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

31. Literally, they “were laying [epetithesan—imperfect tense] their hands on them and they were receiving [elambanon—also imperfect] the Holy Spirit.” The Greek tense suggests an action over a period of time, and possibly that the Samaritans one by one were receiving the Holy Spirit.

32. The text continues with the recitation of Simon the magician’s vain and sordid attempt to buy the power to confer the gift of the Spirit through his own hands. However, despite his perfidy, there is no question in the text that Simon correctly perceived it to be through the laying on of Peter and John’s hands that the Holy Spirit was given.

33. See, for example, the second set of testimonies in Catholic Pentecostals, “Bearing Witness,” pp. 58-106, having to do with Notre Dame. Most cases of baptism in the Spirit occurred through the laying on of hands. (It might be suggested that Duquesne was more like the first unmediated biblical outpourings on Jews and Gentiles at Jerusalem and Caesarea, Notre Dame more like secondary outpourings upon Samaria and Ephesus.) Incidentally, I think Father Gelpi is on the right track in not seeking to relate Spirit-baptism to either water baptism or confirmation (as some Catholic theologians do): “Spirit baptism is not a sacrament but is a prayer for “full docility to the Spirit of Christ” (p. 183).

34. E.g., the traditional Roman Catholic view of sacraments (baptism, confirmation) as being efficacious “ex opere operato“—”by the work performed.” Father Kilian McDonnell, while holding that “the fullness of the Spirit is given during the celebration of initiation,” speaks of “the scholastic doctrine of ex opere operantis [wherein] we receive in the measure of our openness.” Thus, though there is an objective—in that sense invariable—gift of the Spirit in “the celebration of initiation,” there is no receiving without subjective appropriation. (This quotation may be found in an article entitled, “The Distinguishing Characteristics of the Charismatic-Pentecostal Spirituality” in the magazine One in Christ, 1974, Vol. X, No. 2, pp. 117-18.) Despite my appreciation of Father McDonnell’s attempt to relate the reception of the Spirit to sacramental rites, I think it is too limited a view. For while ex opere operantis is surely an important concept in the matter of sacramental appropriation, it is inadequate in objectively by sacramental action (whether of baptism or confirmation) ex opere operato, there may be nothing to receive ex opere operantis.

35. Father Edward O’Connor in his book, The Pentecostal Movement in the Catholic Church (Notre Dame: Ave Maria Press, 1971) writes: “The gesture [of laying on of hands] does symbolize graphically the fact that God’s grace is often mediated to a person through others, and especially through the community. God seems to bless the faith from which this prayerfully gesture proceeds; again and again people find that they have been helped in a powerful and manifest way by it …the baptism in the Spirit is usually received thus” (p. 117).

36. Ananias is simply described in Acts 9 as “a disciple at Damascus” (v. 10).

37. It is interesting that when Philip later proclaims the gospel to the Ethiopian eunuch, and baptizes him (Acts 8:38), the next words according to the Western text (as we earlier noted) are: “And when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord fell upon the eunuch.” Though this is likely a later textual addition, it does reflect some early church understanding that Philip was by no means dependent on apostolic help for the Holy Spirit to be given.

38. In my book, The Era of the Spirit, I sought to summarize the laying on of hands thus: “Wherever this laying on of hands occurs it is not, as such, a sacramental action. It is, rather, the simple ministry by one or more persons who themselves are channels of the Holy Spirit to others not yet so blessed. The ‘ministers’ may be clergy or laity; it makes no difference. … Obviously God is doing a mighty work today bound neither by office nor by rank” (p. 64).

Unless otherwise indicated, all scriptural quotations are from the Revised Standard Version of the Bible.

The Gift of the Holy Spirit Today: Context (Chapter 7)

The Gift of the Holy Spirit Today by J. Rodman Williams, was published in 1980 by Logos International. Used by permission of the author. Reprinted in Pneuma Review with minor updates from the author.

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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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