Saturday, March 15, 2014

A holy kiss? - The Instructor on a compendious view of the Christian life

This is a continuation of my series on Clement of Alexandria and his book, "The Instructor." If you are new to this series or are unfamiliar with Clement and his book, you may want to first read the introduction to this series. You may also want to read my introduction to this chapter as it will help you understand his views in this area.
"And if we are called to the kingdom of God, let us walk worthy of the kingdom, loving God and our neighbour. But love is not proved by a kiss, but by kindly feeling. But there are those, that do nothing but make the churches resound with a kiss, not having love itself within. For this very thing, the shameless use of a kiss, which ought to be mystic, occasions foul suspicions and evil reports. The apostle calls the kiss holy." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 3, Chapter 11)
We live in "in between" times; between when "The kingdom of God has come near to you." (Luke 10:9) and the time when the Kingdom of God will fully have come. In this time, God has called us to walk worthy of the Kingdom we are to inherit at Jesus' return. Paul put it this way, "walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called." (Ephesians 4:1) So what does this look like? Walking worthy looks like loving God and loving our neighbor. Jesus Himself said, "On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets." (Matthew 22:40)

Clement turns his attention to a habit in the churches of his day of greeting each other with a "holy kiss." For some, this practice had become rote and meaningless and their participation was without any genuine love inside for the other person. It had become a hollow practice with no love or meaning left behind it.
"When the kingdom is worthily tested, we dispense the affection of the soul by a chaste and closed mouth, by which chiefly gentle manners are expressed. But there is another unholy kiss, full of poison, counterfeiting sanctity. Do you not know that spiders, merely by touching the mouth, afflict men with pain? And often kisses inject the poison of licentiousness. It is then very manifest to us, that a kiss is not love. For the love meant is the love of God. “And this is the love of God,” says John, 'that we keep His commandments;' not that we stroke each other on the mouth." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 3, Chapter 11)
Worse yet, for some, they were giving and getting much more out of the kiss than just "kindly feelings." We are told many places to "Greet one another with a kiss of love." (1 Peter 5:14) However, the love that is meant is the love of God, not a sensual or amorous one. The love of God is tied to the commandments of God, meaning that the love of God will always be demonstrated in a manor consistent with the commandments of God. For example, Paul tells us that, "it is good for a man not to touch a woman." (1 Corinthians 7:1) Meaning to attach to, cling to, or be all over someone. There is a type of love that is characteristic of this behavior, but it is not the love of God. Our behavior with one another should flow out of the love of God within us and be molded by the commands of God that He has written on our hearts.
"But salutations of beloved ones in the ways, full as they are of foolish boldness, are characteristic of those who wish to be conspicuous to those without, and have not the least particle of grace." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 3, Chapter 11)
In our churches, when we participate in practices for show, to "impress" those outside the church, then we are at risk of wandering into error. Sometimes we do things to try and show the world that we are really nice and loving. As if believing that if they could see how wonderful we are then they would want to be like us. However, when such shows are done without the reality of heart inside, then they are empty, vain, and powerless. Let our love be real and demonstrated in a manor that is holy and worthy.

David Robison

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