Hospitality - Practicing the Integral Mission

Hospitality - Practicing the Integral Mission

Cordially Treating the Humble Stranger

In the New Testament, hospitality is the mark of a Christian. The term does not merely mean courteous and civilized conduct. It also refers to deeds that result from an in-depth spirituality. Martin Luther and John Wesley, two pioneering leaders of the Protestant traditions, consider hospitality as a sacrament embodying the mystery of "Emmanuel" and the incarnation of Jesus Christ. More importantly, there is a strong biblical foundation for hospitality. Romans 12: 13 says of the practice of hospitality. Here, the word "hospitality" can be interpreted as "opening the door of the home." In Mark 9: 37, Jesus makes it clear that "whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me." We are instructed in Hebrews 13: 2, "Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it." Further in Matthew 25: 35, 40, Jesus says, "I was a stranger and you invited me in . . . I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me."

From the above spiritual interpretation of hospitality, such practice is closely connected to Integral mission. Throughout history, Integral mission that has been carried out by churches includes the response to God's presence in the "least of these" by serving cordially the poor, the needy, and the oppressed. By doing so, the churches participate in the presence of God and His acts of redemption. The Integral mission is participating in the presence of God and His acts of redemption by following God's footprints in showing compassion for and helping our neighbors in need, all for the healing of the souls and bodies of the sick and for the freedom from the grip of evil and darkness. Integral mission directs God's followers to reach out to their neighbors with hospitality and to humbly be the least of the least.

To practice hospitality towards strangers who are the least of men and women is an important part of the Integral mission. To practice hospitality is to open the door of the church and be ready to receive humble strangers, to welcome them into the family of God, to care for their needs and share in their pains and sorrows. "The least of those brothers of mine" can be seen at every corner of a society. They are the strangers in need. So, how should the church carry out its mission by practicing hospitality for these strangers, the "least of these"?

Centrifugal Mission and Centripetal Mission

Throughout history, Christian mission has been seen as "centrifugal mission" — from the center of commissioning to the end of the world, to a new territory: To the whole world until the end of time on earth. Mission, then, means "going out" — to evangelize in different places of the world. However, mission has yet another important direction: The practice of "centripetal mission." In the Old Testament, the major mission of the Israelites as God's people of mission and "a light for the nations" is to call people to "come" and become God's people. In the New Testament, Jesus called his disciples to become "the salt of the earth," "the light of the world," and "a city set on a hill." These dramatic images describe clearly that Christian witnesses must effectively draw people to God. This is to say that individuals and churches engaging in evangelism must be "truthful" witnesses before God in order to attract strangers to church. People who share the Gospel must practice hospitality toward the poor, the needy, and the oppressed, for the healing of the souls and bodies of the sick and for the freedom from the grip of evil and darkness.

Today, centripetal mission must not be taken lightly by "Countries of Foreign Mission" with a long tradition of Christian mission. Once in some of these countries that were engaged in a centrifugal mission, majority of their citizens were Christians. These countries include Germany, Britain, and the United States. Their cross-cultural missions were at one time thriving and they became the centers of foreign missions commissioning tens of thousands of missionaries to Africa and Asia for those who had never heard about Jesus. Have Hong Kong churches not been benefited from the mission ministry of these countries? Have Baptist churches in Hong Kong not received such grace from the mission works of the Baptist churches of America? Has not HKBTS especially been a beneficiary of the mission efforts of the Baptists in America?

However, these Christian countries now have become secularized with pluralistic cultural ideologies and declining Christians. In Britain, youngsters show greater interest in folk religions than Christianity. Certain divinity schools in esteemed universities in the United Kingdom have difficulty recruiting students. The United States are in a similar situation. Over the past several decades, denominations like the Episcopalians and the Presbyterians have faced the predicament of decreasing church membership. In the last ten years, the declining rate of church membership in Southern Baptists has been on the increase. It is not uncommon to see church attendance in tens in large church buildings owned by these Baptist churches: The elderly are dying of old age; the young are reluctant to join.

Sharing the Gospel in "New" Places of Mission

On the other hand, immigrants who practice different religious faiths and who come from various racial and ethnic backgrounds have populated towns and cities of these Christian countries. To these countries, "to make disciples of all nations?" may take on a new meaning now. Who is "all nations"? Does the term "all nations" refer to those people who have not yet heard the gospel of Christ? Do these people include Muslims and Hindus? How do Christians lead them to become disciples of the Lord Jesus? In the present time, can we say that these Christian countries have actually become "new" places for mission?

Applying similar approach for Hong Kong, would Hong Kong be a place for mission? Aren't there many people in Hong Kong who have not turned to Jesus Christ? Isn't it true that the Christian population has not increased much in recent years? Aren't our fellow Chinese from Mainland China who have made Hong Kong their home people we are to reach for Christ? Our society has become increasingly pluralistic as different racial groups come to live here and bring with them their own religious faiths. In this context, the term "all nations" as in "to make disciples of all nations" should include not only those outside of Hong Kong who have not been reached, but also the various ethnic groups in the Hong Kong community who have not heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Therefore, the centripetal mission should become a new direction for contemporary mission. Mission should no longer be only centrifugal but must also be centripetal. Churches, apart from going to places where the Christian gospel has not been heard, should also stay where they are, the old mission field, to "renew" the mission.

The Church Testimonies Speak of Her Life of Hospitality

Church testimonies of life in Christ play a very important part in carrying out centripetal mission. Christian mission does not confine itself to cross-cultural mission. It must also embrace churches' testimonies of life in Christ to their homeland communities. We not only tell of the Gospel but we also enable others to open their eyes and behold the Truth. Witnessing is opening up Christ's churches and our lives in our invitation for others to "come and see." Such testimonies of life in Christ can fully be revealed through the church's practice of hospitality.

Citing America as an example of the Center of Mission, America stands for the window to the world and is the center of attraction for the world. America is conceived in the practice of Christian hospitality and has earned the name "the land of freedom." For a fact, many people have immigrated to America from over the world for various reasons. Some left their homes due to financial needs; some were uprooted because of political persecution. Numerous people re-built their homes in this new land; they found jobs, spiritual homes in churches, and made new friends, all because of the hospitality extended to them in the Center of Mission.

Unfortunately, the American hospitality can be selective. When we look back to its not too distant past, at the time when the American churches were zealous for overseas mission, the White were engaged in slave trade and people turned a blind eye to racism. Even now in the U.S.A., we can find a lot of people who are homeless, sleeping in the streets of metropolitan cities, and suffering from hunger and cold. Churches too often show little concern towards the socially disadvantaged. When our churches fail to practice hospitality in their own society, it is not difficult to imagine that their testimonies for Christ become unconvincing and their witness could seem impotent. The effectiveness of their efforts to stride across cultural boundary to share the gospel in a strange land will not be good.

The practice of hospitality as testimonies for life in Christ is the approach emphasized by Centripetal Mission with the purpose of enabling people to see Jesus Christ. However, this testimonial approach for Mission is a risk-taking form of evangelism. When we invite strangers to come see Jesus Christ, we are also inviting them to witness our lives in Christ. Would we feel secure enough to extend the invitation to strangers outside the church to come visit us in our home? Can we honestly ask them to see who we are, what our churches and society are really like? What kind of witnesses are we? Are we truly joyous in our faith in Jesus Christ? Can our churches demonstrate themselves to be the people of God, a manifestation of His kingdom? Do our churches live the lives that practice hospitality to their fullest? Or, do too many of our churches play politics like our society that brings about power struggles and conflicts? Worse still, will our church politics be more unjust than the secular world's? Mission must confront these questions that present as the basic challenges.

Hospitality Is the Practice of Integral Mission

All the questions asked prompt us to reflect on the truthfulness of our testimonies. The depth of Mission consists not in the founding of "Mission Entrepreneurship," but in the living testimonies of the churches and individual Christians. A truthful witness does not boast of the wealth or political influence of the church in the society. A truthful witness points out the madness in a society and her greed for wealth, power, and pleasure. A truthful witness provides an alternative way of living to a chaotic, troubled, lonely and miserable society by singing the song of Zion and sharing the strength and joy of the Gospel by receiving with open arms the poor, the needy, and the oppressed. Only when the churches do the right thing will we carry out true Mission works by practicing hospitality. Mission churches that practice hospitality will also have their voice for the "powerless" heard, reminding the "powerful" to care for the "least" of the citizens. She will strive to uphold justice in a pluralistic society, to maintain equality in partnership relationships, and to establish a harmonious community while serving to conserve and protect our ecological environment.

To carry out all of these right things is to fulfill the Great Commission that is given to us by Jesus Christ. On one hand, we obey Christ's Great Commission by "going" — off to different places, to every corner and cross the borders of the world for sharing the Gospel, or we stride across social strata, cultural or ethnic and political boundaries to lead strangers of various backgrounds to become the disciples of Jesus Christ. On the other hand, we as the churches must become witnesses for Christ Jesus who are transformed in our lives and practice hospitality toward our neighbors especially those who are weak and powerless. Thus, the churches in Hong Kong should seek ways to show kindness to the new immigrants in our midst, for the poor, the needy and the oppressed. As we churches are committed to practice hospitality in carrying out Mission, we are fulfilling the Integral mission.

Aug 2012

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