Clapping vs. Amen — Which Will Win?

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TylerR's picture

I see . . .

Tyler Robbins is a former Pastor. He lives with his family in Olympia, WA. He blogs as the Eccentric Fundamentalist

Dean Taylor's picture

I am of the persuasion that clapping to applaud a performance (whether music or preaching) is out of place in the church setting. However, I have observed clapping in church for other reasons that in my view were very appropriate. Examples include:

  • Appreciation for someone who is honored - for example, a pastor and his wife are presented with a gift and a plaque for 25 years of faithful service to that church, and the congregation applauds.
  • Joyously keeping rhythm with some songs - This is common in a variety of cultures (Jewish and African, for example). One time a Jewish believer was with us in a service when we sang a song out of the hymnal that was Jewish in style (God's Perfect Lamb). He leaned over to me and said, "Why aren't we clapping??!!" He and I tried to get it going and a few others joined in. We did refrain from doing the Horah :).
  • Joy over a new believer being baptized. I'm not sure what prompted this - it wasn't planned by me. When we had our first baptism in our new auditorium in 2012, as the first person came up out of the water, the congregation spontaneously started clapping. They clapped for each one that day. It was a demonstration of joy and support for those believers who publicly proclaimed their faith in Christ. It became a regular practice at baptisms. 
  • Appreciation for a special effort that requires many hours of labor. An example is a Christmas musical program. At the end, the pastor expresses appreciation to all of the musicians and others who helped, and the congregation expresses appreciation by clapping. They could all shout "Amen" or "Thank you" I suppose, but clapping seems more appropriate. In my thinking, this is different from applauding a performance, it is showing gratitude for the effort involved in the work of ministry. 

I understand the author's point and agree that clapping  "as a response to musical ministries and even preaching" can reflect a worldly entertainment mentality. However, I think it is a legitimate form of joyous expression and there are appropriate times for it.

              DeanHTaylor.com 

Bert Perry's picture

Gotta confess, I started the whole congregation clapping yesterday morning by applauding when the visiting missionary announced it was his first anniversary.  Others applauded for his service in the Air Force and endorsement of Baby Wipes for care packages for soldiers.  Given that clapping does seem to have been practiced in Old Testament times, I am at a loss to say that it is wrong in itself.

Really, sometimes when I see things like this, we need to remember that there are sins of commission, and sins of omission.  We fundamentalists do a decent job warning of sins of commission, but there are a lot of times when our fear of committing a sin by doing something wrong seems to override our fear of not doing something at all that God would like to see us doing.  This Babylon Bee Article sums it up well, IMO, though I confess that my feet are too often nailed to the floor myself.

(to show you what a liberal church I attend, the head pastor also excused the missionary couple from evening service so they could take time out to celebrate)

Richard Brunt's picture

When I was about 8 years old I asked my mother, "why don't we clap in church like people do on TV when someone sings?"  Her answer was, "those people are singing for the praise of men, in church they are singing for the glory of God."  As an 8 year old that made sense to me.  It still does!

Richard E Brunt

TylerR's picture

My initial reaction is that only a guy steeped (nay, soaked) in a particular flavor of 1950s WASP-ish Americana could write this article. I'd appreciate some input from missionaries.

Tyler Robbins is a former Pastor. He lives with his family in Olympia, WA. He blogs as the Eccentric Fundamentalist

Bert Perry's picture

Richard Brunt wrote:

When I was about 8 years old I asked my mother, "why don't we clap in church like people do on TV when someone sings?"  Her answer was, "those people are singing for the praise of men, in church they are singing for the glory of God."  As an 8 year old that made sense to me.  It still does!

This would extend to those obeying Psalm 47:1, then, along with the floods in Psalm 98:8, not to mention the trees of Isaiah 55:12?  Say, like most churches among our African-American brothers here, and many of those in Africa?   Or many Bible-believing churches around the Mediterranean and the Middle East, as Dean's comment notes?

Now there can be worldly use of music in the church, to be sure.  I just cringe at blanket statements like that because the message it sends is unmistakable; church is supposed to be, as Tyler notes, like 1950s suburbia, and if you don't fit that mold, you're really not welcome.  I don't accuse people of intending to send this message, but if we don't think it comes across that way, we are kidding ourselves.

It can be worldly to clap in some situations, but in others, it might be worldly not to.  It all comes down to the why.

TOvermiller's picture

The response of "clapping hands" in praise to God is not entirely unrelated. Psalm 98:8 ascribes this response of praise to God to waters in a metaphorical sense, and Isaiah 55:12 does the same for trees. Admittedly, this does not prescribe church people doing this in an actual sense today, but it does correlate the idea of hand-clapping to praising God nonetheless.

The church I shepherd (Faith Baptist Church) does clap in response to musical specials, and this does seem to indicate a genuine response of praise and appreciation, not a congratulatory response to a performance or show.

Thomas Overmiller
Pastor | www.studygodsword.com
Blog & Podcast | www.shepherdthoughts.com

Ron Bean's picture

I have never been comfortable with clapping after special music. It probably explains why I've never been comfortable with special music. Both have more than a hint of "performance". That being said, when I was at my first T4G the congregational singing so moved me that my usual "proper" behavior surrendered to joyous applause just because I was happy!

BTW, I've always been fascinated with those who would reject clapping (and maybe percussion) because they were OT and not in the NT but would defend choirs because they are in the OT although not being in the NT church. 

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

WallyMorris's picture

I appreciate SharperIron posting the article I wrote about “Clapping Vs Amen”. I just wish those who are critical of my comments had read the article more carefully and had offered substantial arguments for their views rather than the worn-out, sloppy thinking that is so common among Christians today.

The focus of my criticism of clapping was as a response to music and preaching (first paragraph). I never talked about clapping as a response to honoring someone.

Some of the criticism justified clapping in worship because certain ethnic groups and cultures clap, so therefore clapping must be OK. Strange, I didn't know we determined appropriate behavior by what other cultures or ethnic groups do.

Some of the criticism tried to connect my concerns about clapping with “1950s WASP-ish Americana”. I didn't know that saying “Amen” began in the 1950s. That comment sounds almost racist.

My main concern is with churches in America. Missionaries can certainly add insight on this issue, as long as we remember that what people do in a particular culture doesn't determine right or wrong.

None of the critics attempted to engage with the correlation between increase in clapping and decrease in the use of “Amen”, etc. None of the critics attempted to engage with the fact that unbelievers can comfortably clap to a Christian song but are uncomfortable saying “Amen”. None of the critics attempted to consider that they themselves are being influenced by our secular culture to be comfortable with clapping in response to music and preaching. Instead, the assumption was that I am the one being infuenced by culture. Before the 1970s, clapping was rare in most churches and “Amen” was more common. The culture, particularly Charismatic churches, has influenced that change, yet those who approve of clapping attempt to justify their position by appealing to the OT yet ignoring cultural influence upon themselves. None of the critics seriously attempted to engage with the lack of NT examples or mention of clapping. If clapping was so common in the OT (and it does seem to have been used, but perhaps not as often as people think), then it is interesting that the NT doesn't mention the early church using the practice. Now, of course, the early church may very well have used clapping, but we don't know that. But we do know that “Amen” and other terms were used.

I am not disputing that clapping may be a “genuine response of praise and adoration”, but the more important issue is whether that response is appropriate and Biblical. “Genuine” may mean “sincere” but does not necessarily mean “correct”. Clapping is easy – Anyone, even an unbeliever can clap in response to Christian music. But saying “Amen” involves more spiritual depth. In our attempts to make church “user-friendly”, we have once again accomodated the culture. I suspect some pastors are scared to express opposition to clapping and support of “Amen” because they don't want to appear to be “uncool” and “fighting the trend”, particularly with younger Christians.

Some of the criticism implied that my rejection of clapping for music and preaching was entirely related to lack of mention in the NT. That reflects a superficial reading of my article. Part of my concern is that many Christians simply assume that because clapping (or percussion or dancing if you want to include those) are mentioned in the OT that such mention automatically authorizes any clapping, any dancing, or any drums, in whatever form we choose. If someone is making that argument, that is a shallow argument, again being influenced by our culture more than a careful consideration of Scriptural principles. I find it very odd that we lament the influence of secular culture upon Christians, particularly younger Christians, yet fail to see that influence evidenced by the increase of clapping in churches and evidenced by the weak arguments of those critical of my concerns about clapping, who are apprently unaware how they have been influenced by our culture.

Again, I appreciate SI posting my article, and I appreciate some of the comments. However, I will not be responding further in this forum since I am very busy the next few weeks (and I am still slowly working on a response to the LONG discussion about BJU) If someone wishes to communicate further, go to our church blogsite and look at the email address or phone number.

Wally Morris

Charity Baptist Church

Huntington, IN

amomentofcharity.blogspot.com

Greg Linscott's picture

Whether you come down on the side of Morris or Overmiller, it does seem difficult to make a case that clapping is forbidden or that spontaneous responses of “Amen,” etc. were a pattern in the NT and modeled/authorized today. Morris’ arguments may make sense and be what many of us are accustomed to… but the article concludes with a lot of speculation and “it seems to me” kind of thinking… but nothing offered conclusive to make a condemnatory case against clapping or affirmative case for spontaneous “Amens.”

What is to prevent this from being in a similar category of frequency and timing of church services, whether or not a church has its own building, which specific instruments it employs (or doesn’t), and so on? It may not be the brother’s preference or his church’s, but why can’t this be an matter that falls under local church autonomy?

Greg Linscott
Marshall, MN

Joel Tetreau's picture

So.... there are numerous references to dance, and praise and shout in connection to personal and corporate worship in the OT. Clapping is just a natural part of that..... I'm confident all of that was included in the cultural expression of worship in the ancient and early "Middle-Eastern" church. Today you see all kinds of clapping as believers fellowship around the planet as natural expressions of praise and worship. 

My guess is the Holy Spirit didn't put it in the text because He knew it was obvious to the vast majority of the body of Christ......

Once again if your particular denomination believes something.... (don't clap) and the vast majority of the universal body believes something else...(with joy comes clapping.... at least sometimes) you probably shouldn't put it out as a clear, directive, universal, imperative when the Scriptures themselves give no clear prohibition.....

In the end I'm with Greg here. Each church (and for that matter every believer with his liberty) can do what seems right (by way of expression). Having said that ... my view would be that clapping is especially good for those of us who grew up in churches that were part of .... well.... "God's frozen chosen!"

Straight Ahead!

jt

 

 

Dr. Joel Tetreau serves as Senior Pastor, Southeast Valley Bible Church (sevbc.org); Regional Coordinator for IBL West (iblministry.com), Board Member & friend for several different ministries;

Ron Bean's picture

I grew up in a conservative IFB church in Maine and never heard an "Amen" in a church service until I got south of the Mason Dixon Line. In Maine men would kind of "grunt" an affirmation. When I went to BJU I had a classmate who was called into the Dean of Men's office for his "amens" in chapel and was told that that was not acceptable. I would challenge the comment that  saying “Amen” involves more spiritual depth. I remember visiting Tabernacle Baptist Church when Harold Sightler was pastor. Between the endless shouted amens and some guy doing laps around the building waving a handkerchief, spiritual depth was not my impression. Then there was the service where Lester Roloff preached on Azariah and Uzziah and people continually and loudly amenned the bad guy. 

"Can I get an Amen?"

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

TylerR's picture

I refrained from posting anything substantive because I was at work, and didn't have time to engage until now. In general (as I mentioned briefly, above), I believe your position reflects more of the 1950s-era Americana culture than anything else. A few comments:

What is behind this growing preference for hand clapping as a sign of approval rather than “Amen”, “Praise the Lord”, or some similar phrase?

Different churches, in different areas of this country, have completely different experiences. I, personally, have never said "Amen" after singing. I actually have never heard that after singing in any church. What does that mean? I never went to a church that clapped hands occasionally until my current one. I think this is more about personal preference than anything else.

Note that all of the references are in the Old Testament. The New Testament does not record any examples of clapping in worship nor do the epistles mention the practice.

This is silly, in my opinion. What is the point? Is this an Old Covenant distinction? If I use this logic, there is no end to the madness. The Old Covenant tells me a believer cannot offer a sacrifice while walking up steps to the altar lest his nakedness be exposed (Ex 20:26), so does this mean the New Covenant believer can now come to church naked to offer the sacrifice of praise, because this command has been abolished?

I suggest that one reason clapping hands is popular is because it doesn’t involve much spiritual depth or knowledge to do so. An unbeliever can join in clapping hands in church without any spiritual commitment since the practice of clapping is common in our society, and no one would associate spiritual depth or even knowing Christ as Savior with the practice of clapping hands. However, to say “Amen” involves a degree of spiritual depth that an unbeliever simply does not have.

As I mentioned, I've never said "Amen" after singing. Ever. I've also never heard it said. As to the psychoanalysis on the unbeliever, I have no idea why he clapped. Maybe you're right. Maybe not. Either way, I really don't care. I hope the lyrics are theologically deep enough, coupled with a meaningful order of service and an expository sermon, so that the Lord will lead Him to repentance and faith. That's my main concern about an unbeliever at a worship service.

I find it strange that those who talk so much about following New Testament patterns and examples so easily conform and accept a practice that doesn’t have any New Testament precedent. The New Testament uses words and phrases such as “Amen”, “Praise the Lord”, and other phrases but never indicates that believers used clapping to show approval. We should not ignore this.

I agree. As I said, the NT nowhere commands believers to wear clothing to offer spiritual sacrifices. The Old Covenant has been abolished, so this, too, is a serious problem. We shouldn't ignore it. To be serious for a moment, "Amen" is a Greek word. If we want to be dedicated Christians, perhaps we should translate it and exclaim "let it be so!" instead. If that's too much of a dynamic equivalence rendition, we can always go with "Truly!" or "Verily!" I'll start after you start.

Clapping hands in churches is another small sign of negative cultural influence in our churches and the tendency to minimalist theology and practice.

You haven't established this. You just claim it's so. Well, I say cheeseburgers are purple. So, there.

Perhaps we should explain more clearly and carefully in our churches why we say the words “Amen” or “Praise the Lord” and use clapping as another example of the almost unconscious influence of secular culture on believers today.

As I said, "Amen" is a Greek word, and if you want to be consistent, you should translate it and encourage your people to exclaim the English version. And, I'd appreciate it if you could tell me where in the NT the phrase "praise the Lord" is used by a congregation after singing in worship, and in what version you found the reference.

Some reading this are perhaps already questioning the wisdom and motivation of this topic. “Why spend time discussing something so insignificant and harmless?” I submit that the changes we see are not insignificant and harmless.

You never tell us why. You suspect it's the influence of secularism, and you attempt to justify this suspicion with some observations about how unbelievers are reticient to exclaim a Greek word after singing. Maybe. Maybe not. This is very flimsy evidence to use when you accuse those who clap during singing of displaying shallow theology, and exhibiting harmful behavior.

Who is your intended audience? I sincerely mean that. When I write occasional comments about fundamentalism, I deliberately set my target audience at 25-40 year olds who are convinced the old version of fundamentalism is dying and deserves to die. This is why poor Don (and others) don't like so many of my comments along that line, but that's ok - I'm not seeking to persude them. They're not my audience.

Who is your audience, in this piece? I'd never show your article to a conflicted Christian who wanted to hear a coherent argument for conservative music. It seems to be written for those who are already convinced, and not to persude anyone on the fence. If you're preaching to the chior, then your article is good. If you're seeking to persuade, then it's not talking to the audience - it's yelling at them.

That's my three cents.

Tyler Robbins is a former Pastor. He lives with his family in Olympia, WA. He blogs as the Eccentric Fundamentalist

TOvermiller's picture

Please accept my apologies for anything I’ve said that conveys an argumentative spirit. Such is not my intention. The comments I’ve shared reflect my current thinking on this subject and my desire to view this from a biblical perspective. In doing so, and after reading the article, I still find it difficult to say that clapping is categorically inappropriate in a worship setting. My saying something, I hope to add to the conversation, but not fan an argument.

The article mentions that “all of the references are in the Old Testament. The New Testament does not record any examples of clapping in worship nor do the epistles mention the practice.”

But I am not aware of any NT worship settings where “amen” or “praise the Lord” is offered in response to singing or as expressions of praise in a church gathering. There is precedent for this in American church history, but that is not the same as NT precedent. Perhaps I am overlooking something here. A similar understanding would seem to apply to gathering for worship in a church building, passing an offering plate, or drinking juice from individual plastic cups rather than a common cup for the Lord’s Table. These practices are nowhere mentioned in the NT or have a different precedent in practice in the NT, yet we do them.

The article mentions that “to say ‘amen’ involves a degree of spiritual depth that an unbeliever simply does not have.”

I can see the truth in this statement, but my experience in a variety of fundamental churches over the past few decades also indicates that people can say “amen” with no degree of spiritual depth, but as a cultural norm and habit more akin to a vain repetition.

Regarding exegesis of the OT passages on hand-clapping in praise to God, the trees and waters clapping their hands are not prescriptive, I definitely agree with that. They merely show that clapping hands is one possible way to praise the Lord. But Psalm 47:1 is a Psalm addressed to “all peoples” and emphasizes God’s present universal position as king over the entire earth, not in an eschatological or millennial sense, but in a sovereign, timeless sense. In this sense, it seems appropriate to understand this as a universal appeal. While it is true that this is an OT Scripture, does this mean it is inappropriate for NT worship? For whatever reason, I have a hard time allowing my dispensational convictions to lead me to this conclusion.

These are my thoughts, and I’ll refrain from adding more. This is a good topic to think through. May God give us wisdom and grace to lead our churches – whether in clapping, “amening,” or silence – to praise God and sing to him “with understanding” (Psa 47:7). God bless.

Thomas Overmiller
Pastor | www.studygodsword.com
Blog & Podcast | www.shepherdthoughts.com

Larry Nelson's picture

 

"If you're happy and you know it

Clap your hands [clap, clap]

If you're happy and you know it

Clap your hands [clap, clap]

If you're happy and you know it

Then your life will surely show it

If you're happy and you know it

Clap your hands [clap, clap]

 

If you're happy and you know it

Stomp your feet [stomp, stomp]

If you're happy and you know it

Stomp your feet [stomp, stomp]

If you're happy and you know it

Then your life will surely show it

If you're happy and you know it

Stomp your feet [stomp, stomp]

 

If you're happy and you know it

Say "Amen!" Amen!

If you're happy and you know it

Say "Amen!" Amen!

If you're happy and you know it

Then your life will surely show it

If you're happy and you know it

Say "Amen!" Amen!

 

If you're happy and you know it

Do all three [clap, clap] [stomp, stomp] Amen!

If you're happy and you know it

Do all three [clap, clap] [stomp, stomp] Amen!

If you're happy and you know it

Then your life will surely show it

If you're happy and you know it

Do all three [clap, clap] [stomp, stomp] Amen!"

http://childbiblesongs.com/song-07-if-youre-happy-and-you-know-it.shtml 

---------------------------------------

Hmmmmmm.  In a song that IFB churches often teach children in preschool Sunday school classes, the children are being instructed to both clap AND say amen. 

Perhaps the issue, as Wally sees it, stems from such conflicting theology being taught to some of our youngest attendees............    Smile

Bert Perry's picture

Wally asked for a Biblical analysis of clapping vs. the saying of "Amen".  Well, I did a lengthy study of the matter, and here's what I come up with:

 

 

 

Honestly, if we're going to criticize people for shallow arguments, it really helps to be proceeding from something else besides "no argument, Biblically speaking, at all."

Now certainly there is a place for what Paul argues in 1 Corinthians 14, that things should be done decently and in good order, but blanket arguments without Biblical authority--really contra Biblical authority--don't help us out here.