My sister got married a little over one week ago and the wedding made me think on the nature of hospitality – how we show deference to guests by the location, what we provide, who we have speak, what kind of activities go on, etc. One of the things that came to mind was that one of the requirements for eldership in the church is hospitality.
What was interesting as I reflected on the wedding is that this requirement of hospitality for elders should not be isolated from its practice in the church – that is, the reason hospitality is important for those being considered for the role of elder isn’t just to find out if they’re a good guy. The point is that hospitality, like proper household management, is a necessary role that will need to be carried in the duties as an elder.
One of the common interpretations in the reformed understanding of Elder is of one who visits the home of the church members to carry out church-discipline (not in the negative sense, but to check in with the family and see where they might encourage faithfulness amongst them as well as hear their needs and infirmities).
But this practice is almost non-existent among most reformed churches that I am aware of. I’ve read both positive and negative arguments for the practice of home-visitation in this manner (home-visitations for the sick is a different issue and not a matter of church-discipline), with some saying that home-visitations of this kind should actually be discouraged. I can see both sides as having merit, but I think this dimension of hospitality should inform how we view the issue of home-visitation and church-discipline.
I believe the trouble with home-visitations is due in part to trouble people have with anyone in authority over them. The problem is when that authority is detached from a personal relationship. It is much easier to hear instruction from someone who doesn’t simply say they care about you, but who actually demonstrates their care for you. It seems that if elders practice hospitality in the manner suggested below that this will not only overcome the innate aversion to authorial exercise, but additionally to warm people to the practice of home-visitation and proper church-discipline.
When an elder invites a member to their home they are, as Denlinger points out from Calvin, proving themselves to be “disinterestedly liberal”, which is someone who is not only safe, but primarily has the guest’s interests in mind not their own. This is not only disarming but engenders a level of trust and confidence in the church member.
In my estimation, it would be wise for elders to have in their home the members under their oversight. The point of this requirement in the NT is that elders should already be practicing such things and to do so would not be considered burdensome (within reason). This shouldn’t be done merely as an avenue to practice home visitation but as an effort to show kindness and hospitality to the members of one’s specific congregation.
The practice of home-visitation should always be viewed in subordination to the practice of hospitality by the elders of a congregation. As Luke shows us in 22:24-30, Christ has invited us to his table in his house and has prepared a feast for us. He has called us to go and do likewise (emphasis added):
A dispute also arose among them, as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest. And he said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. For who is the greater, one who reclines at table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am among you as the one who serves.
“You are those who have stayed with me in my trials, and I assign to you, as my Father assigned to me, a kingdom, that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.