Church History, Lesson 3: The Normalization of Church Practices

Anointing OilBringing Gentiles into the Church


Recap and Introduction

Last week, we followed the Church as she spread to Samaria during Jewish persecution.  Christians fled proclaiming Jesus as the world’s Savior from sin and the Deliverer of eternal life.  The Church’s first pastors, the Apostles, however, did not flee with the others (Acts 8:1).

So, a pastoral void existed in Samaria, revealed by some only being baptized in the name of Jesus, not according to His institution in the name of Father, Son, and Spirit.  Two Apostles arrive, and we then learn of the Church’s practice of laying on of hands, which also conveyed the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:17).

Like preaching (see Lesson 1), the Church continues a practice from the Old Covenant, which is why we find no command from Jesus to lay hands on others.  Since both preaching and the laying on of hands were not practices which Jesus superseded, these traditions continue into the New Covenant.


The Conversion of Saul, 33-34 AD

Saul was born a Jew in Tarsus, an ancient city of what is now in Turkey.  As a young man, he studied under Rabbi Gamaliel, an influential Jewish religious teacher.  Saul was “circumcised the eighth day … a Hebrew of Hebrews; regarding the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the Church; regarding the righteousness in the Law, blameless” (Philippians 3:4-6).

“Saul began to destroy the church.  Entering house after house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison” (Acts 8:3).  With authorization from the Jewish leadership, he then set out for Damascus, Syria, to find any Jews there who were members of “the Way” (Acts 9:2) to imprison them.

As he traveled, Jesus blinded him with a bright light (Acts 9:3-7).  In Damascus, a Christian named Ananias laid hands on Paul, his blindness went away, and he was baptized (Acts 9:17-18).  Recounting what Jesus did, Paul later revealed:

“I am sending you to [the Gentiles] to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith in me.” [Acts 26:17b-18]


As the Apostle to the Gentiles, Saul chooses to use his Latin name, Paul

An Apostle is a man directly called by Christ, not through the Church.  The Apostles served a foundational role in the early Church.  For those brought into the Church are “members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone” (Ephesians 2:19-20).  (We know the apostle and prophets are referring to the same group of people because a definite article (“the”) precedes “apostles” but not “prophets,” making the “and” (kai) a copula, joining them into one.)

The impact of the Apostle Paul in the Church is beyond our realizing.  He:

  • became the leading evangelist to the Gentiles (Romans 11:13, Ephesians 3:8).
  • wrote down and expounded on the doctrines of the Church (too many to list).
  • wrote much what would later become the New Testament (13 of 27 books, also providing information for 16 chapters of Acts and may be the author of Hebrews)
  • established congregations, appointed pastors, and passed on to them the needed requirements for those who would replace them (1 Timothy 3:1-7, Titus 1:6-9).

The Apostle Peter described Paul’s writings as “hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, leading to their destruction” (2 Peter 3:16).  The same is still true today.

This leads us again to the Church’s, and Paul’s, practice of laying on of hands, which Jesus never commanded.  Unless we are ready to admit they “made things up” as they went along, we now take time to learn the historical origins of confirmation.



Acts 19:5-6:

On hearing this, [the Ephesian Christians] were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus [denoting the Baptism Jesus instituted].  And when Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began to speak in other tongues and prophesy.

The Apostle Paul baptized those Ephesians and then laid his hands on them.  This is the earliest practice we find of “confirming” the Holy Spirit in the person who was just baptized.  From these Apostolic acts, the Church continued the tradition of confirming the Holy Spirit in those who were just baptized.  Note who is doing the confirming—God, not the person being confirmed!

What Paul did doesn’t make much sense until we remember that those brought into in the New Covenant are also to be brought into God’s Royal Priesthood (unlike the Old Covenant where only the sons from the Tribe of Levi became priests).  As the Apostle Peter wrote, “You [Christians in the New Covenant] are a chosen people, a royal priesthood” (1 Peter 2:9).


The Old-Covenant Foreshadowing of What Would Become “Confirmation”

What the New Testament doesn’t tell us is how God brings someone into His Royal Priesthood.  We often assume He does so by baptism.  If so, then the Old-Covenant predecessor to baptism, circumcision, should’ve brought someone into the Old-Covenant priesthood.  This we do not find.

In the Old Covenant, God brought a man, from the Tribe of Levi, into His Priesthood through a commanded, four-part ritual.  First, the priest to be was washed with water (Exodus 29:4).  Next, he was dressed in new garments (Exodus 29:5-6).  After that, he was anointed with oil (Exodus 29:7).  Finally, he ate part of the animal sacrificed during the ordination ritual (Exodus 29:32).

God also commanded for this practice to go on “forever,” “throughout your generations” (Exodus 29:9, 42).  So, what God mandated for Old-Covenant priestly ordination is to go on—even in the New Covenant.  Like preaching, where Jesus only gave it a renewed focus by using the passive (repentance into the forgiveness of sins), bringing a Christian into God’s priesthood is also to continue.


Confirmation in the New Testament

As circumcision did not bring a man into the priesthood, neither does baptism (Colossians 2:11-13) bring a Christian into God’s Royal Priesthood.  Church history shows us this was done by “confirming” those who were baptized.

2 Corinthians 1:20-22:

All the promises of God find their “Yes” in him.  Therefore, through him, we also say “Amen” to the glory of God.  But it is God (C) who establishes (A) us with you in Christ, and has anointed (B) us, and who has also put his seal on us (B) and given us the Spirit in our hearts as a down payment (A).

When we look at 2 Corinthians 1:21-22, we find Paul using a “chiasm.”  A chiasm is a rhetorical device where the author makes two or more points and then re-mentions those points in reverse order, using different words or expressions.  In a chiasm, the central point is in the center.


3, The Chiastic Structure of 2 Corinthians 1.21-22


Here, we don’t notice the chiasm in English because of the word ordering in our translations.  In the Greek, it is much clearer, with “God” in the center.

By putting God in the center of the chiasm, Paul makes the point that what takes place in those verses is God’s doing.  What does God do?  In part “A” of the chiasm, He establishes us in Christ and gives us the down payment, the Holy Spirit, in our hearts.  This takes place in baptism (Acts 2:38).  In part “B” of the chiasm, God anoints and seals us, which is God “confirming” the Holy Spirit received in baptism.

In the chiasm, Paul uses “anoint” and “seal” as synonyms.  Knowing that, then what Paul writes in Ephesians 4:30 becomes clearer: “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit, in whom you were sealed [sphragizo] for the day of redemption.”  Paul was not referring to God giving the Holy Spirit in baptism but, instead, being sealed in the Spirit, being anointed, being “confirmed” in the Spirit.

Contrasting Christians from non-Christians, the Apostle John wrote, “But you have been anointed by the Holy One ….   the anointing that you received from him abides in you” (1 John 2:20, 27).

Hebrews 6:1-2 lists some core doctrines of Christianity, which all Christians were to experience, and/or understood awaited them.  We are aware of this because Hebrews calls these the “elementary teachings of Christ.”  Learning the “all” (Matthew 28:19-20) Jesus wants those in His Church to know, Hebrews then encourages the Christians to “be carried along to maturity” (Hebrews 6:1).

So, what are the bare bones of the Christian faith?

  • Repentance from dead works,
  • faith in God,
  • teaching about baptisms,
  • laying on of hands,
  • the resurrection of the dead,
  • and eternal judgment. [Hebrews 6:1b-2]

All Christians are to repent from dead works, have faith in God, be baptized, have hands laid on them (confirmation), rise from the dead (on the Last Day), and appear before God for the final judgment.  Since all Christians are to experience the “laying on of hands,” this can’t refer to pastoral ordination but another laying on of hands, the laying on of hands in “confirmation.”  Here, Hebrews reveals that confirmation also includes the laying on of hands.


“Confirmation” in the Early Church

Theophilus (120-190 AD, from Antioch): “Are you unwilling to be anointed with the oil of God?  It is on this account that we are called Christians [anointed ones]: because we are anointed with the oil of God” (To Autolycus 1:12).

Tertullian (160-225 AD, from Carthage) wrote:

Having come out of the baptismal pool, we are anointed with blessed oil according to the ancient discipline … to receive the priesthood.  It is with this oil that Aaron was anointed by Moses; from which comes his name of the Anointed [Christus] which comes from chrisma, meaning “anointing.” [“On Baptism,” ch.7; ANF 3:672]

From Hippolytus (170-235 AD, from Rome):

After this [being baptized], pouring the sanctified oil from his hand and putting it on his head, he [the bishop] shall say: “I anoint you with holy oil in God the Father Almighty and Christ Jesus and the Holy Spirit.”  And signing him on the forehead he shall give him the kiss of peace … [On the Apostolic Tradition, 21:22-23, Stewart-Sykes translation]

From Cyril of Jerusalem (313-386 AD):

You have been “baptized into Christ” and have “put on Christ,” you have become conformed to the Son of God [Gal 3:27, Rom 8:29]….  you “share in Christ” [Heb 3:14] …  But be sure not to regard the [oil used for anointing] merely as an ointment.  Just as the bread of the Eucharist after the invocation of the Holy Spirit is no longer just bread, but the body of Christ, so the holy [oil] after the invocation is no longer ordinary ointment but Christ’s grace, which through the presence of the Holy Spirit instills His divinity into us. [Mystagogical Lectures, 3.1-3]

Other Church fathers called confirmation a “seal” (Clement of Alexandria, 150-215 AD), “the spiritual seal” (Ambrose of Milan, 339-397 AD), “the seal of eternal life” (Leo the Great, 400-461 AD), and “the confirmation” (The Apostolic Constitutions, circa 375-380 AD).

The early Church’s sequence of baptism, being anointed with the laying on of hands, and then participating in the Lord Supper, mirrored the ordination of a man into the Old-Covenant Priesthood.  In Old-Covenant ordination, the final act was the priest eating part of the sacrifice.  Through a similar sequence, the earliest Church ordained someone into the New Covenant’s Royal Priesthood.


3, Being Brought into God's Priesthood


Jews and Gentiles: The Jerusalem Council, 49 AD

Bringing Gentiles into an ethnically Jewish Church was not an easy transition.

Read Acts 15:1

  • What were some ethnically Jewish Christians asserting as the Church’s doctrine?


Read Acts 15:6-11

  • Who met to resolve the issue?


  • What did Peter say?


Read Acts 15:12-13, 19-21

  • Who else speaks on his matter?


  • Who makes the final decision?


  • What is decided regarding the Jewish Christian demands?


  • What is decided regarding offensive practices to the Jewish Christians?


“Polluted by idols” referred to meat from animals sacrificed to pagan gods.  Christians could be tempted to eat such meat (1 Corinthians 8:1-13, 10:18-33, and Romans 14) because it was cheaper to buy.

“Sexual immorality” involved the worship practices at pagan temples.  The Apocrypha book of Wisdom helps us better understand the connection between sex and idolatry: “The idea of making idols was the beginning of sexual immorality” (Wisdom 14:12).

“Strangled” “and from blood” refer to consuming meat that did not have the blood drained from it.  The Law of Moses forbade eating such meat because “the life of a being is in its blood” (Genesis 9:4; Leviticus 17:13-14, 19:26).  Animals sacrificed in pagan rituals were not done according to the Law of Moses, even if the blood ended up being drained from the animal during the sacrifice.


Next week we look into The Didache.


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