Should we applaud during worship services?

Shall We Clap?
“If we applaud a musician in the same way that the world applauds entertainers, don’t we, at best, run the risk of communicating that what they have done, rather than worship, is merely a performance, an act of entertainment?”

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Ron Bean's picture

In 1994 I read an article by Miss Manners (Judith Martin) on this subject. Among the things she said were these:

"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…?”

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

Donn R Arms's picture

May I share an anecdote? A number of years ago when I was pastoring a church in St. Petersburg, FL I became acquainted with Frank Boggs, the greatest bass vocalist of our generation (imho). He came to town to do a big Saturday evening concert and consented to come to our church the next morning. As the concert progressed our people would express appreciation in the typical Baptist way by saying, "Amen" after each song. Somewhere during the course of the concert he sang "Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho" in such a way as to show off his deep range. It was intended to be a fun song. At the end our people applauded! Boggs stopped the concert, stood up (he had been accompanying himself on the piano), and thanked the audience. "I appreciate so much singing for an audience that knows when to applaud," he said. "You understand when I am seeking to honor Christ and when I am merely performing."

Donn R Arms

Susan R's picture

EditorModerator

if you're Deaf you wave your hands over your head and stomp your feet...

Isn't there a difference between 'clapping' and 'applause'? I think we instinctively clap our hands sometimes when we are excited- kids clap all the time. I often clap and laugh when I think something is particularly funny. I'm not 'applauding'...

JG's picture

My heroine? Whatever. Smile Thanks for that, Ron. If Miss Manners agrees with me, I must be right, though she probably would disapprove of me using smiley faces.

Susan, I don't know whether to clap in glee, applaud you for your perspicuity in raising that point, or clap my hands at you in the OT sense for muddying the water ;). I hope it was clear that the post was primarily about applause, despite the title. I don't think God calls us to be killjoys. If someone got up and gave a testimony that they got saved yesterday, and people clapped their hands out of sheer joy, I might clap right along with them. Sometimes, the two (clapping for joy, clapping to applaud) can be mixed, too. You might have some people doing one while others are doing the other. I'm not too worried about that kind of situation -- but entertainment is one of the worst idols of our age, and I don't want to do things that feed that mindset.

Donn, interesting story, thanks for that. I've got another. When I was in seminary at BJU, they brought in the New Sousa Band for a concert. The pattern of their performance quickly became clear. A narrator would introduce a song, they would play it, we would applaud, and then they would go directly into an encore song, followed by more applause. Lather, rinse, repeat Smile -- the songs came in pairs.

The narrator introduced, after many marching numbers, "Nearer, My God, to Thee," and mentioned that it was whispered by President McKinley on his deathbed, and played at his funeral by the original Sousa band. They played the hymn, and there was no sound, not the least applause. After a pause, they went into their encore, and received a very appreciative round of applause.

The narrator, before introducing the next piece, thanked the audience for not applauding. He said that had never happened to them before. It was an interesting moment. It can be difficult to tell, but I had the impression that he, and perhaps some others, were touched. Perhaps they gave more thought about what that hymn meant than they had in the past.

Kevin Miller's picture

The blog article said, "In general, in our church we don’t do much in the way of solos or other music that could drift into the “performance” category."

Is it really the case that solos, or even choir music, are so close to "performance" that they should rarely be done in church? Does the intention of the "performer" to actually direct their song to God make a difference? I think it does.

I also think the the direction of the applause can be focused to God rather than to the person doing the singing. Is it wrong to appluad God for what God has done? Does God look down upon a culturally practiced method of praise if we direct that culturally practiced method to God Himself?

Jeffrey Dean's picture

and generally care on like a complete idiot when your Holy Spirit moves me into your joy. Remove from me any awareness of the condemnation of those around me. Make me forget the grave admonitions of my youth by those who love form more than You. Lord, I want to worship You in Your house and before Your Throne with the utter self abandonment of King David. Let me please you with my worship. Let me find that freedom here before I go to You there.

Chip Van Emmerik's picture

Quote:
by those who love form more than You. Lord

Quite a strong accusation there.

Why is it that my voice always seems to be loudest when I am saying the dumbest things?

DavidO's picture

Jeffrey Dean wrote:
Make me forget the grave admonitions of my youth by those who love form more than You.

Because you either behave any way "the spirit moves you to" or you are an idolator of form. :~

EDIT: Or, what Chip said.

JG's picture

Kevin, thanks for the comment. Several thoughts on it, first on solos.
1. This wasn't an anti-solo post, it was about applause. I think I said pretty clearly that the Scriptures don't forbid solos.
2. The reason I gave that we "don't do much in the way of solos" is because Scripture on singing to one another seems to fit better with congregational singing, not because solos are wrong. I'll add that we don't see any indications of anything like it in the New Testament, and the case for it in the OT is far from ironclad. But this is not a hill I want to die on, or spend a lot of time on.
3. The very fact that I said these things could "drift into" performance would, I hope, be indication that they are not inherently problematic.
4. Yes, the intention of the "performer" matters greatly, but so does the response of the hearers. If everyone in your church is spiritually mature enough to not be tempted to drift into an entertainer/audience mindset, you've got less of a concern.

On "applauding God":
1. Yes, I think this is possible.
2. In our culture, those who applaud are the patrons who are expressing their approval of a performance. The performer effectively is working for them. This is one of several cultural messages that applause carries. Is that a message we wish to convey to others, or to our own hearts?
3. When something is ingrained in our culture (and closely connected with an entertainment aspect of our culture that has been a significant vehicle for corruption), how sure can we be that we really understand everything going on in our hearts when we take part in it?
4. How sure can we be that the spiritually less mature among us will be "safe" in this, rather than being drawn into wrong thought patterns?

Final thought: pretty much the entire focus of your comment was where it belongs, on matters of the heart. I appreciate the emphasis. My emphasis was not so much on where one person's heart is, but on the problem of where the heart might go. I think if you read again you'll see that my main focus is that with our cultural background, applause can take our hearts (or that of others) in directions they shouldn't go.

***

Jeffrey, be assured, I'm not condemning you, though you apparently condemn me by suggesting that I love form more than the Lord. Perhaps you yourself love some forms, and maybe that is why you are so unhappy when someone suggests consideration as to whether it is problematic. As for me, I have no great personal opposition to clapping or applause. I just want to do what most pleases the Lord.

In any event, may the Lord help us all to always be open to the possibility that we have not fully understood the ways in which He does, and does not, want us to worship Him when we meet together. Lord bless.

Edit: I wouldn't have piled on if I had seen what Chip and David wrote in response to Jeffrey.

Sean Fericks's picture

Our church has had a few awkward moments when a member sings a solo, and a visitor (not understanding our hesitancy to applaud) will start clapping, a couple of others who aren't certain of the situation, join in, but then it all dies in a kind of embarrassing faux pas for the visitor. My wife and I have decided to join in the applause so that visitors are not left embarrassed.

JG's picture

Sean, in that situation I would clap, too. It's the charitable thing to do, and I'm convinced God loves charity more than He loves carefulness about clapping. Thanks for mentioning that aspect of it.

You might discuss it with your pastor -- he might encourage others to clap in that situation, too.

Anne Sokol's picture

people clap sometimes, like a collective "thank you, God." Like 2 Sundays ago when a woman came up front with her son whom we'd been praying for for years. It was just a spontaneous way we collectively said, "thank you, God!"

Susan R's picture

EditorModerator

I thought it was interesting at first that clapping could also show disapproval, but then come to think of it, I've clapped my hands at the kids (and the dog) to get their attention when they were into getting into something they shouldn't.

I agree that our entertainment-driven culture may require us to be more careful about elements like clapping, because misguided expectations and focus have veered its use from original intentions. I suppose it's spiritual entropy. Unless acted upon by the Holy Spirit and the Word, all our actions will devolve in something fleshly.

We've had discussions here before about giving honor where honor is due and recognizing someone's efforts, but IMO extreme carefulness in this area is important. I always cringe when my kids are rewarded for memorizing verses or bringing their Bibles to church. I don't want them to make wrong connections between earthly and heavenly treasures. I received many rewards when I was a kid, and as an adult it took a long time before I didn't feel a sense of disappointment when my efforts or accomplishments weren't acknowledged. I had to deprogram myself from looking to others for approval and learn to do things simply for the love of God and in order to bring honor and glory to Him.

I said that to say I completely understand why we should be thoughtful about what we are communicating with something as seemingly innocuous as clapping.

And you need to add hanky-waving as another kind of 'sanctified' clapping.

JNoël's picture

AMENOMETER: a theoretical instrument used to measure the adapted response to the collision of a cultural norm with a spiritual tradition.

Ashamed of Jesus! of that Friend On whom for heaven my hopes depend! It must not be! be this my shame, That I no more revere His name. -Joseph Grigg (1720-1768)

Alex Guggenheim's picture

My family does not respond with clapping in any worship situation. These are spiritual ministries meant for people to respond to God, not to the one ministering. Now there are places to applaud our brothers and sisters and demonstrate appreciation for their ministering to us but not in this setting.

MClark's picture

As others noted, clapping does not always equate with applauding for the performance. One person described the overabundance of joy. Yes, for many who would clap at the end of the song, clapping is a way to demonstrate the joy generated by dwelling on the powerful truths of God as a congregation and proclaiming them in unity. Perhaps a soloist or a group will sing a song that resonates so strongly with the congregation that spontaneous applause celebrates truth, not performance.

However, some who might believe that clapping is always wrong could condemn a clapping congregation, asserting that clapping is always applause. The clappers might not be celebrating a performance (applauding), and the disapproving spectator would sin in his judgment of the clappers. We should be careful not to judge the motives of others--ESPECIALLY cross-culturally.

Rev Karl's picture

I may have shared this life experience with the group in the past. If so, please ignore it and go on to the next valid post.

I grew up in a church that was VERY conservative in matters of worship. There was obviously no applause when music was presented. There were no shouts of "A-MEN" during the service. (Of course, where I'm from, they don't say A-men at all: they say Ah-men. Smile )

Years ago we were asked to participate in a 50th Anniversary celebration for a church down here. The Pastor was a graduate of The University. His son had just completed his freshman year at The University. Obviously, all of the previous pastors had not been of the strongly conservative "stripe" as was the current pastor. Many musical groups made up of former members were asked to minister in music. The songs they presented were of the Southern Gospel style common and familiar in this area of the country. The songs were exciting, and the response was applause. My dear wife and I sang last. There was no applause, but the unison "A-MEN!" in response to our ministry nearly shook the roof. The people could easily differentiate between performance and ministry.

We now attend the church God has led us to (as members) in Panama City, FL. Our congregation shouts, applauds, even occasionally runs the aisles. Our Pastor has been known to "walk the pews" - stepping from one pew to the next over the back of the pew. Many of our members have encouraged me to "Cut loose, Brother Karl!" They love me, and I love them dearly, but I can't do it. I will "say" A-men (I have learned the Southern pronunciation) at an appropriate time. But I just can't "cut loose" as my beloved brethren have encouraged me to do. I discussed it with my Pastor a while ago. His response: "God is pleased with our loud shouts of praise, but he is also blessed by the thundering sound of a single, falling tear." And believe me, as God continues to bless me through the ministry of our church, there are MANY tears of joy, rejoicing, appreciation, gratitude and love shed.

Rom 14:4 Who art thou that judgest another man's servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand.
Rom 14:5 One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.

Dan Burrell's picture

Seriously????l After TWENTY-FIVE years of discussion this topic is coming back AGAIN?

Can't wait for the MacArthur/Blood post, the bus ministry thread and the article on wire rim glasses.

smh

Dan Burrell Cornelius, NC Visit my Blog "Whirled Views" @ www.danburrell.com

Greg Long's picture

Dan Burrell wrote:
Seriously????l After TWENTY-FIVE years of discussion this topic is coming back AGAIN?

Can't wait for the MacArthur/Blood post, the bus ministry thread and the article on wire rim glasses.

smh


...oops, I mean, "Amen!"

-------
Greg Long, Ed.D. (SBTS)

Pastor of Adult Ministries
Grace Church, Des Moines, IA

Adjunct Instructor
School of Divinity
Liberty University

Rev Karl's picture

I have been perusing the threads and forums being discussed on SI today, and I had an odd thought. (Not a slam, not a complaint, not a judgement: just an odd thought.)

I have recently heard several firsthand accounts about "The Underground Church" in places where true, Biblical faith in Christ is a capital offense. They risk death when they proclaim faith in Christ. They risk death when they meet to worship - every time they meet to worship. They risk death every time they share the gospel with someone else.

They haven't grown up with a Bible in their homes. They ask for a copy of the Scriptures, and the READ IT. They STUDY IT. They ask those who are more learned what it means, and then they LIVE IT. And by walking in faith, walking like Christ walked, they attract others to faith in Him.

Here's the Odd Thought:
I wonder what their reaction would be if they were to log on to this website and see us discussing "Should we applaud during worship services?" "What translation of the Bible should we use?" "Which is better: Fundamentalism or Conservative Evangelicalism?"

Susan R's picture

EditorModerator

Bro. Karl, they'd probably be shocked by 3 meals a day plus snacks, $4 coffee at Starbucks, closets full of clothes we never wear (probably because of the 3 meals a day plus snacks) and if they walked into our air conditioned churches with ceiling fans and chandeliers and them there indoor toilets... and potlucks with tables of food practically bowing with the weight of meatloaf and lasagna... well, now you've gone and done it- I'm all hungry.

We talk about what we talk about because it is relevant to our culture. Perhaps we can toss these ideas around because we aren't scared and tired and hungry. Maybe we have too much freedom. But I'm not going to complain about that. Anyone who wants to go on a diet of rice and fish guts is welcome to it.

Alex Guggenheim's picture

Rev Karl wrote:
Here's the Odd Thought:
I wonder what their reaction would be if they were to log on to this website and see us discussing "Should we applaud during worship services?" "What translation of the Bible should we use?" "Which is better: Fundamentalism or Conservative Evangelicalism?"
Or whether women should wear "braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes". After all, the Word of God would never consider such petty matters important to address.

Greg Long's picture

Dan Burrell wrote:
Seriously????l After TWENTY-FIVE years of discussion this topic is coming back AGAIN?

Can't wait for the MacArthur/Blood post, the bus ministry thread and the article on wire rim glasses.


(Somehow my original post didn't display properly. Here's what I posted...)

CLAP, CLAP, CLAP, CLAP...oops, I mean, "Amen!"[/quote]

-------
Greg Long, Ed.D. (SBTS)

Pastor of Adult Ministries
Grace Church, Des Moines, IA

Adjunct Instructor
School of Divinity
Liberty University

JG's picture

Dan Burrell wrote:
Seriously????l After TWENTY-FIVE years of discussion this topic is coming back AGAIN?

Can't wait for the MacArthur/Blood post, the bus ministry thread and the article on wire rim glasses.

smh


Hi, Dan. Thanks for reading my blog. It's kind of an honour, since I'm really just a nobody serving way off in a little church in Scotland. A far cry from your ministry and the culture in which you serve, in some ways.

I'm glad to learn that you stopped clapping 25 years ago. I'm quite sure that is what you meant by the above statement, isn't it? Wink Of course, not everyone has worked it through yet, so you'll have to be patient with those of us who weren't in such a good place 25 years ago. Back then I was attending a school where they always clapped, so I'm afraid I'm a little behind you. Smile

But brother, you know what is amazing to me? You would never believe this. It isn't just clapping that gets talked about. To slightly paraphrase your comment above, "After TWO HUNDRED years of abstinence discussion the topic of alcohol keeps coming back http://www.danburrell.com/?p=982 ]AGAIN ?" Biggrin

I really do enjoy your blog, friend. I've been reading it off and on for a while. I don't agree with everything you say, of course, but I still find profit in reading most of it. It's good to think, and to consider even that with which I might not agree. It sharpens me. At the very least, it helps me to understand my brothers charitably when I read what they are saying, even if I disagree. I don't usually clap when I read it, but I often appreciate it.

Lord's blessings on you and your ministry.

Dan Burrell's picture

JG....I will confess that I did not actually read your blog article until recently. I was more or less responding to the filings thread. You're definitely not a "nobody" and certainly every bit as entitled to discussing the topic as the myriad other mundane-to-maddening topics that are discussed all over the blogosphere. And I would suppose that things in Scotland are also quite different than in the US.

Twenty-five years ago when I was just a pup of twenty-five (wow, it seems like just yesterday), I wouldn't have clapped if you had put a gun to my head. Yet, I was in a church where shouting multiple versions of "Amen" (as in Ah-men, Yep-man, Ayah-main, etc...) was quite acceptable and the only clapping permitted was nonsensical utterings of encouragement shouted during over-wrought renditions of Southern Gospel musical "specials" (specials being code for "performance" and use of the term "musical" should be interpreted in the broadest sense of the word only.) So, I'm not sure there was a great deal of difference between "yelping one's approval" at an extended harmonious note at the conclusions of a song or perhaps those regular exercises in listening to some string-bean progressively drop down as "bass" as he could possibly go and clapping one's hands moderately-to-vigorously in appreciation for the message or delivery of some other number. Of course, we could nod our heads in rhythm, perhaps pat our legs and even gently tap our feet in our church. But clapping? That was as appropriate as belching one's approval at the opera. And let's not discuss raising one's hands higher than one's shoulder unless there was a handkerchief attached to the hand.

I do award points however on your rebuttal asking about abstaining from alcohol -- and a few bonus ones for obviously reading one of my recent blog entries. Biggrin As I said to someone just today, I guess we all do have our pet "lines" -- even people who deem themselves relevant or progressive -- they are just different lines. Sorting them out can be maddening.

But please know I wasn't intending to take a shot at you personally --- I just hadn't seen this discussed in a few years and my knee suffered a quick spasm of the "jerking" kind. Smile

I enjoyed strolling through your blog and intend on visiting again frequently. I always like reading people that poke me in the brain!

Dan Burrell Cornelius, NC Visit my Blog "Whirled Views" @ www.danburrell.com

JG's picture

My whole post was intended to be light-hearted.

I agree (as I mentioned in my article) that applause by "amen" is not really any different from clapping. Perhaps it doesn't have quite the same connotations to a new believer, but they quickly learn it is just applause.

The alcohol thing was just too good to pass up. I'd only read it the day before. I like to think it was preordained. Smile

Blessings.

Dan Burrell's picture

This thread may have died already as it is now buried beyond page one, but if anyone is still following it, I have a question for the "non-clappers".

No ulterior motive, just a desire to understand the thinking of others...

If clapping is at some level demeaning to authentic worship and perhaps even wrong or incorrect (whether or not one would consider it sinful to do so may not necessarily be relevant to this question unless the responder would simply care to include their position on that), what should a traditional believer of Western or European descent say in response to or evaluation of an African-American, Latino or actual African congregation where the cultural practice of clapping is an expression of jubilation, joy, praise, agreement, appreciation or perhaps simply participation? I've worshiped and spoken in each of these kinds of congregation and the absence of clapping throughout the service would be considered odd to the point of awkwardness -- perhaps even rudeness -- by congregants of that culture. Are they incorrectly worshiping? Would a Western speaker or missionary serve them well by educating them and/or requesting that they cease or change?

Curious as to how this is viewed by anyone.

Dan Burrell Cornelius, NC Visit my Blog "Whirled Views" @ www.danburrell.com

JG's picture

This thread must not be quite dead, since people are still coming through to my blog from it. Since you asked the question there, I've given my own personal answer there, but I'll post it here, too, since some people are obviously still following this.

***

Dan, very good question. I could perhaps boil down part of my comments above to simply this: I’ve argued that clapping in ancient Hebrew culture bore different cultural messages than it bears in most Western cultures today. Thus, we should not assume that the Scriptural mentions of hand-clapping endorse what we do today.

A second aspect of my post could be boiled down to say that clapping (at least as applause) in our cultures carries cultural messages (praise of man, etc), if not always at least frequently, that don’t belong in corporate worship, and thus it is unwise (at best) to include applause in that setting.

So my response to your question would be that clapping is not the issue, it is the cultural messages it conveys. If one is in a culture where it conveys different messages, then one has to evaluate those messages to decide whether it belongs in corporate worship or not. This wasn’t really, if you look at it, an “anti-clapping” post, it was an “anti-applause” post.

As a visiting speaker who is not extremely knowledgeable of the culture, one should undoubtedly assume it is appropriate and respond accordingly. As a missionary serving in that culture, careful evaluation would seem necessary — just because something is accepted in a culture obviously doesn’t mean it is a good thing. If clapping conveys inappropriate messages, it is time to do some teaching (although there may be higher priorities, of course).

I’ll add this. I find it hard to believe that the “applause factor” isn’t there in African-American culture, because they are just as tuned in to the entertainment world as other Americans. I think the same would be true of the Latin churches you mention. So if I were ministering in one of those churches frequently, I might challenge the leaders, at some point, to think about the things I’ve written here. They are the ones who are 1) a lot more knowledgeable about cultural connotations in their culture than we are and 2) responsible that things be done decently and in order. If I were to raise the issue, it would be with leadership alone, and I would do so in a way that leaves the ball entirely in their court.

That’s my thoughts, for what it’s worth. A very good question.

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