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Question and Answer

Dancing or Clapping in OP Churches


Why is there no dancing or clapping or hand-raising in OP churches? Aren’t these things prescribed in Scripture? Surely we don’t think that they have to be re-stated in the New Testament to align with a regulative principle of worship, right? Or is it a white-culture thing?


Dear sir,

Thank you for your question. It is always difficult to adhere to the biblical instructions for worship when they are not those with which our culture is familiar or comfortable. Because the essence of our worship is spiritual, the world will never grasp what we are doing or why. On the other hand, how we express ourselves is often formed by the society in which we find ourselves living.

I am puzzled by the premise of your question: that clapping, dancing, etc. were a part of the worship of the people of God in the Old Testament. I would not suggest that they never clapped or danced, but I do not find any indications that the did so in the public worship. The closest thing to what you mention would be the priests lifting up their arms in prayer.

As far as being “prescribed” in the Scripture, I am not aware of any instance of dancing, etc. being prescribed for worship. There is the recorded instance of David “dancing before the Lord” in 2 Samuel 6, but that was during a parade, as the ark of the covenant entered Jerusalem, not a worship service. In fact, the worshiper was not very active at all at the Temple; all of the praying (and even the singing) was done only by the priests. And the primary activities in the synagogues were prayer and the teaching of the Torah.

With the ending of the shadows, we are all priests before God and so we all sing and participate in the worship. That worship is still to be done only as God has directed—what is commonly called the “regulative principle.” While the elements of worship are prescribed, the circumstances are not so limited. We are told in Scripture what to do, and how the heart is to be reflected in these actions. But in various cultures, heart expressions are different. I have preached in venues where the singing was accompanied by rhythmic clapping and some foot movement. (It would be quite a stretch to call it dancing.) I have also preached in other places where the congregation seemed to be in a mannequin imitation contest! But that did not mean that tears of joy were not in the eyes of some worshipers in both places.

On the other hand, the Scriptures abound in calling us to joyously celebrate our God and the salvation he gives! That joy should be evident in our whole life, not just behind closed doors. It is a grievous situation when the believer is either too concerned with the opinions of others or is so bereft of joy that he does not often feel like shouting with joy to God.

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"Questions and Answers" is a weekly feature of the OPC website. The answers come from individual ministers in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church expressing their own convictions and do not necessarily represent an "official" position of the Church, especially in areas where the Standards of the Church (the Scriptures and the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms) are silent.

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