Hand-Clapping In Worship by James R. Lewis

Q:  Does the Bible Permit Hand Clapping in the Worship Service?

     It has become the practice in some congregations for the members to applaud (clap their hands) at various times during the worship service.  Usually it is when approval is given to the speaker or in recognition of certain accomplishments by an individual or by the congregation.  Sometimes it is done when one is baptized.

      The word applaud means “to show approval or enjoyment (of) by clapping the hands or by cheering, stamping the feet, etc.; to praise, approve, commend” (Webster’s New World Collegiate Dictionary).

     No one can successfully question that it has been divisive and a cause of discord.  Does God approve applause or hand clapping in the worship service?

     If applause is for God, it is not because He has asked for it or because He has authorized it.  If one should affirm that God has authorized applause, then the evidence (Bible authority) for such authorization must be presented.  If the evidence is not there, then this practice must stop and those who have participated in it must repent and return to worshiping God in spirit and in truth. A reading of the New Testament will reveal that applause or hand clapping was never a part of the worship services.

     Some have argued that it is just another way of saying amen, which is authorized.  “Another way” is clear admission that it is not the same thing as “Amen.”  Therefore, it is not authorized under this cloak.

     One could just as easily claim that cheering or foot stomping in the assembly is the same as saying “Amen.”  Shall our worship of God become a hand clapping, cheering, and foot stomping event?  Absurdity, thou art sometimes a good teacher.

     The word translated amen fifty-one times in the New Testament is also translated verily ninety-nine times.  Thayer tells us that the word came to be used as an adverb by which something is asserted or affirmed.  Used at the beginning of a discourse it means surely, of a truth, truly.  At the close of a sentence, the meaning is: so it is, so be it, may it be fulfilled.  Some twenty-five times in the gospel of John, our Lord used the compound, verily, verily, hereby giving the force of the superlative, most assuredly (Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Zondervan Publishing House, 1977).

     The seriousness of a thoughtfully expressed “amen” or “verily” stands in stark contrast to an outbreak of cheering and/or hand clapping.

     Some have argued that hand clapping is optional.  This means that it is not necessary, but is allowed if desired.  If it is, where is Bible authority which makes it optional?  If it is optional, and without Bible authority, then we are making something part of our worship which came not from God, but from man.

     If we can add one “something” to our worship which does not have God as its source, then why could we not add other options into the worship?  This could include the mechanical instrument of music, the dance, burning incense, etc., which, by the way, might go well with cheering and foot stomping.

     Consistency demands that he who affirms hand clapping in worship is optional also affirm that other additions to our worship, even mechanical instruments of music, are optional.  The truth is that there is nothing optional about our worship. We must worship God in spirit and in truth (John 4:24).  There is no truth which authorizes hand clapping in worship, and the spirit which interjects it into worship is evil.

     What ever happened to the days when Christians stood in confidence of the Scriptures to affirm only what God authorizes in worship?   Matters were put to open discussion. The Bible was (and still is) the only authority.  If it was not from Bible authority, then it was rejected. Love for God, love for truth, and love for fellow man prevailed and the gospel of Christ was effectively proclaimed to a lost and dying world – and all of this without hand clapping in worship services.

     Let us applaud the accomplishments of one another in the right and proper environment. However, when it comes to worshiping God by scripturally praising, praying and preaching, let us leave off that which our Lord has left off.  Let the church say, “Amen.”