Some time ago, a local church elder in our congregation gave a very thoughtful sermon on the doctrine of the laying on of hands, a subject I do not ever remember hearing a message on beforehand. This message sparked, as messages often do, some lively conversation that sought to broaden the scope of the message, and as often happens, I have pondered and thought about the message and realized that there is a lot more to the doctrine of laying on hands than even the message itself dealt with . What I therefore propose to do is to discuss this particular doctrine in some detail, since I believe that while there are many familiar examples of the laying on of hands in the scriptures, I also believe that even those who consider themselves to be very aware of the Bible are unaware of the important tie that the laying on of hands provides and why it is such a major doctrine.
Given that the laying on of hands is not viewed as an important doctrine, it is worthwhile to discuss where in the Bible it is viewed with such high importance. Let us begin with Hebrews 6:1-6: “Therefore, leaving the discussion of the elementary principles of Christ, let us go on to perfection, not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, of the doctrine of baptisms, of laying on of hands, of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment. And this we will do if God permits. For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame.” There are two aspects of this passage that are relevant to our discussion of the pivotal importance of the laying on of hands. The first is that the laying on of hands is explicitly mentioned as a fundamental doctrine by the author of Hebrews in the first part of the passage. When the Bible says that something is a doctrine, it is best to believe it. Second, it is worthwhile to note that after discussing various elementary beliefs, the author of Hebrews finds it necessary to note that there is no second chance for those who have, through the laying on of hands, received the Holy Spirit and enlightenment and have consequently fallen away.
This is a passage that all believers must take seriously. To be sure, the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives is something to celebrate, and we rightly rejoice in being transformed into the sons and daughters of God through its workings within us. Yet the laying on of hands is not a risk-free proposition. With greater power and authority and greater access to God comes greater responsibility to God. This is easy enough to recognize when we have little power and easy enough for people to forget, since God does not make his authority in our lives as obvious as that of the human authorities we have to deal with, and the higher we climb in human institutions, the more we can neglect the increasing divine scrutiny we are accordingly under. In addition, the more we have access to the power of the Holy Spirit, the greater the risk that God presence in our lives and God’s judgment of us in the world to come will be extremely harsh if we reject what God wishes to do through us. Whether we are contemplating on the fate of those who have fallen away from God’s ways or we reflect on the madness of King Saul after the Holy Spirit departed from him, it is easy for our reflections along this line to be rather melancholy. The absence of security should we reject God ought to remind us of the importance of our remaining loyal. No one can snatch us from God’s loving and protective hand, but we can certainly fall if we reject Him.
In light of the serious importance of the laying on of hands and its implications, I propose a multi-part examination of the subject. I have here introduced its importance by looking at one of the scriptures that talks about it as a coherent doctrine and that applies that doctrine in a very powerful and important way. What I would like to do next is discuss the laying on of hands as it appears both in the Hebrew scriptures as well as the New Testament. It may not be possible to give an exhaustive examination of the subject, given space and time limitations, but we should at least be able to better understand how this doctrine is exhibited through stories in the Bible as well as in doctrinal statements. Starting from the bottom, then, we will gather these stories together first, and then afterward seek to determine what elements bind them together into a coherent whole, and what makes this doctrine so important. After this is done, there may be some occasion for some closing words that point to the importance of the laying on of hands and its role as an ordinance (or what may be called a sacrament) that is of the utmost importance for us, and one that we ignore at our peril.
 See, for example: