Alexander Strauch wrote this wonderful book titled The Hospitality Commands, and I recommend it to you if you desire to learn more about biblical hospitality. Though I could reference many of the positive instructions on hospitality from the book, I want to highlight some of his comments on Christians refusing hospitality.
This section was very intriguing. When we think of Christian ethics, we know the Bible calls them to be the most hospitable people in the world (even if we fail at times). It is hard to believe that the Bible would tell Christians to refuse hospitality at any time. But Scripture indicates that there are situations where it is necessary for believers to refuse hospitality to someone.
Strauch gives two people groups where withholding hospitality appropriate: (1) False Teachers, (2) Unrepentant Believers. He observes that there are moments where protection of ourselves and the community must be valued: “the purpose for refusing to show hospitality is to protect ourselves and the holiness of the Christian community and to open the eyes of people who are deceived by their sin” (p. 45).
He cites 2 John 10, 11 as the main text for not receiving a specific type of false teachers into your home. John is referring to “heretical theologians who actively promote error concerning the fundamental doctrine of the Person of Christ. He is talking about cults and their diabolical teachers” (p. 45). These are people who deny that God has come in the flesh and deny the deity of Christ as described in the Scripture.
He continues to observe the problem with accepting them into our homes: “Christians who open their homes to false teachers are naive about the subtle and destructive power of falsehood. They confuse love with sentimentality. They honor man more than God. They prize their own wisdom more than God’s” (p. 45).
Showing hospitality to these types of false teachers without confronting their sin is similar to encouraging their sin and false teachings. John does not even want Christians to greet them good day (2 John 10)! Hughes quotes James Boice as a way of addressing how harsh this may seem:
“If at this point, however, the words still seem harsh, it can only be that John’s concern for Christ and His glory is greater than ours and that our so-called tolerance is in reality just an indifference to truth and misunderstanding of true love” (p. 45). Sometimes withdrawn hospitality is the best form of love that we as believers can express to a false teacher. As harsh as it seems on the surface, it may be just what they need to lead them to their repentance.
The Bible also speaks about refusing hospitality towards professing Christians in “unrepentant moral evil,” or unrepentant Christians. 1 Corinthian 5:11-13 calls believers to not associate with any so-called brother if he is immoral and unrepentant.
This is not a reference to the Christian who is ignorant to his sin, or the Christian who is struggling for help in his fight against sin. Instead, this is the professing “Christian” who continues in unrepentant sin after being warned, counseled, and confronted by the Scriptures. The local church is called to discontinue fellowship with this person (aka church discipline) since the members can longer affirm/deny their profession of faith based on these objective displays of unrepentant sin. Their life of embracing sin may possibly be an indicator that they do not have genuine faith.
Christians, in a attempt to “reach out” to these types of individuals, are tempted to befriend them in such a way that acts as if there is no problem. But Hughes argues otherwise: “We cannot act as if nothing is wrong and invite such a Christian into our homes to eat. We cannot continue a ‘business-as-usual’ approach. Sin has ruined our fellowship together. However, if the individual wants counsel, prayer, or instruction, that is a different matter.” Meeting to help them understand the Bible or meeting to call them to repent at a coffee shop is different from inviting them to your house for a football game and pretending as if they are not in sin. This is what the Bible warns Christians not to do.
Table fellowship was a sign of “Christian oneness, love of the brethren, and the peace of God.” Refusing to eat is a serious matter and shows that the bond of Christian fellowship has been interrupted by unrepentant sin. Hughes says, “Disobedience to this injunction has weakened and defiled multitudes of churches and hindered the proper restoration of many sinning members” (p. 47). We must be careful!
We must consider some cautions related to these matters. One extreme may be to completely cut off all communication in our efforts to break hospitality. This should not be the case. Without open communication and continued relationship, there will not be an avenue for the Gospel to be heard and repentance to be observed (Romans 10:14-17). We must find a way to continue a type of relationship/communication with false teachers and unrepentant Christians that continues the interaction yet also protects us and the church and gives an open door for evangelism and repentance.
Sometimes, there may be a case where we do have to cut off all ties to individuals like false teachers and unrepentant professing Christians, because the spiritual danger and sinful influence may be so detrimental. This takes great discretion and we must remember that there is still hope in the Gospel even for the most hardened of hearts as long as they are living.
Other avenues of outreach include the following: fervent prayer, discussions by phone, and even discussions in neutral/public locations. We must find creative ways to communicate without compromising or living “business-as-usual.”
Refusing hospitality is one of the means by which we can call people to repentance. Once repentance bears fruit, then true fellowship and hospitality can be celebrated in the unity of Christ.