Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Clapping in worship

It has become trendy in a lot of churches to clap following the music. I have always felt uncomfortable about this because we are removing the focus from God and to ourselves. Below is a very good article concerning the matter.

Sound theology is sometimes as simple as good manners.

When I first met her she was a spirited feisty young teenager. I supposed she was born that way. When she was eight years old, her family attended a conference where her father was one of the speakers. One evening there was a musical program during which the enthusiastic leader encouraged, "Let's give God a hand." At that she got up and began to walk toward the exit. Her surprised father reached her before she fulfilled her intention.

"What are you doing?" he inquired.

"I'm leaving," she firmly replied.

"But," he reasoned, "wouldn't that be rude?"

"Well," she clenched her argument, "they're being rude to God!"

The family followed her out.

As a college student today she knows it gets a lot worse. People aren't just flippantly "giving God a hand." In many services they routinely give each other a hand, especially in response to musical offerings.

Ministers will note that the practice has not caught on as a response to sermons. Perhaps we will have to install applause signs in our sanctuaries (or "worship centers" as they're now called) before people will get the idea. Then we'll have to learn to pause until the clapping subsides.

In this context, it's a pleasant surprise to hear a word of sanity from the secular priestess of manners, Judith Martin. In Miss Manners Rescues Civilization, she answers a question about applause in church with, "Having forgotten church manners, people are substituting those that would be proper for a performance...Hard as it may be to imagine, musicians in church are supposed to play or sing for the glory of God, not the pleasure of the congregation (which people interestingly slip and call 'the audience'). That is why there should be no applause in church. Not even for small children, who particularly need to have the purpose of the performance explained to them."

In response to the protest that the Bible authorizes clapping (as is Psalm 47:1), Miss Manners proves herself a better theologian than many evangelical worship leaders. "Where," she asks, "is the Biblical reference by which God commands applause to honor musicians...?"

Miss Manners hopes she is not pressing too fine a point when she distinguishes between the clapping of hands as an "expression of religious awe or joy and the clapping of hands to denote approval and appreciation for the achievements of our fellow mortals."

The specific problem Miss Manners addresses is the tip of the iceberg of worship malpractice. Too many evangelical worshipers are like the man shopping for his wife's Christmas present and choosing something which pleases himself. So we go to church expecting to be soothed, entertained and sent home feeling good.

It hardly occurs to us to ask, "What will please God?" The subjects, not the Object of worship, are the focus. The result is that we no longer know how to conduct ourselves in God's house. We lack worship manners or even the sense that we need them.

If you invite me to your home, I'll come with my manners, which are both attitude (I respect you) and actions (I'll conform to the expectation of your household).

What attitudes should you bring to worship? God wants exuberant joy (Psalm 100:1-2) and reverent awe (Hebrews 12:28-29).

What actions does He approve in worship? Singing, praying, reading and preaching His Word, testifying to and confessing our faith, giving offerings, celebrating sacraments and making holy vows.

If you think worship manners are no big deal, you might check out the story of two Old Testament fellows who forgot their manners and lost their lives because, "Among those who approach me, I will show myself holy; in the sight of all the people I will be honored" (Leviticus 10:1-7).


Anonymous Mark said...

I play in the "worship band" at my church and sometimes the congregation clap after the end of a song or a set. I also join in this clapping. I have never taken this as applause for the "worship band" but as a positive reponse to the worship time itself. I realize this may not be the case in all churches but I thought you may be interested in my take on it.


1:53 PM  
Blogger carolinabaptist said...

I have always felt uncomfortable with the clapping. I'm not saying that the clapping is necessarily for the band or whoever, just that it seems to take the focus of the worship service elsewhere. What church do you attend?

6:13 PM  
Blogger Dan McGowan said...

As is the case with so many "church" issues, we have to be careful to guard against becoming legalistic since, as scripture teaches us, Christ came to set us free indeed!

That said - I think "clapping for God" or "giving God a hand" or applause in church HAVE gotten WAY out of hand (so to speak...) First, God doesn't NEED us to "give him a hand" and that is not what the Bible is talking about when it tells us to "clap our hands." The problem is how our society VIEWS applause - I don't care what rationale anyone tries to use on this issue - the bottom line is, applause is our way of informing a performer that they have done a good job with their performance. That is WHY we applaud for them. So, when we applaud the praise band, we are doing so because, like trained seals, we are wanting them to know they "did a good job with the song and we liked the way they did it." We are honoring, in other words, their HUMAN efforts.

Now, if we were attending a "Praise Band Concert" where the focus was on the band's efforts, I would say it would be crazy NOT to applaud for them. However, when we gather to worship our Lord, the focus is NOT on our efforts - well, it shouldn't be... our focus - all of our focus - our attention, our glory, our money, our concentration - all of it - must be on the Lord for HE and HE ALONE is the one we are gathered to encounter.

As led by the Spirit, we SHOULD be clapping in our services - probably the most obvious places might be during songs that welcome the action, or perhaps during or after a message that brings us to a place of joyful and exhuberant conviction - but in BOTH cases, the clapping is a RESPONSE to the MOVING OF THE HOLY SPIRIT. It is NOT as a means of affirming the presentation - and that is the key difference.

Unfortunately, there are many musicians in churches who ARE there, to a degree, for the glory they can receive on the platform. This is because most musicains, regardless of their ability, WILL "shine" or "stand out" since the majority of those around them are not musically or artistically inclined. They are a big fish in a small pond, in other words... put them on American Idol and Simon would have a field day!

I think the easy solution is to simply REMEMBER WHY we have gathered - to keep in mind WHO IT IS we are REALLY there to ENCOUNTER. Once that matter is completely settled, I think the problem will go away...

Ah, but settling that matter is easier said than done!

Dan McGowan

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