May Christians Share a Home Meal With “Christian Rebels”?

The letter below is a response to a dear friend who inquired whether it’s permissible for Christians to share meals in their home with professed Christian family members living in open rebellion against God’s moral truth. 

Dear —-,

That’s a great but complex question, one to which I’ve given serious thought over the years, but I’ll take a stab at it.

The text you are alluding to is 1 Corinthians 5:11 —

“But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner—not even to eat with such a person.”

If we read that verse without context, we might get the idea that Paul is forbidding having common meals with disobedient believers (or rebels who claim to be believers). But 1 Corinthians 5 in its entirety seems to me to be about what we nowadays term excommunication. Paul uses the metaphor of leaven (vv. 6–8), teaching that if the pastors ignore unrepentant, persistent sin, the church body as a whole will gradually contaminate. He might also have used the metaphor John uses in 1 John 1 — sin breaks communion with God, and since the Lord’s Supper in the Bible celebrates communion not simply with our Lord but also our sisters and brothers (1 Cor. 10:16–17), for pastors to allow open rebellion is to impair the body’s unity.

Because much of the church today (not —-!) has such an impoverished view of communion, when they read texts like 1 Corinthians 5:11, they think it can only have in mind common household meals, which I think it does not. A revival of weekly communion and sensitizing Christians to its importance would help us to properly interpret scriptures like this and others.

But that doesn’t settle your vital question. The Bible warns (2 Jn. 10) about permitting false teachers into our homes. Unrepentant (notably immoral) Christians are not identical to false teachers, but it’s clear from this text that when we invite people into our homes for meals we are extending an invitation that implies an endorsement of some sort (this was particularly true in the ancient Near East, where hospitality was a social imperative, not just a Christian virtue). In Ephesians 5:2–13 Paul even implies that if we don’t rebuke the unrepentant whom we encounter, we’re participating in their sin. This is not a popular idea in a pluralistic culture, but it is the Bible’s idea.

This all means, it seems to me, that while the Bible doesn’t specifically forbid common home meals with professed Christians living in rebellion, in no way can we give them or anyone else the impression that we condone their sin; and if having a common meal in your home will imply an endorsement, you simply cannot do it. If, conversely, you make very clear to the rebels as well as other family members that you do not endorse this rebellion, I am not sure the Bible forbids such a meal.

I sure hope this helps. I’ll be praying.

Much respect, in Him,

P. Andrew Sandlin


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