He said that there are some within the UMC who wanted to preserve the holiness of the church, keeping it pure. Therefore, this camp wanted to keep homosexuals out of the church. Homosexual practice is a sin and, therefore, the church needs to take a stand against it. Homosexuals should not be members. Homosexuals should not be ordained. The whole notion of “reconciling churches,” welcoming the LGBT community, in this perspective, would be anathema. Keep the church holy.
On the other hand, there were those who theologically emphasized hospitality, welcoming all. Therefore, when lines were to be drawn about who was “in” and who was “out” in the church, the biblical concept of hospitality trumped all others. The church should, as a rule, exclude no one. All are welcomed to the table of Christ. As the saying goes, “When Jesus is up on that cross, arms outstretched, who is it that he can NOT embrace?” The implied answer is no one. All are welcome.
However, are these really two competing interests, holiness and hospitality? Are they really opposed to one another?
Alan and Debra Hirsch are two missional leaders over at CatalystSpace. They address the strange holiness of Jesus that was not opposed to hospitality in a blog post entitled, “What Kind of Holiness is This?”
One of the confronting questions we find ourselves repeatedly asking is: What is it about the holiness of Jesus that caused “sinners” to flock to him like a magnet and yet manages to seriously antagonize the religious people? This question begs yet another, even more confronting question: Why does our more churchy form of holiness seem to get it the other way around – to comfort the religious and antagonize the sinners?
Jesus’s brand of holiness (the true form) didn’t seem to deter the sinners from wanting to get up close and personal with him. The gospel is full of stories of sinners, the bungled, the broken, and the bent clamoring to be near Jesus. Jesus was different. He wasn’t like the other holy rollers, the religious folk, of his day. There was something magnetic about his persona that caused even the most desperate to do the unthinkable and violate not only social etiquette of the day, but risk further marginalization by being close to him.
No doubt about it, Jesus’ holiness was compelling. The Gospels clearly show us that social rejects loved to be around Jesus. Think of prostitutes, lepers, tax collectors, adulterers, Roman soldiers, Samaritans, Gentiles, and the list goes on. They couldn’t get enough of him. In hanging out with people like these, Jesus shows us that one cannot achieve holiness by separation from the unclean.
The holiness of Jesus, it seems, is a redemptive, missional, world-embracing holiness that does not separate itself from the world, but rather liberates it. And it wasn’t that Jesus was simply “a nice inclusive guy.” Everyone loves a nice guy, but nice guys don’t end up murdered on crosses. Actually, as Ben Witherington says, it’s not surprising (because of his actions and teachings) that Jesus was crucified. The surprising thing is that it didn’t happen sooner!
A lot of what is given to us as “holiness” today is really nothing more than morality. I’m not saying that I want everyone to be “immoral” but I don’t think “immorality” excludes one from the heart of God–and therefore should not exclude one from the heart of the church. And this is not just about homosexuality. Homosexuality is just the hot-button issue where this discussion, debate, fight, is taking place. We could have similar discussions about welcoming the drug dealers, the divorced, the unwed mothers, the goth, the tattooed, the addicted, the poor, the…. well you get the picture.
This is a “wild holiness.” It calls into question those of us in the church who would be bound to religious codes, separating ourselves from others.
We must again be surprised by the amazing capacity of Jesus to break religious stereotypes and to embody a kind of holiness that embraces the seriously weird and the wonderful, this is the Jesus we follow.
A hospitable community where strangers are welcomed, meals are shared and where friendships can flourish across boundaries of race and culture.
Hospitality is an ancient practice, a cultural attitude, which honors any guest as extraordinary, and within the church, this idea even extends into the belief that any stranger represents Christ Himself. In other words, there are no strangers. Secular Western culture postures itself strenuously against this idea, instead celebrating independence, encouraging self-sufficiency, guarding privacy and breeding an atmosphere of fear, where the stranger becomes somehow untrustworthy, likely a criminal, simply because they are unknown. Sadly, often times we have largely abandoned the practice and theology of hospitality, and churches are no longer homes were friends can be made, meals can be shared, rest is offered, defenses can drop and the door is always unlocked. If anything is obvious it is that the Kingdom of God contradicts the world, and in a culture that spends so much energy drawing boundaries between what is yours and mine, anyone who refuses to, is obviously a citizen of that contradictory kingdom. Under a tough veneer of cynicism and determined hedonism, our world is actually aching with loneliness and fear. Delivering the antidote is difficult, preaching and even the most impassioned evangelism has little effect, but to offer unfeigned welcome into the vulnerable heart of community or home and to extend love which does not judge, is to practice extreme, revolutionary hospitality. Christ Himself knocks, will our own fear and preoccupations bar Him, or will He find the latch open, and behind it, the soup already simmering, the laughter already loud and the welcome almost overwhelming?
“Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in it’s various forms.” 1 Peter 4:8-10