I love Christianity Explored. I’ve used the material more times than I can remember. I love the way it’s designed to get people into Mark’s gospel. I love that it encourages people to look at Christ. I love the fact it doesn’t duck the hard topics (like sin and hell). I love its exposition of grace. I love that it gives Christians the confidence to share the gospel. I believe it’s been a really significant tool in the UK church’s evangelism.
But it’s missing a session. It’s missing something that Hebrews 6 includes in “the elementary doctrine of Christ” (Heb 6:1). It’s missing something Hebrews calls “a foundation” (v.1). It fails to discuss a topic which Hebrews classes as “milk” and “basic principles” (5:12). What is it?
“the laying on of hands” (Heb 6:2).
The writer includes this topic in his list of basic doctrine in v.1-2:
– “repentance from dead works”
– “faith towards God”
– “instruction about baptisms”
– “the laying on of hands”
– “the resurrection of the dead”
– “eternal judgment”
That might not be the list you’d draw up, but it’s a God-given list. The laying on of hands describes the process by which individuals are marked out for office in the church. Moses laid hands on Joshua (Deut 34:9). The apostles laid hands on deacons (Acts 6:6). The prophets and teachers laid hands on Barnabas and Saul (13:3). The presbytery laid hands on Timothy (1 Tim 4:14; 2 Tim 1:6). The act of laying hands on someone expresses the church’s solemn recognition that that individual now acts with Christ’s authority; it isn’t something to be done in a rush (1 Tim 5:22). It marks people out as church officials, who are to be emulated (Heb 13:7) and obeyed (Heb 13:17). The writer considers this to be part of “the elementary doctrine of Christ” into which Christians are to be schooled from day one.
Yet, there’s nothing in Christianity Explored about the “laying on of hands”! It’s completely missing from the course! If a basic introduction to Christianity failed to teach us about the cross I’m sure it would alarm us. If Christianity Explored failed to teach us Christ’s identity, I’m sure it would come in for criticism. Those kinds of omission ought to concern us. Well, in the same way, the absence of “the laying on of hands” ought to bother us.
After all, Jesus’ message is about “the kingdom of God” (Mark 1:15). Jesus is not setting up a loose, informal movement of people; he’s inaugurating a “kingdom”, not a club. What kingdom do you know of that doesn’t have officers? Jesus appointed twelve officials, who were his authorised emissaries (Mark 3:14; 6:7-13). To reject them was to reject Christ (Mark 6:11). Any kingdom which lets its officials be ignored is a dysfunctional kingdom. Jesus provocatively calls for a switch in our allegiance; he shifts our loyalties away from the institution of the family and to the institution of the church (Mark 3:34-35). The Sanhedrin that condemned Christ to death ruled God’s people (Mark 14:55; 15:1); but with the coming of Christ, it’s an old wineskin that needs discarding and in its place new wineskins are needed (Mark 2:22). As you read Mark’s gospel, these references make clear that Jesus hasn’t left his disciples an amorphous “blob” called the church, but a “structure”, which they are to recognise, and to which they are to belong.
So, as we introduce people to Jesus’ identity, mission and call, we need to show that part of his call on their lives is admission into and belonging to his church. Entry is marked by baptism, which we can’t perform on ourselves (Mark 1:8-11); it’s cooperating with elders who we haven’t picked for ourselves. If we don’t just want to breed spiritual shoppers, and to turn Christianity Explored into an extended sales pitch, then we need to instruct people in “the laying on of hands”. Elders and ministers are not luxuries to living the Christian life, but essential.
It’s time for us to add an extra session to our Christianity Explored series.