Now of course, my last paragraph could sound like overweening arrogance, I don't mean it to be. I don't have all the answers to complex theological question, but I do believe deeply that this is the standard to apply to any aspect of church teaching (doctrine) or church life (ecclesiology).
Take the controversial baptism of the Holy Spirit - to put it simply, conservatives say he is given fully at conversion, charismatics say he comes fully with the laying on of hands after conversion / water baptism.
So which is it?
The New Testament describes believers as, amongst other things, a royal priesthood (1Pet.2:8). In order to understand that term, we need to know how the Bible defines it, and there is very little on it in the New Testament, but plenty about it in the Old, so it is to the Old we go.
In Leviticus 8 God gives instructions to Moses as to how Aaron and his sons are to be ordained as priests in the service of God.
Lots of symbolism goes on with Aaron being set apart as high priest (see similarities with Jesus own baptism in Matt.3), but cutting a long story short, first they are all washed Lev.8:6...
Then Moses brought Aaron and his sons forward and washed them with water...Then they are all anointed (v30) with special oil that is strictly forbidden to be used in any other context except the ministry of the priesthood (Ex.30:22-33). To anoint anyone else with this oil was punishable by death / banishment...
...Then Moses took some of the anointing oil and some of the blood from the altar and sprinkled them on Aaron and his garments and on his sons and their garments. So he consecrated Aaron and his garments and his sons and their garments.Setting these men apart for service to God happens in two distinct stages (hooray for charismatic position and boo to the conservative position), but those two stages happen at the same time, (hooray for conservative position and boo to the charismatic position).
If Leviticus 8 is the starting paradigm, then I don't get why many conservatives don't lay hands on Christians after they have been baptised in water and pray for them to receive the Spirit. It feels like they publicly testify to half of the Spirit's work.
Equally, I don't understand why many charismatics seem happy after baptism in water to allow new Christians to wander around in what they would consider a spiritual wilderness for a couple of weeks (or perhaps months or even years) before suddenly announcing in a meeting that they need to be baptised in the Spirit by the laying on of hands. It seems like an unnecessary (unbiblical?) delay. Imagine Moses sending Aaron and his sons away after washing, telling them that at some point in the future, at his convenience, he will call them back again and anoint them. Why wait? The apostles didn't. As soon as they heard of the "unfinished business," they were quick to rectify it, Acts 19:1-5. (Note to those who think about these things, I therefore think that the book of Acts is both prescriptive and descriptive.)
Now, if one were to adopt a position that feels a bit more like an echo of Leviticus 8 then, there are two obvious and opposite dangers to avoid:
- Clearly the whole thing could become a ritualistic "batch" process where we go through the motions and don't expect the Spirit to take hold of someone and give them a life changing experience - and besides that kind of thing can be messy and awkward especially when we want to get home and eat lunch / dinner / supper / watch TV / check social media etc!
- Praying for someone to receive the Spirit after they have come out of the water and when everyone's eyes are boring into them could be a terrifying prospect for some and a devastating prospect for others if the Spirit doesn't appear to come to them at that moment in the way they hoped he would. However, he is not a spell or formula and he comes and ministers as he sees fit. Whilst I see no reason why he would not want to bless the person in question, we can never assume his motives for him.
A final thought...
God has also placed this "Leviticus-8-ordination-of-the-priesthood" paradigm at the heart of our daily rhythms. Most of us, every day, before going out to work or at the very least, before going to a special occasion - like a wedding feast (Rev.19:7-8), wash ourselves with soap and shampoo etc then and anoint ourselves with deodorant, perfume/after shave etc.
This too is a (daily) echo of both our once for all salvation and our day by day dependence on the risen Christ and his Spirit - to confess our sins (1Jn.1:8-10) to hear and receive again the eternal word of the cleansing Christ and to be clothed with his anointed power to live the Godly life (Eph. 5:18).