The following questions were received from the Bible Study Class of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Burnie, Tasmania.

Our question concerns

Acts 6:6:

“Whom (the seven deacons) they set before the apostles: and when they had prayed, they laid their hands on them.” 

Today in the ordination of ministers in Reformed churches, the laying on of hands is still being practiced, also in the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Australia. But there is no laying on of hands in the ordination of elders and deacons. Why not? Since

Acts 6:1-6

is used to establish the office of deacon in the Reformed church, should not the laying on of hands still be practiced in the ordination of deacons? What was the significance of the laying on of hands in the apostolic time?

You really have two questions: 1) Why in Reformed Churches is there no laying on of hands at the ordination (installation) of elders and deacons? and 2) What was the significance of the laying on of hands in the apostolic time?

We answer your second question first. The laying on of hands symbolized the fact that the man was being called to the office of the ministry of the Word and qualified for that work by the gifts of the Holy Spirit. The practice was corrupted by the Roman Catholics who regarded it as a sacrament through which the one being ordained received the necessary graces for the office from those already ordained. It was because of this that the Reformation churches in the Netherlands feared the practice of the laying on of hands. The practice was reinstated in the Dutch churches by the Synods of 1581 and 1586. It is used only in the ordination of ministers of the Word. It is not repeated when a minister is installed in a second or third charge.

In answer to your first question, let us point out that Acts 6:1-6 is not the only passage used in support of the office of deacon. There are others. Nowhere in the New Testament do we find an explicit instruction that hands must be laid on elders and deacons. In the Reformed tradition this practice was not followed because elders and deacons are installed for specific terms (usually three years) of office and not for life. Ministers are called for life. We might also point out that at least two of the deacons mentioned in Acts 6 were also Evangelists who were called and qualified by the Holy Spirit through the church to preach the gospel.

If your Bible Class is interested in further study of this question., we call your attention to the following books: Dr. H. Bavinck, Gereformeerde Dogmatiek, IV, #54, pp. 354-424; Dr. H. Bouwman, Gereformeerde Kerkrecht, I, p. 410; Ds. Joh. Jansen, Korte Verklaring van de Kerkorde Der Gereformeerde Kerken, p. 28 of the 1952 edition; I. Van Dellen and M. Monsma, The Church Order Commentary, p. 32 of the 1954 edition; and J. L. Schaver, The Polity of the Churches, I, pp. 114-115, II, p. 107.

—Editorial Committee