Is yours a clapping church?

Do the members of your congregation clap in worship? Are they allowed? Bring up this subject and get ready for fireworks:

“When we worship God, we must simply follow that which He has revealed to us in the New Testament. Hand clapping as an act of worship is not revealed in the New Testament. Therefore, in order to please God, we must leave it out of our worship! God demands respect for His Word. To add to it or to take away from it is to incur the wrath of God. It will result in one’s being kept out of the Holy City, i.e. heaven” (from the website Truth for the World, originating from a Church of Christ congregation in Georgia). Yikes! These are tough folks—they will send you off to hell if you clap.

“It is time to wrap the clap as a starting point to remove the anthropocentric mentality that has destroyed worship these past 45 years” (an irritated Catholic).

“At some conference services the postlude is a part of the service and worshipers are encouraged to remain. Applause after a service postlude, however, is as inappropriate as applause after a sermon. Please! Those who must leave during the postlude—as well as those who remain—are asked to do so quietly” (worship conference notice).

An organist friend of mine saw the above notice and had a canary: “Are tears inappropriate at a funeral? Are verbal compliments inappropriately given to anyone who participates in a worship service? If we are to give all glory to God, great! I’ll quit organ and let Him do my practicing for me. I hope the people enjoy singing a cappella. Don’t mean to be disrespectful, but it’s the encouragement—compliments, if you will—that help me go another day after I’ve had many thoughts of quitting due to the lonely hours of practicing with ‘nothing to show for it.’ I mean, the notes evaporate into thin air . . . not like if I’d spend hundreds of hours making beautiful quilts that could last for generations. A pastor once said to me, ‘Christ came to give the church joy, and the church has been trying to take it away ever since!’”

Where you come down on this issue probably depends on whether your worship life is “high church” or “low church.” If your church uses very formal liturgies, you probably don’t hear a lot of clapping. If your weekly experience has a praise band or gospel choirs, you’re probably comfortable with it. If you come from a black Pentecostal church like the Church of God in Christ (COGIC), you probably don’t feel like you’ve even been to church if there hasn’t been vigorous congregational clapping and noise.

Who’s right? Well, worship life in the Old Testament certainly sounds like a noisy and expressive experience:

  • “Clap your hands, all you nations; shout to God with cries of joy” (Psalm 47:1).
  • “Shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth, burst into jubilant song with music” (Psalm 98:4)
  • “Praise him with timbrel and dancing. . . . Praise him with the clash of cymbals, praise him with resounding cymbals” (Psalm 150:4,5).

The KJV uses the term “joyful noise” in Psalms 66, 81, 95, 98, and 100. The NIV has “Shout for joy.”

New Testament Christians live with considerable freedom in regard to worship style. St. Paul counseled that Christians should use both head and heart in their prayer and singing: “So what shall I do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my understanding; I will sing with my spirit, but I will also sing with my understanding” (1 Corinthians 14:15).

My congregation is all over the place when it comes to clapping. When one of our choirs presents a contemplative or meditative piece, you can hear a pin drop at the end. When the gospel choir is in full-tilt roar, people will clap not only at the end but will be clapping with the rhythm of the drummer. They may even be up on their feet moving around.

Q: Do we attend worship services to connect with God or to connect with other people?
A: Yes.

Q: Do we go to church to think deep thoughts or to feel something?
A: Yes.

Q: Does clapping in worship glorify God or show appreciation to musicians?
A: Yes.

Pastor Mark Jeske has been bringing the Word of God to viewers of Time of Grace since the program began airing in late 2001. A Milwaukee native, Pastor Jeske has served as the senior pastor at St. Marcus, a multicultural congregation on Milwaukee’s near north side since 1980. In addition, he is the author of six books and dozens of devotional booklets on various topics.

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