One of the great privileges of serving in the local church is the opportunity to hear intriguing questions from congregants. A couple of weeks ago, I had such an experience after talking about evangelism. The topic of door-to-door Mormon missionaries came up, and eventually our conversation turned to how to interact with non-Christian missionaries—and if they should be shown any sort of hospitality at all. One participant in the conversation mentioned that they do not allow non-Christian missionaries into their home on the basis on 2 John 10-11, which says:
“If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting, for whoever greets him takes part in his wicked works.” 2 John 10-11 (ESV)
I’ve always made it a point to be frank with door-to-door people of any sort. If I have time or you sound interesting, I’ll listen; if I’m busy or unlikely to be interested, I’ll quickly let you know. When it comes to non-Christian missionaries (people such as Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses), I’ve been known to chat for a moment or two, even occasionally inviting them to step onto my porch for a few minutes. In light of this information from 2 John, I wondered if I had been unknowingly violating a scriptural teaching.
Reading 2 John 10-11
2 John 10-11 is, of course, simply a few verses of an ancient Christian letter—albeit a rather short one. The context of this letter involved a church under attack from false teachers from within. John’s opponents were Docetists—those who claimed to follow the risen Christ, but who confessed that Jesus wasn’t fully human (v.7). For John, being wrong about who Jesus is corrupts His saving work—if you don’t understand who Jesus is, you can’t understand what He’s done. Thus, John urged this church to remain steadfast and not give any ground to these wolves in sheep’s clothing.
It’s against this backdrop that we encounter 2 John 10-11. At first, it’s easy to read these verses as applying to hospitality—how we should treat other people. Reading this verse on its own, it certainly seems to suggest keeping strict guard over how you interact with others. If something doesn’t believe the same things you do, don’t let them into your house and don’t greet them in any way.
Taking this interpretation very literally for a moment, this sounds rather strict and, truth be told, pretty hard to follow through with. How would you fulfill this command? Do you have visitors fill out a theological survey before you let them into your house? Do you only have Facebook friends who believe the same things you do (remember, no greeting people or saying “hi” to them—I presume that covers “likes” as well)? What happens if you make a friend, only to find out they believe something different—do you cut them off?
Of course, I’m pushing the boundaries of this interpretation because that’s almost certainly not what’s being said in 2 John. Such a reading effectively ignores the literary and canonical contexts. The verse isn’t a prohibition against interacting with people who believe differently than we do, nor is it a prohibition on letting them enter our foyers.
New Testament Hospitality
Think for a moment about the general New Testament teaching on hospitality. It’s one of radical openness and love. Followers of Christ eat with tax collectors and sinners (Matt. 9.9-13), interact with hypocrites who believe Jesus isn’t the Son of God (Luke 7.36, 14.1), welcome and care for the destitute (Luke 10.25-37), pray for oppressors (Matt. 5.44), and offer radical forgiveness to those who sin against us (Matt. 18.21-22).
In light of the broader New Testament teaching on hospitality, my suggestion is to interpret 2 John 10-11 as wisdom for dealing with false teachers in the church. In that sense, these verses say “Don’t accept the teaching of those who don’t accept Christ. Don’t give them a platform or public honor; for supporting them this way is tantamount to opposing the gospel.” Those who’ve rejected the truth of Christ should no longer be given any teaching platform or public honor in the body of Christ. In other words, 2 John 10-11 (along with verses like Matt. 18.15-20) provide warrant for disfellowshipping those who’ve rejected Christ.
What these verses don’t do, however, is give us grounds for not having conversations with and showing radical love towards those who disagree with us—even on matters of theology. 2 John isn’t encouraging us to not invite your Buddhist coworker over for dinner or not say “hi” to your atheist neighbor. And it’s not saying that we should hide from the Mormons who knocked on your door rather than inviting them to come in and have a conversation with you about Jesus. Instead, read in context, 2 John 10-11 allows Christians to continue to show hospitality towards those outside the family of God.
How do you show hospitality to those around you? What Scripture have you been working to interpret recently?
This article originally appeared at Conciliar Post.