What does laying on of hands mean in the Bible?
In the New Testament there are 3 main categories:
Receiving the Spirit – Acts 8:17; 9:17; 19:6
Ordination – Acts 13:3; 1 Tim 4:14; 5:22; 2 Tim 1:6
Healing and blessing, especially in the ministry of Jesus.
The context of Hebrews 6:1-2 implies it is something for all Christians, not clergy. Basic doctrine for all believers is repentance, baptism, resurrection, judgment. Laying on of hands would probably be part of this as a confirmation of baptism as new believers enter the church. The Old Testament background is putting hands on a sacrifice you are about to offer in your place (Numbers 8:12 for one example).
When it comes to ordination to office, the point of the laying on of hands is to show the people the one ordained is being given authority by the church, and to show the one ordained that he is bound with specific authority for a certain purpose. It’s to recognize the giving of official authority.
I do not believe there is more authority involved if there is an unbroken historical line of succession back to the first apostles in a specific church. Churches like Rome that claim they are the only true (historical?) church will often emphasize the laying on of hands, believing that only they possess such authority. They forget Revelation 2:5 – an organized church can lose its lampstand before Christ. Many have. So to seek historical continuity of an organization is a wild goose chase. We’re right to try to recover our historical heritage, but wrong to make it the driving factor of orthodoxy. Adhering to the content of Scripture is a better test of an authentic church than historical continuation.
I grew up in a denomination that claims to be the oldest continuing denomination in America – the Dutch Reformed. Today they are very liberal, and straying from Scripture. The history is just that – it’s just an historical fact. There is no doctrinal orthodoxy from our past that we can rely on to be accepted by God today. That would be like relying on your going forward at the altar call 15 years ago, even though you’re sinning up a storm now, not caring about God anymore.
The apostolic succession we follow today is adhering to the Word they wrote in Scripture. It is not tied to any specific organizational history. No denomination can claim a monopoly on the Holy Spirit. The church is characterized (and judged) more by her professions of faith, as witnessed in a succession of baptisms, than she is by her historical line of ordinations of bishops back to the apostles.