Many may have heard or read of the “laying on of hands,” but how many Christians understand its significance? St. Paul, in listing out what he called the “elementary principles of Christ,” mentions the “laying on of hands” as being as fundamental to Christianity as “repentance … faith … baptisms … resurrection of the dead, and … eternal judgment” (Hebrews 6:1-2).
Really? As fundamental as “faith” and belief in the “resurrection of the dead?” Yes. Yet, if you are reading this and consider yourself a Christian, do you understand what the laying on of hands is? And for those who recognize this as a familiar practice, I ask you this: is it being practiced by your church the way it was practiced by the apostles and their legitimate successors?
The other day in Sunday school, as I was discussing a phrase that the early Fathers often spoke—”There is no salvation outside the Church”—and also spoke about the need to strive for righteousness so we can be ready on judgment day, someone asked: “What is the role of the blood of Jesus in all of this?” “Where is grace?”
“It goes without saying,” I said, “that grace of Christ’s death and redeeming blood is the foundation of salvation.”
But they challenged that assumption and responded: “In the Orthodox Church, it is not spoken of enough.” Is that a fair statement, do you think?
As I was preparing this post, a friend of mine reached out to me because he was challenged with the same type of concern brought forward by some Orthodox Christians, that somehow the Orthodox Church is undermining grace when we emphasize the fact that “works” (being righteous) is necessary for salvation.
I think these questions and challenges often stem from the extent to which Evangelicals and other similar non-Orthodox Christian denominations emphasize “nothing but the blood of Jesus” (as the song goes) and “justification by faith in Christ” as being all that is needed to reach heaven, while excluding the need for the Church and righteousness, although Scriptures teach otherwise. And so, when we Orthodox are continually exposed to this message with such a singular focus on the issue of salvation, many are persuaded that maybe they are right: we are justified to enter heaven by faith in Christ, and that’s all we need.
Where in the Bible does it explicitly state, “Only bishops and priests can baptize and confer the Holy Spirit?” Where explicitly? Nowhere.
So why do we Orthodox Christians believe this? I am addressing this here because someone recently challenged me with just that question, and I realize many Orthodox do not know how to confront this question. Here’s my take. Continue reading →
You squeeze into a small room that can fit only a handful of people. You are barely able to follow along as the bishop/priest rushes through his prayers and the responses to those prayers leave you wanting. You examine the parents’ faces, the baby, and those gathered around, and offer a smile if anyone happens to glance your way. And all you and mostly everyone really wants is simply to get to the end of the service when the baby is dunked in the water three times.
For most of us, the rest of the service is really just superfluous. “Just get to the end already!” is what many of us are probably thinking. And finally, after the “main event,” the baby puts on his new outfit—oh how cute! And then the baby is paraded around the church at the end of the Divine Liturgy in a procession that has all the “deacons” (most of whom were not present in the baptism ceremony) asking, “What’s the kid’s name? Is it a boy or girl? What do we say at the end of this Axios? Do we go around three times or just once? Someone bring a candle! Two candles? Or just one?”
And then it’s all over, and what exactly happened? That’s how the priest actually ends the service, asking, “Didn’t you hear the words full of awe that were told you about the holy baptism?”
How many of those who attended are able to describe the key elements of the baptism ceremony that they just witnessed? Sadly, quite few. It has become more of a show rather than a solemn mystery. Here is my list of 5 key highlights of this occasion that people often miss:
If someone were to ask you, why do I need Christ? Why do I need to be Christian? Why do I need Orthodoxy? Why can I not simply be a good person?
Some answer: because God gives me blessings, and so I need Him to remain blessed and prosperous. To that I say, Christianity is not just a feel good religion conferring material prosperity as erroneously preached by many today (such as Joel Olsteen and Joyce Meyer—see this article for more on this). There is no denying that by God’s grace He gives (2 Corinthians 9:8), but at the same time God’s grace is manifested in our lack and in enduring suffering (Matthew 7:14; 2 Corinthians 12:9–10). With or without material abundance, a Christian seeks spiritual compensation now and hereafter. So if prosperity is not guaranteed, then why do I need Christianity, and Orthodoxy? It’s easy to get lost in all the details, so let’s simplify things. The answer revolves around two key matters: