by Al Maxey

Issue #426 ------- January 7, 2010
What is a kiss? Why this, as some approve:
The sure, sweet cement, glue and lime of love.

Robert Herrick {1591-1674}

The Holy Kiss of Love
Are We Keeping This Command?

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882), in one of his many memorable essays, astutely observed, "The heart and soul of all men being one, this bitterness of His and Mine ceases. His is mine. I am my brother, and my brother is me." In a highly poetic and poignant way, Emerson has placed before us the wondrous possibility of unity, accord and oneness among men: a genuine brotherhood in which hearts joyfully merge, becoming, in essence, one soul. In such a divinely blessed state, all desire to dominate one another ends, and our focus becomes the ultimate good of our neighbor. If indeed we are truly one, then what impacts you (be it positive or negative) impacts me! The apostle Paul had so melded his own soul with those whom he had led to Jesus Christ that he experienced their suffering and celebrated their victories at the very core of his being. "Who is weak without my being weak? Who is led into sin without my intense concern?" [2 Cor. 11:29]. Thus, Paul urged his fellow believers, "Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep" [Rom. 12:15]. How can you and I do otherwise when we are all One Body. "If one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it" [1 Cor. 12:26-27].

The greatest threat to the Body of Christ, in my view, is the breaking of this bond of love among its many diverse members. When this cement of love and affection crumbles, the fellowship of the saints fragments; we become in short order separate bodies of squabbling sectarians. History has witnessed this great tragedy time and again throughout the past 2000 years. Even in the first century, brethren were losing sight of their brotherhood. The disciples in the city of Corinth had become so fragmented and factious that the apostle Paul lamented, "you come together not for the better but for the worse. ... Therefore, when you meet together, it is not to eat the Lord's Supper" [1 Cor. 11:17, 20]. The Communion was a meal that was intended, at least in part, to celebrate the unity and the oneness of a Body of diverse members brought together in love and harmony by the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. To partake of these elements without any appreciation of this fact was to "eat and drink judgment" unto oneself [vs. 29]. Lest the redeemed forget this fact, the early church adopted a practice, closely associated with the observance of the Lord's Supper, of bestowing upon one another a holy kiss of love. It was to be a visible sign of the spiritual bond they enjoyed in Christ; a constant reminder of their fellowship in Him. They were family -- beloved brothers and sisters -- and the Father desired for His children to love one another, and to show it. The "holy kiss" was designed to be a visible demonstration of this great spiritual Truth.

Many biblical scholars feel that such a kiss may well "have been practiced in the synagogue by first-century A.D. Jews -- a practice in which men would have kissed men and women would have kissed women" [The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 10, p. 296]. Since many of the worship traditions of the synagogue carried over into the Christian assembly, it's very likely that this "kiss of love" was adopted "among early believers to show their Christian affection and unity in the faith ... as a pledge of their spirit of unity and forgiveness" [ibid]. "It was a token of the love of Christ mutually shared and of the peace and harmony He had brought into their lives" [ibid, p. 165]. In the early years, the custom of the separation of the sexes was honored (men kissed men, women kissed women) to avoid the appearance of sexual impropriety. Indeed, "the reminder that it is a 'holy' kiss guards it against erotic associations" [ibid]. Later, however, Tertullian (160-220 A.D.) indicates in his writings that such kissing within the assembly could acceptably be mixed. For many years afterward this became a point of debate and contention, with cases arising where such kissing was abused (becoming erotic in nature). Clement of Alexandria (died c. 215 A.D.), a Greek theologian of the early Church, complained, "Some do nothing but fill the Churches with noise of kissing," which led to "suspicions and evil reports among the heathen" as to what must be transpiring in these Christian gatherings [Dictionary of the Apostolic Church, vol. 2, p. 443]. Early Church Councils sought to regulate and restrict its use, and by the end of the Middle Ages it was no longer in use in either the Eastern or Western Church.

Although there is evidence in the early historical writings that the "holy kiss" was associated with baptisms, marriages, funerals, and the ordination of spiritual leaders, clearly its most common liturgical expression within the early church was as a visible accompaniment to the observance of the Lord's Supper. "By this kiss the early Christians expressed the intimate fellowship of the reconciled community" [International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, vol. 3, p. 44]. This kiss of love and peace "was practiced most widely during the celebration of the Eucharist" [The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, vol. 3, p. 831]. Justin Martyr (100-165 A.D.), in his Apologies, wrote, "When we have ceased from prayer, we salute one another with a kiss. There is then brought unto the presiding brother bread and a cup of wine" [Dictionary of the Apostolic Church, vol. 2, p. 443]. Prior to partaking of the elements in "holy communion" with one another, the members of the Body of Christ demonstrated their deep love for one another by a "holy kiss." "Each person turned to his neighbor in the assembly, and both bestowed and received a kiss, and this bestowal and receiving expressed the fact that all were in genuine spiritual accord. ... It likewise expressed mutual forgiveness when it was bestowed between members of a family just before going to the Lord's Supper" [R.C.H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans, p. 912-913]. One of the most prominent preachers of the Greek Church, John Chrysostom (347-407 A.D.), characterized this holy kiss as "the peace by which the Apostle expels all disturbing thought and beginning of small-mindedness ... this kiss softens and levels." Several biblical scholars have regarded this kiss as a symbolic act of obedience to the command of Matthew 5:23-24, this kiss being an apt "token that all offences were forgotten and forgiven, and that there was nothing but peace and good will between them" [Dr. Charles Ellicott, Commentary on the Whole Bible, vol. 7, p. 416].

This special kiss, which evidenced the love, peace, harmony and unity of the members of the Family of God, is mentioned specifically five times within the pages of the New Covenant writings. It should further be noted that in each of the five occurrences, the very same word is used at the beginning of the statement: "Greet one another with ..." The word being employed is aspazomai, which may be translated "salute, greet, welcome, express good wishes, pay respects, embrace, treat with affection" [The Analytical Greek Lexicon, p. 56]. It is also significant to note that in each of these five passages this word appears in the Aorist Imperative form, the latter term being the mood of command. As one wit observed, these are "prescribed pucker points." The apostles Paul and Peter, under inspiration of the Holy Spirit, have commanded that the "holy kiss" be practiced by the disciples of Christ. It is not optional. Notice these five passages:

  1. Romans 16:16 -- "Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ greet you."

  2. 1 Corinthians 16:20 -- "All the brethren greet you. Greet one another with a holy kiss."

  3. 2 Corinthians 13:12-13 -- "Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the saints greet you."

  4. 1 Thessalonians 5:26 -- "Greet all the brethren with a holy kiss."

  5. 1 Peter 5:13-14 -- "She who is in Babylon, chosen together with you, sends you greetings, and so does my son, Mark. Greet one another with a kiss of love. Peace be to you all who are in Christ."

The fact that the "holy kiss" is a command of two different apostles within the inspired New Testament Scriptures does not necessarily prescribe, however, that the expression or implementation of this command is forever frozen in a single form. In other words, what exactly is it that is really being commanded of disciples? Is it a literal placing of one's lips upon the face or head of another disciple, or simply the visible, physical expression, in whatever form may be customary to one's time and culture, of peace, affection, harmony and unity among brethren? The same question has been asked of the command by Jesus to wash the feet of others [John 13:14]. Must we literally wash the feet of our brothers and sisters in Christ, or was Jesus seeking to impress a deeper truth upon our hearts (Reflections #263 -- Pondering Pedilavium: A Reflective Examination of the History & Purpose of Foot Washing)? The fact that many legalistic patternists seek to impose a literal fulfillment of certain commands and examples, but dismiss other commands and examples as "culturally irrelevant" to our modern times, smacks somewhat of a "pick and choose" (subjective selective) theology, and at best shows the inconsistency of the patternistic approach to biblical interpretation and application.

Greeting another person with a kiss to the cheek, head or beard was "the customary mode of salutation at the time" [The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 18, p. 467]. It is not, however, the customary mode of salutation in all periods of time or among all peoples and cultures. Indeed, within certain societies it may even be perceived as offensive. In our own society, for example, given our sensitivity to the dangers of sexual harassment, one must be extremely cautious of bestowing kisses ("holy," or otherwise) upon others. Even within a congregation of believers, among those whom we know and love, some people are simply not very comfortable with such physical displays of affection. Thus, we need to be very careful of HOW we show others we love them. I don't believe the Lord is demanding that we must KISS a fellow believer, and that no other form will suffice; rather, I believe (and most scholars agree) that we're to display to one another (and to all those who observe us) in some appropriate visible way the reality of our unity, harmony, love and oneness. Yes, for many that may well be a kiss. For others, it may be a "holy hug" or a "holy handshake" or a "sacred slap on the back." One thing we do at our congregation fairly often is have everyone in the auditorium stand at some point during the assembly and take just a few minutes to simply greet one another (hugs, handshakes, kisses, etc.). It is a visible, and much needed, demonstration of our unity and oneness as a Family. Not only does it uplift us, but it sends a powerful message to those who may be visiting: we love one another, and we show it. Yes, we are to be showing it every day in countless ways, NOT just for a couple of minutes during an assembly, yet such times of "holy hugs, handshakes and kisses" are at least symbolic of a deeper union that we demonstrate daily.

If we are NOT demonstrating this love and affection toward one another ... if we are instead fussing and fighting, biting and devouring, condemning and withdrawing from one another ... can we truly say we are abiding by the command of the apostles Paul and Peter? Worse, are we making a mockery of the Lord's Supper when we come to the Table with hearts filled with contempt and bitterness toward our spiritual siblings? I hope and pray that each of us, individually and congregationally, will resolve to do some intense self-evaluation this new year! Are we the type of people our Lord would have us to be? If not, what do we plan to do about it? Let me leave you with this bold charge from The Pulpit Commentary: "Is not this exhortation also -- namely, of friendliness and brotherly kindness among Christians -- much needed in the Christian Church of today?!! How many professing Christians pass in and out of the same Church, sit down at the same Communion Table, and never exchange greetings with one another?! Alas!! After centuries of Christianity, we are but beginners within the school of Christ!! Our profession of friendship for Christ is not worth much if we are not willing to make friends of His brethren" [vol. 18, p. 467].

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Readers' Reflections

From a Missionary in Bulgaria:

Vesela Koleda ("Merry Christmas") from Bulgaria, Al and Shelly. I just finished reading your latest article "Traditionalists at the Table." As always, you are right on. I have never been able to get over the idea that one Christian can presume to label another Christian a "brother in error," as if this other Christian is "in error," but he himself is not!! What arrogance!! This has long been a sore spot with me. It's as if some Christians don't think, or don't realize, that one day we will all stand before the judgment seat of Christ Jesus!! I have often asked people to consider: What will you say when God looks at you on that day and says, "Just WHO do you think you are?!" God has not, and He will not, vacate His Throne so that some lowly member of His creation can sit down there and attempt to perform the job only HE can do!! James 4:12 comes immediately to my mind -- "There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the One who is able to save and destroy. But you -- who are you to judge your neighbor?" We need to get on with the business of repenting, glorifying, encouraging, uplifting and forgiving, and let God do the judging, condemning and punishing. Just who do we think we are, anyway?!!

From a Leader with Eastern European Missions:

Al, my brother! Words are totally inadequate to express the blessing your writings have been over the years to this 79 year old missionary - preacher - professor!! Your mission to bring about genuine fellowship within the Lord's Body is bearing fruit. I see evidence of this in our constant travels across the brotherhood as I visit congregations reporting on our mission activities. I have personally encouraged many leaders to become students of your message!! God has given you a GIFT, Al, and your calling is clear. He is using you mightily, so please stay the course! He will hold you close. Al, I have saved every single one of your Reflections, and I've repeatedly printed out choice Reflections and given them to leaders in the various congregations throughout the world we visit. I would love to burn them ALL onto a CD and give them to elderships everywhere, but I don't have that right (although I did do so for the shepherds here in our home congregation; I hope that is okay with you). Your writings are a powerful library of rich material for every leader in the Lord's Body!!

From a Reader in Iowa:

Brother Al, I have written to you before, and I really have appreciated the thoughts you have expressed in your Reflections articles over the years!! I will continue to read them and ponder them as long as you write them, and as long as I am able to read them. I was an elder in a Church of Christ for 18 years, until we moved to a different city this past summer. My wife and I were becoming more and more troubled over how many in Churches of Christ were elevating "teaching" above "practicing." If they did the "right things" on Sunday morning during the "worship hour," keeping all the "rules," then they were okay. We determined we would try to find a group of disciples who actually lived their Christianity, instead of fighting over things that are insignificant (which has become one of the defining points of our fellowship). So, we looked for something that was not like that when we moved. We found a church where the people act more like the Body of Christ than I have seen in many years. This group of people reaches out to the community with good works first, then try to reach them with the message of salvation in Christ when someone is touched by their loving acts of service. What a concept!! Bro. Al, I want you to know that your Reflections, that my wife and I have been reading over the last few years, have allowed our thinking to move to the freedom of attending this new Body of Christ with whom we're now associated. Thank you for all that you do in these writings, as well as in the debates in which you have engaged. They have all helped me immensely!!

From a New Reader in Oklahoma:

Dear Brother Al, I would like to subscribe to your Reflections. I have a friend who sometimes sends me some of your articles, and I just read "Traditionalists at the Table." Very interesting and enlightening. Thank you for being a voice of reason! By the way, I attend the Church of Christ in Oklahoma City (Quail Springs) that was smeared by many because we added an instrumental service. Blessings to you and your ministry, brother. I look forward to receiving your Reflections.

From a Reader in Kansas:

Dear Brother Al, The Old Paths Advocate leaders are really worried about the number of people who write to you, because they know that many of the One Cup brethren are tired of their heavy-handed approach. If they were not worried, they would not be sending out all of these emails attacking you!! Billy Dickinson, as well as some of the younger preachers, are trying hard to become the next generation of leaders in the OPA movement. The truth is, though, few of us are interested in becoming part of the OPA crowd! We don't go around them, nor do we receive any kind of support from them! The growing number of One Cup congregations they are removing from their directory is proof that they are losing their grip on the One Cup brethren across the country. Brother Al, the work you are doing is very important, and we don't want to jeopardize it in any way! God bless you!

From a Minister in Tennessee:

Brother Al, I just finished reading "Traditionalists at the Table," and I wanted to join with so many others in thanking you (again) for sounding out a message that our fellowship needs so badly!! When the history of the Stone-Campbell Movement is finally written, Al Maxey and his Reflections will be remembered as instruments of God which led a great many out of the arid desert of man-made religion to the fresh waters of biblical Truth! The day has now come when ALL believers in Jesus Christ, regardless of "brand name," need to stand as one against the forces that would delight in annihilating the name of Jesus. Thanks again, my brother, for loving Churches of Christ enough to tell us the Truth!!

From a Minister in California:

Brother Al, I have followed your Reflections and other writings off and on for the past ten years or so. Your most recent study, "Traditionalists at the Table," was a great article, as usual. It appears to me that many people like Bro. Phil Sanders, who wish to impose their traditions on the followers of Christ over Truth found in Scripture, set themselves up to be "god," thus reaching the zenith of humanism.

From a Reader in Washington:

Bro. Al, Your Reflections article "Traditionalists at the Table" was very interesting. My husband and I both appreciate the way that you "speak the Truth in love."

From a Reader in Texas:

Dear Brother Al, "Traditionalists at the Table" was well-researched, well-thought-out, well-written, and, therefore, well-stated. Maybe this piece will find its way to becoming a bulletin insert on some future Sunday in some congregation!! What do you think?!

From a Reader in California:

Dear Bro. Al, Several letters in this week's "Readers' Reflections" caught my eye. I'm truly pleased to say that I too believe many within the One Cup movement are reading after you (some behind closed doors; very much in private; but that's okay). Perhaps some day these good brethren will decide that they must come out and be counted for the name of Jesus, instead of for manmade doctrines and practices passed down to them through the generations by their own unthinking forefathers. We left that fellowship almost 30 years ago, and yet they still attack us by name. One would think they would find something different to talk about.

From a Reader in Connecticut:

Bro. Al, It was a pleasure meeting you in person this past week!! Thank you for taking time to fellowship and share breakfast with my family and me. Because your Reflections have been such a blessing to me personally, as well as to my family, it was truly a special moment for us to meet the man behind the pen and shake your hand. Your latest Reflections, "Traditionalists at the Table," hits the bull's eye, and your question to Bro. Phil Sanders, "Are there any disciples anywhere on earth who are error free?", cuts to the chase. Bro. Al, since accepting your challenge to cast off old assumptions, and to simply stand only upon what God has specifically commanded of me as His child and servant, I have found my prayers to be deeper, my service more fruitful, and my relationship with Him more enjoyable than I've ever known! Your Reflections have been the catalyst for positive change within my life!! Please continue to speak Truth -- even if it hurts! You are saying publicly what many thousands have been feeling privately within their hearts!! There is a rumble in the distance -- it is the sound of freedom coming!!

From a University Professor in Texas:

Dear Bro. Maxey, A number of the faculty and administration at ----------- meet regularly for study and fellowship, often using your Reflections as the basis of our discussions. I must say, you are having a powerfully positive impact upon a great many people, the full extent of which you are probably not even personally aware, but we are witnessing it! Because of this, you will increasingly become the target of those resistant to progress and change! Stay strong; you have many praying for you daily! A question: In your article "Traditionalists at the Table," you issued a challenge to Phil Sanders ("In Search of the Lord's Way" persona) to substantiate from Scripture his assertion that using instrumental music in our worship today is viewed by our God as a sin. We are curious as to whether he has responded, and, if so, what that response was. Since he presumes to be the "voice" of the "Lord's Way," we are watching closely, and we'll also make known to others the outcome of this challenge. Thank you for your ministry, Bro. Maxey.

From a Minister in Arkansas:

Dear Brother Al, Your last article was very well done! As a young minister who is still growing in understanding, I want to thank you for your continued devotion to spreading the Gospel through your Reflections articles. These past few years I have personally learned so much from you!! I thank God every day that He has sent such a wonderful messenger of Grace as Al Maxey our way!! May the peace, joy, love and light of our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ continue to shine through you to all the many lives you touch throughout the world. Peace be with you, brother!

From a Reader in Florida:

Dear Brother Al, Let me just say that I love you, brother, and I pray that you will continue helping brethren around the world to find themselves spiritually. We are truly all better Christians because of our relationship with you, as you help us with our relationship with Christ Jesus.

From a Reader in Tennessee:

Dear Brother Al, Thanks for all that you are doing for the Lord. I appreciate you so much. Enclosed is my check for the 2009 Reflections CD. I hope to see you at The Tulsa Workshop.

From a Minister in Florida:

Dear Brother Al, Thank you for being on Facebook. It helps me to feel a little closer to you, and also to get to know you better. I love your writings in your weekly Reflections. Keep up the good work for the Lord. I pray that you and yours will have a happy and God-blessed New Year.

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