Volume. XXIV, No. 35
Sunday, 28 February 2010


Worship Part 3


Diversified manners of worship have driven different congregations to practice different worship styles. Some congregations clap their hands during their worship services. Some applaud when the preachers finish their messages, or sometimes in the middle of the message as a sign of their approval. Some argue that such practice is not biblical because worship begins and ends with God. Preaching during worship must begin and end with the Scriptures. Thus, there should not be any applause given to any individuals, regardless of who they are. Instead, they argue that saying “Amen” is the biblical form of showing approval (cf. 1 Corinthians 14:16). Meanwhile, there are people who argue exactly the opposite. They love to quote Psalm 47:1, “O clap your hands, all ye people; shout unto God with the voice of triumph.” The more reserved groups may say that clapping was allowed in the Old Testament, but there is no approval of the practice in the New Testament. Then, their opponents will say that the practice is not prohibited in the New Testament, and we cannot make any conclusion from biblical silence. Probably, this matter can be considered in four ways. When I am dealing with clapping, I also include practices such as dancing, shouting, and using certain musical techniques and instruments, though church music issues will be set aside from my current talks about worship. I’ll deal with it sometime later.

 
First, biblical worship seems not to endorse disorderly manners of worship. It is true that there are verses talking about clapping, shouting, and even dancing in the Old Testament. However, it is not referred to as an act of worship, and more importantly, none of the verses are related to Temple services. At the same time, it is also important for us recognize that there were accounts of joyful celebrations such as king’s enthronement, war victories, or special festival seasons. During those events, there were special activities and practices to express their joy, including clapping.
 
Second, church history seems to not know much about clapping and dancing as a manner of worship. Instead, historian Neander regretted that sacred music assumed “an artificial and theatrical character, and was so far removed from its original simplicity that even in the fourth century the abbot Pambo of Egypt complained of heathen melodies being introduced into the worship of the church accompanied as it seems with the action of the hands and feet.” Church historians, such as Mosheim, D’Aubigne, Philip Schaff or Edward Gibbons, do not make any comment on clapping as a manner of Christian worship. In fact, clapping in worship is only a recent development in Christian churches.
 
Third, true worship must be done in spirit and truth while clapping and dancing seem to work only on the contrary. The spirit of worship must also be the work of the Holy Spirit. However, clapping, loud music, and dancing appear to be used as means to induce the worshippers into a worshipping mood. The outer activities are used to control our inner beings to worship, rather than the Spirit of God moving our inner beings to enable us to worship God. When feeling the beats and rhythms from clapping or certain music, our bodies respond to them, quite often even without being aware of it. I cannot but think of the story of Mt. Carmel. The prophets of Baal worshipped in 1 Kings 18:26, “And they took the bullock which was given them, and they dressed it, and called on the name of Baal from morning even until noon, saying, O Baal, hear us. But there was no voice, nor any that answered. And they leaped upon the altar which was made.” The word, “leaped,” literally means “to leap in dancing around,” or “to limp about.” Elijah responded to their activities in verse 27: “And it came to pass at noon, that Elijah mocked them, and said, Cry aloud: for he is a god; either he is talking, or he is pursuing, or he is in a journey, or peradventure he sleepeth, and must be awaked.” Then, they responded to Elijah’s mockery in verse 28, “And they cried aloud, and cut themselves after their manner with knives and lancets, till the blood gushed out upon them.” No amount of outer activity generates any spirituality in God. In fact, everything has to be in reverse. The Spirit of God within us must generate our spiritual life and activities. One primary concern I
have over clapping, raising hands, or using wild music and dancing around in church, is that people practice them as if they are the means to come closer to God. Without these elements, fire came down from heaven and burnt the sacrifices on Elijah’s altar. What we need to do is not to make an effort to generate some sort of spiritual event or experience, but to have genuine worship of God. See what Elijah did in verses 36-39, “And it came to pass at the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice, that Elijah the prophet came near, and said, LORD God of Abraham, Isaac, and of Israel, let it be known this day that thou art God in Israel, and that I am thy servant, and that I have done all these things at thy word. 37 Hear me, O LORD, hear me, that this people may know that thou art the LORD God, and that thou hast turned their heart back again. 38 Then the fire of the LORD fell, and consumed the burnt sacrifice, and the wood, and the stones, and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench. 39 And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces: and they said, The LORD, he is the God; the LORD, he is the God.”
 
Fourth, true worship edifies other people, too. If our brethren who practice clapping consider this practice neither good nor bad, then they should control themselves in doing this. It is because their practice may be offensive to other brethren. It does not edify other people. Edification is the foremost important virtue that all Christians should be able to cultivate (1 Corinthians 10:23-24).
 
There is an inevitable question we cannot avoid. We know that people in certain cultures use physical motions and drums (hand drums) in worship. It is not a creative activity but a part of tradition and lifestyle. When I went to Africa as a missionary, one of the first surprises was their music and worship style. My African friends love to sing in choruses (wonderfully and beautifully), and constantly move their bodies as if they were dancing (of course, it was a bit of moving back and forth). They played small drums with their hands. All of those elements seemed awkward in my western mind. However, it did not take much time for me to realize that such manners were a part of their life and way of living. Of course, witch-doctors use dancing, chanting, and drums for their spiritual experiences, too. Thus, what I could conclude was that, as long as certain activities were not related to their previous religious activities (non-Christian), they could use what they had for worship. Then, some people may question and call me a hypocrite. They may say, “why do you have double standards?” I am not sure this can be labeled as double standards. It is because some identical things can be understood differently in different cultures and countries. Touching a child’s head is an act of showing affection in one culture, while the same act is considered as an insult in another. Crossing legs is acceptable in one culture, but it is a sign of rudeness in another culture. We should not ignore these cultural differences. I have not met any missionary (fundamental, evangelical, and conservative) who has banned the African brethren from using what I have mentioned so far during their worship. They are edified by having this style of worship. Here, I would like to mention raising hands during worship or prayer. In particular, I look at Solomon in 1 Kings 8:22, “And Solomon stood before the altar of the LORD in the presence of all the congregation of Israel, and spread forth his hands toward heaven.” I pay attention to the fact that Solomon did it before the altar of the LORD. The controversy over raising hands into the air is not much different from the issue of clapping. Some say it is unbiblical and some say it is biblical. 1 Timothy 2:8 says, “I will therefore that men pray every where, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting.” This indicates that it was a common practice in early churches that men lifted their hands while praying. Men were commanded to do it everywhere. Of course, people may argue that it is not within a worship context. Well, as we know, 1 Timothy is a part of Paul’s Pastoral Epistles. Paul taught Timothy about how to lead his church as a pastor. Interestingly, the editors of my Bible from the Nelson Bibles gave subtitles for each paragraph, and 1 Timothy 2:1-8 is under the heading of “Prayer in Public Worship,” which is an indication that the editors understood the context as a teaching about public worship. I am not saying that it is good or bad to raise our hands in prayer. What I want to caution all of us is that we should avoid casting judgment against any brethren who may have a different practice in worship in regard to our actions with hands through either clapping or raising them. At the same time, it does not mean that I do encourage anyone to raise his hands during worship. If it does not edify the body of believers, what is the point of doing it? Everything we do must edify the body of Christ. Thus, I do appeal to both sides to exercise their charity to the other party. There is much more to say on worship-related issues.
 
I will continue on the topic of worship next week.
 
Lovingly,
Pastor Ki
(New Life B-P Church, London)
 

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Family Bible Camp, Easter weekend, 2-5 April 2010.
 
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Job - Sisters Marion Chan, Judy Li, & Corinne Teng.
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Unity of fellowship & doctrine of B-P Churches.
 
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