An Alternative View Of The Laying On Of Hands

By Ron Howes

It is with some hesitation that I choose to reply to brother Dorval McClister’s article on the eldership dated March 17, 1983. Brother McClister and I are not acquainted, and his articles on the eldership were timely, well written, and contained much to which I may say a hearty “Amen.” It is hoped that my brother will accept my disagreement for its principle and not its personality, and should he choose to respond to the response be assured there will not be a review of the review of the review.

In his comments on the appointment of elders, brother McClister says, “I can see nothing accomplished in a symbolic gesture of laying hands upon the men selected to serve as elders.” He continues, “. . .it would seem clear that Titus did not lay his hands upon those whom he appointed as elders of the church …. It is my personal belief that the practice of laying hands upon another today would be empty of any real meaning, and is not necessary in appointing elders in the church.” Because of the usual inadequacy of quotes to properly convey the thoughts of the original article, the reader is encouraged to review the entirety of brother McClister’s statements in this regard.

As have most of us when confronted with the question of just how to set the men in office, brother McClister has struggled with the issue of the appointment ceremony. It appears that he has substituted one of his own. “While the men remain standing, I also request that the entire congregation arise to their feet in recognition of them as the elders of the church.” Dorval, is this not also a symbolic gesture?

Dorval’s hesitation at using the “laying on of hands” in his appointment ceremony, arises from his conviction that this action seems to be limited to the “direct intervention of the Holy Spirit.” Some observations are in order.

In Acts chapter 6, when the seven were appointed to serve tables, their qualifications were that they be full of the Spirit and of wisdom. Verse 5 is quite emphatic in its statement that they “chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit.” I must conclude, therefore, that when the Apostles laid their hands on these men in verse 6, that it was not to impart the Spirit, because they already had it. Here the action of laying on of hands is clearly an appointment ceremony.

The same action is observable in Acts 13. The participants are indicated in verse one, being the prophets, teachers, and the church in Antioch. The apostle Paul and Barnabas are then, in verse 3, the recipients of this “laying on of hands” ceremony. Paul was already filled with the Holy Spirit, being an apostle. The ceremony here is not the impartation of spiritual gifts, but the act of appointment. The Holy Spirit separated them; the local church conducted the ceremony. The same is true today; Paul states in Acts 20:28 that it is the Holy Spirit that makes men “bishops.”

Perhaps absent from the instructions to Titus, but included in Paul’s letter to Timothy, in a section specifically devoted to Timothy’s (the evangelist’s) special relationship to the eldership, Paul tells him to “lay hands hastily on no man.” The inference is quite clear that Timothy was to lay hands on men after considerable deliberation only. Thus again, the “laying on, of hands” is the appointment ceremony. It is not an empty gesture, but one through the approval of apostolic example and direct statement that we may incorporate into the meaningful appointment process today.

Guardian of Truth XXVII: 14, pp. 422-423
July 21, 1983