Is Clapping Appropriate in Worship Services?

Applause has its place. But for some it seems out of place in the worship services of the church.

The sanctuary lights dimmed, as costumed young people made their way to the platform. The story of Joseph began to unfold. His coat of many colours, the dreams, the jealousy of his brothers. The youth group of the church my wife and I attended some years ago was presenting the familiar account in the form of a contemporary musical. Eventually, they came to his time in Potiphar's house and Joseph's encounter with Potiphar's wife. A teen-age girl slunk across the platform singing a song called "Mae East"--a take-off on Mae West, the movie vamp of the thirties.

It was an impossibly difficult task, singing that song. Not musically, but dramatically. Play it for laughs and it trivializes the conflict between holiness and wanton wickedness. Play it too sensually and it crosses the border of good taste. My impression was that the singer came perilously close to the latter. With the sexual innuendo in her walk and her look, she left no doubt as to what this was all about. At last she ended her siren song--on a spectacularly high note. "Praise the Lord!" proclaimed a gentleman seated in front of me, in a voice loud enough to be heard rows away.

It was startling, disturbing, that note of praise. What was he lauding? This woman's wicked seduction of a godly young man? No, not that. His attention was on the performance. What thrilled him was that sensational finishing note. It was the singer's ability to climb higher up the musical scale than the average person. And in that moment, a deep concern was ignited in my mind and heart.

Will you excuse me if I "stops preachin' and goes to meddlin'" for a moment? It sometimes distresses me when we applaud the ministry of music in our church services--especially during those times designated for worship. What are we applauding? I am sure that in many cases it is the skill of the performance. I know there is a breezy style abroad that says, "Let's give the Lord a hand," but I wonder. Are we sincerely worshipping when we applaud at the end of a song. "My Jesus, I love Thee..."--and we clap enthusiastically. What? Whom? Jesus? In the majority of cases, I doubt it.

Those of us who serve publicly in this way need the attitude of John the Baptist who said, "He must increase, but I must decrease" (Jn. 3:30). And the outlook of the one on the platform ought to promote a similar response from those in the pew. Augustine once said, "When I am moved by the voice of him that sings more than by the words sung, I confess I have sinned." Let's determine to direct our attention to what the words communicate. Let's respond to the sentiment of the message, not assess the competence of the performer.

So, is there a place to encourage the one who sings? Certainly. Time enough later, after the service, to express personal appreciation for the ministry. It is entirely appropriate to approach a soloist after the meeting, and say how much the ministry has blessed us. God's servants need our support. But as Ecclesiastes reminds us, "to everything there is a season" (Ecc. 3:1). Worship celebrates His worth-ship. In services designed for such a purpose, we must be careful not to confuse emotional excitement with spiritual energy, or worship with entertainment. Hold that applause...please.