Baptism, laying on of hands and receiving of the Holy Spirit: 3 things happen here in only a few verses that keeps church and theology going round and round in circles.
The reason I say this, is because there is no systematic and uniform theology about this at all in the Bible, certainly not in the Old Testament.
Hence, when we take a look to the origins of baptism there is not much to go on. Only the gospels of Matthew and Mark have the commission to believe and to be baptised. But, further in the New Testament there is no theology of baptism. Even more so, nowhere in the NT is the same and constant use of baptism either. Only from our reading this morning we learn that Paul re-baptised some who were baptised by John.
Baptism might have transferred from the Old Testament, with the proselyte baptism, into a practice exercised in the NT, but that was only the baptism by John the Baptist. Baptism in the Name of Christ is of course only to be found in the NT. And although people were baptised in the Name of Christ, there is no theological teaching on this practice and even less so with receiving the Holy Spirit.
Therefore, baptism, followed by laying on of hands and receiving the Holy Spirit cannot be proven from the Bible as a ritual that has to be performed.
It’s only Christian tradition, combined with creeds from councils and Church teaching that forms the basis for theological teaching for baptism, followed by laying on of hands and receiving of the Holy Spirit.
Baptism as an expression of faith coincides in the NT on several occasions with the receiving of the Holy Spirit. But others were baptised who did not receive the Holy Spirit at their baptism while others received the Holy Spirit before they were baptised, adding even more confusion to the real meaning of baptism.
Baptism as a sacrament only developed much later and was not practised as such by Jesus' first disciples. At best baptism in the NT was a symbol, marking a new beginning, an new commitment, and sometimes happened to the whole household.
Even if baptism is only a symbol and not a theological mandate, it still is a powerful testimony and expression of faith in Jesus Christ.
When I lived and worked for a while in Hong Kong with YWAM at the Yuen Long Gospel centre in the New Territories, in the beginning of the 1980ies, I met several Chinese people whose baptism was a real brake with their past. Their baptism was an openly breach with the Confussius/Buddhist tradition they had been living under and most of time it caused a break with their whole family. With their baptism they started a complete new beginning with a new family, their church family.
Although we’re now 40 years later there are still enough places in this world where baptism is a life threatening commitment and the mark of a really new beginning.
Years ago, when I was evangelising one or two afternoons per week in the Red Light district in Amsterdam with YWAM, Trudi and I went to the baptism of someone who was a thief, thug or whatever with a history of prison sentences. Trudi, who worked for a gap-year in a Christian Youth hostel, the Shelter, on the edge of the Red Light district knew him well. While he stayed in the Shelter he his gave his life to Christ, so he wanted to be baptised. At the baptism service we listened to his moving and wonderful testimony about his former life, repentance and turning to faith. He called his baptism a new beginning of his life, leaving behind all what he done wrong and publically asking for forgiveness of all his mistakes. Many then witnessed how the water of his baptism marked the new beginning of his new life. That was on Sunday evening. The next Tuesday he left the Shelter taking with him thousands stolen from the safe and from some other places.
This shows how it is up to you and me and everyone else who is baptised, to give it real meaning and value.
The real meaning and value of baptism is in how we live our lives as those who put their faith in Christ. If Jesus Christ and His salvific ministry is not at the heart of baptism it will always become a hollow shell. The shell often used to pour the water of baptism at the child at the font, will remain an empty symbol if not followed by growth in faith. And the water of the baptistry that emerges the one who is baptised bears no symbol of cleansing or the mark of a new beginning if it is not followed by commitment to live with Jesus Christ.
We symbolically shared in the death of Christ when we were baptised, but will we share in the resurrection of Jesus Christ if He is not alive in our own hearts and visible alive in us for others?
Baptism is the mark of a life with Jesus Christ at the centre. To be loyal to Him Who is the source of life, in good and in less good times. Baptism on its own doesn't mean much if it isn't followed by walking together with our living Lord in a way of righteousness and loyalty to God our Father.