The chaotic events of recent days: the unbelievably huge and massive migration out of Africa and the Middle East, capped by the terrorist attacks in Paris last week, have called for all kinds of paranoia and mindless diagnoses of solutions—and this often from those who are ostensibly believers in Jesus Christ, i.e., those who ought to know of their own history and calling as the children of light in a dark world. I was reminded of the oft sung, but not always ingested hymn: This Is My Father’s World. One verse goes: “This is my Father’s world, and let me ne’er forget, that though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet.”

Some seem to forget that it is written into our very calling that we are not only called to believe in Jesus’ name, but also to suffer for his sake (Philippians 1:29). One presidential candidate objecting against allowing Syrian refugees into this country, added that those Moslem nations “don’t even allow Christians to build church buildings” … as though church buildings were of the essence of the Christian faith.

It is helpful to read back over the history of the church and to realize that until the 12th or 14th century the middle east was the center of the Christian church, and Europe and Great Britain were way out on the fringe of the heathen world occupied only by missionary outposts. It is easy to forget that North Africa was also a center of Christian witness—laces such as Ethiopia. It is east to forget that violence is a very real presence in our history beginning with Jesus who was tortured and cruelly executed by a hostile Roman Empire. It is easy to forget that some of the primary documents were written from a Roman jail cell, or in very hostile settings.

Of course, we who are followers of Jesus should be profoundly grateful for aa civil magistrate/government that seeks out security against violence, but we should also remember that we are not primarily citizens of a particular contemporary government, but we are primarily citizens of the Kingdom of Our God, and of His Christ in which we may well be called upon the forsake all that we have and to suffer for his sake. It is a kingdom where hospitality to strangers, and love of enemies is of the essence of our identity as God’s New Humanity.

Hospitality is one of those virtues so often mentioned in the New Testament, but so overlooked by so much of the ostensible Christian public. If, perchance, the church were to forsake costly sanctuaries and move, rather, back around the kitchen table, then hospitality becomes much more practicable. If the vast numbers of migrants from places such as Syria were to find hospitality in Christian homes … it would be in tune with what has always been true of the spread of the gospel. It has so often (most often) been communicated among workers, peasant, refugees, immigrants, and a rural underclass … but it has also been so often communicated house to house.

Easy? Of course not. Safe? Hardly. I think it was G. K. Chesterton who commented that God had promised to his people three things: 1) they would be absurdly happy, 2) completely fearless, and 3) constantly in trouble. That all comes along with our baptism into the mission of God and is of its essence, i.e., to take up our cross and follow Jesus. It is obviously costly, and often very inconvenient. This has been illustrated most graphically in the exponential growth of the church I China, which after it was outlawed by the cultural revolution went underground into clandestine house churches, and is now arguably the largest Christian church in the world. Homes and hospitality engaging in dangerous but faithful practices were like leaven.

The colorful and graphic/apocalyptic Book of Revelation portrays the suffering people of God under the altar crying out: “How long, O Lord?” But it goes on to say that they overcame “by the blood of the Lamb, the word of their testimonies, loving not their lives even unto death.” Yes, the wrong does often seem so strong, but stronger is the kingdom of our God and of his Christ, and those who incarnate that love in difficult settings.

About rthenderson

Sixty years a pastor-teacher within the Presbyterian Church. Author of several books, the latest of which are a trilogy on missional ecclesiology: ENCHANTED COMMUNITY: JOURNEY INTO THE MYSTERY OF THE CHURCH, then, REFOUNDING THE CHURCH FROM THE UNDERSIDE, then THE CHURCH AND THE RELENTLESS DARKNESS. Previous to this trilogy was A DOOR OF HOPE: SPIRITUAL CONFLICT IN PASTORAL MINISTRY, and SUBVERSIVE JESUS, RADICAL FAITH. I am a native of West Palm Beach, Florida, a graduate of Davidson College, then of Columbia and Westminster Theological Seminaries.
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