Classical Worship for Today: The Hospitality of Worship -- By: Wilbur Ellsworth

Journal: Reformation and Revival
Volume: RAR 12:3 (Summer 2003)
Article: Classical Worship for Today: The Hospitality of Worship
Author: Wilbur Ellsworth

Classical Worship for Today: The Hospitality of Worship

Wilbur Ellsworth

The love of the stranger is a foundational Christian virtue, for it expresses the generous love of God toward those who are outside his family. Numerous Old Testament Scriptures admonish the people of God to care for the stranger. One example is Deuteronomy 10:19, that commands, “Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.” The “seeker-sensitive” church growth movement that has invaded nearly all branches of the Church is rooted in this noble concern. Indeed, any church that wants to be obedient to the Great Commission to go into all the world and make disciples must be “seeker-sensitive,” meaning we must be aware of the barriers that exist between the Christian vision of reality and the vision of people outside the realm of Christian faith. Failure to do that is insular, uncompassionate and disobedient. Our problem is not in our motive but there is, it seems to me, an enormous problem in our method of loving the stranger. Since “love of the stranger” is the biblical word for hospitality, how can we be “hospitable” to all kinds of people with their differing expectations, inhibitions, values, dislikes, preferences and struggles in their need to know God? Serious wrestling with those questions is the responsibility of anyone who sincerely desires to be hospitable.

The difficulty in the hospitality strategy of the seeker-

sensitive church movement is that it often tends to obscure the nature of the community where the seeker is being welcomed. In other words, in a desire to “reach unchurched people” there is a danger that we may give away too much and in doing so, deprive the stranger from really encountering the radical nature of the community of faith which is the Church of the Living God. In a thought-provoking chapter in the book The Marks of the Body of Christ (Braaten and Jenson, editors. Eerdmans, 1999), Robert Jenson reflects on how it is that the Church has historically welcomed people into the community of faith. He notes the obvious reality that our culture and the historic Christian faith are increasingly going their separate ways. Jenson writes that as people were coming to the Church from the outside culture they were entering a community “oriented not to their religious needs but to the mandates of a particular and highly opinionated God” (page 139). In order for the truths and practices of the faith to be set before the strangers’ culturally created personal preferences and views, the Church needed to devise a method of orientation. Jenson puts it rather baldly that what the unbelieving society regarded as rig...

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