Must We Lay Hands on People For Them
to Receive the Holy Spirit?
I have found in some of the book of Acts accounts of when a person has heard the gospel and believes, he was baptized and the saint minister, prayed first before they laid Hands on person to receive the Spirit. Could it be that in all of our love for the book of Acts that we have miss this very important element? It just seems strange that we would used a method to help people get the Spirit that takes so much work. I think one of the proof texts could be Acts 8. Philip preaches, Samaria receives the word and gets baptized and Peter and John come to pray for them to receive the Spirit. I read that text and something stood out to me: "and when they were come down, they prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit." It seems like there is a separation of time in which they prayed and the time in which they laid hands on them. My point is that for someone to pray the prayer of faith, this must be a directive from God. This can be seem in the conversion of Saul; the Lord speaks to a man and tells him what to do and he goes and fulfills that command of the Lord. What do you think?
The Apostles Peter and John did pray before laying hands on the Samaritans. Observe the fact that this is the only account of this pattern though. Paul is not said to have prayed before laying hands on the Ephesians (Acts 19:1-6), and Peter did not lay hands on or pray for Cornelius' household (Acts 10:44-48). There is no pattern found in the Book of Acts on how to receive the Holy Spirit, or help someone to receive the Holy Spirit. I do not see a pattern that demands prayer first, or even the laying on of hands. Either or both are perfectly acceptable, but not necessary. We do not transmit the Holy Spirit. We do not need to go through some certain ritual to receive God's Spirit into our hearts. He comes by faith. In fact, I find the diversity of ways that people received the Holy Spirit in the Book of Acts to give us an indication that we should not think of it as some mechanistic event. It will happen in different ways at different times to different people.
As much as I believe in the Bible and doing things the "Apostolic" way, it must be remembered that the Bible was never intended to be a comprehensive how-to book for everything we do. We get our doctrine from the Scripture, but there are certain practices that the early church did only because it was their cultural style to do it that way, or because of circumstantial necessities. For example, Paul preached in the marketplaces. That was perfectly acceptable in the culture of those days. Many people did this. The townspeople expected such things, and would even go there to hear people speak on their ideas. Our situation today is much different. We may turn people away from the gospel by doing this.
Another example is church buildings. The Book of Acts records how the church met from house to house. They did not have church buildings. Should we then not have church buildings? No, I do not think this is the point. The early church was persecuted by the Jews. Why build a building where Christians meet in such a situation. Such a building might as well have a sign on it reading, "Christians meet here. Beet us up after 6:00 P.M. if you would like." Not only this, but most of the early Christians were very poor. They did not have the funds to build buildings.
There are observations that we can make concerning how the early church did things that can be beneficial to us today if also practiced. We only need to learn how to discern between cultural practices, practices which originated out of necessity, and practices that are for the church for all time. This can be difficult to discern sometimes and not everybody will always agree on which is which, but it is something that we must understand when reading the Scripture.
One such practice that we find in the Book of Acts (and also I Corinthians) that I believe we might be well to take into consideration is communion. The early church practiced communion weekly. Such references to breaking bread in the Book of Acts may very well be references to communion (Acts 2:42, 46; I Corinthians 10:16). Early church history confirms that the apostolic church took communion weekly. It was an apostolic practice. Today, many of our churches only partake of communion once or twice a year. The primary reason for this lack of frequency in taking communion is a carry-over reaction to the Catholic church that began around the time of the Reformation. Jesus only said, "As often as you drink this," (I Corinthians 11:25) so we are not commanded to take communion at prescribed times, but it would be good to take communion more frequently. The early church conceded with this.
We must get our doctrine from the apostles and the NT writings, but we need not attempt to mimic their culture. We live in a different day with a different world-view. We are ministering to different people. Much has changed. The doctrine never changes, but church practices and methods do change.. We will do good to observe what the early church did, but we are not treating the Book of Acts as a genuine historical account of the early church if we believe that we are to mimic every practice or custom that they had.
I think you can see what I am talking about here. I am not saying that we need to do it our own way, or that our practices need not be informed by the Book of Acts or other NT books. What I am saying is that the Bible was not intended to convey a particular culture to be implemented by believers for all time. We live in a different day and will have our own practices that result from our culture and circumstantial necessities. We should not attempt to reinvent the wheel, but neither should we try to dig up the same wheel used in the apostles' day.
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