Friday, September 23, 2011

Wearing out Hospitality

When it comes to Christ believers, we should never be concerned that we would ever "wear out our welcome" with one another. If Christ defines hospitality, and he always welcomes sinners and enemies, then the Body of Christ should do the same.

One of the clearest places where we should find eternal hospitality is at the Lord's table, a banquet memorial where we proclaim the Lord's death till he comes. The reason we come is that we are hungry--hungry for mercy, hungry for friendship, hungry for help, hungry for hope. There is no place for the self-righteous, the insiders who think they belong there. Jesus came to help those who are sick, and as in the days of old, there's a bunch of sick people in the world.

What is sad to me is how we've turned the table of our Lord into a exclusive club, where only certain people have the right to participate. How did this happen? It's completely backwards to what Jesus tried to do, what he intended. He was famous (or notorious) for eating with sinners. Therefore, if there were ever a time when sinners (regardless of who we are) should be welcome, it's at communion--where God dines with humanity, the ultimate act of hospitality.

When I come to his table, I imagine Christ saying to me, a sinner who holds his broken body in my hands, "Here again?" And I say, "Yes Lord. I'm sorry. I'm afraid I'm wearing out my welcome." To which he fictitiously replies, "On the contrary, I've been expecting you--and so have they."

"Oh, every who's thirsty. Come to the waters. He who has no money, come, buy and eat."


Darryl Schafer said...

I've always wondered why it's OK to withhold food and drink from those who need it.

Joey V. said...

I always get the impression that Communion is for certain people because of which parts of 1 Corinthians 11 are read.

We always hear about what happened on the night when Jesus was betrayed, but before that it seems that whoever is presiding quotes the part about "eating and drinking Judgement upon yourself." It always sounds to me like you are in danger of Judgement if you aren't "right with the Lord"

It's enough to give me second thoughts about partaking.

JDTapp said...

I agree with Joey V. How do we square your thought with 1 Cor?
Was it John Owen who was famous for weeping over the table and trying zealously to keep anyone from partaking lest anyone in his congregation bring judgment on himself? I've heard this held up as a proper righteous example a few times.

Rodney Reeves said...

Joey and JD,

It's a common misread of Paul's warning in 1 Cor. 11, i.e., it's wrong to suggest Paul was saying we must be "worthy" individuals to partake or risk the judgment of God.

First of all, who would ever be worthy?

Second, and most importantly, read any scholars commentary on this passage and you'll see how the "popular" individualistic reading is wrong. When Paul warns the Corinthians that they're not judging the "body" rightly, he's talking about the body of Christ (not individuals). The way the Corinthians were observing the table was showing favoritism to VIPs and ignoring the poor--which is why those who showed up early were getting food/getting drunk, and the poor were not getting anything. A travesty, so Paul scolds them for acting like certain members deserve preferential treatment and others don't--they didn't judge the body of Christ rightly.

Finally, if it were a matter of being morally pure before taking the supper, then why didn't Paul disallow those getting drunk at the table or those having sex with prostitutes?

Joey V. said...

If we talked about how Jesus welcomed all and ate with sinners, then maybe the Lord's Supper would be a less somber ritual.
Reading your description of the table brings tears to my eyes, but it also seems joyous.
If we are proclaiming His death (our only cause for boasting) shouldn't we be rejoicing?

matt gallion said...

I've always thought that reading a little Foucault with 1 Cor. 11 might help clear things up.

Okay, I haven't ALWAYS thought that, but I have been fairly convinced.

And I gotta say, I've come a long way from where I was at SBU--abandoned a lot and picked up some unexpected bits and pieces here and there--but I have never been able to shake the Table.

Oh, there are days that I wish I could! And even more days that I wish it wasn't so hospitable to everyone.

Darryl Schafer said...

Matt: from what I hear, you can get paid for reading Paul through Foucault.

JDTapp said...

I indeed looked up some commentaries, and feel much more enlightened (and sad at not being as enlightened before). But it seems like most commentators agree that the table wasn't meant to be open to everyone-- since the meal is intended to proclaim Christ and represent Him, only Christians who believed that message were welcome to participate.
In other words, Paul's message in 1 Cor 11 is on Christian behavior amongst each other when they gathered as a local church, and not about their behavior amongst the lost.
As one writer puts it, I'm welcome to partake of the table if I acknowledge why it exists and I'm repentant of how poorly I've treated others in the church.

Does that jive with what you're saying?

Brent Lacy said...

so then, where exactly does the doctrine of "closed communion" come from?

Rodney Reeves said...


As you know, I'm a terrible blogger--once Fri. rolls around I'm done till Monday morning. So, don't take my absence as apathy.


Yes, to a degree. But, I'm still not sure if Paul believed the table was reserved for believers because he is always concerned about the impression outsiders will have of the assembly. Plus, the earliest reputation Christ believers earned was their unique hospitality: they turned away no one, even the dishonorable/shameful. Indeed, much of what's going on in Corinth has to do with honor codes being upheld rather than Christian sentiments. There's more to it than that, but I think you get my drift. What would help us is to strip out of our minds the way we observe the table--it looked nothing like that in the 1st c.

Matt and Darryl, help us understand how Foucault helped you read Paul (FYI: Darryl's recent master's thesis was on this very subject).

Brent, I think you already know the answer: closed communion was a result of the Landmark movement among Baptists (of course, Catholics have practiced the same for centuries).

Darryl Schafer said...

The short story: Foucault looks at power structures and how they influence the activities of those who participate in those power structures.

In 1 Cor 11, Foucault would look at the participants who sit at the table/s. And that includes Jesus. What does it mean to judge the body (and whose body are we talking about)? Who is doing the judging? How does all this activity maintain the power structures (cultural conventions) that are at work here? How is Paul -- and by extension, God -- exerting power as he seeks to conform the table participants to his gospel?

As for the "So what?" of the matter: how do today's Christians exert power at the Lord's table, and would Paul (and God) be pleased about it?

JDTapp said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
JDTapp said...

One writer put it like this: "Communion is an act of love, not a religious ritual."
But outside of the house fellowships in town who do a potluck as part of their fellowship time, do our local churches now do a Communion that looks anything like what Paul was talking about? I mean, no one is getting fed by eating a token cracker and some juice. There's no blessing for the poor in that.
So, have we created an extra-biblical liturgical ritual that completely misses the point of the passage? This is the thought that is disturbing me now.

Rodney Reeves said...


Great question. Perhaps in some respects, we are missing the import of the table. Part of the problem is that we don't meet in each others homes for worship. So, hospitality as an act of worship is something we miss, too.

BTW, I write about both of these issues in the upcoming book on Paul's Spirituality.