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Question #127

Is there any Biblical authority to clap hands while singing hymns?

Is there any Biblical authority to clap hands while singing hymns? Are all human sounds OK?

The Answer:

The clapping of hands while singing in worship is a troublesome issue in the church today. Certainly it is something other than singing itself, but so are standing, sitting, kneeling, and walking, all of which are done during worship in song. What, if anything can be done while singing other than singing itself? Where is the line, if any, to be drawn?

None of the activities mentioned above, including clapping, is a mechanical instrument of music. Some have argued that clapping is a percussion instrument. It is not, but even if it were it is not a mechanical instrument. It is the human being using the body that God created. Moreover, if clapping is a percussion instrument why are the vocal chords not a harp?

Some might argue that clapping is just the individual keeping the beat of the song while the leader keeps the beat with his hand. Just as a song cannot be sung without notes and pitch, it cannot be sung without a beat – it is part of the music. Many keep the beat by tapping their feet. Many years ago there was a brother who held singing school for congregations, and one of the points that he made was that it was a sin to tap the foot while singing. His argument was that dancing was defined as “the rhythmic movement of the feet to music”; the tapping of the foot was a “rhythmic movement”; therefore, tapping the foot was dancing. That argument seems to meet the definition of “silliness gone to seed.”

Some may argue that standing, sitting, or kneeling are all essential activities (one must be in some position while singing). However, walking is not a necessary activity during worship in song. In fact, it is distracting, but most seem to have no trouble with it. People meander in and out of worship in song and ushers roam the aisle. (This is not done during prayer for some reason, though both are to be done in the same manner – with the spirit and understanding. 1 Cor. 14:15. The only reason I can suggest is that people don’t like to walk with their eyes closed. Certainly one is not more sacred than the other. Roaming the aisles during prayer might be less distracting if all others eyes were closed except the meanderer’s.)

If clapping is to be prohibited, what scripture does it violate? If it violates no scripture should it be prohibited? Can it be prohibited?

Assuming that it violates no scripture, i.e., it is not prohibited by command, binding example, or necessary inference, it may still violate scripture. 1 Cor. 6:12; 10:23. Even if it is lawful it may not be expedient because, among other things, it does not edify. It may be unscriptural because it is not done decently and in order. 1 Cor. 14:40. Some of the practices in Corinth were not “unscriptural” per se, but as practiced by the Corinthians they destroyed the decorum of the worship.

But can more be said about clapping during worship in song? In looking beyond expediency and the decorum that should characterize worship, is clapping consistent with the God-given purpose of worship. The word “worship” comes from the old Anglo-Saxon word, “weorthscipe,” which became “worthship” and eventually “worship.” The background of these English words suggests that it means “attributing worth” to God. The Hebrew word for worship means “to bow down, to prostrate oneself.” The most used Greek word for worship means ”to kiss toward,” from the ancient custom of kissing the earth as a means of honoring deities. Worship should be one of the Christian’s foremost responses to God. When God revealed himself to Moses, Moses bowed to the ground at once and worshipped. Exodus 34:8. Ezekiel responded in a similar way when he had a vision of God, saying that when he saw it he fell face down. Ezekiel 1:28. Isaiah’s description of his reaction to his vision of God is graphic: “Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts.” Isaiah 6:5. From these events we should learn that worship is not an event, it is a response; it is not just a feeling, it is a declaration.

In addition to looking upward to God, worship also has an earthly purpose – edifying the saints. In Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, he emphasized that all things done in worship should edify. 1 Cor. 14:26. It is certainly clear that singing and praying with the spirit and understanding edifies. In singing we teach and admonish one another. In the study of the Word in preaching and reading we honor God as the One and only God who is worthy of our praise by accepting His Word to us as the guide for our lives. In the Lord’s Supper we are edified (built up) by celebrating the great gift of God’s love and thankfully remembering the shedding of blood and the bearing of our sins for our salvation. In our giving we acknowledge that all that we are and have is a gift from God and that God is worthy to receive our all.

Where does clapping fit into edification? Can it teach? Can it admonish? Is the best that we can do in offering our praise to God to give Him a big round of applause, as some television preachers request of their audiences? “Audience” is used because much modern worship has become more of a show than anything else. Clapping is done when the choir has done a good job, when the soloist has performed admirably, when the orchestra has played dramatically, and the preacher has proclaimed the weekly self-help feel-good message. Sometimes clapping is done while the music is sung or played, much like the old “swing and sway with Sammy Kaye.” It may excite the crowd, it may make the audience at the show “feel good,” but what does it really have to do with the purpose of worship – to declare the worth of God and edify the church? If the answer is “nothing,” and it is, then such practices are a corruption of worship and are not pleasing to God.

God is the object of worship. Nothing should be done in worship that is not God-ward. There is no reasonable argument to support the position that boisterous clapping in worship is song or in other acts of worship are God-ward. If clapping is acceptable in worship in song, why not in the Lord’s Supper? Wouldn’t that be an appropriate time to give God and His Son a big round of applause for the gift of salvation? Do we not have the cross in view when we sing “The Old Rugged Cross” or “Kneel at the Cross”? Is clapping any more appropriate there than in the Lord’s Supper. You say those are not the types of songs in which people clap? What Biblical themes are “clappers” and which are not? How do you decide? If you say that some are appropriate and some are inappropriate and you have no objective basis to determine the difference, then is not the decision subjective, i.e., you clap when it makes you feel good, thereby making yourself the object of worship and setting yourself upon the throne of God.

Such attitudes spring from the secularization of worship. Too many congregations have brought the world into the worship. Worship has been made into a show designed to attract the multitudes. No congregation of the Lord’s church can do as good a job at attracting the world as worldly churches unless the church itself becomes worldly. It will need a big productions as denominationalism – fifty piece orchestras, famous singers, $10,000,000.00 Christmas pageants just for starters. Then it will have to water down what it preaches and preachers will have to become cheerleaders exciting people, whipping up enthusiasm, and giving them a psychological boost. And don’t forget Christian rock – the latest in “Christian” music. (By the way, “Christian rock” is an oxymoron if ever there was one!) You say you haven’t gone that far by just a little clapping. Yes you have. You have already accepted the principle that you can do in worship that which pleases you, you are just more cheaply pleased than some of the big denominations. Once you accept the principle, there is no logical stopping place except your own dislikes. The concept of pleasing God in worship has already gone out the window.

God's Plan of Salvation

You must hear the gospel and then understand and recognize that you are lost without Jesus Christ no matter who you are and no matter what your background is. The Bible tells us that “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) Before you can be saved, you must understand that you are lost and that the only way to be saved is by obedience to the gospel of Jesus Christ. (2 Thessalonians 1:8) Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” (John 14:6) “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12) "So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God." (Romans 10:17)

You must believe and have faith in God because “without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6) But neither belief alone nor faith alone is sufficient to save. (James 2:19; James 2:24; Matthew 7:21)

You must repent of your sins. (Acts 3:19) But repentance alone is not enough. The so-called “Sinner’s Prayer” that you hear so much about today from denominational preachers does not appear anywhere in the Bible. Indeed, nowhere in the Bible was anyone ever told to pray the “Sinner’s Prayer” to be saved. By contrast, there are numerous examples showing that prayer alone does not save. Saul, for example, prayed following his meeting with Jesus on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:11), but Saul was still in his sins when Ananias met him three days later (Acts 22:16). Cornelius prayed to God always, and yet there was something else he needed to do to be saved (Acts 10:2, 6, 33, 48). If prayer alone did not save Saul or Cornelius, prayer alone will not save you. You must obey the gospel. (2 Thess. 1:8)

You must confess that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. (Romans 10:9-10) Note that you do NOT need to make Jesus “Lord of your life.” Why? Because Jesus is already Lord of your life whether or not you have obeyed his gospel. Indeed, we obey him, not to make him Lord, but because he already is Lord. (Acts 2:36) Also, no one in the Bible was ever told to just “accept Jesus as your personal savior.” We must confess that Jesus is the Son of God, but, as with faith and repentance, confession alone does not save. (Matthew 7:21)

Having believed, repented, and confessed that Jesus is the Son of God, you must be baptized for the remission of your sins. (Acts 2:38) It is at this point (and not before) that your sins are forgiven. (Acts 22:16) It is impossible to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ without teaching the absolute necessity of baptism for salvation. (Acts 8:35-36; Romans 6:3-4; 1 Peter 3:21) Anyone who responds to the question in Acts 2:37 with an answer that contradicts Acts 2:38 is NOT proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ!

Once you are saved, God adds you to his church and writes your name in the Book of Life. (Acts 2:47; Philippians 4:3) To continue in God’s grace, you must continue to serve God faithfully until death. Unless they remain faithful, those who are in God’s grace will fall from grace, and those whose names are in the Book of Life will have their names blotted out of that book. (Revelation 2:10; Revelation 3:5; Galatians 5:4)