Christian faith and practice is coming under fire in many ways today. Much of what was once practiced without question is being laid aside. Many have begun to question not only the practicality but also the validity of various Bible commands and practices. Are we at liberty to choose the practices that we feel fit into our lifestyle or culture? Is our God so small as to not have seen how these commands would affect His people down through the ages in any culture? We need to remind ourselves continually not only of the practices the church has adopted, but also of the principles as well. If the principle is forgotten or lost, the practice will become meaningless and be lost as well.
The holy kiss, or the kiss of charity as it is commanded in the Bible, is one such practice that has been on the decline for many years. It has been replaced with a “hearty hand shake,” as it is interpreted in some newer versions, or a hug, or it has been dropped completely. We need to reaffirm the principle, application, and commitment to practice the holy kiss as outlined and commanded in scripture, or we too will travel the way of disuse.
The questions that have been raised concerning the practicality of, the appropriateness of, or the sanitary social etiquette of the practice are all points that need to be considered. However, to understand and accept the command and principle as it is given in the Bible will help us to address these questions. With this in mind we will first look at the scriptural command.
We are (or should be) familiar with the scripture verses that give us the command to, “Greet ye one another with an holy kiss” (1Cor 16:20b; 2Cor 13:12), “Salute one another with an holy kiss” (Rom 16:16a), “Greet all the brethren with an holy kiss” (1Thess 5:26), and, “Greet ye one another with a kiss of charity” (1Peter 5:14a). If we believe the Bible to be the inspired Word of God, we must accept this as a command. We could decide it was just a custom of that time and not meant for our day. We have record of kisses of love in the Bible, such as given by the father of the prodigal son. The practice of the holy kiss, however, is not a reference to a custom, but a command to practice a holy, sanctified kiss of love to the brotherhood.
We state that we accept, believe, and practice the confession of Faith as given in the articles of Faith adopted by the Mennonite church in 1921 at Garden city, Missouri. Article XII on the ordinances states, “The salutation of the holy kiss should be duly and appropriately observed by all believers.” We need to be convinced that this practice is an integral part of the Christian faith and not just a tradition of the Mennonite church. If it is viewed as only a tradition or a hand-me-down practice, we will lose the practice.
These scriptures speak of the practice used to show the “fervent charity” that we as Christians are to have for each other according to I Peter 4:8, and the love we are to have, spoken of many times in First John as well as other places in the Bible. When we stop to consider that we are expressing our
Godly love for our brother when we greet him, it will bring new meaning to the practice. It becomes more than a “Mennonite tradition.” It now becomes a token of my love, appreciation, and respect for my brother. We are also accepting his declaration of love to us. The practice symbolizes the deep inner love of the Christian one to the other. In this respect it has its place among the ordinances as well as being a command that must be obeyed.
It is important to note here that as with any commandment, it is not the ritualistic observance that fulfills the command. We must have a personal, living relationship with the God that originated the commandment. Although there is some merit in obedience simply for obedience’ sake, it may soon become drudgery if we obey only out of force. When we have a relationship with God through the Spirit, we obey out of love and respect. Only in this way do we find joy and peace in obedience. We are also not as likely to lay aside the practice.
There are many ways we can practice the holy kiss that will either help or hinder the continued practice of it. We can make it desirable or undesirable by the way we observe it. Common courtesy and etiquette will go a long way in keeping the practice alive. It is also important to be unashamed of this or any Christian practice.
In the time in which we are living, when two men or two women kiss each other it is often connected with moral impurity. Should we continue to practice it? Are we giving the wrong impression? Are we not just giving people opportunity to mock and ridicule? These questions are valid ones and deserve a fair evaluation. When we practice the holy kiss in public, those who do not know why we do it may have lots of questions. We should be prepared to answer them, and “the church says we should” is not good enough. We must be able to explain from God’s Word the reason and the meaning of the practice. They also need to be able to see that we live out the love we are professing to each other. When we meet in public and greet each other, the rest of our character and actions need to portray moral purity and brotherhood to keep the message clear.
Sanitation has also been given as a reason not to practice the holy kiss. There are definitely ways that can make it unsanitary. To kiss with an open mouth or wet lips will make it undesirable. I remember an older brother once saying we should not approach one another as if we are getting ready to take a bite out of an apple. A perspired face can have the same affect. A little forethought and consideration for others can make it honorable for all.
Approaching each other slowly and gently while shaking hands, giving each other a kiss, and then wishing the Lord’s blessing will make it easy, practical, and edifying to practice the holy kiss. As we strive to portray fervent love and respect for each other, the kiss becomes a blessing and not drudgery.
May we honor God in our practice of the holy kiss so that we may claim the promise in revelation 22:14, “Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city.”
~ Denver, PA