Impartation and Ordination

Henry Neufeld asked the question, in this post at Threads from Henry’s Web, whether there is some kind of impartation, analogous to what Todd Bentley offers, in ordination to the priesthood or pastorate. The following is adapted and expanded from a comment I made on that post.

First I want to look at some biblical material which links impartation and what might be considered the biblical prototype of ordination.

We do have at least one mass impartation meeting in the Bible, in Acts 8:15-17, where Peter and John placed their hands on large numbers of people in Samaria and they each received the Holy Spirit. In verse 18 we read specifically that “the Spirit was given at the laying on of the apostles’ hands” (TNIV). These people were already baptised believers but had not experienced the Holy Spirit in their own lives. This sounds all very like Lakeland to me, although I am sure many of the people receiving an impartation from Todd Bentley have been filled with the Spirit before and are seeking a refilling (cf Acts 4:31, Ephesians 5:18) or greater power.

Within church tradition (at least Anglican and I think Roman Catholic) this event in Samaria is seen as the prototype of confirmation, rather than of ordination – a blessing imparted by the apostles and so now to be imparted only by bishops, but offered to all believers and not just those chosen for office in the church; also it is not transferable in that those confirmed do not acquire the power to confirm others. In fact not even Philip who evangelised Samaria seems to have the power to impart this blessing; he had been commissioned by the apostles with the laying on of hands (Acts 6:6) but for a different role as a prototype deacon, in what is understood in the tradition as the first ordination to the diaconate – not to the episcopate, so he could not confirm people. Note, however, that Philip had received the power to perform signs and wonders (Acts 8:6-7), something which is in principle available to all Spirit-filled believers, not just ordained clergy.

Now it is interesting to see what Simon the sorcerer made of this, in Acts 8:18-19. Presumably he received along with all the others the impartation which was not transferable, analogous to confirmation. But he wanted more, and made the serious mistake of offering money for it. What he wanted was the transferred power to impart the Holy Spirit to others, or in the terms of church tradition he wanted to be ordained or consecrated to the episcopate so that he could confirm others. Peter and John, as apostles, could presumably have performed this impartation, but for very good reasons refused to do so. So, whereas the non-transferable impartation was offered to freely to all who believed, the transferable impartation was carefully guarded.

It is not entirely clear how, if by any human means, the power to impart the Holy Spirit was passed outside the immediate circle of the apostles. We can surmise that when the apostles sent Barnabas to Antioch (Acts 11:22) he was given this power of transferable impartation; or, in traditional terms, he was consecrated bishop. When later (Acts 13:2-3) he and Saul/Paul were commissioned with laying on of hands for their missionary journeys, it may be that Saul was also given this power; certainly by the time he gets to Ephesus (Acts 19:6) Paul is able to pray for people to be filled with the Holy Spirit. However, Paul insists that he received his apostleship direct from the risen Christ, and not from the original apostles (Galatians 1:1). Paul seems to have passed his commissioning on to Timothy in some kind of ceremony of impartation (2 Timothy 1:6), and he and Titus (Titus 1:5) seem to have had the right to appoint elders and “bishops”.

This is, I suppose, the biblical basis for the (Roman and Anglo-) Catholic concept of the apostolic succession, that true bishops and priests must be ordained through an unbroken succession of laying on of hands from the apostles. Most Protestant Christians do not consider this necessary, and indeed do not have bishops. The ordination Henry Neufeld referred to was into the United Methodist Church which does have bishops, but they are not in the proper apostolic succession because the first American Methodist bishops were ordained by John Wesley, who was a priest, not a bishop. Interestingly, some charismatic and Pentecostal denominations, such as the one which consecrated Bishop Michael Reid, do consider it important to have bishops in a genuine apostolic succession.

Now while I would be surprised if Todd Bentley actually considers the apostolic succession to be important, his concept of transferable impartation seems to be in the same tradition. He believes in and practises laying hands, or cloths, on people so that they receive for themselves not only filling with the Holy Spirit but also the power to pass this impartation on to others.

Now an interesting corollary of the traditional apostolic succession teaching is that if one rogue bishop chose to ordain or consecrate everyone at mass meetings and taught them to do the same, a situation could quite quickly come about in which millions of believers worldwide became bishops and would have to be recognised as such by the Catholic churches. One might however argue that this rogue bishop would be doing the right thing, in fulfilment of Moses’ prayer in Numbers 11:29 and Joel’s prophecy quoted in Acts 2:17-21, which foresee a universal outpouring of the Holy Spirit not restricted by the limited number of apostles who could mediate it.

What Todd seems to be doing is what the rogue bishop might do. Now I don’t mean to suggest that Todd actually stands in any literal apostolic succession, although that is possible. But he seems to be offering a transferable impartation to all, and teaching all to pass it on to others. On the traditional understanding he is consecrating all and sundry as bishops. In this way the impartation will soon make its way to every Christian worldwide who is willing to receive it.

Of course this begs the question of whether the impartation, what is passed on by laying on of hands, is in any way real in the spiritual realm. On that issue all I can say is that this kind of impartation does seem to have been significant to the apostles – also that thousands of people including myself have experienced something real if subjective when given the Todd Bentley impartation either directly or indirectly.

One lesson we can learn from all this is that there are no neat rules or formulae for how this kind of impartation works. God is not bound the apostolic succession but can do a new thing. As he raised up Paul independently of the established apostles, so he can also raise up new leaders even from stones (compare Luke 3:8), people like John Wesley, who was never a bishop, and apparently Todd Bentley. And given the weakness and apostasy of so many bishops in what remains of the original apostolic succession, at least the Anglican branch of it, it would hardly be surprising if God raised up a new source of transferable impartation which he chooses to use to pour out his Spirit on a needy world.

0 thoughts on “Impartation and Ordination

  1. One lesson we can learn from all this is that there are no neat rules or formulae for how this kind of impartation works. God is not bound the apostolic succession but can do a new thing.

    I think this is an important point. I agree with you, based largely on the examples you cite, but also on the way in which the Spirit appears to have worked in Old Testament times.

  2. Peter, in the Roman Catholic tradition you do not have to be a bishop to confirm people. Parish priests do confirmations all the time. It’s only in Angicanism that you have to be a bishop to do it.

  3. Tim, thanks for the clarification. I didn’t know that. But I was making no distinction between bishops and priests in my post, not least because I don’t think there is any biblical distinction. We certainly don’t have any clear biblical examples of people able to impart non-transferable “confirmation” but not transferable “consecration”.

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