Hospitality or Heresy?

William Varner

I faced this question years ago while teaching a seminar on cults. I was interrupted by an attendee who warned me about letting cult missionaries come into my house: “If you do that, you are violating 2 John 8–11 and partaking in their evil teachings.” He added that I should not even greet them at the door, as the same passage also forbids a greeting.

“Watch yourselves, so that you may not lose what we have worked for, but may win a full reward. Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God. Whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. 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 8–11 ESV).

Let’s consider the historical context of this passage. John wrote his second and third letter to people who hosted believers in their homes for teaching, worship and fellowship. These house churches were standard in the first-second centuries AD.

The third letter of John commends its readers for hosting traveling teachers who had been “sent out” (3 John 6–7). These teachers are also mentioned throughout the book of Acts, with Paul being the most well known among them. The Didache (“The Teaching”)—an early Christian writing that contained instructions for church organization—documented the practice (and malpractice) of these teachers. It gave guidelines for determining if they were false or true teachers.

“So, if anyone should come and teach you all these things that have just been mentioned above, welcome him. But if the teacher himself goes astray and teaches a different teaching that undermines all this, do not listen to him. However, if his teaching contributes to righteousness and knowledge of the Lord, welcome him as you would the Lord” (Didache 11:1–3). 1

The Didache provides the context for 2 John: Here, John is forbidding heretics from teaching in house churches because they spread false doctrine about Jesus. The elders of a local congregation have the responsibility of protecting their flocks from wolves in sheep’s clothing (Matt 7:15; Acts 20:29).

While it is certainly true that church leaders should never allow cult members to influence their congregations, John is not forbidding hospitality. Witnessing from an open Bible on the dining room table is much more effective than arguing through an open door.

John warns against false teaching while declaring the priority of God’s truth (2 John 6). Let’s not interpret this text to say we shouldn’t show kindness to others—even to those who do not walk according to His commandments.

For more information on the Didache, see The Way of the Didache: The First Christian Handbook by William Varner (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 2007).

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Faithlife Corporation. Originally published in print, Vol. 3 No. 3

1. Translation from M. W. Holmes, The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations (Updated ed.; Grand Rapids, mi: Baker, 1999), pgs. 263–265.