Streaming: Part 2, Hospitality, Holiness and Mission

Yesterday I shared a bit from my presentation at Streaming (go here to look at event photos). Specifically, I shared some ideas about how to cultivate a spirit of welcome and hospitality. In this post I want to share some of the ideas I presented at Streaming regarding the relationship between hospitality and holiness.

After the publication of Unclean I got a lot of questions along these lines:

Unclean is pretty hard on the holiness/purity impulse in the life of the church. But isn't holiness necessary for the health of the church? Aren't there times when we need to preserve the moral integrity of the faith community? And if this is so, how are we to keep this commitment to holiness from trumping the call to radical hospitality?

In my presentation at Streaming I tried to answer these questions. A part of my answer used Dietrich Bonhoeffer's notion of religionless Christianity.

In Bonhoeffer's Letters and Papers from Prison he makes some startling statements about something he calls "religionless Christianity." For example, Bonhoeffer writes:
...we have to live in the world as if there was no God...

Before God and with God we live without God.
What does it mean that a Christian should (before God!) live without God? What does it mean for the Christian to live in the world as if there were no God? What does it mean for Christianity to be "religionless"?

I think the key to understanding Bonhoeffer is found in a lecture he gave in Berlin in 1932. For our purposes this quote is important in that it shows a way to connect holiness with hospitality. In this quote we see a connection between actions in the world--the arena of welcoming outsiders--with what Bonhoeffer calls "the secret discipline"--the arena where holiness is cultivated among the confessing, praying and worshiping community. Here's the relevant passage from Bonhoeffer:
Confession of faith is not to be confused with professing a religion. Such profession uses the confession as propaganda and ammunition against the Godless. The confession of faith belongs rather to the "Discipline of the Secret" in the Christian gathering of those who believe. Nowhere else is it tenable...

The primary confession of the Christan before the world is the deed which interprets itself. If this deed is to have become a force, then the world will long to confess the Word. This is not the same as loudly shrieking out propaganda. This Word must be preserved as the most sacred possession of the community. This is a matter between God and the community, not between the community and the world. It is a word of recognition between friends, not a word to use against enemies. This attitude was first learned at baptism. The deed alone is our confession of faith before the world.
Notice a couple of things. First, in the eyes of the world the Christian looks "religionless." There is no public discussion of God, faith or religious topics. There are no words of this sort, no propaganda. There are only actions. The only "confession" we make in the world is behavioral. We keep our mouths shut. We simply love. That is all. And this love speaks for and interprets itself.

This is how I picture a radical hospitality taking place in the world. No words. No propaganda. Just a mute religionless display of love, welcome, and embrace.

So where does holiness fit in? Holiness is a part of the secret discipline. These are the communal practices of confession, prayer and worship that sustain the friends who gather in the name of Jesus. Holiness is a word between these friends, the way they keep each other on the path of Jesus and calling each other back when they falter. Holiness should not be a conversation between the church and the world. When holiness becomes the conversation between the church and the world it too often becomes a word against an enemy, a word the church uses to damn the world. Holiness should only be a word exchanged in the trusting intimacy among friends. Holiness is a secret, private, intimate and trusting conversation.

In sum, I think we can see in Bonhoeffer one way to balance holiness and hospitality. Hospitality is the religionless act where the church welcomes the world. In this meeting the church is silent and mute. And because of this muteness the church isn't even recognized as being the church. The encounter is religionless. The only thing seen by the world are acts of love.

Now, behind the scenes and sustaining this activity are a group of friends who gather to confess, pray and worship. Here, among these intimates, do we find a conversation about holiness--practices of confession, accountability, forgiveness, reconciliation, and perhaps even discipline. Holiness is conversation among this band of friends deeply in love with each other.

At Streaming I suggested that the model I sketch here looks similar to a monastic community. And I believe this to be an improvement over the typical church/world dichotomy, especially if acts of exclusion are being discussed. For example, if the confessing community is identified as "the church" then excluding someone is seen as moving this person from "the church" to "the world." That is, the excluded person goes from being "saved" to being "damned" or "lost." Which means that issues of inclusion and exclusion (as they relate to things like church discipline) end up becoming about eternal salvation. To be included is to be saved (a part of the church) and to be excluded is to be damned (a part of the world). In short, the church/world frame means that when we are thinking about inclusion and exclusion we are of necessity adjudicating between who is saved and who is damned. And that's a pretty toxic and high-stakes conversation. No wonder it so often goes awry.

But if we are working with a monastic frame then much is changed. For example, if you are, say, kicked out of the Franciscans you aren't kicked out of the church. You're still in the church, you're just not a Franciscan. We are no longer in a high-stakes conversation about who is going to heaven or hell. We're simply talking about if a particular friend no longer wants to walk a common road of mutual accountability with other friends, "the rule" that governed their shared life together. Such an "exclusion" really isn't an exclusion at all. It's simply the recognition (that may have to be pointed out) that a particular rule of life is no longer anything the person desires or wants. And once this is pointed out the separation should be amicable. Problems would only arise if a person both wanted to stay with the community but refused to share the common commitments of that community. But I expect that would be pretty rare.

Now with this monastic framing of exclusion/inclusion I want to be clear that what I have in mind are sending and missional communities. These are not cloistered or sectarian communities, the stereotype of being "monastic."  So the key to this particular monastic paradigm is that the confessing community exists for mission, for the sake of the world. This community isn't preoccupied with monitoring its inner life, nor is it withdrawing from the world. These are friends working and living in the world who come together for periods of refreshment, confession, worship and prayer--for the secret discipline that is not mentioned in the religionless witness before the world. Here, among friends, is where is holiness cultivated, a holiness that sustains and stabilizes the friends in their collective and individual acts of love and service in the world.

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19 thoughts on “Streaming: Part 2, Hospitality, Holiness and Mission”

  1. Within the confessing community, even among such friends of like mind, is not love still the more powerful form of "discipline?"  If the goal of discipline is to teach, instruct, guide, in order to learn, grow, and become all that God desires of us, then legalistic systems of "holiness" will only go so far as to keep people in line.

    When the emphasis leans toward holiness, as opposed to radical hospitality and embrace, the dominant vibe of the community, in my personal experience, is fear, shame, and guilt.  Never a good thing.  Either within and among a confessing community, or projected outward into "the world."  Who in their right mind, on the outside looking in, would want to voluntarily join such a community?

    If we believe in love, kindness, compassion, forgiveness, peace, then we are free to live from that "place" of spiritual abundance.  If our faith is not yet strong, no amount of brow-beating or shaming and guilting (or faking) will produce such fruit in us.  All we can do is be an example, demonstrate The Way of the Cross, and be patient and gentle with our sojourning brothers and sisters.

    Once I made the comment in a women's group at my former church that "we are each at different spiritual levels," or something to that effect.  In my head, I assented to this truth.  In my heart, I struggled (still do) to bear with the weaknesses of others.  Often, I react most negatively to the qualities in other believers that I detest the most in myself.  D'oh!  We're all works in progress...

    The church -- particularly at this cultural "location" in time and space -- has a deep need for a course correction.  Sometimes, when the scale has been tipped too far to one extreme (holiness/purity/exclusion), the correction itself needs to be radical in order to restore balance.  Hospitality, inclusion, and embrace is not easy.  But it's good, true, and beautiful.  I believe!

    Imagine if Love ruled the world...  ~Peace~

  2. I can't tell you how much I enjoy these last two posts! Thank you.

    I appreciate your acceptance of some forms of exclusion, within the Franciscan framework and I think that this sort of exclusion (and any sort of discipline or exclusion for that matter) hinges on how it is presented and handled. For me, the underlying mechanism of "how" is more important than whether it ever happens or not. Clear, open communication per the motivations for exclusion within some sort of context or appeal of grace.

  3. Perhaps one of the best, if not the best, posts you've put up here, at least since qb's been watching.  The idea of holiness not as political propaganda but as a secret discipline is precisely right and aligns well with both the Sermon on the Mount "don't do acts of piety to be seen by men," etc.) and the Abrahamic covenant ("be a blessing to the world" rather than its stern, lecturing schoolmarm) in several different and cohering ways.

  4. For only being about 60 years old there is a long history of argument behind that "religionless Christianity" comment.  For Bonhoeffer that community that he was remembering was probably Finkenwalde - the underground confessing church's seminary.  A seminary which looked an awful lot like a traditional monastic community.  Life Together is the book which is worth reading.  Ever since the first emergent discussions there has been a group that talks about "sending and missional communities".  And I've always felt like saying every time I've read that - "get over yourselves, we have such things, they are called congregations".   But those poor, pathetic, trending older groups - which all they do is gather around word and sacrament, teach the kids in the way they should go, and usually have some people within who are the first to spot problems and act - were just not cool enough.  Not enough buzz around doing the things congregations have been doing for 2000 years.  The blocking and tackling of congregational life just didn't sell enough books.  Those poor places are just too tied up in their religion and confessions; not willing to put some 20 something and his band in the pulpit.

    More under control - we are talking about ecclesiology.  I get the vibe behind the Franciscan comment, but let's look at the reality of what has happened/is happening.  Every group has its own definition of what holiness is.  That is not a church.  Definitely not the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church.  You can be a very large group and still be a sect.  I don't think it is that easy to say if you are no longer a Franciscan you are still a member of the church.  Your congregation, your community, has the full authority of the church.  It exercises the office of the keys to bind and loose sins.  Just walking away from a community, especially when that walking away is caused by a disagreement over holiness, is dangerous ground.  

  5. This is really good stuff. As you say, these binary categories of in/out, saved/damned, are so dangerous. And have caused so many problems. There may (or may not) be such categories in some ultimate, cosmic sense, known in the "mind" of God. But when we presume to make that judgement we have taken up a task for which we are sorely unequipped.

  6. What does it mean that a Christian should (before God!) live without God? Given Bonhoeffer's other writings as well: Christ on the cross, maybe.

    Like Christ, the Christian does his best work empowered by God's will and separate from Him...if only for a time. Apostles. Messengers. Lambs for the slaughter.

  7. As St. Francis is supposed to have said: Preach the Gospel at all times. If you must, use words.

  8. Thanks, Richard, this post is excellent and I really needed it, very timely. 

    As to your passage from Bonhoeffer and the paragraphs immediately following...The 'religionless Christian' and holiness being a part of the 'secret discipline'... this has helped so much to put into words what happened to me as a teen in Afghanistan where Christians were forbidden to evangelise, or 'proselytise' as the rules in our American handbook instructed. Or Else we could be deported (as some we knew were). Up until our time in Kandahar all our life as Christians was to be about proclaiming the gospel loudly and my uncle was one of the biggest at encouraging many to do so. Only the year before we moved to Kandahar I had been on a mission 'campaign' to Europe to pass out tracts and invite Europeans to come hear American missionaries reinvent the gospel and set things straight because Billy Graham, although American, wasn't telling the Whole Story. Our Christian agenda in the 1960's had, it seems to me, been shaped by Cold War politics, with Americans feeling proud to have saved the Europeans from global doom and now they had the passports to save them from for eternity. But then my family landed in Kandahar after my European spiritual campaign high and I was told to zip it. The Afghan government allowed foreign expats at that time to worship only amongst themselves. And so the devout believers who lived within our small expat community (American, Filipino, Central American Protestants, Catholics and Mormons) shared our faith amongst each other -- our embrace of each other was just the sheer joy of knowing someone else who loved and believed in Jesus Christ. We could pray, share the word, commune and encourage each other in an underground fashion, we were the Discipline of the Secret. BUT as religionless Christians our challenge was then to show the love of Christ to our Afghan friends, co-workers and acquaintances who were taught that we were infidels to their sacred world. Without wearing Jesus on our shirtsleeves or using the idiosyncratic language of the Bible Belt. We also lived with expats who liked to party, binge drink, carouse, fornicate and exhibit rude and brash behaviour around the Afghans. Many times the sermon tapes from Highland my grandmother faithfully sent felt like contraband and stuff from another world.

    The political fervour of 'freedom of religious expression' -- with all the T-shirts and wristbands that accompany it -- can sometimes seem too OTT, too shrill and for many cultures, too frightening. It takes a lot of confidence to walk away from the boundaries of a traditional church setting -- well, there's not much choice if you end up living somewhere like Afghanistan or a society that allows Nationalism to trump your belief system. This is when freedom in Christ takes on a different hue?

    Your posts lately are really helping to chase away some of the weariness that can descend with doing traditional church. For the present in our society, traditional church is expected to 'be there' for folks who've been outside feel led to come in for a deeper connection. A smaller house church type of thing would be cult-ish and absolutely more frightening than trying to navigate through the Common Worship liturgy or the BCP.  You know, getting the balance right in corporate worship -- where there's that spiritual tension between the magic of the ritual and the inspiration of the openly emotional. I apologise if this is offensive. But trying to have one foot in and one foot out, when church and faith part like oil to water, it becomes a spiritual exercise in exhaustion. So your salient points on Bonhoeffer's take on weaving hospitality and holiness into our daily journey helps gives me a chance to sigh and catch my breath. 

    And maybe also re-read Philip Larkin's 'Church Going':
    ...and John Betjemin's church poems:.

  9. My son is a monk.  It is true that hospitality toward the stranger is a foundational concept for most monastic communities. However, there is a difference between a monk leaving a monastery and going back to practicing his faith in the context of another "Christian" community, whether another monastic setting or parish life, and a monk going back to "the world" and forsaking his faith.  One move is accepted and blessed by the church, the other will result in excommunication. (However, the Orthodox view of excommunication is not a punitve "kicking someone out of the Church" it is merely the Church affirming the decision of the apostate to remove himself from the communion of the confessing community.)  The other issue is, there is a difference between how the monastery deals with the sojourner, seeker and wounded and how it deals with those who are within the community.  Two men may sin in the same way, but one may be chastised an the other given a gentle word, but both medicines come from love.  I am not sure the "monastery metaphor" truly works here, although I will agree that what you are portraying here is essentially a distinction made that the early Church made liturgically from the 3rd-18th century and still in most Orthodox monastic settings: the liturgy was divided into two parts: the Liturgy of the Word where everyone was welcome and taught the Gospel and epistles, then the liturgy of the Eucharist where non-Christians left the sanctuary and gathered in the narthex.  The believers remained and the confession of faith, the Creed, the devotions to the Trinity and saints were invoked and the Eucharist was distributed because they were acts exclusive to the confessing community and considered a mystery not to be revealed to the uninitiated and unbelieving.  The tension between inclusion and exclusion is not new to the Church.  The place of hospitality (Hebrews 13) is not new to the Church: one of the most famous icons is of the Three Angels and the Hospitality of Abraham.  Holiness IS embodied in the spirit of humble hospitality above all other virtues, however care must be taken to not confuse hospitality with a lack of discernment and discipline within the confessing community.

  10. Thanks SOO much for this, Richard. Crystallizes some things I've thought but haven't said so well.

    I will say that for some of us, this "monastic" ecclesiology is taken for granted. So when someone (usually someone living with someone they're not married to) says, "Can I join your church given my lifestyle?" there is a real and immediate need for clarifying what we're talking about. Are we talking about the get-together-and-welcome-one-another fellowship which 99% of Americans call church? Or are we talking about sharing-a-rule-and-holding-one-another-accountable life which I'm trying so hard to remind the church is the REAL definition of church? Are they asking about who I welcome, or are they asking what sort of "rule" I aspire to live by--a rule which I am hopeful that THEY will hold ME to, because I can't do it alone?

    I do want to keep the word "church" for the fellowship of committed believers following a rule together. But the frame is a secret, monastic, and missional holiness: only if, by some strange stretch of the imagination, you actually wanted to be shaped into the image of Jesus Christ as part of a community calling itself his body, would you even want to join something calling itself church. Otherwise, please accept my hospitality at the local Lion's Club or Chess Club, don't ask to join my church.

    You may be a bit idealistic about the idea that this "secret" rule will never be part of the "public" discourse. People do, after all, ask what it means to be a Franciscan--and why the Franciscans "exclude" married Christians. This sort of conversation is unavoidable. But once we start defining church in terms of radical discipleship, rather than as a blanket repository for cultural "goodness" or existential "salvation," it will hopefully take some of the sting out of the fact that people who don't want radical discipleship aren't really seeking to belong to the church at all.

  11. What lovely pictures you paint with your words. The last paragraph is exceptional. "...that the confessing community exists for mission, for the sake of the world...Here, among friends, is where holiness is cultivated, a holiness that sustains and stabilizes the friends in their collective and individual acts of love and service in the world."

    Having had an all too brief taste of what you describe, I thirst for it. May we all help in making this a reality.

    Enjoyed very much the connection to monastic  life. Attended Acton University few weeks back. Orthodox Chaplain, Rev. Gregory Jensen, lectured on East meets West: Consumerism and Asceticism. His summary states: Asceticism is concerned with the "inner transformation of the human person, in his being progressively conformed to Christ" Understood this way, asceticism has a foundational role to play in any Christian response to the practical and anthropological challenges of consumerism.

    As you have so eloquently described how the cultivation of holiness might look like in part, I think it is not a stretch to say asceticism has a foundational role in shedding some light on this as well, when rightly understood. As odd as it may sound to most, the monastics can inform us greatly on how to live as modern civilizations.

    Acton University was held the week before Streaming in Grand Rapids, MI. Wanted to attend but could not pull it off financially. Now I know why the pull of my Spirit was so strong. Thanks again for your exceptional and sharp thinking.

  12. "There is no public discussion of God, faith or religious topics. There are no words of this sort, no propaganda. There are only actions. The only "confession" we make in the world is behavioral. We keep our mouths shut. We simply love. That is all. And this love speaks for and interprets itself. "

    I am new to the idea of "religionless Christianity". What implications does this perspective have for evangelism "with words"? I suppose the modifier "public" is significant, where this perspective certainly does not rule out _relational_ (i.e., in the private context of interactions with people with whom I have some kind of relationship) discussion of God, faith, or religious topics?

  13. Merton dealt with this idea, especially in Faith and Violence.  Your short synopsis has been very helpful in understanding Bonhoeffer's "religionless Christianity", Merton's "death of God", and the use that Peter Rollins has made of both.


  14. Joel,

    Take a look at this and see if it might be the beginning of an answer.  (Evangelism Project; Evangelism Will Change the World)

  15. So I'm wondering how something like open communion/ Eucharist fits into this framework, if such a means of grace is to be reserved for the "secret discipline?" Should communion be open and available to the world or only to the confessing community? Or should it be open to the world but not shoved in their faces?

    ALSO, how would we evaluate the following words from Ezekiel in light of Jesus' curtain-splitting assertion that God's presence knows no bounds?
    The word of the Lord's critique of Judah:
    "Its priests have done violence to my teaching and have profaned my holy things; they have made no distinction between the holly and the common, neither have they taught the difference between the unclean and the clean?" (22:26)

    Would you simply assert that the Bible is critiquing its own narrative, or is there more that we can do to see Ezekiel's critique in light of Jesus' radical embrace? I realize that Ezekiel's justice-centered context surrounding these words may help.

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