The annals of music history are full of songs where someone wants their partner to lay their hands on them. There are at least two songs that readily come to mind, released during the same period of time in the 1980’s, that even have the same title, “Lay Your Hands On Me.” Both of them, perhaps unsurprisingly, became big hits, one by British synth pop band the Thompson Twins and the other by New Jersey rock band Bon Jovi. From this we can understand that even those who are not particularly religious can gain the significance of having hands laid on them with love. There is a certain power that can be understood to be transmitted through touch on a purely emotional and personal level.
On Sabbath, after services, I had a conversation with a few of my friends as one of them was being given a lot of gentle affection by her mother. Being a naturally curious person, the conversation took a somewhat serious turn as we discussed that when the young lady married, there would likely have to be a conversation about the expectation of gentle affection on a regular basis. Admittedly, I felt a bit envious about the situation of my friend. I too am a person with a rather high degree of need for gentle physical affection, but I have not been fortunate enough to find any kind of consistent gentle affection in my own life. One wonders if there will be any kind of conversations about my own expectations in that regard. It is lamentable that I am such a restrained and awkward person that few people seem to recognize my rather intense and frustrated need for affection and love relating to physical touch .
The context for this conversation, though, related to a sermon on a subject that I cannot remember hearing about, and that is the doctrine of the laying on of hands. As the speaker managed to note, the doctrine of the laying on of hands is quite important. We hear about this doctrine in Hebrews 6:1-3 as follows: “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.” The author of Hebrews is going in a specific order, showing that the way to salvation begins with repentance from our sins, moving on towards a trust in God, and then being baptized and having hands laid on us. At this point, we live a godly life, die, and then are resurrected and after God’s judgment, enjoy eternal life in His kingdom. By and large this is a pretty straightforward matter.
When it comes to the principle of baptism as it is practiced by the Church of God, baptism and the laying on of hands often happen in close succession, which makes sense. After all, people tend to be baptized by ministry who have the authority to lay on hands, as ordination of any kind, including that at baptism, goes from those who have more authority to those who have less–an important point the speaker brought out. There are at least two very notable examples where laying on of hands takes on a large importance. First, let us look at the behavior of Philip in Samaria and see that there is an example here of a large gap between baptism and the laying on of hands because Philip did not have the authority to lay hands on those he baptized in Acts 8:14-17: “ Now when the apostles who were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them, who, when they had come down, prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit. For as yet it had fallen upon none of them. They had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they laid hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.” Here we see of course that although the Samaritans had repented and been baptized, they did not receive the Holy Spirit through baptism and Philip was not authorized to lay hands on them.
We see the same thing in Acts 19:1-7: “And it happened, while Apollos was at Corinth, that Paul, having passed through the upper regions, came to Ephesus. And finding some disciples he said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” So they said to him, “We have not so much as heard whether there is a Holy Spirit.” And he said to them, “Into what then were you baptized?” So they said, “Into John’s baptism.” Then Paul said, “John indeed baptized with a baptism of repentance, saying to the people that they should believe on Him who would come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus.” When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke with tongues and prophesied. Now the men were about twelve in all.” Here again we see another precedent, and that is that baptism outside of the Church of God is to be repeated when someone comes to a genuine faith in Jesus, and again we see the the laying on of hands is what leads to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
Even the exceptions to this are worthwhile. When Jesus was baptized the sign of the receiving of the Spirit was directly from God the Father, because there was no higher authority on earth to lay hands on him. Likewise, when the Apostles received the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, they were imbued with power and the indwelling presence of God directly from heaven, because again there was no higher authority on earth to lay hands on them. When Cornelius received the Holy Spirit, it was a direct heavenly sign that one did not have to become a Jew through circumcision in order to become a Christian, a sign that was recognized by the Apostles and believers and made general church practice through the Jerusalem conference. We may say with confidence, therefore, that the doctrine of the laying on of hands is important because it is a question of authority. When we have our hands laid on us by someone else, we are accepting an authority higher than ourselves that must be a conduit for God’s power to flow, and also are accepting of authorities as being ordained by God. Perhaps the implications of this doctrine are one reason that it is focused on so little, since the claim of having the power to lay hands on others invites the question of who laid hands on you to give you that power.
 See, for example: