Question:

God bless you for your great website! I was raised in a God-fearing church of Christ, but I am now attending one that has "modernized" into an almost unrecognizable church of Christ. I am so relieved that churches such as yours are still out there! I was searching the web for information on head covering for women in prayer when I found you. My sister-in-law and I were discussing that subject and she countered with something like, "If we worship like they did in the first century church, shouldn't men pray with their hands raised and greet each other with a 'holy kiss'?" I didn't have an answer for her as to why we don't worship exactly as the first century Christians did. Can you help me out or is that addressed somewhere in your website and I just missed it? Thank you so much for your help and again, may God bless you and your ministry.


Answer:

There are a number of churches of Christ who remain sound in their teachings. They tend to be the smaller congregations as their adherence to the New Testament is not popular in today's society. If you are interested in finding a sound congregation in your area, you can check the listings in "Locating Congregations of the Churches of Christ." There is no guarantee but at least the lists make a good starting point. You can also write to me with your location and I'll see if I can locate a nearby congregation.

The argument your sister-in-law gave is a poor one. In essence she is saying, "Since we fail to keep all of God's command in one area, we are justified to break His commands in other areas as well." The answer is that we are to keep all of God's commands (Matthew 28:19). If we are failing, then we need to make correction.

In answer to the point about lifting hands in prayer, the point would be valid if this was the only reference to how a person prayed. However, the Bible records numerous positions held during prayer:

  • Standing: I Kings 8:22-23; Luke 18:10-14; Mark 11:25
  • Sitting: I Kings 19:1-5; Nehemiah 1:4
  • Kneeling: Luke 22:41; Acts 9:40; 20:36; 21:3-6; Daniel 6:10
  • Bowing Down: Ezra 10:1; Psalm 95:6
  • Lying Down: II Kings 20:2
  • Prostrate: Numbers 16:22; I Chronicles 21:16-17; Matthew 26:39
  • With Hands Spread Upwards: I Kings 8:54; II Chronicles 6:12-13; Ezra 9:5
  • Lifting Hands: Lamentations 2:19; Psalm 28:2; 141:2; I Timothy 2:8
  • Beating Breast: Luke 18:13
  • Looking Toward Heaven: John 17:1
  • With Downcast Eyes: Luke 18:13
  • Wearing Sackcloth and Ashes While Fasting: Psalm 35:13-14; Daniel 9:3

When looked at as a whole, there is no one right position in prayer. Instead, the position of the one petitioning God often reflected his current state of mind. The lifting up of hands in prayer holds meaning. It is not just a ritualistic stance. Paul had said, "I desire therefore that the men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting" (I Timothy 2:8). The hands being held up were to be holy hands; in other words hands which were free from sin (not holding wrath and doubt). "If you would prepare your heart, and stretch out your hands toward Him; if iniquity were in your hand, and you put it far away, and would not let wickedness dwell in your tents then surely you could lift up your face without spot; yes, you could be steadfast, and not fear" (Job 11:13-15). Sin is seen as a stain on a person's hands. "If my step has turned from the way, or my heart walked after my eyes, or if any spot adheres to my hands" (Job 31:7). Thus we find references to ideas such as "lawless hands" (Acts 2:23) or "hands which hang down" (Hebrews 12:12) due to the burden of sin. Christians, however, are to "Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded" (James 4:8). Therefore, lifting holy hands is saying that we should present ourselves before God without sin charged to our account. It does not have to be a literal lifting of hands. It can be figurative as shown in "Let us lift our hearts and hands to God in heaven" (Lamentations 3:41). Lifting of hands in prayer is an acceptable position in prayer, but it is not the only position.

In the same manner, the command "Greet one another with a holy kiss" (II Corinthians 13:12; see also Romans 16:16; I Corinthians 16:20; I Thessalonians 5:26) is being misunderstood because the emphasis is being placed on the physical action but the command given is emphasizing the holiness of the greeting. Greetings are mentioned throughout the Bible and it appears that a kiss was a common greeting between close acquaintances. When Judas betrayed Jesus, "Immediately he went up to Jesus and said, "Greetings, Rabbi!" and kissed Him" (Matthew 26:49). In this particular case we would have no problem stating that Judas' greeting was not done with a holy kiss; he greeted Christ with impure motives. Similarly, the soldiers mocking Jesus greeted him on bended knees and saluting him (Matthew 27:29; Mark 15:18), but it wasn't sincere or holy. I point out these negative cases to show that greetings can be good or bad and were done in a variety of ways.

Interestingly, "greet" is from the Greek word chairo. It literally means to rejoice or be glad. It is not uncommon for close friends who haven't seen each other to cry out in joy and give each other a hug and a peck on the check. Some cultures even formalize it with ceremonies include a peck on each check as a show of welcome or congratulations.

Greetings are most often expressed in words, "Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus" (Romans 16:3). But can also be accompanied by action as well. "Greet one another with a holy kiss. The churches of Christ greet you" (Romans 16:16). The word for "greet" in this verse is the Greek word aspazomai. The Complete Biblical Library defines it as "the customary greeting upon entering a house, meeting someone on the street, or saying farewells. The basic meaning seems to be 'to embrace.' Gestures probably included embracing, kissing, offering the hand, or even doing homage as to an overlord or king. By extension, the word came to mean 'to follow eagerly' and 'to be glad' about something."

Once again, we find variation in the types of greetings given, but we understand that Christians are to give greetings to fellow Christians in a sincere and pure way. Kissing is one option, but by no means an exclusive option. Should it be practiced today? Of course! I have seen it numerous times, been the recipient of it and have given it when it was appropriate. I've seen denominations formalize the practice and make it apart of their worship, but such rituals lose the joy that is supposed to be expressed. It also loses the timeframe of being a initial greeting or final farewell.