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Pucker Up

October 19, 2005

Dr. Michael Penn in his book “Kissing Christians” hints that we may be missing something in our contemporary worship services. In this article in the Boston Globe he says that early Christians used to kiss one another. And in case you have an image of people leaning way over toward one another and pecking on the cheek, Dr. Penn adds, “ritual kissing — on the lips — was a vital part of worship”. The church of the first three centuries met in homes instead of an open public place, so the feelings expressed (we can assume) were much more intimate and casual.

It is what Dr. Penn adds next that gets interesting:

In antiquity, a kiss on the lips was seen as transferring a little bit of one’s spirit to the other person. You have a lot of early — I kind of think of them almost as Greco-Roman Harlequin — novels that speak of the kiss as this transfer of spirit. Christians modify it a bit, to suggest that when Christians kiss each other, they don’t just exchange their own spirit, but also share a part of the Holy Spirit with one another. So the kiss is seen as a way to bind the community together.

There’s another side, though. There was a concern that kissing an individual who has promised to join the Christian community but isn’t yet baptized should be avoided, because the spirit that would be transferred wouldn’t be a holy spirit but a demonic spirit. So you have the kiss working as this ritual of exclusion.

This idea of “transferring a little bit of one’s spirit” is consistent with the teaching of 1 Corinthians 6 where we are warned that having sex with a prostitute is joining her to Christ. That could only be possible in the spirit realm since Christ is joined to the believer through the Holy Spirit who lives within him. The early church saw men and women kissing men and women. They did worry a little about the erotic nature of this practice, but it didn’t stop them from doing it.

Should we revive this practice today? Frankly I would welcome it, but I don’t think it is going to happen. Let me explain why I believe this using a totally different picture. In Italy, more wine is consumed per person than in any state in America. Yet, the alcoholism rate is less than half of what it is in our country. How is that possible? It seems that the drinking of wine is not associated with drunkenness in Italy. They use it as a beverage, as we would with milk, Gatorade or Latte Frapuccinos (whatever they are). Their use of alcohol is innocent and this precludes them from yearning for a misuse of alcohol. In essence, their constant consumption of alcohol innoculates them from abusing it.

In the same way, our contemporary Christian emphasis away from any casual touching and kissing between men and women actually cause the meaning of touch to become more sexual and therefore more deadly. If Christians were more deliberate with kissing, preferring to experience intimate friendships among the entire body of Christ, we wouldn’t be seeing so many extra-marital indiscretions. The early Christians did not kiss one another in private, but out in the open in the worship services. Like the Italian drinking of wine divorces wine from alcoholism, the public practice of kissing divorces kissing from forbidden intimacy.

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