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Rodman Williams: The Gift of the Holy Spirit Today: Means

Though there is no simple solution to the difference in formula, a few comments relevant to our concerns may be made: first, the longer Matthean statement suggests that water baptism is entrance into24 a new relationship to God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Second, the shorter Lukan formula (in Acts) specifies that at the heart of this relationship is the forgiveness of sins which comes in the name of Jesus Christ (the Son). Third, since in Jesus is “the fullness of the Godhead,”25 baptism in His name only (as in Acts) is actually in relation to the fullness of the divine reality: it is also, by implication, in the name of the Father and Holy Spirit. Thus there is no essential difference between the Matthean and Lukan formulas: the former highlights the fullness of the relationship into which one enters at baptism, the latter specifies the purpose of that baptism.

It might also be suggested that the words about baptism in Matthew which include reference to the Holy Spirit—”in the name …of the Holy Spirit”—emphasize that Christian initiation is also entrance into the sphere of the Holy Spirit’s reality and activity. At the heart of such initiation is the forgiveness of sins (to which baptism in the name of Jesus, or the Son, points), but at the same time it is the beginning of a new relationship to the Holy Spirit (to which baptism in the name of Jesus, or the Son, points), but at the same time it is the beginning of a new relationship to the Holy Spirit (to which baptism in the name of the Holy Spirit points).26  By this is meant not only that the Holy Spirit is active in bringing about forgiveness—as we have noted—but that henceforward life is to be lived in the sphere of the Spirit.27  Though this is not identical with the gift of the Holy Spirit, it may be preparation for it, and even a kind of invocation for that gift to be received.

We turn now to a consideration of the relationship between the laying on of hands and the gift of the Holy Spirit. In coming to this matter we will again be reflecting primarily upon the five basic passages in Acts. What part does the laying on of hands play in the reception of the Holy Spirit?28

It is apparent, first of all, that the Holy Spirit may be given without the laying on of hands. Again reviewing the Acts narrative, we observe that in two of five cases, namely, in regard to the gift of the Spirit at Jerusalem and at the centurion household in Caesarea, there is no laying on of hands.

Concerning the Jerusalem narrative two observations may be made: first, it is obvious that there could have been no laying on hands on the 120; as the first disciples they must receive the Holy Spirit before ministering to anyone else. Second, it seems likely that though the 3000 later that day are baptized, they do not receive the laying on of hands. It will be recalled that Peter said: “Repent and be baptized …and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38); but there is no mention of imposition of hands for this gift to be received. Indeed, it is quite probable that Peter, having just experienced the bestowal of the Spirit as a sovereign, unmediated action by the exalted Lord, expected all to receive the gift the same way the 120 had. However, whatever his expectation, it would seem that the 3000 also received without the laying on of hands.

In the Caesarean situation it all happened so fast—”While Peter was still saying this [i.e., still preaching his message], the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word” (Acts 10:44)—that there was no time for hands if anybody had been so minded! Incidentally, Peter this time might have expected to lay on hands because of the intervening incident when he and John had laid hands on the Samaritans for the reception of the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:14-17). However, as in Jerusalem, God sovereignly moves and pours out His Holy Spirit upon all who hear.

What we have been describing is by no means an uncommon occurrence in the contemporary spiritual renewal. The Holy Spirit is frequently received with no human mediation of any kind. This may happen at the end of a period of time as at Jerusalem or with the suddenness of a Caesarea, but in neither case has there been the imposition of hands. This extraordinary, unmediated event is for many a source of continuing amazement and wonder.29

It is apparent then—from the biblical record and contemporary experience—that the laying on of hands is not essential for the Holy Spirit to be received. Moreover, there is no suggestion in Acts that, following such a reception, hands are later placed as a kind of confirmation of what has already happened. Any idea of hands as being necessary or confirmatory is ruled out by the evidence.

Perhaps these things are most important to emphasize in relation to churchly traditions that variously seek to canalize the gift of the Holy Spirit. There are those who hold that the Holy Spirit may only be received through the laying on of hands;30  thus without personal ministry the Holy Spirit may not be given. Over against such a binding of the Holy Spirit to an outward action we need to stress the sovereignty of the Holy Spirit to move as He wills.

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Category: Fall 2003, Spirit

About the Author: J. Rodman Williams (1918-2008), Ph.D., is considered to be the father of renewal theology. He served as a chaplain in the Second World War, he was a church pastor, college professor, and key figure in the charismatic movement of the 1960s. Beginning in 1982, he taught theology at Regent University School of Divinity in Virginia Beach, Virginia, and became Professor of Renewal Theology Emeritus there in 2002. Author of numerous books, he is perhaps best known for his three volume Renewal Theology (Zondervan, 1996).

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