We take the meal with as much gospel seriousness as we take our Scriptures;

we take the kitchen to be as essential in the work of salvation as is the sanctuary. – Eugene Peterson

This paper focuses on the Christian vocation to Christian character
and identity formation in the household. The paper presents an outline
for a practical theology of the household from the perspective of
missional vocation – an outline that culminates into integrating
processes of Christian formation and the household practices of meals,
for illuminating the missional intention of character and identity
formation in the household. The contribution of this paper is part of a
broader missional agenda to stimulate subsequent efforts to develop a
missional model for the facilitation of processes, and for the
implementation of programs, that assist Christians in their vocation as
witnesses to Christ in the context of their households.

The argument in this paper, first, explores the theological
possibility of cultivating a missional vocation to the household, as a
necessary endeavour of the missional Church. Secondly, such a
theological possibility will lead to the outline of a practical
theology of the household as a basic framework for the missional
interpretation of certain necessary processes of Christian character
and identity formation. Thirdly, this paper suggests the practice of
nurturing a culture of the table, as an appropriate fulfillment of a
missional vocation to Christian formation in the household.

Cultivating a missional vocation to the household

The English humorist P. G. Wodehouse had the following to say about
the writing of novels: ‘I believe there are two ways of writing novels.
One is mine, making a sort of musical comedy without music and ignoring
real life altogether; the other is going right deep down into life and
not caring a damn.’ Douglas Hall applies the Wodehouse quote to the
writing of theology: on the one hand, you will find the ‘musical
comedies without music’ of those theologians who ‘withdraw into their
own fortresses’ and stimulate a kind of Christianity that ‘no longer
feels obliged to go out into the marketplace to find out what is
happening there, for it believes that its doctrine has already
accounted for anything and everything that could possibly occur in the
world…’; on the other hand, you will find theologians who are willing
to delve ‘right deep down into life’, as ‘all authentic Judeo-Christian
theology must do…’

Hall’s remark about the task of theology, on the analogy of the
Wodehouse quote, is of course imbedded in his theology of the cross
that ‘assumes a strong world-orientation and presses its adherents ever
more insistently towards the actual world in which they find
themselves.’ A theology of the cross that rejects theologies of glory
‘which invariably tend to supercede creation in favor of a supramundane
redemption’ is always ‘bound to this world in all of its materiality,
ambiguity, and incompleteness.’ This understanding of the nature of the
theological enterprise resonates strongly in Jurgen Moltmann’s
kingdom-of-God theology that ‘springs from God’s love for life’ and
becomes ‘engaged wherever there is life and wherever that life is

A theology that (in Hall’s language above) ‘presses its
adherents… towards the actual world’ is a theology that has as its
chief end the missional vocation of the Church. Theology in itself is a
matter of vocation for Hall. It is a vocational matter, not only
because the theologian is summoned or ‘appointed by God’, but also
because it has ‘as its telos (inner aim) an apostolic rationale… to
perform a particular service in an for the community of faith…’ But,
the ‘goal toward which such theological reflection presses,’ says Hall,
‘is the generation of a missiology and an ethic that adequately express
the world-directedness of the theology of the cross.’

It is important to note that in Hall’s description theology serves
a missional church in which there is no separation of mission and
ethics. A separation of mission and ethics, as is the case in
theologies of glory, can only result in a triumphalistic ‘mission to
the world.’ In such instance, the church is a church with a mission. To
the contrast, a missional church, in which there is no separation of
mission and ethics, is an ecclesia crucis that lives with the
assumption ‘that those who would bring good news to the world must
submit themselves to the ‘imperative’ that the gospel’s ‘new
indicative’ announces.’ To have a missional vocation is to ‘live the
story’ of God’s involvement in the world. It is ‘a way of life’ that
enacts the Christic drama in the world.

This paper pursue a manner in which such a contextual,
life-oriented, and primarily missional theology (with no separation
between missiology and ethics), can inform a missional ‘ecclesia
crusis’ (who ‘lives the story’ of the missio Dei) for the cultivation
of its missional vocation to the formation of followers of Christ that
live ‘a way of life’ through enacting Christ’s way of living in the
world. It indicates the household as an appropriate life location for
such an endeavour. And it focuses on the meal as a concrete missional
practice through which it can be accomplish.

The household as an appropriate location for a missional vocation
to Christian formation is important for at least three reasons:

First of all, the acknowledgement that the debate about missional
theology and missional church needs to be enriched by exploring the
missional vocation of Christians in their everyday working and living
circumstances (also in relation to role and place of the missional
church of course), as to ensure that the missional debate does not
become a narrow ecclesiastical debate in which the institutional church
ends up as the primary focus again.

Darrell Guder, editor of the ‘Missional Church: A Vision for the
Sending of the Church in North America’ (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998),
concedes a possible ‘valid impression’ (in criticism directed at the
‘missional church project’ of the late 90’s) that ‘the church is the
priority’ in the missional church discussions – in spite of the many
ways in which the ‘inward focus’ and ‘reductionistic theologies and
practices of the church’ was critiqued in that discussions. He admits
it as ‘a serious gap in our early discussions’ that needs attention,
because it is obviously never the intention of the missional theology
and missional church debate to make the institutional church the
priority. Guder needs to be quoted more fully on this: ‘Mission rooted
in the trinitarian nature and action of God must take the emphasis upon
‘cosmos’ in both Testaments seriously. It relates theologically the
calling and practice of the church to God’s healing purposes for the
whole world. This must mean, then, that the presence and action of
Christian witness within that world must become a central emphasis of
missional theology. The preservation of the institutional church as we
have known it is not the purpose of the gospel; the church is the
instrument of God’s mission in the world… If the church is missionary
by its very nature, then the life and calling of every Christian person
is fundamentally missional. But it must be conceded that this has not
been sufficiently emphasized in the gospel and culture discussion up to

In almost similar fashion than Douglas Hall’s description of the
Church as an apostolic community in which there cannot be a separation
of mission and ethics, Guder also, stress the importance of a ‘dynamic
understanding of the interaction between discipleship and apostolate.’
The goal of the missional vocation of the church as primarily an
apostolic community is ‘the formation of the community for its vocation
of witness.’ The goal of formation for witnessing does not consist of
giving Christians another list of things to do, but rather entails the
formation of an identity of people who enacts God’s missional intention
in everything they are and do: ”How they lived together, how they
dealt with their disagreements, how they interacted with the customs
and practices of their pagan context, how rich treated poor, husbands
treated wives, owners treated slaves, parents treated children, how
they practiced their sexuality – everything was subsumed under his one
vocation: ‘you shall be my witness’…’.

The household is one of these very important life locations for the
challenge of being witnesses to Christ. Therefore, it is as an
appropriate goal for cultivating the missional vocation of theology and
church than any other sphere of life.

Secondly, the ‘family crisis’ necessitates a re-evaluation of the
Church’s responsibility towards the household as part of the church’s
missional vocation to Christian character and identity formation.

The results of studies in ‘The Religion, Culture, and Family
Project’, that took place in the Institute for Advanced Study in the
University of Chicago Divinity School during the late 90’s, indicate
‘four competing social sciences explanations of the family crisis,
namely changing cultural values (especially with the increase of
individualism), changing economic patterns, psychological causes (such
as poor socialization and inadequate communication skills) and
patriarchy (still visible, although declining).’ It is not within the
scope of this paper to give attention to all of these important
factors, and the implications it have for Christian formation in
households. But, in the development of an outline for a practical
theology as a framework for the exploration of a missional vocation to
Christian formation in the household (in the next part of this paper),
it will become clear that this paper is in agreement with the
assessment in the results of the above mentioned study that ‘the
cultural factor of inordinate individualism – the desire to attain more
expressive and utilitarian satisfactions for oneself – is critical’.
Families are clearly in need of an ethics of mutuality and equal regard
based on the Christian story, to assist them in the formation of a
household that counters an ‘inordinate individualism’ and promotes a
missional vocation to life.

Larry Rasmussen, in his work on moral and community fragmentation,
warns against the impact of such an ‘inordinate individualism’ and its
associated utilitarianism in the household: ‘The family… has become
more and more a setting for consumption and less and less the place
where one generation initiates the next into a way of life in which all
have a significant place and day-by-day participation… the family is
less and less the most common locus of manifold engagement.’ Rasmussen
draws upon the work of the moral philosopher, Albert Borgmann, and his
description of ‘the device paradigm’. In short, Borgmann shows how the
grammar of an increasingly technological society shapes the social and
moral relations in society. Borgmann highlights the irony of how, on
the one hand, modernity heightens human interdependence, but, on the
other hand, reduces human contact to little more than mere points of
labor and commodities. Human relationships become ‘commodities whose
utility we measure and consume’, with the consequence that there is
less and less ‘scope for people to develop their own moral capacities’
and it is more and more a reality that moral networks dissolve.

In a context like this, where the force of modernity becomes quite
clear in its most depersonalized forms and implications, Christian
character and identity formation entails the cultivation of a deeply
counter-cultural perspective on, and lifestyle with regard to, selfhood
and relationships. Nancy Ammerman’s most recent research on ‘American
Congregations and their Partners’ shows a big enough ‘concern about
fragmentation and community’ amongst congregational leaders.
Unfortunately, not many know how to assist families in these
circumstances. The emphasis in so called ‘family ministries’ is still
very much on creating church based gatherings for members of families
‘to find category-appropriate places in congregations’ (groups for
singles, seniors, men, women, and youth), rather than concentrating on
Christian formation in the setting of the household itself.

This paper suggests an alternative approach to ‘family ministry’ –
an approach that compliments any church based activities that deserve
its merit, with a primary focus on Christian character and identity
formation at the location of the household and within the setting of
the family itself.

Thirdly, there is an urgent need to reclaim the household as ‘First
Church’ and ‘Little Church’ for the sake of Christian character and
identity formation.

Browning et al uses the terminology ‘First Church’ and ‘Little
Church’ as an indication of a strategy that can be initiated by local
congregations and parishes to enhance ‘home-based worship.’ They
present it as a strategy that brings continuity between the gathered
ecclesia and the church at home. It is an essential strategy at times
when home and public worship become more and more differentiated. As
Protestant authors, Browning et al not only find the reclaiming of the
home-based ‘church’ important, but also find in the Protestant
tradition an appropriate ‘dialogical, and nonpatriarchal model’ for
reclaiming it: ‘Our model grounds parental authority in a dialogue
between parents’ own covenant with God and the church’s covenant. This
assumes that God has a covenant with both church and family. Parental
authority, therefore, should evolve from a dialogue with a church that
itself is dedicated to an appreciative yet critical inquiry into its

Christian formation in the household

What would be the theological guidelines for supporting this
possibility of a missional vocation to the household? This question
suggests that a missional vocation to the household is in need of a
practical theology of the household that allows missional
interpretations of the Christian formation that takes place in the
household. This paper presents a preliminary outline for such a
practical theology as a basic framework for deliberating on what
processes of Christian formation in the household are necessary from a
missional point of view.

The framework presented in this paper draws upon ‘four themes that
can inform a practical theology of the family’ emerging from ‘The
Religion, Culture, and Family Project’. The four themes is the result
of a study of tradition and scripture, but the authors also consider it
‘as ideals that can command philosophical support and be consistent
with experience and reason.’ A brief look at these four themes will lay
the foundation for a practical theology of the household that
illuminates processes of Christian formation from a missional

Browning et al begin by asserting, as a first theme, that ‘love as
mutuality or equal regard… is the core of Christian love’ in
families. They do concede though that love as mutuality or equal regard
is not necessarily uniquely Christian , but then show that it ‘becomes
explicitly Christian when it is grounded on the imago Dei in humans and
renewed by the capacity for sacrificial love, a love that recapitulates
the Christic drama and the passion of God.’ Based on the mutuality of
the Biblical love command, love as equal regard is developed as more
than just an exclusive regard for the other. They rather describe it as
a ‘reversible logic of the kind written about by neo-Kantians’ (like
Lawrence Kohlberg and John Rawls), because ‘love as equal regard does
not exclude self-love, self-regard, or an ordinate concern with one’s
own self-fulfillment.’

To nurture love as mutuality or equal regard in the household is
consider being a fundamentally important process of Christian formation
in this paper’s outline of a framework for a practical theology of the
household from a missional perspective. The reason for that becomes
even clearer if we look at three qualifications that Browning et al
present for a better understanding of love as mutuality or equal

First, mutuality and equal regard is intersubjective and dialogical
concepts. Using Jurgen Habermas’s theory of intersubjective discourse ,
and applied to family relationships, Browning et al reject an
understanding of these concepts in monological terms as an act or
judgment of an individual with regard to another individual. To the
contrary, ‘love as equal regard is not something that one individual
expresses unilaterally toward another. It is something that people
create together… through successive attempts to communicate needs and
desires, to listen and understand, to empathize with, hold, and accept,
and then to live their mutual agreements.’ Therefore, the nurturing of
love as mutuality or equal regard in the household entails the
cultivation of ‘a covenant of intersubjective dialogue’.

Secondly, love as mutuality and equal regard means to be the
‘promoter of the good things of life.’ With reference to Paul Ricoeur,
Browning et al describe love not only as respect for one another, but
also as ‘a proactive commitment to do good to the beloved.’ To work for
the welfare of the other in the household represents the ‘teleological’
element of love. It is an important aspect of mutuality to promote the
‘premoral values and goods’ in the other. These ‘premoral values and
goods’ includes, among other, ‘a sense of self-esteem, the need for
interpersonal regard, and affirmation by others.’ A household culture
of love as mutuality or equal regard will also involve the formation of
members of the household who promotes ‘the good things of life’ in each

Thirdly, love as mutuality or equal regard can functions within a
narrative context. Browning et al say, ‘Learning how to communicate
intersubjective equal regard for the other is really learning to
express respect for the life history or narrative of the other’s self.’
This aspect is crucial for identity formation, because an understanding
of selfhood is mainly of a narrative nature. With reference to Alasdair
MacIntyre, Browning et al put it as follow: ‘Narrative selfhood is a
combination of the stories we are born into and the stories we create
as we live our lives. Hence, to love the other as oneself means to
regard and empathize with the narrative identity of the other just as
one regards and empathizes with one’s own.’ Equal regard only becomes
concrete when a person’s ultimate worth is valued within the context of
that person’s personal history. This is extremely important, ‘not only
(for) how families are formed but, more important, how they are
sustained.’ This paper will indicate (in its third part) that it is
equally important for a missional interpretation of Christian formation
in a household.

The second of the four themes defines the first theme of love as
mutuality or equal regard in terms of the Christian element of
self-sacrifice or self-giving. Self-sacrificial love is not the ideal
of the Christian life or an end in itself though, but rather ‘derived
from equal regard’ (in contrast to so many popular versions of
Christian love which makes self-sacrifice the goal). Using Ephesians as
a basis text, Browning et al makes love as mutuality the goal, while
self-giving and self-sacrifice ‘is needed to renew the true goal of
love’, namely mutuality. They present us with a kind of a ‘Christian
realism’ that accounts for the reality of sin and the ‘near
impossibility’ of any moment of self-sacrifice. Therefore, we need the
Christic drama of the Passion of God (‘with all of its attendant
features of forgiveness, patience, and renewal’) that aid and assist us
as a drama to participate in. They sum it up as follow: ‘This
additional capacity for sacrificial self-giving inspired by the
suffering and grace of God is what turns love as equal regard into a
distinctively Christian reality.’ In the third part of this paper, it
will become clear that self-giving is an important feature for the
interpretation of a culture of the table as missional practice in the
processes of Christian formation in a household.

The third of the four themes claims, ‘a love ethic of mutuality is
more intelligible when stated within a theory of the marital and human
life cycles.’ Participation in love as mutuality and equal regard
occurs within a life-cycle context of the household. Life cycles is
seen as the combination of ‘the natural processes of growth and decay’
(the cycle of birth, growth, aging and death) and ‘historically
situated narratives’ (for example family traditions). This aspect of
mutuality and equal regard is important for Christian formation,
because ‘family formation is a process of biological, psychological,
historical, and religiocultural negotiation’ that takes place as part
of the covenant of intersubjective dialogue.

It becomes a ‘dialogue between diverse narrative identities’ (of
which the Christian narrative is obviously an all-important one in the
household of Christians) that ‘gives stability to the natural
dimensions of family formation.’

Browning et al use hermeneutic theory (with specific reference to
Hans-Georg Gadamer) to show how ideals and positive visions play a
vital part in the processes of dialogue in a household, and how these
ideals and visions are also entangled with images of the divine .
Therefore, it is not only the narratives of the members of the
household that play a vital part, but also the narratives of broader
historical traditions and traditions of wider communities such as
religiocultural traditions. They put it as follow: ‘Images of the
divine mediated by tradition and parent-shaped images of the divine
interact and modify each other to varying degrees, depending on our
patterns of socialization. Therefore, because God-images inherited from
tradition help us reconstruct images of our human parents, who are
experienced as divine, it makes a big difference what our traditions
tell us about the nature of God’s love, trustworthiness, forgiveness,
or suffering.’

Against this background of processes of dialogue within the context
of life cycles of a household, Browning et al also makes a very helpful
analogy between love as equal regard and Erik Erikson’s definition of
generativity. Erikson’s definition of generativity, from a
developmental psychology perspective, is ‘the concern in establishing
and guiding the next generation.’ Although Erickson uses ‘generativity’
as an adult virtue, Browning et al apply it as an ethical principle
‘that blends the ordo caritas (the formal character of equal regard)
with the ordo bonorum (the premoral developmental needs that love meets
and actualizes).’ It involves both parents and children, and it refers
to ‘a deepening experience of mutuality between parent and child’ where
both need each other to meet the developmental needs throughout the
life cycle of the household.

One of the most important aspects in this process of generativity
is the need for mutual recognition. The growing of capacities for
mutuality and equal regard in a household starts at a very early stage
with mutual recognition taking place between parent and infant, which
lays the foundation for a life of dialogue between them as a way in
which both the parent and child get a sense of their lives being
enriched by the other. This mutual recognition obviously also takes on
dimensions of religious experiences within households where religious
sensibilities are part of the narratives in that household. The nature
of this recognition in each other is of the utmost importance from a
missional perspective. In the third part of this paper, when
considering the nurturing of a culture of the table as a practice to
achieve Christian formation from a missional perspective, the aspect of
recognition features prominently.

The fourth (and last) theme entails the importance of putting the
household in perspective with relation to the Kingdom of God. Browning
et al sum it up as follow: ‘As important as families are, they must be
seen as subordinate to both the reign of God and the common good.’ It
is imperative from a missional point of view to reject any form of
family idolatry. Such a rejection does not come in the form of a
‘repressive view’ in which family affections are completely repressed
or rejected. It rather presents a ‘transformative view’ in which family
affections are transformed and extended for the purposes of a wider
community, ‘all the way to the universal community or family of God.’
This view on a family is not only very important from a missional point
of view, but also helpful to deliberate on the partnership between
household and Church.

It is the contention in this paper that a missional vocation to the
household, as well as a missional interpretation of Christian character
and identity formation in the household, has to revolve around the
cultivation of love as mutuality and equality as a covenant of
intersubjective dialogue in which narrative identities become the
sources for self-giving and doing good to each other through processes
of generativity and recognition, and for the sake of society and the
larger good of God’s Kingdom. It is also the contention in this paper
that the nurturing of a culture of the table presents itself as an
appropriate missional practice for actualizing such a cultivation of
Christian formation in the household.

Nurturing a culture of the table in the household

Nurturing a culture of the table is an appropriate practice for
achieving the basic objectives described (above) in the outline for a
practical theology that guides the cultivation of a household setting
in which Christian formation can take place with missional intention.
This paper presents four reasons for such a contention:

First, a culture of the table as a Christian practice sensitize
those who sit around the table to the presence of God, and, by
participating at the table, presents an opportunity to understand the
Gospel itself.

A missional interpretation of Christian formation in the household
would first of all point to the vocation of a people who always lives
in the presence of the One who appoints or summons them. Paul Stevens
says, ‘The Christian doctrine of vocation… starts with being called
to Someone before we are called to do something.’ Christian identity
formation starts at the continuous creation of an awareness that we
belong to God and live in His presence. Having meals and participating
in the culture of the table is a uniquely Christian way of creating
such awareness.

A necessary link between the Eucharist and our daily meals makes
this possible. Peterson views a culture of the table as ‘the most
accessible and natural occasion for cultivating the focal practice of
the Eucharist in our daily lives.’ An understanding of the relationship
between the Meal and our meals is of crucial importance for creating a
sense of God who is in our midst. Christine Pohl describes it as
follow: ‘…in the context of shared meals, the presence of God’s
Kingdom is prefigured, revealed, and reflected.’ A shared meal is an
activity ‘most closely tied to the reality of God’s Kingdom.’

Jesus Himself chose the meal as a focal practice for bringing the
Kingdom of God into the lives of people. Our meals become the settings
for bringing all those narratives of Jesus’ participation in meals into
our own identity formation. Meals help us to remember all those stories
of Jesus that empowered previous generations of Christians to embody
God’s graciousness in their own lives and the lives of other people. In
this way, a culture of the table becomes the setting for understanding
the Gospel itself.

The ultimate way in which this is true, is of course to understand
the meal within the context of Jesus’ sacrifice at the cross. Peterson
says, ‘The word that pulses at the center of the holy Eucharist and the
meals in our homes alike is ‘sacrifice’.’ Our meals remind us of the
focal event of Jesus’ work of salvation, namely to sacrifice Himself at
the cross. There is nothing more difficult, says Peterson, than
removing the matter of sacrifice ‘from the pages of sacred Scripture…
into the assumptions and practices of our everyday Christian lives.’
Moreover, as already indicated in the outline for a practical theology
for the household, sacrifice is a necessary feature of a uniquely
Christian understanding of love as mutuality or equal regard. Meals, as
a reference to the great Sacrifice, can help us cultivating the spirit
of sacrifice that renews our mutuality and equal regard over and over
again. Peterson puts it as follow: ‘For a people like us, trained in a
culture of getting things done (pragmatism) and taking care of
ourselves (individualism), sacrifice doesn’t seem at all obvious;
neither does it seem attractive.’

Meals help us not to avoid this crucial dimension of our Christian
lives by making sacrifice local and immediate. Peterson shows how ‘a
meal prepared and served to family and guests is a giving up of
ourselves for another’ and how ‘food on the table is life given and
offered so that others can live.’ In this way, ‘preparing and cooking,
serving and eating meals’ can bring a ‘daily structure to our
participation in the work of salvation’ that is missional by its very
nature – a way of life that does not keep the blessings of the Lord to
yourself, but that give away the grace of the Lord to others, and in
the process giving something of yourself away.

Second, a culture of the table as a Christian practice cultivates a
covenant of intersubjective dialogue that enhances personal
relationships of mutuality and equal regard.

A missional vocation to Christian character and identity formation
in the household reflects the spirit of a theologia crusis that only
knows the narrative of Jesus as the One who was not only prepared to
give Himself for other people, but also to engage with them in settings
of dialogue. It is contrary the spirit of theologies of glory that
‘mission to’ people in a rather truimphalistic and paternalistic manner
as a cause or project that needs to be completed as efficiently as
possible. A way to intentionally and deliberately promote dialogue as
part of the household culture is to nurture a culture of the table as a
setting that cultivates mutuality and equal regard.

A culture of the table that creates space for intersubjective
dialogue is of course totally counter-cultural. This paper earlier
referred to the work of Borgmann with regard to the influence of an
increasingly technological society on the morals of society. Peterson
also picks up the same theme on how ‘the machine and its metaphors have
dominated not only the way we live but the way we talk about the way we
live.’ A culture of the table counters the technological culture of
society that wants things done quickly and efficiently, because ‘meals
take time, meals are inefficient, meals are not ‘productive’.’ It
cultivates a regard for people that values and respect them, rather
than reducing them to commodities.

Unfortunately, ‘the centrality of the meal in our lives is greatly
diminished. We still eat, of course, but the intricate cultural world
of the meal has disintegrated. The exponential rise of fast-food meals
means that there is little leisure for conversation; the vast explosion
of restaurants is evidence that far less food preparation and clean-up
takes place in homes; in many homes the television set is the dominant
presence at family meals, virtually eliminating personal relationships
and conversation; the frequency with which pre-prepared and frozen
meals are used erodes the culture of family recipes and common work.’
That presents the challenge of creating a culture of the table where
food and conversation is closely linked. ‘Around a dinner table,’ says
Pohl, ‘family and guests share food and life.’ The focus is on people
rather than the food.

To sit around a table at home and have fellowship with one another
is ‘an important way of recognizing the equal value and dignity of
persons.’ The table is the place of intersubjective dialogue where
everyone’s contribution is valued. It is the setting for expressing
care, respect, recognition, and equality. This paper emphasized the
importance of mutual recognition in the outline for a practical
theology of the household that cultivates Christian formation. The
table is the setting for nurturing recognition as part of Christian
character formation, because the table presents an excellent
opportunity to ‘respecting the dignity and equal worth of every person
and valuing their contributions, or at least their potential
contributions, to the larger community.’ Recognition cannot be
sustained on the level of abstract commitments. It can only be
exercised in concrete situations as is presented by a culture of the

Recognition also has a strong missional implication to it. The
challenge, from a distinct Christian point of view, is to recognize the
value and contribution of those who are rejected by dominating cultures
and society. Therefore, it is appropriate to include at the table those
that are the most vulnerable in society (the poor and neediest) whose
sense of dignity have been affected by cultures that generally do not
value the marginalized in their midst. Recognition becomes a way of
‘welcoming persons of different status and background into a single
place and often a shared meal.’ Within the context of Christian
hospitality, meals become far more than merely a pleasant practice. It
becomes a counter cultural means to be subversive to society’s way of
regarding a valuing people in a consumerist culture. Meals are the
means to point to a different value system in dealing with

In this way, a culture of the table can become the setting for
transcending boundaries of class, race and close friendships.
Hospitality was the mark of the early church in distinguishing it from
the rest of its surroundings, and in establishing the authenticity of
the gospel. Moreover, it was especially meals that provide the setting
for hospitality as a missional practice in households. Meals brought
the members of the household into the reality of struggling with
cultural boundaries. Pohl has the opinion that we, as the church, find
ourselves in a similar situation today with regard to our missional
vocation: ‘We, like the early church, find ourselves in a fragmented
and multicultural society that yearns for relationships, identity, and
meaning. Our mobile and self-oriented society is characterized by
disturbing levels of loneliness, alienation, and estrangement.’ It is
the missional vocation of the household, through the practice of shared
meals with strangers, to become the sacrament of God’s love to the

Third, a culture of the table as a Christian practice reclaims the moral dimension of the habit of hospitality as a way of life.

By nurturing a culture of the table, those who sit around the table
are also nurtured into a habit of hospitality. It is not within the
scope of this paper to explore the rich meaning of the tradition and
practice of hospitality as such, but the advantages for Christian
formation is clear in the way that Pohl describes it: ‘To raise
hospitable children… you must be what you are trying to teach…
Children learn hospitality from parents who have room in their lives
for their family as well as for their guests. Children will resent
hospitality if it is not broad enough to include them, but they will
grow into hospitality as they share in its life-giving environment.’
Hospitality is a way of life that you can only cultivate over a long

Hospitality is fundamental to the formation of Christian identity,
but unfortunately, it ‘lost its moral dimension’. The meaning of the
word changed in modern times to a popular usage more related to ‘tea
parties, bland conversation, and a general atmosphere of coziness.’ It
has generally been reduced to ‘a nice extra if we have the time or the
resources’ , but does not carry in the essence of it a moral obligation
that is an integral part of a true expression of Christian life any

One of the main reasons for that is the reduction of hospitality to
mere entertainment or commerce. There is always the temptation to use
hospitality as a means for entertaining other, and for using it to
achieve advantages from those who are entertained. It is part of the
instrumental way of thinking in a commercialized and technological
society. ‘We continually ask,’ says Pohl, ‘…what will it accomplish?’
or ‘…how is it useful?’ Hospitality becomes a means to an end, rather
than a way of life that imitates the very essence of the Gospel.

Real hospitality, contrary to entertainment, carries within itself
an openness to the stranger who is not part of the family or close
friends. Pohl warns against the risk ‘in focusing our hospitality on
those closest to us’ and to ‘become so oriented to friends and family
that there is no room or time for others who have few friendship and
family networks to sustain them.’ At the centre of Christian formation
in the household is the missional intention to nurture a hospitality
toward the stranger. Hospitality, and consequently the opportunity that
a culture of the table presents, is integrally part of the Christian
vocation to witness. In both the Old and New Testament, hospitality was
strongly associated with an explicit and essential expression of the
gospel. In the early church, it played a crucial role in the spreading
of the gospel and establishing the credibility thereof. Hospitality was
never optional for Christians, and neither was it an activity only for
those who are ‘gifted’ to do it. It is at the heart of the gospel’s
missional intention.

Fourth, a culture of the table as a Christian practice provides the opportunity for the household’s partnership with the Church.

The location of hospitality in ancient times was, although not
exclusively, primarily the household. There are many examples from both
the Old and New Testament. However, it is important to notice that
hospitality also transcends the household as such. Pohl talks about the
‘overlap of household and church’. Hospitality experienced in the
household refers to a more fundamental reality of which the church is
an equally important location. Part of the reason for the lost of a
moral dimension to hospitality is the effect of urbanization and
industrialization that brought about smaller and more private

This paper conclude with a quote from Pohl: ‘The future of
Christian hospitality is partly tied to the future of the home and
family. Recovering hospitality will involve reclaiming the household
and the church, so that the two institutions can work in partnership
for the sake of the world.’ On how to assist the household in its
missional vocation to nurture a culture of the table as a setting for
Christian formation is really the challenge for the Church’s own
missional vocation. This paper pleads for a creative effort in
developing processes and programs to fulfill that vocation.