“Greet one another with an holy kiss.” (2 Cor. 13:12)
“Salute one another with an holy kiss.” (Rom. 16:16)
“Having ended the prayers, we salute one another with a kiss.” Justin Martyr (AD 110 – 165)
It is the stated will of God, recorded in Scripture, to live and abide forever, that Christians are to greet one another in an affectionate manner. It is the recorded testimony of the early church Fathers that Christians did treat each other with kindness and love, while expressing proper forms of public affection.
I would exhort, with all my heart, every pastor, in every congregation to tell the people, as often as necessary, by saying at some point in the worship service, “We are Christians, and as Christians we do something that God has commanded, not once but twice, in His Word. We greet one another in an affectionate way. If you are not use to being loved, even if you do not like being touched, brace yourself. We might not kiss you today, but you will probably be hugged by someone here. That is what we do as Christians. That is what the church has always done. So open your arms, open your heart, and greet one another.”
Rather than discourage a public form of affection, or tell Christians to beware of those who by nature do not want to be embraced, there is a better way, and that is to prepare people in worship for a whole lot of loving. This is the will of God.
The wisdom of God in this matter is important to discern.
Notice first that worship is not about self, it is about others. “Let the word [spoken by] Christ (the Messiah) have its home [in your hearts and minds] and dwell in you in [all its] richness, as you teach, and admonish, and train one another in all insight and intelligence and wisdom [in spiritual things, and as you sing] psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, making melody to God with [His] grace in your hearts.” (Amplified Bible) Greeting one another with an embrace is not about self, it is about others. People need to feel connected. They need to be shown they are wanted by an embrace. A Christian greeting is not about self, but about others.
Second, in worship, by using a Christian form of greeting, a person dies to self. People are self-conscious. That is a given. Some people plainly say, “I do not like to be touched.” That is understandable. People are different. Some people by nature are gregarious, while others are reserved. However, the will of the Lord is crystal clear. Let the reserved people die to self, and, if necessary pray, “Lord, you know I do not want to be hugged, let alone kissed, or event touched. But, you have given to me a new nature, and a royal command. Give me the grace to comply with Your will. Help me to open my heart and my arms to others. Change me, Lord. Change me now. Amen.”
Third, to touch one another in love with a Christian greeting, is to touch Jesus Himself. In Colossians 1:27 we read this great fact: “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” Every Christian can say with Paul, “Christ liveth in me.” (Gal. 2:2)
Fourth, to embrace one another is to be like Jesus who was often touched by people, without censure. One day Jesus was walking through a crowd. Suddenly He stopped and asked, “Who touched me? And he looked round about to see her that had done this thing. 33 But the woman fearing and trembling, knowing what was done in her, came and fell down before him, and told him all the truth. 34 And he said unto her, Daughter, thy faith hath made thee whole; go in peace, and be whole of thy plague.” (Mark 5:32-34) Jesus did not censure the woman who touched Him, but honored her faith.
Again, to embrace one another is to be like Jesus, who often reached out and touched other people. Everyone who was physically touched by Jesus was made perfectly whole (Luke 6:17, 19). Everyone who is spiritually touched by Jesus is still made whole.
“Since I met this blessed Savior,
Since He cleansed and made me whole,
I will never cease to praise Him,
I’ll shout it while eternity rolls.
He touched me, Oh He touched me,
And oh the joy that floods my soul!
Something happened and now I know
He touched me and made me whole.”
A principle is established. In obeying the gospel, we are like Jesus. The Lord might be pleased to use our embraces to help heal someone who needs a word of encouragement or comfort. The Lord might use our Christian greeting to communicate the gospel of love, mercy, and grace. May we never censure, or discourage, anyone who touches someone in love.
Finally, to greet one another with a holy kiss, or a holy hug, or a handshake, is to love the unlovely. There are people who are not personable, or even physically attractive, or presented as well as we might wish. They too need to feel the embrace of God. Oh Christians, let us love one another, for love is of God. Let us obey the ancient forms of worship. It is the will of the Lord. It will bring more unity, not less.
If someone is offended by a public display of affection, or, if there is a visitor, or even a regular member, that comes to the worship service and does not understand, or want to be embraced, then let the Word of God go forth. Let the whole congregation hear from the pastor, and from the people, “We are Christians. We obey our Lord as we greet one another. Therefore, my friend, just prepare yourself for a whole lot of loving. When you worship with us, you are considered to be part of the family of God. God’s family loves one another. We greet one another with open hearts and open arms.” We will be sensitive, but you just might get a hug anyway.