How shall Christians respond when they hear truth? Should we clap our hands? By shortly after the time of Christ, Roman crowds were responding in the auditoriums to the torture and murder of Christians, by clapping. As Christians were pulled apart by horses or tortured with heated metal, crowds clapped at their writhing agonies and death throes. It was considered good sport and premier entertainment.
They were condemned as foes against the empire, as foes of religion, and pests to society. Great numbers were thrown to wild beasts or burned alive in the amphitheaters. Some were crucified; others were covered with the skins of wild animals and thrust into the arena to be torn by dogs. Their punishment was often made the chief entertainment at public feats. Vast multitudes assembled to enjoy the sight and greeted their dying agonies with laughter and applause (The Great Controversy, p. 40).
As we think of these martyrs for Christ, we find it difficult to emulate their bemused audiences. The human psyche is weak, and fallen man cannot take much. How easily he becomes lifted up! After an excellent musical performance or a stirring remark in a sermon, I would rather hear an "Amen," or some other appropriate verbal affirmation, or nothing at all, than clapping.
Listen to what one musician wrote on the internet:
In the context of worship, we applaud people with the hope of making them feel appreciated, to demonstrate our approval of the rendition, or to show that we affirm the message of the music. Encouraging, approving, and affirming are not wrong actions in and of themselves. But could we find another method of accomplishing these goals? In our cultural context, applause is the stuff of the theater, the concert stage, the comic routine and the political speech. With such strong associations for approval of a performance, clapping in worship is at best, inappropriate. At worst it is idolatrous. Yet most folks sitting in the pews each Sunday are not bothered by its inclusion in worship.
In fact, it has become so customary to clap that we instinctively applaud for almost anything, particularly if it ends fast, loud, and high. This is simply an unexamined carry-over from the entertainment industry. We applaud in church because we have not thought much about it. Instead, we have allowed our culture’s response to entertainment to gain a place where it does not belong—worse yet, we have allowed entertainment itself a place in the church (Excerpted from “Applause—For Whom Are You Clapping?” Paul S. Jones, D.M.).
Let us be clear minded. The preacher is not a performer in the sense of an actor, nor is the Christian soloist. They are ministering to a congregation, not merely a secular audience. An audience is a group that hears, but a congregation is an assembly of believers. Only the latter gather to worship. In a gathering for worship we will behave differently than in a gathering to hear the mayor speak. There is something different in a gathering of believers. The conscience is quickened and heartfelt gratitude especially flows forth to the righteous God.
Clapping contributes to a loss of the sense of divine transcendence and holiness. It works on the mind so that a religious meeting takes more of a carnival atmosphere. It cheapens spiritual power in a meeting. Worse, it can incline the speaker/singer/presenter to feel that the appreciation that ought to be directed to God is accolades meant for him. In contrast to clapping, which is regularly used to show appreciation from people for a human performer, healthy verbal affirmations like "amens" are used in a much more restricted sense to show agreement and appreciation to God. Even "amens" can be abused. But between the two, one is clearly more suited to the secular, the other for the sacred. Let us refrain from clapping in our worship services.
But someone will ask, Does not the Bible sustain the idea of clapping in a worship service? Let’s look at all six passages where we find clapping. We will simply take them in order.
Clapping and Hissing
First, 2 Kings 11:12-14:
And he brought forth the king’s son, and put the crown upon him, and gave him the testimony; and they made him king, and anointed him; and they clapped their hands, and said, God save the king. And when Athaliah heard the noise of the guard and of the people, she came to the people into the temple of the Lord. And when she looked, behold, the king stood by a pillar, as the manner was, and the princes and the trumpeters by the king, and all the people of the land rejoiced, and blew with trumpets: and Athaliah rent her clothes, and cried, Treason, Treason.
You may recall the wicked queen Athaliah. When opportunity arose, she slew all the sons of royal lineage (2 Kings 11:1), but one was hidden from her (vs. 2). The royal sons was hidden in the house of worship for six years and when he was old enough to reign under regents, the high priest staged a revolt that made the boy king, and Athaliah was taken and slain.
Here we have a bloody, armed revolt, and yes, clapping. But mixed with it, horns are being blown at full volume and the city is in an uproar. It is a scene of tumult and revolution. It is not a worship service. There is in this incident of clapping no sustenance for the offering of applause in the modern worship service.
Next, Job 27:13-23:
This is the portion of a wicked man with God, and the heritage of oppressors, which they shall receive of the Almighty. If his children be multiplied, it is for the sword: and his offspring shall not be satisfied with bread. Those that remain of him shall be buried in death: and his widows shall not weep. Though he heap up silver as the dust, and prepare raiment as the clay; He may prepare it, but the just shall put it on, and the innocent shall divide the silver. He buildeth his house as a moth, and as a booth that the keeper maketh. The rich man shall lie down, but he shall not be gathered: he openeth his eyes, and he is not. Terrors take hold on him as waters, a tempest stealeth him away in the night. The east wind carrieth him away, and he departeth: and as a storm hurleth him out of his place. For God shall cast upon him, and not spare: he would fain flee out of his hand. Men shall clap their hands at him, and shall hiss him out of his place.
The passage describes the fate of the wicked or oppressing man. All his riches are removed from him. His family experiences violence. His life passes very quickly, and while he lives he is subject to terror. His end is violent, and when he dies, men clap their hands at him and hiss in derision.
Clapping here is a sign of disdain for a wicked person. In fact, most often this is the biblical meaning of clapping. it is a show of disrespect to the person clapped at.
A War Psalm
Consider Psalm 47:1-9:
O clap your hands, all ye people; shout unto God with the voice of triumph. For the Lord most high is terrible; He is a great King over all the earth. He shall subdue the people under us, and the nations under our feet. He shall choose our inheritance for us, the excellency of Jacob whom He loved. Selah. God is gone up with a shout, the Lord with the sound of a trumpet. Sing praises to God, sing praises: sing praises unto our King, sing praises. For God is the King of all the earth: sing ye praises with understanding. God reigneth over the heathen: God sitteth upon the throne of His holiness. The princes of the people are gathered together, even the people of the God of Abraham: for the shields of the earth belong unto God: He is greatly exalted.
Here, clapping goes together with triumph. However, there is some derision here as well. God will subdue the people under the Jews, He will subdue the nations under their feet. The inheritence His people receive is the land that had formerly been held by the heathen. God is triumphant over the heathen.
Keep in mind that if we are to make this the pattern for our worship that here we have not only clapping, but shouting. Further, there are no performers mentioned , nor any sermon being commented upon. The recipient of the clapping and shouting is God directly. There is no indication that this is a weekly worship event. In fact, it goes with what is obviously a military event, and thus must have reference to an occasion under the theocracy when Israel was faithful and when God gave the victory. here, there is a victor (God and His people) and a loser (heathen nation). We are, however, thousands of years after the time when God’s people constituted a national theocracy. One would be stretching this psalm rather far to derive from it evidence in favor of clapping in the contemporary church worship service.
The Roar of Nature
Now, Psalm 98:
O sing unto the Lord a new song; for He hath done marvelous things: His right hand, and His holy arm, hath gotten Him the victory. The Lord hath made known His salvation: His righteousness hath He openly shewed in the sight of the heathen. He hath remembered His mercy and His truth toward the house of Israel: all the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God. Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all the earth: make a loud noise, and rejoice, and sing praise. Sing unto the Lord with the harp; with the harp, and the voice of a psalm. With trumpets and sound of cornet make a joyful noise before the Lord, the King. Let the sea roar, and the fullness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein. Let the floods clap their hands: let the hills be joyful together before the Lord; for He cometh to judge the earth: with righteousness shall He judge the world, and the people with equity.
Here is another psalm directed to God. Singing is directed to God for delivering His people and being victorious in sight of the heathen. A whole-hearted praise is urged, musical instruments are mentioned: trumpet, cornet, harp, voice.
However, no person here is directed to clap their hands. Singing and playing of instruments, yes. But it is in the latter portion of the psalm where we have the clapping. What do we there find? An interesting structure in 7-9:
world and all that dwell therein
The sea is to roar, and the fullness of the sea. Then, mention of the world and the fullness of the world. Then the sea again, and here, the floods are instructed to clap their hands. Next, The hills to be joyful together before God. All this because He is coming to judge the earth in fairness and righteousness.
The creation is called to a universal giving of praise. The clapping here is clearly a metaphor; ocean waves do not have hands to clap. They do make a loud noise akin to clapping as the waves break on the seashore. The fullness of the ocean, being a habitation for sea creatures of varied sorts, is here a call to the creation itself to offer praise insofar as it can to its Creator. The call to the world is the same. Not only humankind, but the squirrel, the salamander, the ostrich, the firefly, is to join in the human singing and music-making. God is to be praised in the way possible and appropriate for each part of the creation. All the mighty sea can do is clap, but humans can play on instruments and sing in a language. The salamander can squeak its praise, the ocean can break its waves loudly along the shore, but only man is made in God&rdsquo;s image. Only man is called to sing. There is no call here for the redeemed to clap for a performer on a stage or even a preacher.
Next, Isaiah 55:10-13:
As the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater: So shall My word be that goeth forth out of My mouth: it shall not return unto Me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it. For ye shall go out with joy, and be led forth with peace: the mountains and the hills shall break forth before you into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. Instead of the thorn shall come up the fir tree, and instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle tree: and it shall be to the Lord for a name, for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.
Isaiah speaks of the end of the curse. God’s word will accomplish its purpose. When Jesus has returned, and the earth is redeemed, and the curse of sin is erased, then all creation will wear a new aspect. As the rain and snow waters the earth and causes new life to spring forth, so God’s word waters the believer and causes new experience to bud.
When the end of the Great Controversy War opens the way for God to restore the earth, He will do so with gusto. Here, the creation is represented as singing, and the redeemed as experiencing joy and peace. The mountains and hills are no longer clothed with thorns and briers. Instead, trees of fir and myrtle populate the landscape. The mountains and hills offer their praise. All the trees of the field clap their hands. But trees have no hands. All this is a figure, an attempt to explain for us that which is most difficult to represent in words: the joys of the earth made new, and a planet remade by the Creator’s hand, now curseless, now telling the character of the Creator without any demonic grafitti to misrepresent the message of love.
The timeframe of this praise and rejoicing is after the curse is ended, after sin and sinners are no more. We are all in renewed bodies, clothed anew and forevermore in incorruption. This passage is not a contemporary worship service, nor does it prescribe clapping or applause as an appropriate worship response in earth yet under the curse. The clapping trees are figure, yes, of joy in the earth made new. Let us make neither more nor less of this passage than we should.
Next, Lamentations 2:13-17:
What thing shall I take to witness for thee? what thing shall I liken to thee, O daughter of Jerusalem? what shall I equal to thee, that I may comfort thee, O virgin daughter of Zion? for thy breach is great like the sea: who can heal thee? Thy prophets have seen vain and foolish things for thee: and they have not discovered thine iniquity, to turn away thy captivity; but have seen for thee false burdens and causes of banishment. All that pass by clap their hands at thee; they hiss and wag their head at the daughter of Jerusalem, saying, Is this the city that men call The perfection of beauty, The joy of the whole earth? All thine enemies have opened their mouth against thee: they hiss and gnash the teeth: they say, We have swallowed her up: certainly this is the day that we looked for; we have found, we have seen it. The Lord hath done that which He had devised; He hath fulfilled His word that He had commanded in the days of old: He hath thrown down, and hath not pitied: and He hath caused thine enemy to rejoice over thee, He hath set up the horn of thine adversaries.
Because of her unfaithfulness, God’s people, Jerusalem, are in distress. The city is broken down, the enemy is in triumph. The leaders of the “church” have “seen vain and foolish things for thee.” Rather than straight preaching and teaching about sin, they have presented false burdens. Instead of messages from heaven, the people have been subjected to messages from unconsecrated and unfaithful hearts. The result: captivity, destruction, sorrow, the fall of Jerusalem.
Who is clapping here? The enemies of God. Together with clapping, we find hissing and gnashing of teeth. Thus, clapping here has nothing to do with the worship of God, far from it. God’s people refused His initiatives and He withdrew His protection from her. The enemy claps. And hisses. And gnashes. Clapping is the behavior of those who rejoice to see Jerusalem fallen. There is here no prescription for the use of clapping or applause in the worship of God.
Under Further Judgment by God
Lastly, Nahum 3:15-19:
There shall the fire devour thee; the sword shall cut thee off, it shall eat thee up like the cankerworm: make thyself many as the cankerworm, make thyself many as the locusts. Thou hast multiplied thy merchants above the stars of heaven: the cankerworm spoileth, and flieth away. Thy crowned are as the locusts, and thy captains as the great grasshoppers, which camp in the hedges in the cold day, but when the sun ariseth they flee away, and their place is not known where they are. Thy shepherds slumber, O king of Assyria: thy nobles shall dwell in the dust: thy people is scattered upon the mountains, and no man gathereth them. There is no healing of thy bruise; thy wound is grievous: all that hear the bruit of thee shall clap the hands over thee: for upon whom hath not thy wickedness passed continually?
Nahum prophesies the destruction of Nineveh, and in its end, a figure of the end of Satan’s rebellion against God. In the end the great controversy is won by God. For his enemies comes grievous destruction. Although Nineveh repented at the preaching of Jonah (Jonah 3:5-10), her repentance was not enduring, and eventually God did bring devastation upon her. Most of the book of Nahum describes God exacting this judgment.
The leaders are dead, the soldiers are deceased, the people are scattered, the power of the kingdom is forever ended. All who hear “the bruit of thee”—the news, the message of Nineveh’s destruction—clap their hands. That is, the end of her wickedness is cause for rejoicing. Clapping, here, again, has little in it of the worship of God, but is an indication of approval of the judgment that has come upon the enemies of God.
A complete survey of the passages that mention clapping offers us no reason whatsoever to add it to the worship of a holy God. Indeed, most cases have it as a derision of those who did not repent and by choice kept in rebellion against God until He came swiftly and cut them down in their wickedness.
In fact, nowhere in the Tanakh (Old Testament) or the New Testament do we find the use of clapping in a church worship setting. Can we find indisputable inspired evidences to sustain this position? That would be difficult. We surely find texts that tell us not to be friends with the world, and to avoid worldly practices. Also, we find no Scriptures affirming the practice of clapping as used in our culture, for the worship of God.
Even if the kind of clapping we are used to hearing is the same as that found in Bible times (which we did not find suggested in the actual Bible material), still, because of today’s strong association of clapping with showing adulation for performers, we should continue to avoid the practice. Remember, the major concept at hand is the issue of association and of losing our sense of reverence by the introduction of unsound worship styles. Does the idea of clapping sound like it can harmonize with this counsel:
Parents, elevate the standard of Christianity in the minds of your children; help them to weave Jesus into their experience; teach them to have the highest reverence for the house of God and to understand that when they enter the Lord’s house it should be with hearts that are softened and subdued by such thoughts as these: ‘God is here; this is His house. I must have pure thoughts and the holiest motives. I must have no pride, envy, jealousy, evil surmising, hatred, or deception in my heart, for I am coming into the presence of the holy God. This is the place where God meets with and blesses His people. The high and holy One who inhabiteth eternity looks upon me, searches my heart, and reads the most secret thoughts and acts of my life’ (Testimonies, vol. 5, p. 494).
Do you know why people are clapping? Because they think they are being entertained. They are applauding the show. But worship is not entertainment.
When we worship God, we are not the audience. We are not even spectators. We are supposed to be participants. God is the audience! Our worship is directed heavenward, and that is why we don’t applaud each other. We come together as the body of Christ to worship, honor, venerate, serve, and reverence God. We need to maintain jealously the simplicity and dignity of worship in spirit and truth.
Mentone CA SDA 2008-01-27