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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JNoël's picture

Perhaps a cultural analysis is in order. Is it even possible for a suburban, Caucasian-American congregant to engage in responsive, public praise to God (versus the performer) during a worship service?

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)

JNoël's picture

Forgive the ambiguity. By "responsive, public praise" I was meaning the congregation responding to what someone else "performed." Congregational singing, participation in giving in the offering and communion are all congregational participatory praise to God at some level.

We don't all applaud (with hands or amens) when each participant places money in the offering plate or consumes communion. Congregational singing sometimes brings applause (amens, usually), mostly based on mood (Wonderful Grace of Jesus, It Is Well, and How Great Thou Art come to mind). But since the congregation was all participating in the singing, I think it is fair to accept the mass "amen" to actually be praise to God in most cases.

My question is regarding the passive aspects of the service - offertories, vocal pieces, preaching: things a performer generally needed to research, rehearse, perfect, and deliver, all while (ideally) striving to point the congregant to God. Public prayer and scripture reading are other possibilities, too (how about those who read scripture especially theatrically, who do it in such a way that they seem to bring it to life?). Is it possible for a listener to respond externally without there being a question of motive?

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)

Dan Burrell's picture

I think we are probably demonstrating that even this subject can't be neatly assigned a definitive position simply because of cultural variances. For example, I minister at a church which does not use special music. Every single song is congregational in every single service. We are very eclectic in our worship and music runs the gamut of edgy contemporary to sacred traditional hymns to ancient hymns and the recitation and reading of creeds and Scripture. It is not unusual at the conclusion of any of these exercises for spontaneous applause to break out. As we recite the Apostles Creed, you can literally feel the passion and energy building throughout to the grand culmination of the Promised Return which almost always leads to raised hands, applause and Amens. Performance - no. Exuberant - often. So is applause inappropriate there in this unique setting based on the arguments above?

Is applause along with the music (which generally happens to Southern or African-American Gospel songs), but not directed toward anyone performing or engaged in solo worship, inappropriate? Perhaps a question might be raised if a solo or group "special" creates within the heart of the hearer the impulse or desire to clap in appreciation is that a stumbling stone or inappropriate? Are special musical performances a good idea in today's church based on some of the principles already raised. Is a solemn, low-key worship liturgy more appropriate so as not to excite exuberance or interupt contemplative worship?

Again -- not trying to be argumentative, but insisting that we walk around the entire issue and examine it from myriad perspectives if we are to have an honest discussion of it. Without a moment's hesitation, I would say that if I become Biblically convinced that clapping in church is inappropriate, I would stop it immediately. (I'm currently not really a big clapper anyway, but that's more of a reflection of my personality than it is a conviction. And oops, I just raised another issue -- indeed, some personalities -- like some cultures -- are simply more emotional and demonstrative than others. Does that or should that matter?)

Oh, me and my cans of worms.... Smile

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

JG's picture

I don't know what they do at high school games these days, but we didn't have a band or anything (small school), so they just played the national anthem over the P.A. system. Everyone sang -- and then everyone clapped.

It would be hard to call that "applauding the performer". I think we were applauding that which we had all sung, and to which we all agreed. It wasn't comparable to "applauding God", either. It was just a way of expressing satisfaction/agreement.

Can there be problems with that? Sure. There can be problems with anything. But that isn't what I was "targeting" in my post, and I think it's fairly comparable to what you've described in your first paragraph.

If the "applause" is louder after one of those edgy contemporary things, does that tell you something about the nature of the applause, or the nature of the contemporary thing, or the tastes of the people, or a mix?

JNoël's picture

There is a larger question embedded here - that of the very nature of what defines a church service.

Is it wrong for a Christian to privately applaud someone for the hard work they put into doing something with excellence for God's glory? Simple encouragement can be construed as applause. So if we can do it in private, is there anything wrong with doing it in front of one other person? Two others? Several others?

Is there anything different about worshiping God outside of the church setting versus during a scheduled congregational setting? As Christians, we are to always be walking in the Spirit, always worshiping God. Is a church service some sort of ritual where we are capable of super-worship - some type of worship of God that is more than the worship of God we are capable of outside of the church service? Or does the entire question of one man expressing approval of another man's labor come back to the relatively small issue of ensuring all things [in a church setting/service ] are done decently and in order?

Whether inside or outside the church setting, God always deserves all of the glory. Just remember, Paul and countless others in scripture praised other human beings for various reasons. Is there any venue more public than that?

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

I believe there are two elemental mistakes in the construction of the issue at hand that derail effective discussion of the matter.

1. Motives
2. Culture

Motives

Those objecting to clapping/applauding generally do not impugn the motives of others and when we are talking about how others are allegedly considering the motives of the applauders/clappers, it is in a negative context, it least it has been here with respect to those rebutting and defending the practice when they address the motive issue.

And here, especially, the approach overall has not been with assaults on the motives of applauders/clappers. So rebuttals which attempt to address the issue as if those who object are responsible for judging the motives of the applauders/clappers, are assumption that have not been demonstrated. Now it might be true somewhere or at some time but it certainly is not universal and I suspect quite in the minority and again, here, expressed little if at all.

Now, the behavior itself which is being objected to, it can be judged on some level. But it does appear that those who support it or are sympathetic to the applauders/clappers are assigning bad motives to those who do make some kind of judgment on applauding/clapping. In other words, for some, when a person makes a judgment upon applauding/clapping and assess that it is objectionable in worship, they are being assigned the bad motive of judging the motives of the applauders/clappers when it is only the behavior they are addressing and not motives.

I suggest until someone reveals they truly are judging the motives of others we not assume anyone's motives, neither the applauder/clapper or the one objecting, and stick to the issue itself. To object to a behavior does not imply any judgment of someone's motive.

Culture

Human culture is to be subordinate to biblical principle:
Rom 12:2 "Be not conformed to this world but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind that ye may prove what is that good and acceptable, and perfect will of God."

Obviously this does not rule out all culture but what it does tell us is that our human culture, in whatever context we find it, must be subordinate to the boundaries of Scripture. So simply because something is "culturally practiced" does not defacto obligate believers to adopt such practices in the corporate expression of their faith and certainly does not make it defacto acceptable.

Clearly, again, some things are benign and some unacceptable with certainty with most cultural practices falling within these two ends. But even those cultural practices that are morally benign, they still must be assigned subordination to biblical principles.

At one time the LCMS (they have recently reorganized their website) posted the following about church culture that gets to the heart of the matter:

Quote:
The church must develop and maintain its own cultural language that reflects the values and structures of the Scriptures and not of the current culture. This church language can only be shaped by a biblical theology which affirms the real presence of Jesus Christ in worship and our belief that this presence binds the culture together as a community. The context that shapes our distinct Lutheran ethos is Scripture, theology, and history. Local circumstance is secondary.

So for those objecting to applause/clapping, I believe many would echo this as an underlying premise of their arguments. Now one may disagree with the arguments but it certainly is not out of judgment of motives or simple cultural intolerance, but of a rich and well developed understanding and articulation of liturgy and public worship shaped by biblical guidelines, values and theology.

And as I stated earlier, applauding and clapping for many eschews the higher principles of responding before God and not man to this ministries. Responses such as applauding/clapping, for many, are viewed as sensual and not spiritual. They may not be sinful but they are not of the highest consideration for such believers. And when they encounter such contexts where others do not share this view, my suspicion is most are gracious and understand not everyone is where they are (though they do reserve the right, without their motives being impugned by others, to judge such practices as less enlightened and informed) while again, treating such people with continued fellowship and grace.

So appeals to culture are lesser arguments that appeals to Scripture. Certainly one might say, "I cannot imagine there are regulative principles of worship contained in the Scriptures that may be applied to applauding/clapping" and to that I would say you need to read a bit more, there are volumes and with very well-developed cases for dispassionate and tempered corporate worship exercises. You don't have to agree with them but if you do not imagine such arguments exist in volumes then you have just begun to learn on the subject.

Dan Burrell's picture

And yet, Alex, your entire post contained only one verse of Scripture and that was pulled completely out of context. (Romans 12:1-2 is clearly referring to character, not culture and to individuals, not the corporate.) And I almost laughed out loud at the suggestion that "those objecting to clapping/applauding generally do not impugn the motives of others". Actually having a position somewhere between the two extremes, I've heard PLENTY of questioning of motives directed both directions. Having heard clappers referred to as "closet charismatics", accused of promoting a performance mentality in the church, being spiritually shallow as in failing to appreciate 'deeper' worship, to bent toward sensuous and immoral music on one hand and the "non-clappers" accused of "dry formalism", "legalism", "cold orthodoxy" and being "tradition worshipers" on the other. On this I believe we would both could agree, neither side has had a completely positive track record on motive judging, nor being without motive.

So issue of motive aside (if that is possible), would you suggest that there IS a hierarchy of culture that extends to one ultimate superior position or practice? Could it be possible that there are degrees or even categories of cultural expressions or even traditions in worship that are related to broader Biblical principles, but may contain enough latitude to demonstrate harmonious diversity of expression without violating Biblical foundations? I think we could both agree that Scripture indeed condemns some cultures due to their traditions and practices from Egypt to the various "ites" of the Exodus era and the vileness of the Greek and Roman cultures in the New Testament. One must also include the precise, but vacuous worship practices of the Jews which focused on the rituals and vain traditions of their culture and heritage at the expense of the Truth in both Old and New Testament passages.

Perhaps a merging of both motive and cultural considerations might be or has been accomplished which allows variances of expressions via broader categories that do not require cultural uniformity (and perhaps even generational continuation), but are consistent with praise, worship, adoration, reflection and exaltation found in genuine worship, but which neither -- through motive or practice, nor tradition and custom -- require only one singular and approved format as somehow Biblically, morally, or culturally superior. I simply question whether there was only one truly acceptable form of worship for the Jews of the OT, the church at Jerusalem, the believers holed up in the catacombs of Rome and those facing incredible opposition in Asia Minor between letters from Paul and that this same style/form of carefully constructed expressions of worship was to be universally applied as the church spread throughout civilization and across time. (And might I add...possessing of a distinctively European tone and form apart from the influences of cultural preferences from civilizations across the Middle East, Africa, Asia and elsewhere.)

Consistently, when I have read the various tomes devoted to narrower styles of worship, I have been left with the impression that form eventually trumps focus and tradition as a more sure standard than Scripture. In the end, can it not come down to motivation and heart's intent primarily rather than a precise and uniform practice? Do not worship expressions by individual believers vary based on maturity, circumstances and seasons of life anyway much as a child who may worship by singing "Jesus Loves Me" when young, can additionally express worship via a praise chorus as a teen and eventually a great anthem or sacred hymn as a hoary-headed saint? There have been periods in my own life when I felt the need to worship with joyful exuberance because of answered prayers and Truth realized only to be followed later with an urge to be still, be sober-to-the-point-of-brokenness, be solemn as I passed through darker waters of my own journey.

I remain unconvinced that superiority in worship is always a matter of culture or style, but that the Biblical principles of most value are authenticity, submission, transparency and obedience.

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

Alex Guggenheim's picture

Dan Burrell wrote:
And yet, Alex, your entire post contained only one verse of Scripture and that was pulled completely out of context. (Romans 12:1-2 is clearly referring to character, not culture and to individuals, not the corporate.)
The word "conform" is συσχηματίζεσθε (syschēmatizesthe) which means to have an outward form of or to model one's self by following a similar pattern. So when we are told "be not conformed to this world" it is a comprehensive reference with respect to the world system and its values which includes cultural norms and standards which must be subordinate to biblical norms and standards. Again, some may be benign but they still must be approved by biblical norms and standards. So no Dan, it was not out of context at all and was applied precisely in context. The application is quite broad here and the application is based on the elementary exegesis which is all that is required for its basic understanding.

Dan Burrell wrote:
And I almost laughed out loud at the suggestion that "those objecting to clapping/applauding generally do not impugn the motives of others". Actually having a position somewhere between the two extremes, I've heard PLENTY of questioning of motives directed both directions.
I am referring to this discussion. I, too, have heard people's opinions but those people are not here and I do not read those objecting here, doing so with motive judging (again, I might have missed one or two comments which implied something but by far the general objection is on principle and not with motives in view about applauders/clappers). But I do also happen to know quite a large number of people who object to applauding/clapping and are quite gracious with respect to being in contexts where others may do so. I am sorry your experience is so limited in that manner, mine is not. This is the majority of believers with whom I interact are this way.

Dan Burrell wrote:
would you suggest that there IS a hierarchy of culture that extends to one ultimate superior position or practice? Could it be possible that there are degrees or even categories of cultural expressions or even traditions in worship that are related to broader Biblical principles, but may contain enough latitude to demonstrate harmonious diversity of expression without violating Biblical foundations?
I believe in higher orders of things and lower orders of thing with regard to biblical principles where there may be no violation of biblical foundations. However, those lower order of things still may be and should be viewed as good and not better or best. So in general I recognize what you are saying.

Dan Burrell wrote:
Perhaps a merging of both motive and cultural considerations might be or has been accomplished which allows variances of expressions via broader categories that do not require cultural uniformity (and perhaps even generational continuation), but are consistent with praise, worship, adoration, reflection and exaltation found in genuine worship, but which neither -- through motive or practice, nor tradition and custom -- require only one singular and approved format as somehow Biblically, morally, or culturally superior. I simply question whether there was only one truly acceptable form of worship for the Jews of the OT, the church at Jerusalem, the believers holed up in the catacombs of Rome and those facing incredible opposition in Asia Minor between letters from Paul and that this same style/form of carefully constructed expressions of worship was to be universally applied as the church spread throughout civilization and across time. (And might I add...possessing of a distinctively European tone and form apart from the influences of cultural preferences from civilizations across the Middle East, Africa, Asia and elsewhere.)
I am glad you bring up the Jews of the OT. This is a place where there is strong theological demarcation in which it is not a matter of culture but of a theological orientation. In its basic form (but understand, this is very basic and crudely stated seeing that a discussion boards does not permit for qualifiers as well as my limited time) the Jews were quite outward, deliberately. The were a physical nation while we are a spiritual nation. Their geography is visible, ours invisible. In other words, in following this emphasis, we, the church, are not like the OT Jews in many respects with regard to the protocols and principles of faithful expression and worship. Ours is primarily spiritual and as believer priests, before God in the privacy of our souls, we carry out our worship or "spiritual sacrifices". You don't have to accept this but this is a place where many find great difference in liturgy from the OT Jews and believe the arguments which attempt to use them as models, quite brittle.

As to one singular form, no one is suggesting that. Only one small facet is being considered here, the use of applause/clapping. One singular form is a far cry from simply addressing this one issue. You are getting far, far ahead here.

Dan Burrell wrote:
Consistently, when I have read the various tomes devoted to narrower styles of worship, I have been left with the impression that form eventually trumps focus and tradition as a more sure standard than Scripture. In the end, can it not come down to motivation and heart's intent primarily rather than a precise and uniform practice? Do not worship expressions by individual believers vary based on maturity, circumstances and seasons of life anyway much as a child who may worship by singing "Jesus Loves Me" when young, can additionally express worship via a praise chorus as a teen and eventually a great anthem or sacred hymn as a hoary-headed saint? There have been periods in my own life when I felt the need to worship with joyful exuberance because of answered prayers and Truth realized only to be followed later with an urge to be still, be sober-to-the-point-of-brokenness, be solemn as I passed through darker waters of my own journey.
No one is rejecting this. However, the medium for such expression in corporate worship so that attention is not called to the individual in an undue manner is through congregational singing. That is the time for exuberance. Our spiritual responses are, as believer priests, (as shadowed by the levitical priest, private before God) in the privacy of our soul.

Dan Burrell wrote:
I remain unconvinced that superiority in worship is always a matter of culture or style, but that the Biblical principles of most value are authenticity, submission, transparency and obedience.
I see no one asserting "culture or style" being what they believe is to be the source of superior worship, rather biblical regulation. Culture is anecdotal. If it may serve the gospel and worship, so be it, but if culture or style deflects elevated biblical order, then it is not of true service. It is biblical regulation that is being asserted here.

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