Last summer when I was in Australia I quickly learned to love my brothers and sisters at the Gosford church of Christ. They are such a warm, loving group of people. There is much to love — they are devoted to God and to one another. They are so hospitable that it doesn’t take them long to make you feel like one of them.
While we shared a common bond of Jesus that joined us at the heart, there were some things about them and their congregation that were different. They love being together and they show it by having tea time between their Bible class and worship time (and every other opportunity they could find). They sip their tea while sharing their hearts with one another.
Having tea time in the middle of church activities was different, and I must confess, I loved it! Rather than rushing around, they slowed everything down and just enjoyed being together. But there was something else very different about our brothers and sisters at Gosford – they regularly greeted one another “with a holy kiss.”
We just don’t do much holy kissing in churches I have attended here in the USA. But go to Australia or Panama and it won’t be long before you are welcomed warmly with a holy kiss. In fact, many of us have vivid memories of the exceptions to the no-kiss practice of churches in the USA. I have heard some in our church family tell of some hilarious encounters with “the holy kiss.” While I’m not mandating that everybody start puckering up at Skyline, I do wonder if we are missing something.
Both Paul and Peter wrote of Christians greeting one another with a holy kiss. “It was a common greeting back in those days,” we quickly point out to excuse our not taking literally what is written by inspired apostles in the form of a command. Surely the holy kiss was cultural rather than normative. Isn’t it equivalent to our shaking hands?
It’s true, a kiss was a common expression of greeting in the ancient Mediterranean world. Common, yes, but not universal. They didn’t greet just anyone in that culture with a kiss. There were some folks you just didn’t kiss. As I understand it, in the Mediterranean world, they only kissed people of the same class. So when you kissed someone you were doing more than saying hello, you were saying, “We are equals.” So with each of the reminders to “greet one another with the holy kiss,” the apostles were reminding the church to treat everyone as equals.
So in Romans 16:16 Paul instructs the church to greet one another with a holy kiss. All of them, both Jewish and Gentile Christians were equals. And in 1 Corinthians 16:20 and 2 Corinthians 13:12 Paul tells the fragmented, warring church at Corinth to greet one another in a way that recognizes their equality. Similarly in 1 Thessalonians 5:26 Paul teaches a congregation that included doctrinally ignorant people to acknowledge their equality by greeting one another with a holy kiss. And in 1 Peter 5:14 Peter writes to Christians who were scattered and persecuted to greet one another “with a kiss of love.” While the world was telling them they didn’t belong, the church told them they did belong.
While I don’t want to split hairs over holy kisses or handshakes, I do think we need to get something straight. We are equal in Christ. All of us are — Jews and Gentiles, slaves and freemen, male and female, and how important it is in our culture to mention specifically – black and white.
So church, greet one another. And when you do, make sure you communicate warm acceptance of people who, because of Jesus, are your equals.