Monday, January 20, 2014

A Missiology of Guesting - latest version - January 21, 2014

E-book in Progress
I hereby invite all interested readers of this blog to comment on and discuss and contribute to my writing project, in which I explore the missiological potentials of the metaphor of guesting. It is a follow up to my article "A Missiology of Listening".
Are you aware of books or articles on guesting relevant for this project? What do you think of exploring the metaphor of "guesting" for missiology? Constructive and critical contributions are welcome.

Mission as Hospitality - and Guesting? 
Hosting/welcoming and guesting/visiting belong together. Without guests no hosts, and vice versa. Hospitality and guesting are part of our daily life and are also described in much detail in both Old and New Testament. As Tobias Brandner has stated, “The dialectic of hosting and visiting is a central thread throughout the biblical tradition and offers a key to reading the whole story of the Bible” (Brandner 2013:94)

Hospitality has – in particular in recent years – become a very important metaphor or even paradigm of mission, God’s mission and the participation of the church in God’s mission. Much more so than has been the case with guesting.

God is our host and we are his guests. The Danish theologian and hymn writer N. F. S. Grundtvig calls the church a “guest chamber”.[1] 

God’s hospitality – God being the host – motivates and inspires us to participate in a mission of hospitality where we in the church welcome people and extend God’s hospitality to them. Together with them we are all guests of our Lord, seated at the same table.

Numerous books and articles have been written about the role of hospitality in mission[2]
[Amos Yong, Martimer Arias, Gathogo - to be expanded]

Most recently the centrality for mission of hospitality has been emphasised the new WCC mission document, in which it reads that

To the extent that the church practises radical hospitality to the estranged in society, it demonstrates commitment to embodying the values of the reign of God (Isaiah 58:6). …. God’s hospitality calls us to move beyond binary notions of culturally dominant groups as hosts, and migrant and minority peoples as guests. Instead, in God’s hospitality, God is host and we are all invited by the Spirit to participate with humility and mutuality in God’s mission.[3]

There are, however, some critical problems concerning the use of hospitality a metaphor for mission today - at least in societies where the church traditionally has been powerful and dominant.[to be exanded]

The host/hospitality metaphor reveals many important aspects of the mission of God and the mission of the church, but I n this chapter, however, I intend to approach the host-guest relationship from another angle and pursue “guesting” or “being a guest” as a metaphor for mission in the hope that this metaphor may reveal other missional aspects of mission that might be pertinent to the our postmodern Danish context: God as guest, Jesus as guest, mission as guesting.

God as Host - and Guest?
God is the creator, and we are all his creatures. God the creator is our host and all is creatures are invited to his table as guests. But are we justified in conceiving God also as the guest, as the guest of his own creatures?

When the salvation history takes off through the calling of Abraham, through whom ”all the peoples on earth will be blessed” (Gen 12,3), God appears in the process to Abraham in the persons of three guests. "The Lord appeared to Abraham near the great trees of Mamre while he was sitting at the entrance to his tent in the heat of the day. Abraham looked up and saw three men standing nearby"(Gen 18,1-2).

Abraham welcomed them as any good host would do and treated them as his guests. He had their feet washed and offered them the best food he had. In the context of being a guest of Abraham ”the Lord said, ”I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sara your wife will have a son” (Gen18,10).[4]

As it will be shown later in this article when God incarnated himself in Jesus from Nazareth one of the most fitting descriptions of the role of Jesus among people would be that of a guest who is the exemplary recipient of hospitiality, while he at the same time gave expression to the hospitality of God.

The Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity, may be seen as “the divine guest resident in the hearts and lives of the people of God, upon whom she has been poured out”. At the same time “the Spriti empowers from within the body of Christ (the anointed ones) to bear witness to the hosptialbkle God to the ends of the earth (Acts 1,8) (Yong 2008:104).
It is noteworthy that the biblical idea of God as our guest has found a strong resonance in The Danish Hymnbook ("Den Danske Salmebog" DS, 2009). In about 30 of the 792 hymns, God (in most hymns the references are to Jesus, but in a few the reference is to the Holy Spirit) is referred to in guest-terminology. The incarnation is described in terms of guesting. Thomas Kingo states that God has broken out of his heavenly abode to become the guest of the world (DS 124,1).  And N. F. S. Grundtvig says that Jesus has come to us as guest for the sake of our salvation (DS 81,4). B.S. Ingemann in his Christmas hymns sings about the joy brought about by the creator visiting his creation.

Joy is our guest on earth this day,
the little King of  creation!
Come, sparrow and dove, fly down and stay
to join in our celebration.
Dance on your mohter’s lap, dear child!
a wondrous day has arisen:
today He is born, our Saviour mild –
the pathway to Paradise given.

Kingo refers to Jesus being a guest at the wedding of Canaan as a reminder that Jesus also wants to be the guest and bless marriages today (DS 144). Grundtvig calls the Holy Spirit our counsellor or adviser who is the honourable guest of our heart (DS 305,2).

The People of God as Guests
When St. Stephen in his speech in Acts 7 recapitulates the story of the forefathers of Israel we get the impression that their mode of living was that of sojourners, aliens, guests, depending on the hospitality of other people. Abraham was told to leave his home country and his home to go to a land that God would show him. Joseph was sold to Egypt and Moses was adopted into the household of Pharoah, and later in his life lived as a resident alien in the land of Midian (Yong 2008:108f).

Abraham – and through him the people of God – was called to participate in the mission of God. The first “great commission” given by God to Abraham (Gen 13,2-3), which points forward the second “great commission” given by Jesus to his disciples (Matt 28,18-20), followed God’s command to Abraham turn himself into a guest, depending on the hospitality of others “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you” (Gen 12.1). In the period prior to their settlement I Canaan, the people of God was portrayed as sojourners, guests, who in carrying out their ministry were called to be dependent on the hospitality of others, and to receive God’s blessings from their hosts.

Jesus as Guest
When God’s promise about blessing to all people through his descendants was fulfilled and a saviour was born in the family of Mary and Joseph, the encounter of the Son of God with the world was – as a guest in a stable in Bethlehem. Shortly afterwards the holy family realised that king Herod did not welcome them in his kingdom so they had to flee to Egypt and stay there for some time as refugees and guests.

Although Jesus was the Son of God, and could have approached his creation and creatures as their creator and lord, he did not impose himself on people but offered himself as a guest, someone they could receive and welcome or freely reject him. The evangelist John reflects on this when he writes that  "He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognise him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him …" (John 1,10-12).

Everything and everybody belongs to God, so the Son of God “came to that which was his own”, and could as a king have commanded obedience from his subjects, but in stead he approached humanity as a powerless and vulnerable guest, whom they could freely receive and welcome – or reject.

Throughout his ministry, Jesus ministered to people from the position of a guest. When somebody came to him and said that he wanted to follow him wherever he would go, Jesus pointed to his way of life: ”Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nest, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” (Matt 8,20). Apparently, Jesus was always the guest in someone’s house. We know that he often was the guest in the house of the siblings Mary, Martha and Lazarus (Luke 10,38ff), and we hear about him visiting many other houses. He seems to consciously be placing himself in a position of dependence on the hospitality of others.

When Jesus encounters the woman at the well in Samaria, he approaches her as her guest and asks her,  ”Will you give me a drink?” and thereby treating her as if she was him host. As a guest he shows her respect although she is a Samaritan and he belongs to the Jewish people who would normally consider themselves to be superior to the Samaritans. It seems that by making her his host he succeeded in initiating a very open conversation with her about sensitive issues of her personal life and of faith in God.

At the beginning of the history of salvation, the Lord appeared to Abraham as a guest, and at the climax of the history of salvation, the resurrected Lord appeared to two of his discouraged disciples on their way from Jerusalem to Emmaus as a stranger whom they ask to be their guest at a meal. As a guest he does not impose himself on them but listens to them and asks them questions – and then shares his insight with them.  During the meal when Jesus breaks the bread and gives thanks, however, they realise that their guest was the resurrected Lord (Luke 24,13-32).

Jesus met the disciples on the way to Emmaus as a stranger and a guest, but he ended up acting as their host when he broke the bread. This reflects a key event in the ministry of Jesus where he also acted as the host, namely the Lord’s Supper where Jesus is truly the host and his disciples are his guests. As Abraham washed the feet of his three guests in Mamre and gave them a meal, in the same way Jesus washes the feet of his disciples/guests and shares a meal with them (John 13).

The Lord is of course our creator and as creatures we are the guests in his world. The Lord is our Saviour who in his grace invites us to be his guests at his table. But a closer reading of the Old and in particular the New Testament reveals that God as our guest is a very significant theme in the salvation history.

In Jesus parable about judgment day Jesus identifies himself with the stranger who needs to be welcomed as a guest. Jesus says: “… I was hungry and you gave me something to eat. I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink. I was a stranger and you invited me in” (Matt 25,35f). And in the Book of Revelation Jesus is reported to have said to the Church in Laodicea, and it also may summarise his guest-approach to ministry in general: “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me” (Rev 3,20).

At the end of his earthly ministry Jesus said to his disciples: “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you” (John 20,21). The sending of Jesus by his father implied a ministry of guesting. The question is, if guesting is also a key component of the ministry and mission of the church?

The Disciples Sent to Be Guests
As it was shown in the previous chapter, in his sending by his father to the world he saw himself as a guest of those to whom he was sent to minister. Thereby he set an example for his disciples who had followed him and participated in his “guesting”. When Jesus sent out the 12 and the 72 they were sent with his authority to preach the kingdom and to heal the sick. What is often overlooked, however, is the way he sends them. They are not sent out as a well-equipped army, but they are sent out empty handed. “Take nothing for the journey – no staff, no bag, no bread, no money, no extra tunic” (Luke 9,2). The explanation is that they are sent as – guests, which means that they would be depending not on their own resources but on their hosts to whom they were sent to minister. And they were supposed to behave like good guests: When they entered a house they should convey “Peace to this house“. And they should “Stay in that house, eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker deserves his wages”. The disciples of Jesus were to carry out their missionary ministry of preaching the kingdom of god and of healing the sick as the guests of those they were ministering to.

[to be expanded]

The Ministry of Guesting in the Early Church
There are many examples of a continuation of the ministry of guesting among the disciples after the ascension of Jesus.

                      […] the spirit drives them into the world, even to the ends of the earth (Acts
                      1:8), to interact with and receive the hospitality, kindness, and gifts of
                      strangers of all sorts, even Samaritans, public and governmental officials, 

                      and “barbarians” (Yong 2008:107)

In Acts of the Apostles we read about Peter who is the guest of Simon the tanner in Joppa, when  (Acts 9:43 & 10:6), when the Roman centurion Cornelius invites him to stay in his house in Caesarea. The surprising aspect of Peter’s acceptance of the hospitality of Cornelius is that he is Roman soldier, who is not a Jew. What convinced Peter to do so was the vision God gave him while he was still a guest in the house of Simon the tanner, a vision that helped him re realize that he “should not call any man unclean or impure” (Acts 10,28). His acceptance of the hospitality of this gentile bridges the gap between Jews and gentiles and becomes the vehicle for the evangelisation of gentiles: as the guest in Cornelius’ house he shares the gospel with Cornelius and the others in the house and the Holy Spirit falls upon them and they are baptised (Arterbury 2007).

As an itinerant preacher Paul was completely dependent on the hospitality of those to whom (and with whom) he ministered. Paul and his colleagues stayed in the home of Lydia, a new convert (Acts 16,15, and in the house of the Philippian jailer (Acts 16,31ff), and after having survived a shipwreck Paul was the guest of the Maltese islanders and the chief official. While guesting these people Paul preached the gospel to his hosts.

The Missionary Commission
In his book ”Transforming Mission” (1992) David Bosch has identified six historical paradigms of mission and in each period ”there was a tendency to take one specific biblical verse as the missionary text” (Bosch 1992:339). E.g, in the patristic understanding (the Eastern Church) it was John 3,16, in the medieval Roman Catholic missionary period it was Luke 14,23 and in the Protestant Reformation focused on Rom 1,16f. Mission in the wake of Enlightenment – i.e., in the modern missionary period – the text that was most often referred to is the so-called ”Great Commission” of Matt 28,18-20.

”All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age”.

This text has no doubt inspired and mobilised many for genuine mission, but interpreted in the light of the dominant thinking in the Enlightenment period and the colonial situation this missionary this text was often understood in a way that confirmed a Western/Christian feeling of superiority. It was tempting to focus on the aspect of authority and obedience and on a one-way communication (”teaching them to obey”).

In the last part of the book ”Toward a Relevant Missiology”, Bosch discusses ”Elements of an Emerging Ecumenical Missionary Paradigm” and here he highlights many aspects that have to be taken into consideration when developing not the postmodern ecumenical missionary paradigm, but – I think – the variety of mission paradigms we need for today.

In a post-Christendom and increasing multi-religious society – such as the Danish society and most other Western societies – the Church is loosing power and Christianity is becoming one among many religious options. The Church is not longer at the centre of society and its attraction is diminishing. Fewer and fewer people respond when the church bells call people to church on Sundays. The context in which we live sometimes blind us to certain texts in the bible and help us to see the relevance of others. Maybe it is the increasing marginalisation of church and Christianity that has helped some to see the exemplary relevance of stories in Old as well as New Testament about God who approaches our world as a guest – and to see texts such as Luke 9,1-9 (parr. Matt 10,5-15, Mark 67-13) and 10,1-16 as challenging missionary texts for today.


In many missiological books and articles the missiological significance of hospitality has been explored and analysed. What is needed, however, is to reflect more deeply about the missiological significance of guesting.

Qualities of Guesting as Mission

Practical Implications of a Missiology of Guesting

Guesting and Hosting


Arias, Mortimer
2008              “Centripetal Mission, or Evangelization by Hospitality,” in The Study of
                      Evangelism. Exploring a Missional Practice of the Church
, ed. Paul W.
                      Chilcote and Laceye C. Warner. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, pp.

Arterbury, Andrew
2007               ”Entertaining Angels: Hospitality in Luke and Acts”.
Christian Reflection:
                       A Series in Faith and Ethics
. Waco, TX: Baylor University.

Brandner, Tobias,
2013              ”Hosts and Guests: Hospitality as an Emerging Paradigm in Mission”
                      International Review of Mission.
Volume 102, Issue 1, pp. 94-102

Derrida, Jacques
2000              Of Hospitality. Trans. by Rachel Bowlby. Stanford: Stanford University

Gathogo, Julius
2011              "African Hospitality form a Missiogical Perspective: Aiding Church and
                     Societal Growth"

Karris, Robert J.
2006              Eating Your Way Through Luke’s Gospel. Collegeville: Minnesota.

Yong, Amos
2008              Hospitality and the Other. Pentecost, Christian Practices, and the Neighor.
                      Maryknoll: New York

[1] In the hymn from 1825, revised in 1853, ”Tør nogen ihukomme”.
”Huset med de høje sale
tømres kun af skaberhånd,
må fra Himmelen neddale
som til støvet Herrens Ånd;
vi af bløde bøgestammer,
under nattergalesang,
bygge kun et gæstekammer
til en himmelsk altergang.”
[2] See for instance: Gathogo 2011
[3] Together towards life: mission and evangelism in changing landscapes. Proposal for a new WCC Affirmation on Mission and Evangelism. Submitted by the Commission on World Mission and Evangelism (CWME) (September 2012). Accessed at .
[4] God appeared as a guest (or rather three guests) when announcing a message of salvation (the promise of son) to Abraham, and God similarly seems to have appeared as a guest (or rather two guests) when announcing judgment (upon the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah) to Lot (Gen19,1-21).
[5] Verse 2 of ”Julen har bragt velsignet bud” translated by Edward Broadbridge into English in Hymns in English. A Selection of Hymns from The Danish Hymnbook (2009), p. 28).