As of 1980, British statistical researcher David B Barrett identified 20,800 Christian denominations in the world. From a historical perspective, there were two large branches of Christianity. The Catholic Church in the west and the Orthodox Church in the east. Following the Protestant Reformation in 1517, a third major group emerged. Beside Martin Luther’s influence, Christian denominations vary depending upon which beliefs, creeds, doctrines and teachings are emphasized.
When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that [the people of] Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them. 15 They came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit; 16 for He had not yet fallen on any of them; they had simply been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus [as His possession], Acts 8:14-16.
One of the greatest disagreements among Christian churches is their understanding of the Holy Spirit. The theology of baptism highlights this difference as a believer’s baptism, christenings, and infant baptisms mean different things to different denominations. Some conservative and rigid churches believe if you are not baptized in a certain way or manner, you’re not really saved. Meanwhile, some apostolic faiths claim if you do not speak in tongues, you aren’t saved either. These debates magnify the mystery of the Holy Spirit.
Then Peter and John laid their hands on them [one by one], and they received the Holy Spirit. 18 Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money, 19 saying, “Give me this authority and power too, so that anyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.” 20 But Peter said to him, “May your money be destroyed along with you, because you thought you could buy the [free] gift of God with money! 21 You have no part or share in this matter, because your heart (motive, purpose) is not right before God, Acts 8:17-21.
Beginning in the book of Acts, a conversation to Christianity was immediately followed by baptism. Luke, the author of Acts, reports that initial converts were filled with the power of the Holy Spirit as soon as each baptism ceremony was completed. This trend continued until Philip brought the gospel to Samaria. When news spread to John and Peter that the Holy Spirit did not fill new believers, the laying on of hands and prayer was necessary to draw out God’s spirit. This same dilemma continues today as visible signs of the Holy Spirit are rare. Thus, some may question “am I really saved or what’s blocking the Holy Spirit?” If I had the answer to this question, it wouldn’t be a mystery. All believers can do today is trust God to shed the light of truth on the mystery of the Holy Spirit.
by Jay Mankus