This blog records my transition from the Churches of Christ to Eastern Orthodoxy.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Forgotten Christian Values: Greeting

The New Testament seems to have a lot to say about Christians taking the time to greet one another.  Jesus even talks about greeting everybody--people you don't even consider your neighbor or loved one.

"And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?" (Matt 5:47)

"Greet one another with a holy kiss" (Rom 16:16; 1Cor 16:20; 2Cor 13:12; 1Thess 5:26)

"Greet one another with a kiss of love" (1Pet 5:14)

Not only does the New Testament give instructions to greet people, but such a tremendous amount of text is devoted simply to people giving each other greetings.  

Paul spends most of the chapter in Romans 16 just greeting individuals and relaying greetings from other individuals (Rom 16:3-16).  A portion of the end of 1Corinthians is the same way (1Cor 16:19-21).  The same is true of Philippians (Phil 4:21-22), and Colossians is particularly full of greetings (Col 4:7-18).  Luke reports that Paul stopped during a voyage just to greet a church on his way to another (Acts 18:22).  The same is also true of the writings of Peter (1Pet 5:13-14) and John (2John 13; 3John 14).  

So what about us?  What place does greeting have in the 21st century church?  Is every Christian taking the time to greet one another a clear feature of your congregation?  Do you or your congregation find it important to send greetings to other churches?  Do you send personal greetings to mission-field-congregations which your congregation supports?

i attend a congregation of about 200 regular attendees.  If i'm honest, i only know the names of about 40 or 50 of those 200.  Of those 40 or 50, on any average Sunday, i probably only personally greet about 20 of those.  This has been my experience in just about every congregation i've been a part of.  i notice other people in the congregation know and greet a larger number than i do.  But i haven't ever met anyone who took the time to greet every single member of their congregation every assembly--not even to greet a majority.

Why the difference?  Are we just plain failing to obey New Testament commands?  Or is it not that big of a deal?

The only reason i can think of that might explain why it was so important in the first century but not now is that the accessibility and diversity of correspondence at a distance is exponentially greater in our day than in theirs.  i don't need to tack my greeting to someone onto a missionary's letter.  i can simply write that individual an email.  It's at least possible that some of the people explicitly greeted in the New Testament didn't have the means to write letters to the individuals they were greeting.  

But even if that's true, it only explains why it happened so much.  It doesn't explain why greeting one another is commanded and is commanded so many times.  

We also balk about the "holy kiss" passages because we believe describe a custom unique to the culture at the time and which no longer exists.  Well, maybe that's right.  But that wouldn't explain away the "Greet one another" parts of the passages.  

And even at that, this certainly doesn't explain Jesus' teaching on the subject.  Jesus' words imply that our willingness to greet everyone differentiates us from those without a relationship with God.

Are we missing out on something?  What would our congregations and Christian experience be like if each disciple took the time to personally greet every other disciple in his/her congregation?  Are we disobeying the teachings of Christ and the apostles by not doing so?

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