Introduction: Church and State
One of the great debates that is currently raging across the body of Christ and the political spectrum involves thousands and thousands of Middle Eastern refugees. This may be one of the rare arguments in which both “sides” are right, to varying degrees and measures. I am not concerned with arguing the merits of each perspective. My hope is that this argument provides a critical window for the church to extract itself from the political arguments that we might simply be the church. Democrats and Republicans can debate the issues of responsibility to care for refugees versus caring about national security. As concerned citizens, it is important for believers to hear and consider the political arguments. However, our first responsibility as believers is to stand as representatives of another kingdom and another King.
Therefore, our national “voice” must sound more like Jesus than our favorite candidate or political commentator. Is our worldview and perspective more informed by the heart of Jesus and His word? Are we more ideological than we are theological? We are free to hold our candidates and our pundits to a constitutional standard when they speak on governmental matters. However, when we speak as believers, we must always be held to a biblical standard. We must, therefore, avoid choosing a political “side”. As Christians, we represent an entirely different “side” of every argument, one that must be formed and informed by “heavenly wisdom” that refuses to lean on our own understanding.
As we engage others in the debate about Syrian (and other) refugees – and whether our nation should or should not receive them – we must remember that our first thoughts should not involve what our nation should do. Our first thoughts must involve what our responsibility is as the church towards refugees and others seeking aid. In approaching the refugee crisis in this way, I can honor the desire of my national leaders (appointed by God, according to Paul in Romans). I can appreciate why many of them would want to emphasize and care about national security issues. That is their job! I sincerely appreciate and honor political leaders and candidates who take that part of their job seriously. However, as a Christian I have a very different concern. As a church, we have a very different goal. Our primary desire is to see the lost, the poor, and the oppressed find refuge and freedom first in the gospel of Jesus Christ, then in the family of Jesus Christ.
Hospitality: the Biblical Mandate
From the beginning of the history of God’s people, one of the God-ordained duties of the righteous was hospitality—meaning, the willingness to open our homes, hearts, and lives to guests, visitors, strangers, and the refugee. The people of God in the Old Testament understood hospitality as an ordinance in the law of God. Later, the New Testament reemphasized the mandate of hospitality three times for the family of God. In other places, the New Testament emphasized hospitality as something we are to embody as a fruit of the grace of God in our lives.
Hospitality was a command given to all believers, regardless of personality type or gift-orientation. No one is “naturally” good at hospitality, and many have relegated this expression of loving others to warm extroverts who love company and have a “special gift.” Every overseer, or elder, in the Body of Christ was to be “hospitable.” Paul made this a requirement for all who were chosen to exercise spiritual government within the church. Why? Because hospitality can be found in the very foundations of the gospel and the early stages of the story of man’s redemption. It is a core aspect of the transforming grace of God working within us as we grow in love. It is part of what makes us “approved” to govern as an elder or leader in the Body of Christ. God desires hospitality to be at the core of every church culture, beginning with godly leadership expressing it to the Body, to build and strengthen a thriving family under His care.
The mandate to express the same love that we have received from God speaks of how we too can be a part of impacting the future of a stranger in dynamic and meaningful ways. By receiving a stranger into our home, we are being used by the Spirit of God to join someone else’s story in a beautiful way, which then causes both of our stories to intertwine and move forward together. This is the heart of biblical hospitality, and how the family of God grows and is strengthened.
“Pursuing” Hospitality and Compassion
13 Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. (Rom. 12:13)
In Romans 12:13, Paul states that all believers are to “contribute to the needs of the saints” and “practice hospitality” (NIV). The word practice in verse 13 literally means to “pursue.” We are to pursue hospitality as a core expression of our faith in Christ. The verb that Paul uses here implies continuous action, or a constant attitude and practice. Our homes should stand constantly ready for prophetic (i.e., Spirit-led) hospitality—a readiness to welcome guests, visitors, and strangers with love and kindness. Hospitality is something that can easily be neglected in our lives. Paul is asking all believers to exercise the “muscle” of hospitality diligently.
For many, our natural inclination is to resist being hospitable. My default in everyday life is to rest, gravitate towards the safe friendships and people I have grown to trust, isolate myself, and wait for someone to pull me out of the little world that I have built for myself. Others are too distracted, too busy, too absorbed in the immediate tasks that occupy their days. The temptation to retreat into a self-centered life is far more powerful than the unknown reward of welcoming others into our lives and family. In today’s world, it is easier to busy ourselves with tasks and forget that our heart longs—and enjoys—impacting those around us in meaningful ways. We were made to love, but so easily get stuck in our isolated ruts.
We need grace and help from the Lord to break out of our isolation. We cannot wait for those around us to invite us—we need the power, freedom, and life of the Holy Spirit. This is something far deeper and more powerful than merely being “social.” When we practice hospitality, we experience the refreshing joy of becoming conduits of God’s hospitality as it flows through us to those around us. We must fight continually to avoid becoming self-centered and stagnant pools. The joy of receiving God’s hospitality fades quickly over time if it does not grow and flourish in our own hospitality to others.
Biblical hospitality is an opportunity to grow in thanksgiving towards God for what He has done for us, to grow in our life in the Spirit as we look to be hospitable to others and experience the thrill of feeling God’s power gloriously “interrupt” our own lives and the lives of people He loves—and wants us to love as well. By grace, Jesus will help us conquer our fears, our lack of generosity, and our self-centered self-protection. There is great joy in experiencing the liberating power of God’s hospitality as it renews our heart. His goal is to make us into a radically different kind of family. The family of God is to be populated by those who love to show the glory of his grace as we extend it to others in all kinds of hospitality.
In light of this, how do we address the very real tensions that our government faces related to compassion and security? In my opinion, we should consider not addressing this tension at all. One of the things that I see related to the explosion of social media and the sea of opinions is a lack of understanding of the scope and limitations of the church, and the scope and limitations of government. The flood of data and information available to any concerned citizen via Google has seduced us into an expertise we do not actually have. The security issues that envelop the subject of how to welcome those in need are far beyond me. I simply do not have enough information or access to national intelligence sources to engage in a conversation about how our nation should walk out that tension.
Secondly, I find it more than interesting that the same Christians that have begun to engage with a renewed zeal to keep evangelical Christian voices out of government policy seem to have no problem imposing liberal Christian ideas into the governmental arena. I am not advocating for the removal of the Christian voice from the public square. I am advocating for our voice to be more prophetic and scriptural than it is political or ideological. I am also advocating for a renewed humility about our limitations in knowledge in arenas we rarely think about on a day-to-day basis.
What we should address, however, is the mandate that we have as the family of God to be hospitable. We are part of a kingdom whose heartbeat to show kindness and compassion to the stranger, the outcast, and the rejected ones. Therefore, our responsibility is to tell our governmental leadership that, when they have decided how to best serve the needs of the refugee and the needs of their citizens, the church is waiting. We want to love and serve the ones that we can. The rallying cry of the church to our government in this hour cannot be, “Keep us safe!” While I am glad that our government remains concerned with my safety, there is only One who can guarantee it. Our heavenly Father is the only One who can guarantee our tomorrows. Therefore, we are free to voice a very different value to our leaders. With one voice our cry should be, “We will love!”