Seditious Households: How Holy Kisses, Tables, and House(hold) Church Habitus Subverted Oppression and Slavery (Part 3b)
Leveling Habits: The Table, Household Baptism, and Kiss that Changed Everything (C)
The Kiss. Whereas Tertullian might have invented the term “kiss of peace” (Or. 18), Paul and Peter indicate that the “kiss” existed among the NT gathered-church (Rom 16:16; 1 Cor 16:20; 2 Cor 13:12; 1 Thess 5:26; 1 Pet 5:14). Here and in early church writings, the abundance of “kiss” references seem to suggest it was not merely symbolism, but an actual, intimate kiss. As one put it, the “kiss” was “a body-centered ritual.” What began as simple greeting became a command to greet each other and, thus, moved to habitus. Although the role of “the kiss” varied within society and at differing geographic locations, the “kiss” was a social-cultural habit in the Greco-Roman world that denoted respect and friendship. There is no surprise, then, that the kiss was an element of the apostolic gathered-church and in the developing early church Eucharistic liturgies.
For the most part, the church has institutionalized itself right out of the kissing business. Today, the “kiss” is barely detected at a church gathering save for those that retain the concept as a “pass the peace,” more or less a greeting. However, the Greco-Roman social kiss was a form of respect used to greet another person of equal social status. The kiss was “a symbol of social stratification and status,” a cultural habitus of hierarchy, an “action that joined together two individuals, kissing was a particularly apt symbol for such [cultural and social] border crossings.” The kiss, however, took on a subversive nature within household gathered-churches as it was exchanged among unequals as they assembled at table. All believers—strangers at cross-cultural levels, men, women, children, slaves—at the gathered-church, greeted with a kiss, indicating that such a socially diverse and unequal cohort of people all-together belonged to God in Christ. Since, at the first, their gathered-church suppers were semi-public household events, they risked the slander of on-lookers. People coming together, crossing gender, social status, religious (in as much as new converts and guests had came from diverse religious sects and temples), national, and ethnic divisions—and finding themselves one in Christ.
Allen Kreider asks, “Is it possible that Paul and other Christian leaders urged their people to exchange the kiss greeting because it was a practice that could sustain a Christlike habitus across time?” As Eucharistic liturgies developed, “the kiss” prepared the gathered-church for the “table” that followed communal prayers (per Justin and Cyprian). As early as the Didache and Hermas, the “kiss” was understood as reconciliation, a precondition for partaking in the Lords’ Supper (a trajectory application of 1 Cor 11) and, so, “the kiss” preceded the table. That underscored the meaning of the Supper and table, namely their unity (again, the true offense at the table and a fair trajectory application of 1 Corinthians 11).
Every act or ordinance created or adapted and used by the apostolic and early church had one thing in common: each accomplished and spoke to unity among earthy unequals. The table, household baptisms, and the kiss embodied a way of defining a new identity and maintaining the bond of a community as a people who didn’t (socially, culturally, legally) belong together. As established habitus of the gathered-church, they were creating a wholly new understanding of humanity-together, a new social reality in Christ. A household gathered-church (multiplied and embedded throughout the empire) was a new living social context of people, a reality of the death of Jesus, creating subversive social mapping that challenged and changed everything concerning the hierarchy of human relationships
 William Klassen, “The Kiss as Sacred Act in the New Testament: An example of Social Boundary Lines.” New Testament Studies 39 (1993): 122–35; Michael Philip Penn, Kissing Christians: Ritual and Community in the Late Ancient Church (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2005), 123.
 Ferment, 215.
 Penn, Kissing Christians, 90.
 Klassen, “The Kiss as Sacred Act.”
 Ferment, 215.
 Ibid., 214.
 “Radical Intimacy” (Ferment, 216, quoting L. Edwards Phillips, “The Ritual Kiss in Early Christian Worship” [PhD diss, University of Notre Dame, 1992], p. 270).
 Penn, Kissing Christians, 90, 91-119; note Justin Martyr 1 Apol. 65.2, Chapter 65. Administration of the sacraments: “Having ended the prayers, we salute one another with a kiss. There is then brought to the president of the brethren bread and a cup of wine mixed with water . . .” And “Then the Deacon cries aloud, Receive ye one another; and let us kiss one another. Think not that this kiss is of the same character with those given in public by common friends. It is not such: but this kiss blends souls one with another, and courts entire forgiveness for them. The kiss therefore is the sign that our souls are mingled together, and banish all remembrance of wrongs.
This is a thread consisting of parts of a a recent paper presented at the 2017 Evangelical Theological Society's annual meeting in Providence, RI. The goal is to develop an anthology of essays (by various authors) on the subject, Christian Responses to Tyranny.
Part 1 | Part 2a | Part 2b | Part 2c | Part 3 | Part 3a | Part 3b | Part 4a | Part 4b | Part 5
For the entire thread (remember to scroll backwards for previous posts) << Gathered-church >>
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Chip M. Anderson, advocate for biblical social action; pastor of an urban church plant in the Hill neighborhood of New Haven, CT; husband, father, author, former Greek & NT professor; and, 19 years involved with social action.