Saturday

Hands on!

I was reading through Acts 6, and my attention was drawn to verse 6. The story is the appointment of the first deacons. Our verse:

Acts 6:6: They presented these men to the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them.

The next verse points out “So the word of God spread, and the number of disciples multiplied.” There was a connection between this action and the spreading of the gospel. This is a powerful thing.

The New Testament Model

The Bible is thick with examples of God’s people laying hands on folks. Matthew 19:13 is the first NT example of someone laying hands on: “Then little children were brought to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them.”
Mark 16:18 says that we will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.
Acts 13:3 speaks of the commissioning of the world’s first missionaries: So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.”
Acts 19:6-7 shows another application for laying on hands: “And when Paul had laid hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke with tongues and prophesied.”
So the Bible shows us we lay hands on people for four purposes:
1. Imparting a general blessing, such as our modern practice of baby dedication.
2. Healing the sick. In fact, Mark 6:5 suggests that healing is easier if we lay hands on in the process.
3. Commissioning people to an office, or consecrating them to that service or office. This one appears to be more dangerous than others (see below).
4. Imparting an increased manifestation of Holy Spirit’s presence and gifts. See also 1 Timothy 2:8 and 2 Timothy 1:6.
Luke 21:12 talks about a fifth kind of laying on of hands, but I don’t think we want to adopt this practice: “But before all this, they will lay hands on you and persecute you.”

The Danger of Laying on Hands

Some will correctly point out that the Bible gives a warning to the topic as well:

1 Timothy 5:22: Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands, and do not share in the sins of others.This appears to reference #3 above: commissioning people to an office. And of course, a warning against laying hands on someone hastily is also an affirmation that while we must not rush, we are expected to lay hands on them.

There are members of the Body who – out of fear of error in this matter – have become unnaturally cautious, perhaps fearful, about laying on of hands. As a result, we have, intentionally or otherwise, come to the place where it is not acceptable to lay hands on an individual and consecrate them to service without at least a Bachelor’s degree in ministry. Preferably this is combined with a number of years of successful ministry, where “successful” is defined as “without significant moral failure.”

It is not my intent to minimize the danger. It is also not my intent to react out of fear and miss out on what appears to be a powerful weapon available to the sons and daughters of the Kingdom of God. I understand that there is a real danger; let us not fear to use the weapon because of fear of the danger.

The Invitation to Lay on Hands

We are, in fact, clearly expected to lay hands on people in order to manifest the kingdom of God in them. I consider it similar to “painting the target” in modern warfare: “Holy Spirit, this is where to strike!”

Acts 6:6: They presented these men to the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them.

As I read the verse, I had the distinct impression that Holy Spirit was saying that we’re authorized to use laying on of hands more than we have been, and that we’re missing out on a fair bit that God wants to do in us, and on a fair bit of what we want to accomplish in him, because we’re missing out on the resources available to us.

Multiplication From Laying on Hands

I have been observing that the church is finally making a wonderful transition. For many years, we would work on increasing the effectiveness or range of our gifts. Evangelists would travel to more cities and host larger events. Pastors gathered larger churches. Teachers spoke to those larger congregations, and then to television and radio audiences, and then began to distribute tapes and CDs of their ministry.

It was a season of effectively adding to their ministry to increase the good things that were being accomplished in God’s name. More recently, churches, leaders and ministries have been offering training schools to raise up a new generation of leaders, to multiply their ministries. Growth always happens faster by multiplication, of course, than by simple addition.

The Book of Acts, the beginning of the Church, started the same way: “And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:47) When the twelve apostles laid hands on seven deacons, the next verse points out “So the word of God spread, and the number of disciples multiplied.”

This is actually the second time the New Testament speaks of the number of disciples multiplying: the first was verse 1, which led to the appointment of the deacons. It was because the crowd was multiplying that they started laying hands on others, and it was because of laying hands on others that the numbers were multiplied.

It is clear that laying hands on individuals is both a response to revival and a means of maintaining it. From this point forward in Acts, the spotlight moves from the apostles who had been doing the miracles to the deacons who were now the focus of the miracles. The twelve were not removed from the picture; they continued to teach (that was their main reason for appointing the deacons), and they governed the burgeoning megachurch. Later, the focus moves to the apostle Paul, who was healed and commissioned through Ananias laying hands on him.

The church grows when we lay hands on.