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From: "REVIVAL List" <prophetic@...>
Date: Thu, 04 Oct 2007 12:02:11 -0700
-by Charles Crismier.

Is your frustration building? Pursuit of Christian unity is hitting a
wall. Programs, gospel gimmicks and compromise... even prayer
are failing to yield true community. Here’s why. Cries for Christian
unity have defined much of the public expression of the church
over the last two decades. Calls, conferences and commitments
to racial reconciliation have played a significant role in the current
yearning for unity. A plethora of exhortations that “they may be
one” have made Jesus’ “high priestly prayer” of John 17 a
centerpiece of the Christian unity movement. Yet genuine unity
eludes us.

Pastors and Parishioners at Risk

George Barna, in his book Virtual America, revealed statistics that
should break your heart.

• Fifty-five percent of non-Christian Americans believe it is getting
harder and harder to make lasting friendships.
• Sixty-two percent of “born-again” Christians claim it is getting
hard to make lasting friendships.
• Seventy-three percent of “evangelical” Christians are finding it
difficult to make real friends.

It seems the stronger the alleged commitment to scriptural
authority, the more severe the problem of our relationships.
Conclusion: the more RELIGION, the less RELATIONSHIP.
Something is desperately wrong! Divided and in a state of
dissolution, we stand. Individualism reigns supreme. On my daily
broadcast, VIEWPOINT, I interviewed H.B. London, head of
pastoral ministries for Focus on the Family. Our focus was
“Pastors at Risk.” He disclosed that at least 70 percent of pastors
in America claim they have NO friends. Whatever happened to
Christian community? Whatever happened to the “covenant
community” in America”? Are we destined to be strangers in the
“Commonwealth of Faith?” Can we truly have unity without genuine
community? The fracture of community is also revealed in the
widening chasm that divides our families. The divorce rate among
professing Christians exceeds that of the nation at large. The
divorce rate among pastors equals that of their congregations
(Hartford Seminary Study), the second highest of all professions,
and divorce in the “Bible Belt” exceeds the nation at large by 50
percent (Rutge rs University Study - “The State of Our Unions”).
Christ may be our Savior, but SELF is king. Could it be that the
Church has taken the lead even in estranging the family?
Counterfeit community is devastating us and destroying our
witness. William Hendricks, author of Exit Interviews, also
appeared on VIEWPOINT. He revealed that 53,000 people per
week who remain committed to Christ are leaving through the
“backdoor” of America’s churches. He concluded that many
parishioners do not believe they are being told the whole “gospel
truth,” that their unique giftedness and purpose as part of a body
is not recognized, and that the church does not provide true
Christian fellowship and community but has become a “gospel
country club” of Sunday back-slappers who care little about one
another after the worship service. Add to that the new “mall”
methods of mass ministry and you have a pretense of community
utterly void of natural commitment to one another. Organizational
“unity” programs multiply, rhetorical unity abounds, but genuine
relational substance is scarce. Why? What is it that frustrates
experiencing the fruit of true unity? Could it be that in our
increasing pursuit of unity we have missed the community out of
which unity is born?

The Real and the Counterfeit

It is said that the best way to identify counterfeit currency is to
study the real thing. The sin nature is pervasive, and we humans
have a distinct propensity to counterfeit the real in every area of life.
This is true also of such prized commodities as unity and
community. American pragmatism only fuels the counterfeiting
fires, enabling us to stamp “UNITY” or “COMMUNITY” on relational
coinage that lacks the spiritual or relational “metal” of true unity
and community. Genuine unity is forged in community. It cannot
be carved out of the cold rock of American hyper-individualism.
Rather, it is hammered out in the intense heat of relationships
being welded together “in Christ.” The very godhead is an eternal
display and declaration of community... Father, Son and Holy
Spirit – distinct persons, yet one – united in truth and spirit. Even
so, we who are born of the Spirit and saved through the sacrifice
of the Son who declared himself “The TRUTH” become “one” with
the Father. This was Jesus’ vision in his “high priestly prayer” of
John 17. Jesus said true worshipers must worship Him both in
spirit and truth. Truth coupled with the warm wind of relationship in
the Spirit is essential to Christian community that produces the
fruit of biblical unity. That relationship is not just with the Father
but revealed in our communion – common union – with one
another. Just as truth and relationship are indispensable to our
union in Christ, they are indispensable in common union with one
another. Without the fulness of both truth and relationship born of
the spirit, our faith becomes either a cold set of creeds or an orgy
of conjured feelings. Compromised truth in pursuit of unity yields
nothing but a cheap counterfeit – sentimentality. Similarly,
conjured feelings of unity without genuine common union in real
relationships mocks the costly currency of true unity expressed in
community. So how did we come to so readily accept such tinny
counterfeits? Is there an essential “metal” that has eluded us in
producing the coinage of genuine comm-unity that gives rise to the
glorious unity we so desire? There is, and it is called HOSPITALITY.

Whatever Happened to Hospitality?

There was a time when hospitality was at the heart of the
American home. There was a time when hearts and homes that
practiced hospitality welded families into community with an
invisible glue that let people know they belonged and were
welcome and accepted. And there was a time twenty centuries
ago when one of the hallmarks of the Church was “behold how
they love one another.” They broke bread together “from house to
house with gladness and singleness of heart,” and the Church
exploded (Acts 2:41-47). Hospitality was the earthly expression of
the eternal hope of believers. Something dramatic has happened,
however, since those times, causing Christianity Today (May 22,
2000) to ask the headline question, “Whatever Happened to
Hospitality?” There is a pervasive sense throughout our land that
hospitality is becoming discouragingly scarce as an art and as an
expression of the heart. So let me ask you, Whatever happened
to hospitality? Many experience “crowded loneliness” – surrounded
by people but lost in the crowd. The spirit of the mall has become
the consumer model for the Master’s church. There is a growing
absence of heart connectedness, a deep feeling that no one knows
my name, or even cares. The collective effect is the collapse of
community, a conclusion validated by both secular and spiritual
observers. Even our church buildings are increasingly designed
like malls, breeding grounds for artificial relationships. We belong
to the club of strangers yearning desperately for fellowship. Often
even our small group or cell group efforts become more
methodologies for organizational growth than for genuine biblical
and Kingdom relationships. Artificiality is becoming normative.
And we are be coming virtually strangers... in the crowd, yet lonely.
Crowded loneliness is frightening. God well understood the
implications of lack of relationship rooted in genuine community.
He warned Israel from the moment of their deliverance from the
bondage of Egypt to reach to the stranger. But the insidious roots
of strangerhood have assaulted the American heart, threatening
the very faith that bred our freedom. Alexis de Tocqueville first
diagnosed the danger of selfish isolationism that threatened the
nation. In Habits of the Heart, sociologists discuss the gravity of
de Tocqueville’s 1830's observations for our time, noting it was he
who coined the term “individualism.” Individualism has mutated
now into hyper-individualism, a virulent disease of the soul now
threatening to destroy even Christian community and the God-
ordained heart of hospitality that undergirds all genuine community.

The Divine Antidote

“Hospitality is as close as we will ever get to the face of God,”
declared a rabbi. Hospitality is at the heart of the Gospel. God
was not willing that we, who were estranged from Him by sin,
should remain strangers. The Father sent forth His Son to extend
an invitation to His home, welcoming those who would receive His
invitation into a holy comm-unity called the Church. His desire
was that we be one in community with Him even as Christ was,
that the world would be convinced of Christ and His mission.
Hospitality is to reach to strangers. In a very real and growing
sense, we are all strangers here. We must grasp the God-breathed
need for Christ-infused hospitality to reach the virtual strangers
around us, beginning with those virtual strangers right in our midst
in the household of faith. Hospitality is glorious, but not glamorous.
It is not an artificial marketing tool but the Master’s authentic
method for birthing and maintaining relational community.
Therefore, the Apostle Paul stated that anyone in a position of
leadership in the Church must first be “given to” hospitality and be
a “lover” of hospitality. In describing the functional essence of
Christian relations hips, Paul made clear that all who follow Christ
must be “given to” hospitality. Contrary to popular thinking and
teaching, hospitality is not a gift I have, but a gift I must give. It is
the practical handle God has given to implement agape love. It is
the attitude of the heart which, when expressed collectively among
members of the Body, produces the authentic relational womb that
births a community in which a people linked in truth are described
as being in “unity.” Unity is not the goal but rather the fruit that
issues from the root. When either truth or community relationship
fostered by hospitality are missing in whole or in part, we seek
gospel gimmicks to replace them. The result is not true unity but
a counterfeit, requiring constant catering to fleshly interests
demanding a conformity of compromise rather than to Christ. As
we see the day of our Lord’s return rapidly approaching, the Holy
Spirit bringing re-birth to the holy heart of hospitality that graced
the life of the early Church, causing outsiders to desire becoming
insiders as they observed the unity of truth displayed in holy
community. We yearn again for the world to inescapably conclude,
“Behold, how they love one another.”...

If we truly want unity, we must restore community. Genuine
community will flower with a fresh pursuit of truth and a rebirth of
hospitality. To preach hospitality, I must practice hospitality. And
if I would practice hospitality, I will soon preach hospitality.
Hospitality must again become an essential of Christian
discipleship. If we would be touched with hospitality, we must
teach hospitality. Hospitality gives us a “handle” on agape love. It
requires not only teaching but also training, enveloping every
aspect of our Christian walk. Once one gains a vision for The
POWER of Hospitality, forgiveness, reconciliation, fellowship,
reaching the lost, and virtually every other aspect of ministry and
relationship take on new significance and meaning, including unity.
The heart of our faith is revealed in a heart of hospitality. Let’s get
serious about discipling the saints in this essential expression of
God’s grace to us. May no Christian magazine ever again need to
ask, “Whatever Happened to Hospitality?” And may The POWER
of Hospitality give rebirth to genuine Christian comm-unity causing
a skeptical world to again declare, “Behold how they lo ve one
another,” thus extending a welcoming hand to those in a fractured
and hyper-individualistic society who will embrace “the WAY, the
TRUTH and the LIFE.”

~This article is partially taken from a new release, The POWER
of Hospitality (2005, Elijah Books) by Chuck and Kathie Crismier.

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