Discussions of Book of Mormon issues and evidences, plus other topics related to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Friday, June 05, 2009

"What Do You Give a Ghost?"

I recently heard a woman from Utah recall the day her eight-year-old son was going to be baptized. That morning he came running to her saying, "I can't be baptized today. I don't have a gift for the Holy Ghost. I don't have a gift for the Holy Ghost! . . . What do you give a ghost?"

Like that young boy, many people are unclear about the nature of the gift of the Holy Ghost. There are many things we don't know, but we do know that it is a precious spiritual blessing that is given after baptism by the laying on of hands, a priesthood ordinance that has been restored in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Barry Bickmore in his book, Restoring the Ancient Church, briefly discusses the gift of the Holy Ghost in Chapter 4 based on a few things we know from early Christianity (for the references, see the online book):
The Laying on of Hands for the Gift of the Holy Ghost

One more issue needs to be addressed in connection with baptism. Namely, the ordinance of baptism was not originally just a dunking. At first it included both immersion and the laying on of hands for the reception of the Holy Ghost, and only later did baptism become two separate rites. Likewise, Joseph Smith preached: "Baptism by water is but half a baptism, and is good for nothing without the other half--that is, the baptism of the Holy Ghost."106

Laying on of hands always accompanied baptism in the New Testament. For example, after Philip preached to the Samaritans and baptized quite a number of them, the Apostles came and conferred the Gift of the Holy Ghost.
Now when the Apostles which were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent unto them Peter and John: Who, when they were come down, prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Ghost: (For as yet he was fallen upon none of them, only they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.) Then laid they their hands on them, and they received the Holy Ghost. (Acts 8:14-17)
Certain post-Apostolic writers were anxious to preserve the form and meaning of these rites. Tertullian, for example, both confirmed that baptism was necessary and clearly defined the two parts of the ordinance:
When, however, the prescript is laid down that "without baptism, salvation is attainable by none" (chiefly on the ground of that declaration of the Lord, who says, "Unless one be born of water, he hath not life"), there arise immediately scrupulous, nay rather audacious, doubts on the part of some . . . . Not that in the waters we obtain the Holy Spirit; but in the water, under (the witness of) the angel, we are cleansed, and prepared for the Holy Spirit . . . . In the next place the hand is laid on us, invoking and inviting the Holy Spirit through benediction.107
Cyprian not only recorded the form of the rites, he identified baptism and the laying on of hands with being "born of water and the Spirit":
[After the baptisms by Philip in Samaria] that which was needed was performed by Peter and John; viz., that prayer being made for them, and hands being imposed, the Holy Spirit should be invoked and poured out upon them, which now too is done among us, so that they who are baptized in the Church are brought to the prelates of the Church, and by our prayers and by the imposition of hands obtain the Holy Spirit, and are perfected with the Lord's seal.108
For then finally can they be fully sanctified, and be the sons of God, if they be born of each sacrament; since it is written, "Except a man be born again of water, and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God."109
And Bishop Cornelius of Rome disapproved of the practice of baptizing without laying on hands, for without it, how could one receive the Holy Ghost? It would only be "half a baptism," as Joseph Smith said.
Being delivered by the exorcists, he fell into a severe sickness; and as he seemed about to die, he received baptism by affusion, on the bed where he lay; if indeed we can say that such a one did receive it. And when he was healed of his sickness he did not receive the other things which it is necessary to have according to the canon of the Church, even the being sealed [laid hands on] by the bishop. And as he did not receive this, how could he receive the Holy Spirit? . . .110
Baptism and the laying on of hands for the reception of the Holy Ghost are necessary to enter the Kingdom of God. Joseph Smith not only got the concept right, however, he also restored the proper forms of the ordinances and the knowledge that a merciful and just God would never condemn little children for sins they never committed.
This spiritual gift is, of course, subjective and personal. The comfort and guidance provided occurs at a personal level and is dependent on our willingness and ability to listen to the whisperings of "the still small voice" that comes from God. When we are living according to the teachings of Christ, that is when we are most likely to experience the blessings of the gift of the Holy Ghost.

The Holy Ghost is a key means through which God gives personal revelation to His sons and daughters on earth. The Holy Ghost testified of Christ and teaches of of Him and helps us remember Him and know what we should do (John 14:26; 15:26). It is only though personal revelation that we can know that Jesus is the Christ and that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is true. This leads us to the much-derided LDS concept of a "testimony" through personal revelation, but as foreign as that concept is to the world, it is remarkably consistent with New Testament Christianity.

So returning to the question from a child in Missouri, what gift do you give a ghost? I suppose what the Holy Ghost wants most from us is that we have faith in Jesus Christ and strive to follow Him in a covenant relationship. The Holy Ghost testifies of Christ and seeks to bring us unto Him that we may have eternal life, the greatest gift of all.


Tony said...

Wonderful post brother Lindsay. I recall Joseph having said once that you "might as well baptize a bag of sand" as perform the ordinance of baptism without following it with the bestowal of the gift of the Holy Ghost.

Another interesting insight is something I heard from good ol' Brother Bytheway: When those officiating say 'recieve the Holy Ghost,' we don't just automatically have it. We need to recieve it, as you said through our faith and righteousness, and it is a commandment that we do so.

Georgia said...

Acts 10:44 shows people receiving the holy ghost before baptism

Jeff Lindsay said...

Yes, the influence of the Holy Ghost can be experienced by anybody, but the bestowal of the formal gift - with the promise of enduring companionship of the Spirit - comes after baptism and is done through the ordinance of the laying on of hands by those who have the priesthood authority to do so.

Georgia said...

Mormanity states above what Mormons believe and throughout the new testament it shows baptism first followed by laying on of hands except for acts10:44

This has always been a very interesting section of scripture for me.

Note that peter does not lay hands on anyone and he is surprised that the holy ghost comes down from heaven
Also it is before baptism which is very clearly written
Finally note that peter after the bapism in no way lays hands on these Gentiles for the holy ghost as he knows they have already received it

The Mormon view on baptism and the laying on of hands is valid in most cases but the argument that this was a temporary receiving of the holy ghost ( in this instance) is wrong in my opinion

Anonymous said...

The Ghost that lives in my barn isn't holy or anything, but when I leave him corn chips in the evening they are gone in the morning!

Lets see science explain that!

J.A.G. Fehr said...

Anon- I believe you have a vermin problem. So says my scientific mind.

Georgia- I'm afraid I must comment. If people were unable, from time to time, to feel the effects fo the Holy Ghost, then there would be no conversions. Because it is by the sprit that we are taught truths, and through the spirit that we can become conversted so that we may recieve of Christs Atonement and recieve the gift of the holy ghost. People who don't recieve that gift aren't devoid of the holy Ghosts effects, but maybe it would be clearer to say that they only recieve of it in special occasions. Wheras recieving the gift removes tat restriction.

Of course, I could be wrong, but thats how we learn, by discussing this sorts of things.

Anonymous said...

A great post! I love the account by Lorenzo Snow concerning his desire to receive the promise made to him following baptism and its fulfillment a short time later - see the Gift of the Holy Ghost.