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A Funny Thing Happened

By H. A. (Buster) Dobbs

religion, articles, christianity

The Latin word inanis means empty, lacking sense. From inanis we get our English word inane, as in an inane comment. Occasionally a statement or idea is so foolish that it would make us laugh out loud, if it were not impolite to belly­laugh at a ridiculous proposal. We restrain ourselves and attempt to discuss the matter we have in mind with a straight face.

The Bible teaches we are to salute one another with a holy kiss. Members of the church do not generally practice the holy kiss. Therefore, we are told, it is okay to use instruments in making music in praise and worship of God.

If you can figure that one out, "You're a better man than I am, Gunga Din!"

May as well say: The Bible tells us to salute one another with a holy kiss. We don't do that. So, it is biblically correct to sprinkle water on babies, or burn incense in worship of God, or scatter holy water, or worship the virgin Mary.

The sense and the logic of the argument escapes me. If anyone can explain to me the connection between a failure to give each other a holy kiss and playing the piano, I will be much obliged.

Still, solemn­eyed men with swelling academic attainments insist that since the holy kiss is omitted it is right and proper to beat the bongos in honor of man's Maker. So, let's take another look at the holy kiss.

Five times in the Bible we are told to salute, or greet, one another with a holy kiss (Rom. 16:16; 1 Cor. 16:20; 2 Cor. 13:12 and 1 Thess. 5:26; 1 Pet. 5:14). In none of these places is the holy kiss used in connection with worship. It is a salute or greeting.

If anyone thinks the holy kiss is necessary to the restoration of New Testament Christianity, let him advocate it and make his argument. The rest of us will listen politely and respond if needed. My point is that those who claim the holy kiss is an essential part of the Christian religion do not themselves practice it, nor do they insist that the balance of us do so.

There are an out­on­the­fringe few who say that the holy kiss was a part of New Testament worship-they call it a part of the litany of the early church, but they do not cite book, chapter and verse-nor can they.

It is true as Vine says.

A kiss was a token of Christian brotherhood whether by way of welcome or farewell, "a holy kiss," (Rom. 16:16; 1 Cor. 16:20; 2 Cor. 13:12; 1 Thess. 5:26), 'holy' (hagios), as free from anything inconsistent with their calling as saints; 'a kiss of love,' (1 Pet. 5:14) There was to be an absence of formality and hypocrisy, a freedom from prejudice arising from social distinctions, from discrimination against the poor, from partiality towards the well­to­do. In the churches masters and servants would thus salute one another without any attitude of condescension on the one part or disrespect on the other.

Those who say the holy kiss was a part of the worship of the early church should show us where it was celebrated, when it was done, by whom it was given and by whom received, and how often it was practiced. If it was a part of first­century worship, like the Lord's Supper, we should be given this information in the Bible. We will be happy to show these things in connection with all other items of worship (though some may disagree), but who is bold enough to assert any of this in connection with the holy kiss.

It was not until the 4th century that any mention was made of the holy kiss as a part of the liturgy of professing Christians. There was no hint of the holy kiss as an act of worship in the New Testament, nor was it done until three hundred years after the cross. Too bad for the cultural argument.

The holy kiss in the first century was like the practice of fasting. It was allowed, but not required. Some in the first century practiced fasting but it was not necessary for all to do so. We know this is true because had fasting been a necessity the time, place, and manner would have been specified. This is also true of the holy kiss.

The "reasoning" of those who attempt to parallel the holy kiss and music in worship runs something like this: the holy kiss was cultural and non­use of instrumental music was cultural: culture changes: therefore neither the holy kiss nor non­use of instruments in worship of God is to be observed in a changed­culture. If I am missing something, please point it out to me.

The critical question is: What was the practice of first­century culture concerning instrumental music in worship or in society in general? Whoever cares to argue that the non­use of instrumental music in worship was the product of the culture of the time must furnish proof for the assertion.

Culture means "the totality of socially transmitted behavior patterns, arts, beliefs, institutions, and all other products of human work and thought; these patterns, traits, and products considered as the expression of a particular period, class, community, or population."

All we lack is for some scholar to demonstrate that the non­use of instrumental music in worship was the pattern, art, belief and behavior of the first century. The simple truth is that instruments of music were used in the Jewish temple and in idol shrines in the first century. The culture of the time included instruments in worship, and did not exclude them, except for the church. If the holy kiss was practiced because it was the custom of the time, then it would follow that instruments should also be used because it was done in the common worship of that day (again, except for the church).

Since the practice of first­century Jews and pagans was the use of instruments in worship, someone will have to discover why the church did not use trumpet, horn, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, and dulcimer, seeing these were in vogue with Jews and Gentiles. Non­use of instruments in worship would have been counter­cultural and not cultural.

The command of the New Testament is to "sing" (Eph. 5:16­17; Col. 3:16­17; 1 Cor. 14:15) and singing was the exclusive practice of the church in the beginning of the gospel. It was not until the 7th century that instrumental music was introduced and even then it was strenuously opposed and did not really become a fad until the 17th century.

Washing feet and the holy kiss may have been cultural 2,000 years ago, but that is distinctly not the case with non­use of instrumental music in worship. The cultural argument in support of a brass band in worship is leaky and will not hold water.

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by Curtis A. Cates

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Published January 1997