The Touch of Eternity
As a graduate student in the Netherlands, I played baseball as a diversion from constant studying. The sports editor of a large newspaper in Holland asked to do a brief interview with me. I thought his interest in interviewing me about playing baseball was strange, but I agreed. The editor came and interviewed me, then a photographer took my picture. I expected the article would be buried somewhere in the back pages of the sports section. However, a few days later I saw a huge picture of myself on the front page of the sports section, along with a two-inch headline that said in Dutch, "American Minister Baseball Player." The editor's interview with me was the lead article for that day's sports page.
As I read the article, it suddenly dawned on me that the article had nothing to do with my prowess as a baseball player. What made me newsworthy was the fact that I, a minister, was sliding around in the dirt playing baseball in public. This was absolutely unthinkable in the Dutch culture, where everything to do with the church was highly formal.
At that time in the Dutch worship service, there was no processional. Rather, there was an opening hymn, and when it was time for the minister to start the service, he entered the sanctuary from a side door. Upon his appearance, the congregation stood, and when the minister sat down, the congregation sat. The minister preached in a tuxedo. After the benediction, everybody stood in the minister's honor, and he left, again, by the side door. We did not see him afterward.
This atmosphere of formality was a culture shock for me because our custom on Sunday in the American church was for the minister to personally greet the members of the congregation after services by shaking hands and having a short, cordial conversation. In the Dutch church, there was no contact with the pastor. That was considered an unnecessary social triviality.
In my estimation, the Protestant churches in Holland have suffered from that particular practice. Why do I say that? Some interesting studies have been made by doctors, psychiatrists, and psychologists about the importance of the human touch. It has been found that babies, if they are left in a hospital nursery and receive no human touch, can actually die. Human beings need to be touched; the human touch is extremely important, so important we long for it. This is an important aspect in the church, where the minister, as Martin Luther put it, represents Christ to his congregation. People longing to be touched by Christ need contact with their minister.
The sense of touch
In the New Testament, the ordination of individuals for particular offices or tasks was accompanied by the laying on of hands. The church at Antioch laid hands on Paul and Barnabas before sending them off as the first missionaries (Acts 13:3). Likewise, Timothy apparently was ordained as a pastor through the laying on of hands (1 Tim. 4:14). It was a symbol for the transfer of power from God to a human being.
Today, most churches that ordain people to church offices, to the clergy, or to the eldership do likewise. In Presbyterian churches, the members of the presbytery come forward, gather around the ordinand, and lay hands upon his head as a symbol of the laying on of the hands of Christ, of the anointing of God. In Episcopalian churches, it is done by the bishop, but the purpose is the same. I will never forget my own ordination to the ministry, and I wish every Christian could experience the laying on of hands as I did on that occasion. The human touch on that occasion was precious to me.