In Numbers, the outline for priestly behavior is pretty minimal. Do your job. They also have an end date, 50. Yes, there were other concerns (as the children of Eli showed in 1 Samuel). By and large, though, the duties of the priests were what set them apart, not their character. However, there is an aspect of their installation (i.e., becoming priests) that is well worth looking at. The people laid their hands on the priests.
This might sound kind of strange, and even unrelated, to us. In “priestly” circles, laying on of hands has long been a tradition. In non-Evangelical circles, it is an expected rite and theologically necessary. Traditions such as the Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Anglican hold to an unbroken chain of laying on of hands since Peter. Based upon the tradition of Levitical priests and the laying on of hands, it actually is pretty reasonable from a Jewish and Christian perspective.
The Church of the Nazarene doesn’t particularly hold to the “unbreakable” aspect of the laying on of hands, but it does hold on to the tradition itself, as each ordained person has hands laid on them during their ordination by both the presiding Superintendent, but also all those who are ordained within the confines of the district (except in weird times as now).
When a pastor is called to a church, during the installation, the Church board will lay hands (and often the congregation). Often, when a board is elected by the membership of church, hands are laid upon them by the congregation.
There are multiple meanings within the laying on of hands. For the Israelites, there was an aspect of confession and there was an aspect of commission. The priests were set apart for the direct ministerial work of God on behalf of all of Israel. They were God’s “portion” (or “tithe”) of the people of Israel. So, the laying on of hands was integral to their mission for the people.
With ordination, it is different. This is in recognition of the laying on of hands in the New Testament which would be accompanied by the imbuing of the Holy Spirit (correlation, not causation). While it is important both as legacy and ceremony, it really is an “inside” thing.
However, the interaction between the pastor, board, and congregation is significant. What it isn’t is an abdication of responsibility. What it is is a bestowal of authority and a recognition of submission to the designated (bestowed upon) authority.
And it is that last piece that is the rub for so many. We all are more than willing to give all the “grunt” work to others, but we often don’t want to recognize the submission aspect. Of course, coming from a pastor this may seem self-centered. Honestly, I have others do “my” grunt work, too. We all do, to some degree.
As fellow members of the kingdom and family of God, we all need to be willing to dig in for others, for the benefit of others and not ourselves, and ultimately produce fruit worthy of God’s children.
- Have you ever experienced have hands laid on you? Why? What was your feeling resulting from it?
- Have you ever laid your hands on someone? Why? What was your takeaway from participating in that?
Lord, we minister to each other through touch. We cannot always answer how or why, but we know that the Holy Spirit is present. May our touch bring others closer to you. Amen.