Ordination, Impartation and Transferable Anointing
Henry Neufeld has raised this question here. He connects
ancient traditional practices of ordination connected to more Catholic
understandings of the apostolic succession with charismatic claims (currently
being popularised again by Todd Bentley)
that there is such a thing as a ‘transferable anointing’ of the Holy Spirit.
This subject seems to raise the issue of the ‘general’ and ‘manifest’ presence
of the Holy Spirit – there seems to be a link between charismatics/Pentecostals
and catholic Christians here. As charismatics speak of the manifest presence,
so Catholics (and others, Methodists included) invoke at ordination ‘Veni
Sancte Spiritus’ (‘Come, Holy Spirit’) prayers. Those who argue that the Spirit
is always present and doesn’t need to be ‘invited’ fall somewhere in the middle
of these two wings.
A similar charismatic/sacramentalist near parallel can be
found in the related issue of the transferable anointing. Both (but
particularly catholic Christians) invoke an ‘ex opere operato’ (‘by the work
worked’) approach. Where this is not invoked, someone’s faith is criticised if
nothing obvious happens to him or her, although Catholics will assume something
objectively did happen. Rarely does the person doing the imparting suffer
criticism. If nothing has obviously happened, then the charismatic/Pentecostal
temptation is to force it or make it look like something has happened – hence
the phenomenon of those preachers who blatantly push those seeking prayer, to
make it appear as if they have fallen under the power of the Spirit. This
applies to laying on of hands (for anointing or ordination) and to healing and
impartation of spiritual power. Again, those who believe that for the Spirit to
be imparted requires faith fall somewhere in the middle, as do those who
believe that the sacraments are only effective when there is justifying faith
present in response to divine grace.
And you might also need to tease out whether something
spiritually unhealthy can be passed on. This seems to be the fear of Diane R
in her comments on Henry’s post, and hence her concern about occult
overtones. Would this be an unholy example of ex opere operato? If it were,
would Christians be immune to it by virtue of the Holy Spirit’s indwelling
presence, or would we be as vulnerable as others would? Certainly the Vineyard
tradition under John Wimber taught that Christians could be ‘demonised’ (Wimber
never liked the word ‘possessed’) on the basis that Jesus referred to the
‘daughter of Abraham’ who had been bound by demons. The question of how and to
what extent we can be influenced by evil, or infested with it, is a thorny one.
Many would agree that the open embrace of sin is a clear doorway. Others argue
that we can be affected by the actions of family members, particularly in
previous generations. I cannot offer a resolution here, only a brief suggestion
that whether this can happen or not, the Christian inheritance is as described
in 1 John: ‘Greater is the one who is in you than the one who is in the world.’
So there are some unusual alliances around, and most likely
both wings of the theological spectrum would be horrified at the suggestion! However,
the similarities are plain. Contemporary charismatics and Pentecostals who
speak about ‘the anointing’ are in a similar situation to people with whom they
might not be comfortable. It is an area of departure from traditional
evangelicalism. That is not to say it is wrong, but it is to draw attention to
an interesting piece of ecumenical irony.
The notion of apostolic succession also needs teasing out.
Is it about the impartation of the Spirit for ministry? That’s mainly what
Peter Kirk seems to be examining in his
post. A more classically evangelical view would concentrate on issues such
as succession in the apostles’ doctrine. And that is why what John Wesley did,
as an Anglican priest, in ordaining (if that is indeed what he
did), was legitimate.
However, the great value of Peter’s post is that he points
out several texts where there is a clear impartation. I don’t see how anyone
can argue against the scriptural examples of the laying on of hands that leads
to the reception of the Holy Spirit. It is legitimate to ask whether it is
automatic (with which a catholic spirituality would sympathise, if a
sacramental act has been appropriately carried out) or whether it requires
faith (a more Protestant view). The former stresses grace, the latter faith.
The former risks making grace into a commodity, the latter risks making faith
into a good work. Surely, we need a balance between God taking the initiative
in prevenient grace, and the need for response with the empty hands of faith.
How has this played out for me? Did I feel anything at my
ordination? No. Just a relief that all the testing, examining, interrogation
and suspicion was over. My ordination Bible contains a little adhesive plate
that confirms I was ordained; it really might just as well be little more than
a Sunday School prize. Other friends have talked about wonderful spiritual
experiences at ordination (not least our next door neighbour, who was ordained
deacon in the Church of England last year). But for me, nothing. I came to the
service expecting and hoping, but I was up at the front quickly for the laying
of hands, then it was all over and I was back to my pew. So this discussion is
rather theoretical for me when it comes to ordination. I rely not on an
experience but on a sense of call over a prolonged period of time that was
confirmed by the church. It would have been nice to have the experience, but it
never came. I hope my blogging friend Pam
has a better experience in a few weeks’ time!
On the other hand, people have laid hands on me for other
reasons, and I have experienced something. It has rarely been as dramatic as
others have had, but I have known some indication of the divine presence. I
have been tempted to think that my experience like this in contrast to
ordination was about Low Church spirituality, but equally I have been very
conscious of God at Holy Communion, so I don’t think that explanation holds. It
may be much more to do with the sovereignty of God, and God’s work in relating
to my particular personality.
Where have I reached in these jumbled thoughts? There is a
strange alliance between different ends of the theological spectrum. Perhaps
they can learn from each other, and from those who criticise both ends from
somewhere in the middle. It seems safe to assume that the Holy Spirit can be
imparted by the laying on of hands; however, in my opinion, that is a matter of
both divine grace and human faith. I see no reason to assume it is an automatic
process, or to blame those who do not have the requisite experience.