"Be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves." James 1:22 (NKJV)

Monday, May 3, 2010

Week 14: A Holy . . . Hug?

"Greet one another with a holy kiss." ~ Romans 16:16, 1 Cor. 16:20, 2 Cor. 13:12, 1 Thess. 5:26, 1 Peter 5:14

What do you think about the "holy kiss?" It's commanded five times in the New Testament in letters by the Apostles Paul and Peter. Is it a universally binding requirement for all believers? I think that's a difficult question.

First, here is what we can say with confidence about the holy kiss. It is holy. It's not the kiss of adultery, fornication, homosexuality, or seduction. If that's the only way you can kiss, then no doubt it would be better not to do so at all. The holy kiss is a kiss of brotherly or sisterly family affection. Every day, I kiss my boys when I leave for work. I kiss them when I come home in the evening. I kiss them goodnight at the end of the day. Every Monday evening when I visit my Grandma at the nursing home, I give her a kiss goodbye when I leave. Within a healthy family, a kiss is a normal and natural demonstration of love and affection. I think that's the spirit and the feeling behind the holy kiss commanded in the New Testament. For the church, it is at least a call to greet each other with more than mere words. It is a call to a physical demonstration of our love for one another.

So, what about the kiss? After praying and thinking about this, I've finally decided not to observe this command by kissing. The kiss was a culturally common greeting in the first century. For example, when Jesus was invited to dinner by Simon the Pharisee, Jesus noted that Simon failed to give him a kiss as was the custom. Luke 7:45. It wasn't unusual when Judas greeted Jesus with a kiss (Luke 22:48), although Judas's kiss was certainly an unholy kiss.

Paul and Peter were taking what was already common in the culture and admonishing members of the church to make it a holy expression of their love for one another. In our culture, greeting people outside your immediate family with a kiss is not common. For most people, I don't believe a kiss would communicate what Paul and Peter intended. It would not, in my opinion, be acceptable in our culture for me to kiss female members of my church---with the exception of one, who happens to be my wife. Even if the kiss were holy in my own mind and heart, it could easily convey the wrong message to the recipient or to bystanders. Kissing men in my church would no doubt make most of them extremely uncomfortable. Even if it didn't, I'm afraid it might make visitors to the church very uncomfortable. My conclusion is that, in our culture, I don't think a kiss honors the true spirit of this commandment. Perhaps our culture is the poorer for it, and maybe the first century culture was a better, healthier one.

On the other hand, I don't think a hearty handshake (or even worse the "fist bump") demonstrates what Jesus wants us to feel for each other. After giving this all quite a bit of thought, I've finally settled on hugging. This week, therefore, is all about embracing the embrace.

1 comment: