Let God Do the Clapping

From time to time a question arises concerning the practice of clapping during our worship periods to show our approval of something said or done. This practice is, generally speaking, relatively new among churches of Christ. That fact within itself does not make the practice either right or wrong.  Neither does the fact that it is a practice borrowed by our denominational neighbors from the entertainment industry, and then by churches of Christ from our denominational neighbors. The rightness or wrongness of an act is determined, not by its antiquity or its novelty, not by who has or has not made it a practice, but by whether or not it is in harmony with the teaching of the New Testament.

Clapping during worship fits into the agenda of those who are trying to change the church. Some of them have made it plain that worship must be changed to make it more appealing to the worshiper.  Calvin Warpula wrote, “I also believe we should let individuals and congregations use the musical format they like without judging them.” Rubel Shelly said, “The tired, uninspiring event we call worship in traditional churches has to give away to the exhilarating experience of God that exhibits and nourishes life in the worshipers.” He also said in the same speech, “The church has got to change.  If it doesn't change, my kids are not going to stay with it.”

These statements suggest that worship must please the worshiper. They ignore the fact that worship is designed to honor God. When the design of worship is to entertain the worshiper, we expect those being entertained to show their approval by clapping.

There is the same authority for clapping in Christian worship as there is for playing a piano or organ. It is doing something for which there is no divine authority. Furthermore, those among our brethren who first started clapping in worship are the same ones who have stretched the tent of fellowship over the denominational world, and who will not say those who use the instrument in worship sin in so doing. While clapping has now caught on with some who are otherwise, it should be remembered that hand clapping in worship was originally borrowed from the denominations by some who believe those in the denominations have God’s approval.

It would be admitted by most that clapping the hands in worship does not in any way add to the dignity and solemnity of the occasion. It does not do honor to God; we honor Him by doing what He has told us to do in worship, and He has not told us to clap.

It is also a fact that, until recent years, it was considered in bad taste to applaud any religious activity. If you think otherwise, consult the books by Emily Post, whose name for many years was synonymous with etiquette.

Who is being applauded when there is hand clapping in worship? Are those who clap their hands doing so to honor God? If so, they are seeking to honor God in some way He has not authorized instead of as He has directed. “God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24). II John 9 says, “Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God.  He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son.” It will be admitted by all that we can abide in the doctrine of Christ without ever having a round of applause in any of our worship assemblies.

If hand clapping is something of value in our worship, then why didn't God prescribe it? Could it be that those who initiated this practice think they have thought of something God overlooked? Or did God simply not know of its great value?  Brethren with such wisdom would do well to read I Corinthians 3:18-20: “Let no man deceive himself.  If any man among you seemeth to be wise in this world, let him become a fool, that he may be wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God.  For it is written, He taketh the wise in their own craftiness.  And again, The Lord knoweth the thoughts of the wise, that they are vain.”

Those really interested in the peace and harmony of the church will not insist on clapping in worship. They themselves will agree that clapping is not necessary in order to have Scriptural worship. They will acknowledge also that clapping is not an act God has prescribed. Therefore, they must confess they can worship Scripturally and conscientiously without applauding. In love for those who conscientiously oppose it, and in the interest of peace and harmony, it should be omitted.

Occasionally one will be heard to say that hand clapping is no different from saying, Amen. But there is one slight difference: saying, “Amen” is authorized in Scripture. I Corinthians 14-16, “Else when thou shalt bless with the spirit, how shall he that occupieth the room of the unlearned say Amen at thy giving of thanks, seeing he understandeth not what thou sayest?”

Where is the verse which mentions clapping hands in worship?

I would emphasize that I am not one who is opposed to change, provided the change is in harmony with the Will of God, and provided the change will be an improvement. However, if we are to improve our worship, it will not be by adding other acts, but by improving the worshipers.

If there is to be applause in connection with our worship, let it be by God; he is the only audience.  All of us are participants.

Bobby Duncan