Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The Holy Kiss

This essay was written by Darren Russell, a frequent contributer and member of the Church of the Firstborn. Want more from Darren? You can read some of his work and research here: or click on the "Guest Bloggers" tab to find his email address and contact him directly.

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For my friends, brethren, and sisters, who have been raised in the Church of the First Born or the Followers of Christ, greeting is not much of an issue. We just always did it! Or at least we have been taught that, and by faith accept that, since we can see in black and white that it was what the apostles did. What we perceive to be a totally natural and godly act among ourselves though has in many circles become an embarrassment when other outsiders are present. I have even heard some ministers who refuse the kiss in public claiming it is not right to "give what is holy to the dogs." Why this modern temperament?

I recently uncovered a handful of newspaper articles that pertained to this specific belief among us. From them I have gathered that we have not only greeted from earlier times, but also that it has not been well received by outside churches for quite some time.

One humorous article titled "Epidemic of Kissing" appeared in the Trenton Evening Times of July 21, 1908 describing an Indiana congregation. It says, "Kissing is epidemic here of late among followers...whose sect is known as the Church of the First Born and measures today are threatened to stop the practice. Every member of the sect has the right to bestow a sacred kiss...and a too plentiful resort to the mouths of the sect's adherents have awakened the authorities to the necessity of action." No commentary needed here.

In March of 1896 around the U.S. in various papers was the headline, "Religious Kisses". It was a fairly small blurb but described how the brethren in Woods and Garfield counties would "after the sermon embrace and kiss each other." It had caused quite an "excitement among the people."
(Anyone wanting to see a scan of the original article can do so at  Just look under favorites and find kissing, it will open up under a pdf file; you can thank Bro. Bill Porter for all his effort in producing this site dedicated to some Church of the First Born history and I would suggest looking at some of his other items).

In the Winfield Courier, July 20, 1876 we have a description of " two or three traveling preachers, who call themselves Christ’s disci­ples. They are reported as healing the sick and restoring the infirm to health... and observe other unusual habits. Several converts have joined them, five of whom were baptized in the Walnut, near Moore’s mill, last Sabbath." Now explicitly the "unusual habits" is not known, but it would be a pretty safe assumption to believe it was the "kiss of charity".

The Arkansas Traveler of May 8, 1878 reported about the same group that "Mr. and Mrs. Dennis Cochran and the two Misses Moore were baptized and confirmed into the church of the Followers of Christ, last Sunday. After the baptizing there was a feet washing and love feast at Mr. E. Osborn’s, and preaching at the Smith schoolhouse at early candle light." The brethren followed the same scriptural pattern as the Dunkards, many of whom were joined to the faith at that time. A typical love feast was a potluck where everyone could enjoy each other's company, and provided space to make any confessions or amendments that may stand in the way of communion. The actual Lord's supper was began in the evening, begin with a foot washing, follow through with the Bread and Wine and terminate with prayers and the holy kiss. There were some variations from this scheme, but they were trivial and usually revolved upon questions of administering the various parts of the Lord's Supper.

One of my favorite and probably the most flattering news stories of them all emanated from The New York Herald in August of 1836. I have two copies of it, from different papers carrying the story that read the same but have not seen the actual Herald copy. So even this favorable story was something of a sensation in its day! The reporter described how he had attended a gathering that met inside a home rather than in one of the fancy cathedrals of New York City. He described how the service was conducted and also how the young and the unconverted, including himself, were set apart from the rest. How he also observed the ordinance supper. He witnessed the culminating greeting with a holy kiss only to reflect that if he wasn't a heathen and disallowed he would position himself between two of the fairest ladies of the group. This writer had an obvious degraded view of the ritual but probably one that fits most concerning it even today. Afterwards he questioned them concerning their name, origin and doctrine. They did not consider themselves as from either the Catholics or Protestants, but as being in a direct apostolic line. They found no scriptural injunction for either cathedrals or paid ministry.

April of 1819 an Elder Ephraim Stinchfield of the Free Will Baptists wrote concerning some independent brethren, whose meetings he had been attending, with the idea of reclaiming them to his denomination. "After attending five more meetings among them in different places, and hearing of another considerable society of the same class, in the town of Arundel, on the west side of Saco river, we went to visit them, and called at a private house in the neigbourhood of the society; inquired after the leading, or most inteligent men among them; hoping, if we convinced any of that description, they might be useful in convincing or undeceiving their neighbors. Having obtained the necessary information as to this particular, we were directed to the house of one of the society who was reputed to answer the above description. The landlady, his wife, met me as soon as I entered the room, and wished to know whether I had the courage to kiss her. I declined, and took a seat, for which she called me a coward."

One Jacob Cochrane was even so far brought down by him that he was imprisoned for adultery, the only genuine evidence against him being that he had acknowledged greeting his sisters with a holy kiss. His wife stood by him throughout the ordeal, and many others who maintained his innocence. After his release he left Maine for New York. His biggest crime, mentioned by Stinchfield in the beginning of his book, may be that he and the brethren with him had converted as many as 2000 souls away from the different denominations in the space of 3 years. It was claimed that it was a revival that surpassed even Whitefield's efforts. These brethren never believed in paid ministry, contrary to all others, and 2000 persons missing off their church rolls left the standing denominations disdaining this intrusion by an apostolic sect.Stinchfield never made progress towards them and later used this incident and other similar ones to calumniate the leading ministers of the sect.

Most of the paper trail dives off at this point concerning the spiritual ancestry of the Church of the First Born, especially in regards to the greeting. That it was practised long before this is really not to be doubted. The brethren were extremely literal in their interpretations of scripture and it hardly seems that a group which advocated literal "laying on of hands" for the sick's recovery would refrain from a simple act of kissing. In fact in the 1730s the only other sect of people to share in communion with the brethren was the Dunkards, which insisted in that part of communion. The Dunkard ministers were on such friendly terms with our faith that they on at least one occasion sent a group of ministers from Pennsylvania all the way to Connecticut to visit their brethren of like faith. When one of the Elders of the faith passed away in Groton, Connecticut a few decades later he was even remembered by them and was honored with an obituary in their own sponsored newspaper, usually reserved for only of their community. To my knowledge the most significant distinctions between the two sects is that the Dunkards immerse thrice for each person of the Godhead, began in Scwarzenau ,Germany in 1708 through a self-baptism, and practised their "holy kiss" only on members of the same sex. I personally believe that their many visits to the brethren were for the sake of rectifying their lineage, but that is off the theme of this note.

So having established the likely use of the greeting by our brethren since its establishment on American soil, and the opposition to it by others for the entire duration, I'd like to share what I have found from the Scriptures down to its standing in previous history.

So how important is it that we practice this?

Psalm 2:12 (King James Version)

Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way, when his wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all they that put their trust in him.

A cursory reading of Psalm 2 leaves no doubt as to who the Son is. It shows us the penalty as well of not soliciting his favour. In Matthew 7:44-46 we see the comparison of someone who loved Christ with someone who cared not for others. So how do we "Kiss the Son" when he is not present before us?

Matthew 25:40

And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.

This principle should apply to all parts of our lives, the manner in which we treat our brethren does reflect our treatment of Christ. So why this demonstration of love among brethren?

1 John 3:14

We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not his brother abideth in death.

John 13:35

By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.

Did the apostles ever instruct greeting with a kiss?

1.Romans 16:16

Salute one another with an holy kiss. The churches of Christ salute you.
2.1 Corinthians 16:20

All the brethren greet you. Greet ye one another with an holy kiss.

3. 2 Corinthians 13:12

Greet one another with an holy kiss.

4. 1 Thessalonians 5:26

Greet all the brethren with an holy kiss.

5. 1 Peter 5:14

Greet ye one another with a kiss of charity. Peace be with you all that are in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Was it practiced by the apostles?

Acts 20:37

And they all wept sore, and fell on Paul's neck, and kissed him,

So what about the early Christians? Did they continue the practice? Here are some different excerpts showing its continued use.

"When we have ceased from prayer, we salute one another with a kiss."-Justin

Martyr (abt 100-165AD)

"Therefore the kiss should be given with the utmost care, since if there be mixed with it the least defilement of thought, it excludes us from eternal life."- Athenagoras (2d century AD)

"What prayer is complete from which the holy kiss is divorced? What kind of sacrifice is that from which men depart without peace?- Tertullian abt 200 AD

In the Martyrdoms, also written by Tertullian;

"And when the crowd called for them into the midst, that as the sword penetrated into their body they might make their eyes partners in the murder, they rose up of their own accord, and transferred themselves whither the people wished; but they first kissed one another, that they might consummate their martyrdom with the kiss of peace."

Tertullian, advising a Christian woman to not marry an unbeliever wrote:

"For who would suffer his wife, for the sake of visiting the creep into prison to kiss a martyr's bonds? nay, truly, to meet any one of the brethren to exchange the kiss?"

"Abundantly blessed are they who, from your number, passing through these footprints of glory, have already departed from the world; and, having finished their journey of virtue and faith, have attained to the embrace and the kiss of the Lord, to the joy of the Lord himself."- Cyprian's epistle XV abt 240 AD

"Cyprian to Sergius and Rogatianus, and the rest of the confessors in the Lord, everlasting health. I salute you, dearest and most blessed brethren, myself also desiring to enjoy the sight of you, if the state in which I am placed would permit me to come to you...What more pleasant and sublime than now to kiss your lips, which with a glorious voice have confessed the Lord..."
Cyprian, epistle
LXXX, abt 250 AD

So you see the early Christians considered the Holy Kiss as a sacred trust, it was shared between all male and female, and was on the lips. They even viewed it as mandatory, "Kiss the Son lest ye perish from the way, when his wrath is kindled but a little."

Now when exactly did culture begin to attack this holy mandate? I am not sure, I would suspect it started quite early, Satan never wasting time on destroying what he can.

That the kiss was still common in the 16th century can be easily seen by a perusal of Martyr's Mirror, an Anabaptist work which detailed many persecutions. It was written about 1660 and so I would venture to say that even then the greeting was not much of an irregularity. Just one excerpt should suffice to demonstrate. In the account of the imprisonment and eventual death of one Matthias Servaues he wrote a letter to his fellow congregants, he closes with, "I greet all the believers with a holy kiss. Greet one another with a kiss of love. And do not forget us, nor any of the prisoners; but persevere in strong prayer for us to God, for this is highly necessary."

I found this news article written, that shows among other things how the kiss had already changed in the 17th century.

The New World, Volume 6, June 17. 1843
John Bunyan —Pilgrim's Progress, a book which the child and I his grandmother read with equal delight, and which, more almost than any other work, may be said to be " Meet for all hours and every mood of man," was written in prison, where Bunyan preached to his fellow prisoners, supported his family by making tagged laces, and filled up his leisure by writing. The work by which he immortalized himself 'grew from a sudden thought which occurred while he was writing in a different strain. Its progress he relates oddly enough in his rhyming apology, but more curiously in some verses prefixed to the "Holy War."

"It came from mine own heart, so to my head,
And thence into my fingers trickeled ;
So to my pen, from whence immediately
On paper I did dribble it daintily."

But we do not intend writing an essay on the character or works of Bunyan; our purpose now is merely to call attention to a singularly characteristic and amusing passage from his defense against some charges of gallantry and incontinence. It will doubtless be quite new to most of our readers.

"My foes," he says, " have missed their mark in this their shooting at me. I am not the man: I wish that they themselves be guiltless. If all the fornicators and adulterers in England were hanged up by the neck till they be dead, John Bunyan, the object of their envy, would be still alive and well. I know not whether there be such a thing as a woman breathing under the face of heaven, but by their apparel, their children, or by common fame, except my wife. And in this I admire the wisdom of God, that he made me shy of women from my first conversion until now. Those know, and can also bear in witness with whom I have been most intimately concerned, that it is a rare thing to see me carry it pleasantly toward a woman, and the common salutation of women I abhor. It is odious to me in whomsoever I see it. Their company alone I cannot away with. I seldom so much as touch a woman's hand; for I think these things not so becoming me. When I have seen good men salute those women that they have visited or that have visited them, I have at times made my objection against it; and when they have answered that it was but a piece of civility, I have told them it was not a comely sight. Some indeed have urged the holy kiss; but then I have asked why they made baulks; why they did salute the most handsome, and let the ill-favored go? Kisses, how laudable soever such things may have been in the eyes of others, they have been unseemly in my sight."

So here we have it, a self-proclaimed preacher whose work has been idolized by millions since, dispenses with the greeting because he THOUGHT IT WAS GROSS! Culture suppressed the Word of God! But not for all.


  1. How is the holy kiss taught in churches that don't do it? I have never understood how it could be ignored. Yet most churches don't do it.

    1. To be quite honest, that has always bothered me too. It was one of the first questions I asked my pastor when I started to attend a mainstream church. He laughed at first and when he realized I was serious, he explained that the most important role of the church is to share Jesus' love and the good news of salvation with the world and if an unbeliever came into church and saw us all kissing each other, they would likely be scared away.

      I know that in the OC group we were not to greet each other as teens, though we greeted adults. But in other FOC churches, I've been told only the baptized members greet each other.

      When I visited my brother and sister-in-law in Idaho, they were attending the FOC there and had several members of the congregation over, I was told that nobody would greet me because I wasn't baptized.

    2. Weren't you concerned he was willing to leave out parts of the bible. Do think the apostle Paul cared what it looked like to others? What else would he be willing to ignore? I suppose you will say I am stuck in "leagalism" for even asking such questions. I believe all of the bible to be true and that taking from or adding to any book would be a mistake. That includes the false doctrines that exist in OC .

    3. It always amazed me that some people would condemn other churches because they did not greet with a holy kiss. Yet at the same time the FOC, today pretty much does not do anything the bible says. No preaching, no baptism, no foot washing, no Lord's supper, no calling of the elders when someone is sick, etc...

  2. I thought Darren was going to present an argument for faith healing? Maybe later? I was rather dreading that since the subject often becomes an argument against doctors. Darren you spent a lot of time justifying greeting with a holy kiss, yet where is the gospel? The bible says we are saved by grace, so why focus on the proper method to greet each other and judge other churches that do not greet by kissing on the lips?

    1. Darren has written his article about faith healing - I will have it up by the end of the month.

      The reason for talking about the Holy Kiss is that it's a question we've been getting our entire lives. Yes, to focus on minor issues is legalism, of course.

      But then again, if the Bible says to do it (greet one another with a kiss)... and we were raised to try to follow everything in the Bible (especially the new testament) ... it can be easy to miss the forest (grace) for the trees (rules).

    2. To AnonymousApr 4, 2012 06:46 PM.

      My article is not intended to be a justification for the use of greeting, it is already scripturally and divinely authorized and it's justification rests there.

      Why the modern degrading of it is a more pertinent question that shoulders the burden of justification. Even the answer Suzi's pastor gave is a little lacking I feel. The same argument could be held about baptism, that an unbeliever came in to the church and seeing someone being drowned by a group might dissuade him from ever going back. The answer is to explain the meaning behind these things not discard them.

      The article admittedly is focused on an aspect of the gospel, and not the whole of it. Then again there is much more to the gospel than "hey, Jesus died for you!". We should all imitate Paul who said to the Ephesian elders, "For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God."

      I feel also that the greeting is an integral part of the gospel because the basis of it is not legalism, but love and a heart-felt expression of the grace bestowed upon us by our Lord and our honoring of him in gratitude.

      A greeting without love would be the same as a baptism without faith, no good.

  3. In the middle of your article while writing about Cyprian you seem to be putting forth the argument, not that the holy kiss is scripturally and divinely authorized, but rather that it is mandatory. What are you saying is it mandatory for? Salvation?

    Elevating the holy kiss to a position of being mandatory conduct is not what the bible says. Comparing the holy kiss to baptism is apples and oranges. Hebrews 6 describes baptism as a principle of the doctrine of Christ not the holy kiss.

  4. The argument was that "they (the early Christians) viewed it as mandatory." If it was spoken of so highly by them, and so essential a part of their Christian conduct, then why the exclusion of it now?

    I am not sure how you can conclude from the passages that it is not mandatory, unless you view statements such as Paul's , "greet ye one another" as something other than a directive.

    Hebrews 6 also mentions nothing about prayer, and yet prayer is an essential in our walk with God.

    1. Salvation is the union with us and God, much in tune with a marriage. We are the bride he is the groom. We do not Greet to be saved any more than a couple kisses to be married. We greet because we are saved and we have affection for our Lord and our brethren/sisters, just as a couple kiss to demonstrate their affection in a marriage.

  5. I am still confused what you believe it is mandatory for. If the holy kiss is done because you are saved and not to be saved, then it is not mandatory. It is a sign of affection, like you said. It is obedience out of love, not obedience as a mandatory requirement to get something, such as salvation.

    In the FOC it has been used for a very long time to judge others by, such as they (every church that does not greet with a kiss) are wrong and we are right, because we (FOC) follow every commandment and they do not. This approach ignores grace, the most important message of the bible.

    1. Can you think of any reason not to great with the holy kiss? If it pleases god why would any church or any believer not do it? Even worse, why mock someone for greeting their brother. The word KISSER has been used mock believers for generations.

    2. When a man and woman marry there is a starting point, a ceremony. Before that there was the wooing, but being wooed is not being married. Once they have entered into that agreement, there are rules that guide both sides, such as don't cheat, provide for your wife and take care of your man. There are also tell-tell signs of affection, and each of these things when they are missing point to a hole in the relationship. If holes do not become recognized and patched they lead to divorce, the separation of the marriage. Marriages do not survive repeated violations against it's obligations, and in our walk with the Lord we need to be very careful about being neglectful of our obligations, he surely is not holding back on his end.

  6. There is no reason not to. My question to Darren, which he appears to be unwilling, or maybe unable to answer directly, is what is it mandatory for?

    In the marriage analogy you appear to be saying, that people who do not believe in practicing the holy kiss, are ignoring one of God's commandments and therefore their belief, faith and perhaps their salvation is not genuine. Is that what you are saying? I am not trying to put words in your mouth, but you have not directly said what you believe it is mandatory for.

    1. It is mandatory to have a continued fulfilling relationship. Of course some will argue they have never done it and they have a fulfilling relationship, but since they have not experienced it, they are quite unable to know that.

      Proclaimed Ministers and the different churches can not claim ignorance of such matters, and if they are not only willing to ignore the word on this subject because of uneasiness, then what else is being compromised? I know this sounds extreme coming from me, but since you wish it all spelled out in black and white, a church that can not comprehend God's purpose of the greeting, brotherly love and honor to Christ our King, is not likely to comprehend salvation either.

    2. I do not believe that most other churches are claiming ignorance of it, but rather do not believe the bible makes this something mandatory in order to have a relationship with Christ. After all, the bible does not say that you will be unable to have a relationship with Christ if you do not do it, so it seems to me you are reading something into this that the bible does not say.

  7. It seems to be as manditory as the supper, the foot washing, preferring your brother, or ant other directive given in the Bible that isn't a Comandment. You do the things your directed to do because your a believer, not just because you will burn if you don't. Some hold those things differently, if they do what they do in faith believing, then who is anyone to Judge their masters servant? I don't see how it can be left out of the practice of Christianity myself, but that's my opinion, not a judgement. And we know what they say about opinions.

  8. Darren, was the rape case in salt lake the same cotfb as you are a part of? I am hoping that guy is Mormon, the story I just read is disgusting.

    1. Likely it is the Mormon sect which uses a similar name since I know of no church in Salt Lake City that is associated with us. Either way you are right, that is disgusting.

    2. Actually I read up a little on Terrill Dalton, definitely not part of our church and hardly a Mormon either, he was an ex-Mormon who started his own group.

  9. Where does all of this kissing occur? Does everyone line up and just go down the line or do you just greet your own family? Does this only happen inside the church? I've lived in OC my whole life and don't know anyone who has seen anyone from the FOC openly kissing each other. But obviously they were at some point because the name "kisser" was given by my great grandmothers generation as she remembered when the group first came.

    1. Mostly at church. The men standing outside the church on Sunday mornings and Thursday evenings greet each new person that walks up to their group (there are dozens of clusters of men talking with each other). So a group of 10 men are talking and one new person walks up, they also say hello, grasp the man's hand and greet him with a kiss. It's really no big deal - no slobbering or drooling, just a quick dry peck on the lips. Inside the church the women do the same. Men and women greet members of the opposite gender as well.

      At weddings, the bride and groom receive people and that is a time when people actually do line up to greet (the newly married couple). It's not done at an encounter at say, Fred Meyer, and to my memory not at casual gatherings at people's homes - though I may be mistaken about that.

    2. I've known the "kissing" as "greeting" in my experiences. I greeted with a kiss while in the FOC OC and was told we probably shouldn't because we weren't baptized. We greeted at church mostly, gatherings at people's homes, as in visiting them, sick, or new babies, but not public places. As my eyes were opened in OC, I greeted less and less, unless someone purposely greeted me, I wouldn't greet.
      When we started going to the Marsing branch of the FOC in Idaho, people greeted with a kiss at church, in people's homes, and occasionally at the cemetery. I was not greeted there, until I was baptized. Then, there was the differentiating between people I COULD greet, because they were baptized, and those I COULDN'T greet because they weren't baptized...we're not in the FOC anywhere now, and have not come across any other church that greets with a holy kiss.
      If I were to visit the FOC in OC, I'm sure they would greet me, as we do travel to our old home occasionally, and do see people from that congregation, and they do greet us. They (Idaho) also greet my in-laws because they were baptized in the FOC in OC.

    3. Followers from OC greet you with a kiss......

    4. An amendment to the above post, I meant the FOC in Marsing, ID not Oregon City!

    5. What was that supposed to mean anyway? If was supposed to be an insult to the Oregon city crowd, I think you overshot your mark. That's an insult to anyone who practices greeting.

  10. Let. Me. Explain. It. To. You.
    The ID (Marsing) congregation will greet anyone baptized into their church(es) Grants Pass too. I meant, no matter if we went regularly or not, they'd still greet us. That's not insulting.
    How is that overshooting my mark?
    I wasn't meaning to insult anyone that greets, as I'm sure I will again someday when I come across a Marsing or Grants Pass brother/sister.
    I don't practice greeting with a holy kiss anywhere but there, as keeping with the tradition of the beliefs there. I haven't found another church that practices greeting here in WA.


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