By Dorval L. McClister
Brother Ron Howes has submitted an article in opposition to some comments I made concerning the laying on of hands in the appointment of elders. Brother Howes seems to have drawn some conclusions from Acts 6:3-6 that an appointment ceremony was all that was involved in the laying on of hands. He states, “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 appointing ceremony.” I have some difficulty in understanding how he reached this conclusion. First of all, to be filled with the Holy Spirit (as were these men mentioned in Acts 6:3) does not imply that they had received any miraculous gifts of the Spirit. John was filled with the Spirit (Lk. 1:15), yet John did no miracle (Jn. 10:41). Zacharias was filled with the Holy Spirit (Lk. 1:57). Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit (Lk. 1:41). Christians are to be filled with the Spirit (Eph. 5:18). Is there any biblical evidence that any of these possessed then, or possess now, any miraculous gifts of the Spirit?
The only persons I have read about in the New Testament Scriptures who could perform miraculous signs and wonders were only those upon whom the Apostles laid their hands. Acts 6:8 provides clear evidence that miraculous powers were given to Stephen. “He did wonders and miracles among the people,” implying that he had not done this before. Philip, another one of the seven chosen, is seen later in Acts (8:13) performing “miracles and signs.” From whence did these men receive the miraculous power on the Holy Spirit? At the laying on of the hands of the Apostles as stated in verse 6. Since it is evident that being filled with the Holy Spirit is not synonymous with receiving miraculous powers from the hands of the Apostles, then the seven men in Acts 6:5 did not have such miraculous gifts until after the laying on of hands of the Apostles in verse 6. I beg, humbly, to differ with brother Howes in his conclusion that Acts 6:6 is nothing more than an “appointing ceremony.”
I hope that brother Howes understands that I have no quarrel against a preacher who wishes to lay hands upon another. However, I sincerely believe we should look carefully at such passages as Acts 13:1-3 which he incorporates as “apostolic example and direct statement” for a ceremony in which elders are appointed in the church today. In fact, no ceremony is being used here to appoint or ordain elders, deacons, or preachers in the church. Everything done in these verses is done under the direct guidance and counsel of the Holy Spirit through inspired men. The requirement involved “separating Saul and Barnabas” for a specific mission in evangelism. Three acts are mentioned: laying on of hands, fasting, and prayer. The laying on of hands in Acts 13:3 certified that mission as one personally designed and directed by the Holy Spirit. Does brother Howes incorporate all three of these acts, including fasting, in a ceremony in which elders are appointed in the church? The proper application of this passage is not in ordaining or appointing elders in the church, but rather to separate two inspired men to preach the gospel under the direction of the Holy Spirit. Does the church where brother Howes labors practice the laying on of hands and fasting when their preacher goes to another area to preach? If not, why not, as he states that such passages provides apostolic example and direct statement to do such. We really do not prove anything by using unrelated texts in a formal argument.
It may appear to brother Howes that I seem to struggle with the idea of appointing elders in the church. I really don’t. I should study the subject more, yes, indeed. And if he determines that some form of recognition of the elders by the congregation is simply a meaningless gesture, a mere ceremony, then I would certainly grant him the privilege of choosing another alternative. However, the laying on of hands by inspired men of the New Testament involved a direct relationship and intervention of the Holy Spirit, a relationship which I affirm does not exist today. I share the sentiments of R.L. Whiteside when he commented, “I have never taken part in the laying on of hands. I cannot see that it would do any man any good for me to lay hands on him” (Reflections, p. 463).
Guardian of Truth XXVII: 14, pp. 422-423
July 21, 1983