Ecclesial Hospitality

Dr. Rick Lints, Andrew Mutch Distinguished Professor of Systematic and Historical Theology at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, was (and is) one of my favorite professors. Tonight, while Angela and her girlfriend enjoyed partnering in ministry, I sat on the couch beside a bowl of popcorn reading an article by Dr. Lints from the Gordon-Conwell website. It struck me how Rick’s proposal offers enormous insight into the challenge of relating constructively to our Catholic friends and loved ones, as he writes:

“We must engage and not merely tolerate diversity in the ecclesial square. The conflicts of a fractured ecclesial polity lie not with keeping emotional distance from those with whom we have fundamental disagreements. It comes rather in the radically counter-intuitive claim that we show hospitality to those with whom we have deep disagreements.14 We invite the outsider into the common wisdom of our tradition, recognizing that we share the sacred wisdom of the gospel, even if we articulate differently. We take their ideas seriously not primarily to overthrow their ideas, but rather with the expectation that wisdom is found in the strangest of places, even among those who disagree with us.

Changing the ethos of our ecclesial identity may well require that we think of the commitment to our tradition less in terms of defeating an enemy and more in terms of showing hospitality to the stranger. Without a home (tradition) there is no place to invite the stranger into. A traditionless Christian is indeed a person without a home. But a tradition construed as a fortress is a most inhospitable place for strangers as well. Our desire is not merely to have a seat at the ecclesial table, but to prepare the meal at the table, which the stranger will find curiously satisfying. It is a call to invite the stranger into our tradition as a radical act of hospitality. If the meal is satisfying to the stranger, it is not because we have prepared the meal but rather that the food itself nourishes the soul. And in turn we may be invited into the stranger’s tradition and taste some of its delicacies.

Is not the analogy with the Lord’s Supper close at hand? The Lord invites us to His table as an expression of our reconciliation to Him in the gospel. The result is that this reconciliation spills over into our relationship with others. We bear responsibilities to each other because we have shared the Lord’s Supper together. It reminds us that it is the Lord’s Supper, not Athanasius’, not Augustine’s, not Luther’s, not Calvin’s, not Wesley’s.

The analogy of sharing our tradition with others opens us to the radical act of hospitality at the heart of the gospel itself. A tradition embedded in the gospel is finally not our tradition at all. It is something to which we belong rather than it belonging to us. And we only belong to it insofar as it incorporates us into the faith delivered once and all to the saints.”

Endnotes

14 Martin Marty, When Faiths Collide (Oxford: Blackwell, 2005) extends this suggestion at great length as a prophetic call to Christian churches to engage global diversity on distinctively Christian terms.

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