A brother from a Baptist church in North Carolina writes, “My view has been that only the apostles had authority to bestow spiritual gifts through the laying on of hands, but I’ve had to rethink that in the light of other passages of Scripture. What do you think, based on your study of Scripture?”
* * *
New Testament authors tell us that spiritual gifts come from the Father (1 Pet. 4:10-11), from the Son of God (Eph. 4:7-8) and from the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 12:8-11). Only God gives divine grace (charis) or “grace-gifts” (charismata) — regardless of the means, medium or intermediary he might use. Sometimes God gives gifts directly and without any earthly agent (Acts 2:1-4). Believers in Galatia received the Spirit and miracle-working through “hearing with faith” (Gal. 3:5). God once imparted the Holy Spirit, as manifested by observable miracles and signs, through the hands of the Apostles (Acts 8:13-18). Ananias, an “ordinary” disciple, laid his hands on blind Saul of Tarsus and Saul received his sight (Acts 9:17-18).
At Pentecost, Peter promised the “gift of the Holy Spirit” to penitents at baptism (Acts 2:38). That gift does not necessarily involve “gifts” of the Spirit, but it sometimes does when God sees fit (Acts 10:44-46). At Ephesus, Paul laid his hands on twelve newly-baptized converts, who immediately received the Holy Spirit and began to speak in tongues and to prophesy (Acts 19:6). Timothy received some charismatic gift (charismatos) by the laying on of hands of the eldership or presbytery (1 Tim. 4:14).
I certainly hope to advocate whatever the New Testament teaches — including encouraging believers to expect the Holy Spirit at baptism, or before, if God sees fit — and urging them to receive whatever gifts God wishes to bestow, through whatever means he wishes to give them. Over the years, I have personally requested, received and been blessed by laying on of hands and prayer by spiritual leaders from across the Christian church, ranging from a godly Episcopal bishop for a general blessing, to a charismatic leader for spiritual gifts and for healing, to a Church of Christ eldership in ordination to pastoral service. Not one of these people has any inherent power, but God can and does use them all as he sees fit.
Our faith is in God, not in his servants. Most of all, let us remember the ministry purpose of spiritual gifts, and exercise them in love — without which they all amount to a big fat zero (1 Cor. 13).