of us would lack the capacity or courage to welcome them in. “Stranger Danger” needs to be factored in to our hospitality. Consequently, hospitality distils to people we know who are like us.
At Blair Athol, a suburb characterized by difference and otherness (57 languages spoken in the local Primary School!), we try in our Drop-in Centre to practice some of the ancient mores of hospitality. Hospitality is done together at the Church because it’s not practical and may not be safe to practice alone in our homes. But together we form a large and extended family and have learnt to safely welcome strangers into our “compound”. We are undemanding and a person may attend for weeks before we know their name. The stranger is not asked to conform or reform in order to be made welcome, unless they are a threat to others in the space, when they may be asked to leave. We believe that once we start making demands on a stranger, whatever we are offering ceases to be hospitality.
This hospitality requires lots of grace and carries some dangers.
Hospitality involves tolerance because it requires accepting in the other what we may not understand or agree with. The danger with this degree of tolerance is that it requires the suspension of judgement, and this is naïve given our sinfulness.
When this degree of hospitality is practiced, the question arises, “Does this mean the host forfeits all rights, suspends all judgment and tolerates anything and everything?” I think the answer is “No.” Instead, we have to “to trust that God, through the Holy Spirit, will make demands on the guest.” (John16:8).
Our job is to love and welcome people as God loves and welcomes us – not to “fix” people. Our experience in providing hospitality that is welcoming and undemanding of strangers is that it is intrinsically missional. We have seen lives changed and people come to faith, not because we demanded of them, but because God through the Spirit made a demand on them to which they responded.
Stranger danger impedes mission. But if we courageously risk welcoming the stranger, including those who are different, intimidating or threatening, we may find ourselves in the presence of an angel.
This article first appeared in “Need 2 Know (September 2016)”, a publication of Churches of Christ SA and NT.
Rev Grant Simpson is the Minister at Blair Athol Church of Christ. His Master of Ministry thesis was entitled “The Church as a Community of Friends: Hospitality and Friendship as Mission”
Mark Riessen- Tabor, College of Higher Education
For our MANNA online magazine http://www.yumpu.com/en/account/profile/subscription_plans/adfree
The Christian God is inherently hospitable- open hearted and welcoming. This is who he is. This is what he has always been like. This is what theologians mean when they say that God is Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Michael Reeves says in his book Delighting in the Trinity that “It is only when you grasp what it means for God to be Trinity that you really sense the beauty , the overflowing kindness, the heart grabbing loveliness of God.” It is also where all talk of Christian hospitality should begin, for it is only in receiving the hospitality of this wonderful God that we are freed to join in his hospitality towards others. Becoming hospitable is not something we have to work at, but something we share in.
Jürgen Moltmann says that ono before he called the world into existence with the command “Let there be,” the Father’s nature was always to “let be” – to grant space and room for the other. Early theologians referred to the Father as a fountain forever overflowing with life and love. A fountain that did not overflow could not be called a fountain, just so, the Father would not be the Father if he was not inherently life-giving and loving. This is his nature – essential to who he is. Karl Barth says the Christian God is the self-giving God– the God who is himself in his self-giving.
That the triune God is forever giving is disclosed to us in the way that he acts towards us. It is why Jesus said “As the Father has loved me so have I loved you” (Jn 15:19), and why Paul assures us that “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all, how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? (Rom 8:32). It is also why Tom Smail calls the Holy Spirit the “Giving Gift,” or “the Gift that keeps on giving,” and why Michael Reeves speaks of the beautifying work of the Spirit in our lives as an act of divine sharing – “Through the giving of the Spirit, God shares with us – catches us up into-the life that is his.” It is also why, the early Church Father Irenaeus said long ago, the Son and the Spirit are the two hands of the Father reaching out to gather us up into the Father’s embrace.
What greater expression of hospitality could there be: the hospitable God receiving us, welcoming us, granting us a share in his own divine life? By the grace of God alone, we, sinners as we are, have been taken in by God himself. C. S. Lewis says that we have been “welcomed into the heart of things.” Through the Spirit we too experience the Father’s delight in his Son. We actually share in the Son’s belovedness – “to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved” (Eph 1:6). Our one great sin, then, is to refuse the hospitality of this God – to say no to the God who loves us, to close ourselves to the one who has opened his life to us – or, having received from him, to refuse to pass on this hospitality to others.
What does sharing in the hospitality of God towards others look like? I can find no better illustration than in Victor Hugo’s classic novel Les Miserables, where Bishop Monseigneur Bienvenu (his name means “welcome”) surprises the ex-prisoner and now destitute Jean Valjean by receiving him as an honoured guest into his house. The dialogue between the two goes like this:
“Monsieur Cure,” said the man, “you are good: you don’t despise me. You take me into your house; you light your candles for me, and I haven’t hid from you where I come from, and how miserable I am.
The bishop, who was sitting near him, touched his hand gently and said: “You need not tell me who you are. This is not my house; it is the house of Christ. It does not ask any comer whether he has a name, but whether he has an affliction. You are suffering; you are hungry and thirsty; be welcome. And do not thank me; do not tell me that I take you into my house. This is the home of no man, except him who needs asylum. I tell you, who are a traveler, that you are more at home here than I; whatever is here is yours. What need have I to know your name? Besides, before you told me, I knew it.
The man opened his eyes in astonishment:
“Really? You knew my name?”
“Yes,” answered the bishop, “your name is my brother.”
For our online MANNA magazine http://www.yumpu.com/en/account/profile/subscription_plans/adfree
The word “hospitality” often evokes images of a warm house on a cold night, delicious smells, and family laughing together around a full table. We imagine somebody from outside being welcomed into a home filled with grace, joy, safety, and peace.
Certainly, this is part of the Christian view of hospitality, but it doesn’t end there. Indeed, the word hospital is intrinsically linked to hospitality.
Christians invented hospitals. While many societies had places for the sick, few of those places were in any way hospitable. Yet from the beginning, Christians welcomed the sick into their homes, caring for them. Once Christians received unprecedented resources from Constantine, they immediately established hospitals all over the Roman Empire. During the Crusades, the pope commissioned the Knights Hospitallers in 1113 to manage a hospital in Jerusalem. They were also called the Order of Saint John, and their legacy remains today through the St John’s Ambulance service.
Yet few of us would naturally identify a hospital ward with the same warm emotions as a family table. Hospitals are often places of sickness, of pain, of lament. We want to go to the table. We don’t want to go anywhere near a hospital bed.
This only gets worse when we try to imagine a hospital in the early Church period or the medieval era. This is a time without the four “As”: Antiseptics, Antibiotics, Analgesics, or Anaesthetics. Nobody knew about germs. The dominant medical framework was taken from ancient Greece, and was almost completely wrong. And because the Church ran these hospitals as an act of charity, for a malnourished, unhygenic populace, they were frequently under-resourced and overcrowded.
Try to imagine you’re in one of those hospitals. See the poor crammed on mats, with dirty bandages. Hear the screams of those suffering without pain-killers. Smell the stench of puss, sweat, diarrhoea, death. And see the monks and nuns in the midst of it, trying to care for those people as best they can, because nobody else will.
That is part of Christian hospitality.
How on earth did they do it?
One such hospital was run by St Catherine of Genoa. Catherine also produced some profound Christian writings –not from the serenity of the convent, but from the mess of the hospital. She wrote,
“I have seen God’s love. Indeed, every day I feel myself more occupied with Him, and I feel a greater fire within… I became so consumed with this love that as I stood contemplating this work within me, I felt that even if I were to be cast into hell, hell itself would have appeared to me all love and consolation.”
Considering the hell she worked in, this was no hypothetical theory for Catherine.
It is in utter dependence upon God working in us, that we can do this truly astonishing feat of Christian hospitality: not merely inviting people into places of heaven on earth; but bringing some of heaven into their most hellish experiences. This is a courageous, Christlike hospitality, only made possible in Christ’s power. And it is still sorely needed today.
This article will discuss hospitality and the spiritual life – using the marriage-relationship as its setting. I’m adopting this approach because in September this year, my wife Ros and I celebrate 40 years of marriage together. This milestone provides us with an opportunity to celebrate the major life achievements during our lives; i.e., bearing and raising children, growing our vocational careers, developing friendships, making home together, the service we have offered in church and community – but also to reflect on marriage as an important domain where husbands and wives “host” each other in their physical, emotional and spiritual existence.
I want to develop 4 key observations for Christian couples. The first observation is that our homes ought to be places of hospitality – not just for visiting friends, family and relatives, but of hospitality offered to each another. Words of kindness, welcome, greeting, and meaningful embrace ought to characterize our mornings and evenings, mid-days and mid-nights. Couples in love and in marriage ought to be able to feel “at home” in the place where they live together. I think being hospitable to one another is deeply important.
The second observation is that marriage is the context where we ought to be growing in holiness together. Books like Julie Massey and Bridget Ravizza’s Project Holiness: marriage as a workshop for everyday saints (Collegeville, MN: Order of St Benedict, 2015) tell us that that learning to care for each other physically and emotionally provides us with a remarkable opportunity to develop as spiritual beings. It would appear that God intended marriage to be – among other things – a workshop for holiness, where we not only pay attention to nurturing the children we bring into being, but that we also pay attention to nurturing each other. How many husbands and wives have split up because once they have completed their child-raising duties they no longer know how to relate to each other?
The third observation is that Ros and I have tried to maintain a prayer-routine together. On Sunday afternoon at 5 o’clock we sit quietly with our diaries and prayer journals and refocus our physical and spiritual attentions on the week that lies ahead. We give thanks to God for all that he is doing in our lives, and ask for energy and strength for the busy week ahead. Prayer for our families, our world, our local church and community gives us a shared base from which we can continue in our service to Christ, his kingdom, our family, our local church and our world. Many Christian couples attempt to live the Christian life separately, but there is a powerhouse available to us in praying together and talking about matters of faith that forms a powerfully connecting bond between husband and wife.
My final observation is that marriage is the place of “first” discipleship. If our faith isn’t being put to work in our marriage-relationships, it can hardly be put to work in relationships outside of marriage. Jane E. Strohl wrote an article entitled ‘Marriage as Discipleship: Luther’s Praise of Married Life’ (Dialog: a Journal of Theology, 47/2/2008, 136-142) in which she explored Martin Luther’s teaching on marriage as a relationship that ennobles both partners, and enables them to grow in their humanity, their humility and their mutual submission one to the other, in God’s name. Only as we give away our lives to others can we truly be happy.
Dr STUART DEVENISH