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Ordination and Impartation Questions

I called to congratulate a friend and former student who was just ordained a full elder in the United Methodist Church at annual conference, and he said, tongue-in-cheek, “Yes, I feel much more powerful now!”

So since some of the comments here (from PamBG [her comment], Diane R. [her comment] and Peter Kirk [his comment]) have brought up the issue of ordination and impartation, and because it’s a topic on which I don’t have extremely set views, I decided to pick my newly ordained friend’s brain. (Note that each comment I linked is part of a thread, and it would be well to read the whole thread before concluding you have the commenter’s viewpoint.)

I went to it directly. “I know you were joking, but do you believe that there is some kind of impartation involved in ordination?” He said he did, and pointed out how the ordination certificate, on the back, shows the number of generations of laying on of hands back to John Wesley, and then back through church history. That’s the Methodist version of apostolic succession, which, according to the Catholic church, we do not actually have.

I thought I’d open this up to questions. I’m going to ask this young man who is very well versed in theology and especially interested in the early church, its practices, and traditions, just what he meant by that. What is imparted, and how? I’d like to see some comments. I’ll be meeting him the middle of next week.

In the meantime, I had a conversation with my wife, and we’re more comfortable with the notion that God imparts, and the particular person or place is a matter of obedience. Take Gehazi, for example. He goes to dip in the Jordan River. Was the river water particularly efficacious? I’d tend to think not. What was efficacious was obedience. God could heal at any place and in any way he chose, but he chose that way and that place. Similarly, I think God could make someone a fully called and empowered minister without external events. He just chooses to work through the church.

I’m not sure that’s actually different in substance. It’s just a bit different of a way of talking about it. I still have a great deal of question about just how important the way we talk about this is. I’ve been around someone who thinks that if you haven’t received prayer from someone with a particular anointing, say an anointed revival speaker, you will not have anointing. Another friend and pastor effectively denies that the laying on of hands is of any efficacy whatsoever. It’s just a symbol.

Included in this question would be the relationship between ordination and the type of impartation involved in some modern revival meetings. I haven’t seen it myself, but I think there’s a similarity in Lakeland and what we had here ate Brownsville in that hundreds of people are touched physically during the prayer time, and that is frequently regarded as a time of impartation. I’m not trying to challenge that idea, even though you can probably tell I’m not entirely comfortable with it. Yet there is scripture that seems to back that up to some extent.

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  1. Interesting.

    We do have at least one mass impartation meeting in the Bible, in Acts 8:15-17, where Peter and John placed their hands on large numbers of people and they each received the Holy Spirit. In verse 18 we read specifically that “the Spirit was given at the laying on of the apostles’ hands” (TNIV). These people were already baptised believers but had not experienced the Holy Spirit in their own lives. This sounds all very like Lakeland to me.

    Simon at least thought that this was a transferable impartation. It wasn’t to him because of his wrong attitude. It wasn’t even to Philip, who had been commissioned by the apostles (6:6) and could perform signs and wonders (8:6-7) but could or at least did not himself impart the Spirit to the Samaritans. But we presume that the impartation was transferable to Paul, Barnabas (13:2-3, cf 19:6) and Timothy (2 Timothy 1:6).

    Perhaps the main lesson we can learn from this is that there are no neat rules or formulae for how this works. God is not bound the apostolic succession but can do a new thing. As he raised up Paul independently of the established apostles, so he can also raise up new leaders even from stones (compare Luke 3:8), people like John Wesley (who was never a bishop yet appointed a bishop) and maybe even Todd Bentley.

  2. It’s interesting that American Methodists receive a sort of genealogy of their succession. I’ll let you know in a month, but I believe that we British Methodists don’t even get a certificate – unless the plate in our ordination bible counts.

    I can’t actually find the comment that I made on your blog but I don’t think I believe in ‘impartation’ although I suspect that it really comes down to a discussion of a definition of ‘impartation’.

    I most firmly believe that all ‘true Christians’ (which is something only God can determine) have the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. I also believe that Christians all have different gifts for the upbuilding of the community.

    There are two big reasons I’m a Methodist by choice: 1) Arminian theology (yes, I know there were Calvinist Methodists) and; 2) An ecclesiology that affirms the priesthood of all believers. Which is to say that I believe that the ‘priestly’, mediating function belongs to the ‘true mystical’ Church of Christ on Earth and not to any individual. I see Ordination as an affirmation that the ordained person has certain gifts and that these have been tested by the Christian community and the individual and his/her mentors.

    Others have told me that they felt the presence of the Holy Spirit at ordination and that does not surprise me. In many other situations, I have had ‘touchstones’ of experiencing the Holy Spirit to fulfill the functions to which God has called me.

    But I don’t believe in some kind of talismanic Impartation. I don’t believe that if my husband accidentally stepped into my place and had hands laid upon him at my ordination that he’d receive some sort of ‘Ordination Impartation’. Which is why I have a hard time with the idea that Bentley passes on a talisman that automatically gives the recipient healing powers.

  3. Henry,

    I comment a lot on Ed’s site. Brayton that is. Good man who I respect a lot. I am open to Theistic Evolution and have been real busy teaching the last few weeks but want to hear you out. I do not think the Bible is dogmatic about it for sure but think some of the evidence for macro evolution may be flimsy. I am barely literate in Science though.

    I have read some on your blog and you think out of the box. What is your case for theistic evolution? I am really worried about the New Age use of it and some global religion coming than anything guys like Ed do. I am a card carrying member of the ACLU and believe in a seperation of church and state that I see blurring. But I am worried about post modernism and the “Emerging Church” I feel caught in between to generations and church movements.

    I think the old guard is losing the kids but I think the new guard wants to throw out the Bible at times. Or at least some of them. Anything to do with globalism or global peach makes me nervous. I think the truth is that old institutions are dying and that the church needs to be more relvant to the culture. I also think that we need to keep the essentials that make up the faith intact while allowing liberty in non essential and debatable things.

    In short I am caught in the middle of a great shift and think that to call someone a heretic based on their being open to theistic evolution put up walls that are unneccesary. Just like the Jews did to the Gentiles when the told them to obey the law. It might even be true. I want to hear what you think

  4. Take Gehazi, for example. He goes to dip in the Jordan River. Was the river water particularly efficacious? I’d tend to think not. What was efficacious was obedience. God could heal at any place and in any way he chose, but he chose that way and that place.

    Or alternatively, that Bible story was written by members of an unsophisticated bronze-age tribe, and the theological implications thereof were tagged on later.

    Bearing in mind that a fair majority of people back in those days (heck, in these days too) were deeply superstitious, it seems statistically plausible that at least some of the Bible’s authors held beliefs that were one talking donkey short of a heavenly host. Their beliefs may be theologically fascinating, but only in the sense that even a random number generator can produce interesting results.

    Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

    With regard to the broader question, the thing that strikes me most about this apostolic succession is that it’s very similar to what you find in many martial arts. In any fighting style (say, Jeet Kune Do), you’ll usually have one Great Master who was a hell of a fighter in his/her time. It is then assumed that anyone who can trace a line of teaching back to that Great Master must also be, if not Great, then at least Not Too Shabby.

    In a similar vein, I guess the question I’d ask your friend is whether he thinks that the impartation is a matter of God’s regard for him, or whether it’s just a technique for conveying that regard to the Methodist community. You can be a great fighter without having trained under a Master, but it’s quite hard to convince people of that without actually beating them up. Similarly, it would be quite hard for your friend to convince a group of believers that he’s theological hot stuff if he didn’t possess that certificate. A sensible God would set up a system to indicate which people should be treated as Elders, and which should be treated as cranks.

  5. I will stick to my original comment under your post on Healing and that is I am not questioning all impartation as much as WHAT is imparted and how often it’s emphasized. My objection to the Third Wave Charismatics is I believe they substitute impartations for healing more than simply helping people to understand and have faith in healing in the atonement. The latter must involve Christ’s work at the cross but the former doesn’t have to bring Jesus or the cross into anything at all. The speaker/healer/teacher/prophet simply says they are imparting something and people then begin to lean on them and the “impartation.” I think you said it well Henry.

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