The Bible Says to Greet One Another With a Holy Kiss

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“The Bible says to greet one another with a holy kiss,” she said. The rest of us sitting around the table smiled. We were sitting in an ice cream shop in Cleveland, Ohio. We had wrapped up an outreach activity for a Christian student group at the college we went to, and now we were wrapping up our ice cream afterward. We smiled because of her tone of voice. It was that playful tone that half says, “I’m just throwing this out there,” and half asks us to get in on the joke. Who would greet one another with a holy kiss in this day and age? As we sat around the table, it had been less than two years since the Obergefell decision came down from the Supreme Court (this is the decision that requires all states and territories to recognize same sex marriages).
We smiled because we all knew – or thought we knew – that greeting one another with a holy kiss was cultural; it was just for that time. Just for that time - like Jesus’ instruction to the seventy-two to shake the dust off their feet if a town rejected the teaching of the kingdom of God. We smiled because, of course, we knew that there was a principle there, just not necessarily a practice. Just as shaking the dust off one’s feet was a cultural expression of disapproval, greeting one another with a holy kiss was a cultural form of greeting. It was a greeting that conveyed friendship, and that was the principle we should focus on.
As I sat at the table in the ice cream shop and smiled, I did not yet expect that one day I would be part of a church where the members greet one another with a holy kiss. That was “not on my radar.” However, within a couple years, churches which teach the Sermon on the Mount and standards of conduct for members were on my radar. These churches – our churches – practice the holy kiss, too. It is a blessing to be part of a church that practices these things. It is a blessing to be part of a church that reads greet one another with a holy kiss and simply does it. Yet thinking about the discussion in the ice cream shop raises a question – what are we smiling at?
What are we smiling at? Calling a hard thing “cultural” will always come across more Christian than rejecting that hard thing outright. We practice the holy kiss, as well we should, but doing so does not make us immune from the pressure or the desire to separate principle from practice.
There are many things we could smile at. For one example, Jesus told his disciples, Give to every man that asketh thee. An updated translation renders this saying, “Give to everyone who begs from you.” We might smile at that because we know – or think we know – that first century culture had plenty of good reasons to be a beggar. A person could have become injured or paralyzed. But who would give to every beggar he meets in this day and age? After all, we live in the land of opportunity, and today’s culture has plenty of bad reasons to be a beggar. A person could have a drug problem, or a drunkenness problem, or a laziness problem. Upon further thought, we could consider that drunkenness has been a problem since Noah’s day, if not before. Also, human nature being what it is, laziness has been a problem too. Perhaps Jesus was aware of those problems in His day and age and they are the same in our own.
For a second example, I know a man who was affected by a sermon preached on Luke 14:12 and following – “When thou makest a dinner or a supper, call not thy friends, nor thy brethren, neither thy kinsmen, nor thy rich neighbors, lest they also bid thee again, and a recompense be made thee. But when thou makest a feast, call the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind: and thou shalt be blessed; for they cannot recompense thee: for thou shalt be recompensed at the resurrection of the just. Was that saying just for that time and culture, or does it apply today? If it applies today, it will change not just our internal attitudes but will change how we spend our time and who we spend it with. Perhaps Jesus was aware of that in His day and age, and the situation is the same in our own.
The teachings of Jesus are given for the purpose of being put to practice, as are the exhortations found elsewhere in the New Testament. When we read a command in the Scriptures, do we reason that it was just for a different time? Or do we approach it trying to find ways to obey it? Do we smile and set it aside, or do we smile and take it up?