Hand-Clapping and Applause?

There has been a saying for many years (by some) that “silence gives consent.” However, that is not always a true statement. Silence may prohibit. When a matter is specified by Scripture, then adding to, substituting, refusing to obey, or changing that specific command would violate the command. For example, the command to “sing” in worship is specific as to the kind of musical praise God requires. “Sing” is a very limited and specific action commanded in Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16. Silence as to “whistling,” “humming,” “hand-clapping,” “foot-stomping,” and mechanical instruments does not allow those things. It prohibits them.

If we do not follow the New Testament commands, the approved accounts of action in the New Testament, and the clear implications of the inspired writings, just what are we to follow? We are not to be “freewheeling” in matters of the Bible. We need to know the difference between an addition to what is authorized in worship, and an aid in carrying out a command. Many do not understand Bible interpretation. A song book adds nothing to the command to sing or the action of a person singing. The song book is an inanimate object and adds nothing to the action of worshiping in song. It aids in carrying out the command to sing. It adds no new element. A mechanical instrument or hand-clapping adds a new element or a new action that is not authorized. Doing such is not merely an “aid” but an addition, an unauthorized innovation. A blackboard or a Power Point is an “aid” to teaching God’s word, but it is not an unauthorized addition. It does not change or add to the action that is commanded: “to teach.” We are commanded to “sing” not to “play.” We are commanded to “sing” not to clap or applaud.

What about children clapping hands in their “little” songs in Bible class or in pew-packers? Doing so teaches children that it is acceptable. Doing so sets the precedent that it is acceptable behavior. Bible classes for children are the training ground for their behavior for when they become Christians. This should also tell us something about some of the inane, nonsensical songs that are sung by children in their classes and at VBS. If we are to teach spiritual truths to one another in song, that applies to children as well as adults. Singing (for example) “The noble king of York…and when you’re up you’re up…,” and, “If You’re Happy and You Know It, Clap Your Hands,” etc., teaches absolutely nothing of a spiritual nature to children. That kind of nonsense may be why we have reared a generation in the church that “can’t see anything wrong with it,” because they did it growing up! Oh yes, we trained them well! There are many outstanding “children’s songs” that have deep spiritual lessons that children can sing and give glory to God while so-doing. Such songs teach valuable spiritual truths and principles.

Some of the training that young people receive for Christian leadership in worship allows applause (by some) after a Scripture reading, speech, or prayer, when a good performance is done. Some say, “Well, it’s not worship; it’s practice.” One might question the idea that all of it is not worship. But, let’s say (for the moment—for the sake of argument) it is merely “practice” (and not worship). Those who are listening should also learn to “practice” the proper response to scripture reading, prayer, and Bible teaching, etc., that is done in a good way in worship. If we are “practicing” how to worship, then why are we not “practicing” how to participate and respond in worship? The hearers (the auditors) need to learn to do things “decently and in order,” 1 Corinthians 14:40. But, what does applause teach? If they applaud in “practice” will they not think (eventually) that it’s all right to carry applause over into a worship service? That is what is now happening in some places. It also lends itself to the idea that man is the audience and man is to be pleased when, in fact, God is the object of worship and the One observing the actions of His children. He is the One who must be glorified. We are not worshiping to please and entertain ourselves! (John 4:23-24; Acts 12:23; Rom. 16:27; 1 Cor. 10:31). Worship is to be reverent acts paid to a divine being.

Some applaud when one is baptized. A baptism is not entertainment, neither is it an item or act of worship. Some say that since it is not an act of worship, we should be free to applaud a baptism. What a raucous and irritating sound at such a time. A baptism is, indeed, a time of joy and yet it is a very serious matter! It is the most important step that one will take in this life. Do we have to explain the sober, solemn and wonderful nature of this great spiritual step that one takes as his sins are forgiven and he is added into the family of God (Acts 2:47)? If one desires to express joy at a baptism, why not simply give it an “Amen” or sing a song? That is more in line with what the Scriptures teach! Some seem to want so much to bring worldly matters into areas that are distinctly spiritual. Leave the hand-clapping (applause) for a home-run, a touchdown, a concert, and other secular matters. James says, “Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing psalms” (James 5:13). Paul speaks of saying, “Amen,” in the assembly at the giving of thanks, 1 Cor. 14:16. Whatever happened to a brotherly handshake, a pat on the back, or a simple, sincere word of encouragement?

This also applies to applause after a sister speaks at a ladies day, etc. If applause is all right in such a setting, then why do brethren not applaud the teacher of the auditorium Bible class on Sunday morning, or the preacher when he finishes a sermon? (Perhaps they do so in some places). The influence of the entertainment world has crept into the church for which the Son of God gave His life-blood. His spiritual bride was not designed to be a worldly bride (1 John 2:15-17). Come ye out from among them!