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
. 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.


  1. Wow, lots of material here and I’m trying to sort out my thoughts.

    For the moment, I think that your last lines sum up my views: 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.

    As I said on Henry’s blog, I don’t believe that if my husband accidentally took my place in the ordination rite that he would have been ordained. I presume a Catholic would have to believe he would have been. Nonetheless, I assume that I’m going to ‘receive the Holy Spirit’ on that day whether I feel the Spirit or not. I don’t expect that I’m going to receive a special ‘ordination flavour of Holy Spirit zapping’. I expect it’s going to be the same Holy Spirit that I received, receive and am receiving as a Christian disciple.

    I believe that I’m going to be ordained because I have prayed for discernment for many years and because the Church has prayed for discernment for me and for others. I believe that us ordinands are going to be ordained because we have come to a point in the journey of our discipleship where God leads the church to ordain us. Whether or not God chooses to make this moment ‘feel special’ for anyone is up to him.

    I grew up in a cessationist denomination and, although I abondoned cessationism, I never expected to ‘feel the Holy Spirit’. In an opposite experience to you, Dave, when I publically professed my faith and discipleship in Jesus, I *did* actually have an experience of the Spirit which almost made me fall down. I didn’t fall because I didn’t know I was ‘supposed to’ and I only later found out about the ‘slain in the Spirit’ thing. One of the people who prayed for me at that time – and who laid hands on me – was also a cessationist. Go figure. God works as he wills and he gives us ‘experiences’ as he wills and as we need them.

    I’m not actually expecting to feel that sort of powerful experience ever again but if God wants me to have it on my ordination, I wouldn’t complain! Although I’m not expecting it, I do firmly believe I will receive the Holy Spirit.

    Hope this makes some sense!


  2. Although I’m not expecting it, I do firmly believe I will receive the Holy Spirit.

    Badly-written sentence!

    Let’s try: Although I’m not expecting to feel a full-blown ‘charismatic experience’ on my ordination, I do firmly believe i will receive the Holy Spirit.

    I wonder if I might add the thought that those of us who are neither cessationists nor ‘charismatics’ sometimes suspect ‘charismatics’ of a lack of faith because the efficacy of prayers and liturgy seemed to be judged by whether or not a person experiences or feels something rather than by God’s promise of faithfulness.


  3. Interesting. Yes, my post was a bit of a ramble. I’m glad you made something of it!

    Perhaps the catholic and charismatic poles are not so far apart, certainly when we look at the once strong and still significant charismatic movement among RCs and other more catholic churches, and the nature of their spirituality as opposed to the very cerebral spirituality of traditional evangelicals. I suppose a large part of my point was that what Todd is doing is in some ways closer to catholic than to evangelical understandings.


  4. Pam,

    I’m probably still trying to sort out my thoughts, too! Your aspirations for your ordination service remind me of the old story that when Colin Urquhart was vicar of St Hugh’s Lewsey in Luton, he encouraged confirmation candidates to believe they would be filled with the Holy Spirit when the bishop laid hands on them.


  5. Peter,

    Thank you – your point about Todd Bentley (and many other charismatics and Pentecostals) is one thing that fascinates me, and is behind my ramblings here! What’s curious for me is that particularly from the Pentecostal end, there has been such hostility towards Catholics that it is all very curious. I know things are changing (witness the involvement across all the denominational spectrum in re:fresh08 here in Chelmsford, but the antagonism is still fairly recent.


  6. Dave,

    Just a quick note as I don’t have much time today. I just spent a couple of hours in conversation with the newly ordained pastor I mentioned. He made what he feels is a critical distinction between transferable anointing and ordination/apostolic succession, and that is accountability and authority. This is not the sole difference but it is a key one in his view. When you are ordained, you are most commonly trained, and then are also brought under authority. When someone prays over another person at a meeting, lays hands on them, and presumably transfers the anointing there may not even be any connection established.

    He is concerned that people tend too much to feel that they can roll their own religion and be completely independent as Christians, that they will avoid connection. I share that concern.

    That said, he also cites the passages Peter cites, and also some experience and some church history that is a little out of my league (he’s passionate about studying the early church), in support of the notion of transfer and does believe it can happen, and can even do so in unexpected ways.

    Anyhow, this is getting too long for a comment. I’ll have to write some more when I have time. I still don’t have permission to use his name, for the simple reason that I forgot to ask!


  7. Hmm… *smiling* Being raised a Pentecostal, I grew up thinking Catholics were one step short of Pagan. Sad. After I grew up and began to learn on my own, I realized that there are a lot more similarities than either camp would like to admit. Funny and sad.

    As to laying on of hands, I know that there are some who push those they pray for. This shows, to me, a lack of trust that God will do what needs doing. I have laid hands on someone and neither of us felt a think. I have also laid hands on someone and they fell as my fingertip touched them.

    “It may be much more to do with the sovereignty of God, and God’s work in relating to my particular personality.”

    I think this is a big part of it for us all. 😉


  8. Henry,

    Yes, I think you are stating something important. Apostolicity is about apostolic doctrine, but the apostles also were about missionary pioneer work and connecting the church. It’s one reason I can’t be a congregationalist!

    If I were to have developed further my thoughts on apostolic succession, I would therefore have wanted to have included something that expanded what I said about a call being tested by the church, for example.

    What I would want to guard against is the Anglo-Catholic ‘branch theory’ of apostolic succession.


  9. Katherine,

    Thank you. I still have significant doctrinal differences with my Catholic friends, and have particular problems with the sense that Catholicism is the true and perfect church, and that the rest of us are just ‘ecclesial communities’. However, my attitude to Christian unity is to start from the point of seeing just how far I can work with people, before worrying about where we might differ or go our separate ways.

    On the laying on of hands and pushing issue, yes, I agree that a lack of trust is often behind it. That suggests that people feel that falling under the power of the Spirit is itself the proof that the Spirit is at work. We walk by faith, not by sight! It’s as if some ministers think they need the spiritual equivalent of the notch on the bedpost every time someone does carpet time after they have prayed for them. At that point, it isn’t just a lack of trust, it’s a form of spiritual abuse.


  10. Dave~
    I agree with you. First on the catholic issue – there are some fairly major doctrinal differences… but I am not as concerned about them as I once was.

    As to the pushing being spiritual abuse, I agree with that, too. My last church, the pastor would get mad at the congregation if there were not as many physical demonstration of the spirit as he wanted. It gets crazy. 😉


  11. Katherine,

    Thanks – we’re of a similar mind from different backgrounds. Many of my Christian friends would be upset about any unusual physical manifestations whatsoever!


  12. 🙂 I understand. When I was growing up, the town we lived in would have a citywide all-denominational service every Thanksgiving – rotating from year to year at different churches. The choirs from various church would sing. I remember one year, it was at the First Baptist Church. Our choir did an upbeat calypso style song. That poor pastor was so nervous that we were going to do something ‘strange.’

    I think the main thing is for people to learn to know and trust the Holy Spirit for themselves so that they can know, for themselves, what is God and what is not. Hmm… easier said than done. People have to want to learn before they can be taught. 😉


  13. BTW, needing to learn applies to both ends of the spectrum and all points in between. From my experience, just growing up or belonging to a Pentecostal or Charismatic church does not mean you will get taught these things – although they tend to think they have the corner on that market. There are ditches, as it were, on both sides of this road. 😉


  14. Katherine,

    I like your story about the nervous pastor! The church I grew up in, which was a traditional Methodist church, used to hire its premises out to a black majority Pentecostal church. On rare occasions, we came together midweek. Unfortunately, some of our people (probably out of fear, I don’t think it was racism) used to react negatively to the Pentecostals. They would say things such as, “If I hear another ‘Praise the Lord’, I’m going to be sick.” We all have a lot of learning to do in how to act graciously with our sisters and brothers in Christ, let alone the world.


  15. Dave~

    Very true! And I applaud your childhood pastor for renting to ‘them’ (Pentecostals, not blacks). 😉 The church I just left would not rent its facilities to even another charismatic church – but there were some ego issues and other things going on there…

    The older I get, the more I think that what we grew up in is far less important than what we are living right now.


  16. Katherine,

    Hear, hear (or should I say Amen?)! That sounds like what Ezekiel said about people repenting and being in the right with God, as opposed to those who started out right and went astray.

    The sad irony on the question of renting out to other churches is that one of the three churches I serve here has had to decline such a request recently – and quite rightly, in my view. The denomination in question clearly taught prosperity doctrines, and whatever we agree to differ with other Christians about, that one was a bridge too far for us.


  17. Many of my Christian friends would be upset about any unusual physical manifestations whatsoever!

    As a non-charismatic, a ‘physical manifestation’ that is genuinely[1] of God does not upset me in the slightest.

    What upsets me is those who either say or heavily suggest that The Holy Spirit is not and cannot be present if a person doesn’t speak in tongues, get slain in the Spirit, or whatever. (I do realise that not all charismatics or Pentecostals would make this claim and I don’t ‘stand against’ charismatics and Pentecostals; I refute the theology that doesn’t see God in different gifts.)

    I believe that all ‘genuine'[1] Christians have the Holy Spirit in them and I believe that all our spiritual gifts are given by God for the purpose of building up the community. Paul, in my view, specifically refutes the idea that we must all speak in tongues or all be cured of infirmity in order to be ‘Spirit Filled’ Christians.

    The reason I get worked up about this is because it rather strikes me as throwing God’s gifts back at him. ‘I don’t care about the gift of caring; I want to speak in tongues!’

    [1] I believe it’s up to God to judge who is a genuine disciple; however, I do assume that ‘genuine discipleship’ is an ontological reality and it’s that ontological reality of which I now speak.


  18. Pam,

    No argument with that! I have problems with both extremes of the argument, both those who say God must work in unusual ways and those who say God must not. It is for God to decide. Most important of all is loyalty to Christ in response to God’s grace, and a consequent openness to whatever God wants to do, however God wants to do it.


  19. Dave~

    “Most important of all is loyalty to Christ in response to God’s grace, and a consequent openness to whatever God wants to do, however God wants to do it.”

    That’s really it, isn’t it? So simple a child could get it… 😉


  20. Well, we should get it. But it isn’t always flashing with bright lights, so we dress up something else and call it faith. Then we read the Gospels and get a shock. I’m finding it a spiritual discipline to preach as much as I can from the Gospels at present, to make sure I am earthed (never mind my congregations!) in a Jesus-centred Gospel. I’m not always sure that we are in the church. I’m certainly not.


  21. Sounds like good practice to me! I think there is an evangelical tendency to read Jesus in the light of Paul when surely it should be the other way round. I don’t feel comfortable with my Anglican and Catholic friends’ habit of standing for the reading of the Gospel in communion services, because it could seem like they are affirming a canon within the canon, but at heart they are witnessing to something important in doing that.

    Boy, we’ve strayed off the original topic of this post, haven’t we? Perhaps I should concoct a post on this theme!


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