Is Applause Appropriate in Church?

(Recently asking this question on my personal blog has inspired this post).

The Question:

Is it appropriate to applaud an artistic or oratorical performance in the church worship hour?

That is, when someone sings a solo in front of the entire congregation, do we applaud them? What about when the preacher nails down that pertinent point, do we clap our hands in approval of his words? Is there ever a situation where a standing ovation communicates a God-centered reverence to the Lord? I ask this question not in an appeal to your personal taste, for we do not sit in judgment of what is appropriate worship to the Lord. Rather, I ask this question to consider whether it is appropriate before our God.

The Argument:

No question that the applause has a firm foothold in the mega-church era that we live in. Particularly in the Southern Baptist churches, the applause and even the standing ovation is something that has become sort of a staple during the worship hour. Not only do these types of ovations arise because of a musical performance, but it has gotten to the point where gifted speakers are often applauded as well.

Recently, while preaching at a church close to my home, First Baptist Church of Woodstock, Ergun Caner ‘brought the house down’ with a political statement aimed at supporting President George W. Bush. This was the church worship hour, this was in the middle of his sermon, it was completely separate from the text he was attempting to preach, and it was completely devoid of any spiritual content. After loudly expressing his support for Bush, Caner was interrupted by a 2 minute standing ovation. It seems as though the more emotion some men show, the more that people get riled up – no matter what the content of what the speaker says.

Other examples could be given for musical performances, announcements of numbers and baptisms, personal testimonies, the baptism of family members together, etc. But the question I have in regards to applause has little to do with what spurs on the applause, for that in itself could be questioned as well. Rather, I’d like to consider whether the applause appropriate at all.

Personally, I do not think that it is appropriate for the worship hour, and I share a few of these concerns below. However, I want to make it crystal clear, the applause in itself is not what I am aiming at here. Rather, it is the heart attitude that produces these types of ovations. Getting rid of the applause itself will do nothing without a repentance and transformation of the heart in regards to the attitude of worship. Man-centeredness and secularistic thinking is what brings on the applause in my opinion; it is not the applause itself that brings on man-centeredness. Let us carefully consider our attitude when gathering for corporate worship, and let us ever seek to humble ourselves in reverence during the corporate worship of our awesome God.

The applause brings unhealthy attention to the performer, and a harmful emphasis on the performance:

Is this not an obvious point? We do not gather to celebrate the singing or speaking talents of humans, we gather to be solely focused on worshipping and exalting the Lord. So do we not recognize that applauding human talent and performance is the method the world uses in the theaters and concert halls to flatter the performer? What type of message is conveyed when the better performance receives the superior applause? Where is the emphasis here, on God, or on the performer? If we understood that the performer is simply offering up worship to God and God alone, why would we applaud something that isn’t solely aimed at pleasing us?

Essentially, applauding the performer takes the focus off of God and places it onto man. Applauding the performance redirects the purpose of worship from offering it to God to offering it to man. The singer or preacher should be performing for One audience, and that Audience alone. His concern should be that the performance pleases a holy and perfect God, not whether it pleases fallible man. The applause, unfortunately, indicates that man sits in judgment of the performance, and is thus the focus of the performance.

The applause takes the attention off of the content being communicated:

The applause is an easy way out for the congregation to avoid thinking about the message being conveyed by the performer. ‘Oh the performance was good, lets move on now’, is a common danger. However, the specific content of the song is where the focus should be. When we applaud, we set aside the content of the song and focus solely on the performance and the performer. Instead of applauding, there should be a focused effort by the listener to consider and apply the message being conveyed. The performance isn’t solely for our enjoyment or our pleasure, and it shouldn’t be focused on making us feel warm and fuzzy. Instead, it should be aimed at challenging us, encouraging us, and humbling us in the sight of God. Applauding, unfortunately, takes the focus off of this message and our responsibility to hear it and apply it, and it places undue emphasis on the performance itself.

The applause represents an ‘all about us’ attitude:

I mentioned this briefly above, but worship isn’t about us at all; it isn’t about what we want, it isn’t about what we like, it isn’t about what makes us feel good. Worship is about God, and we are not free to worship God how we choose. When we applaud, we are conveying an attitude of ‘yes I approve’, or ‘no I don’t’. Again, it is not up to us whether we approve or not. The worship is offered up to God, the performance should be for an Audience of One, and I fear it is disrespectful to imply that we have some sort of approving say in the matter.

Am I advocating a boycott of the applause? Am I trying to stir up animosity with the churches that do practice the applause?

Certainly not. Simply put, I encourage each one of you to consider the reverence and attitude of worship that is present within your congregation. If there is a steady practice of applauding going on in your church, I encourage you to take step back and examine your church to ensure that you all are approaching God with fear and reverence. The frequent use of the applause could possibly be a reflection of much deeper issues within the body. Why does your church applaud? Common courtesy? Tradition? Frivolous emotion? Please, consider the root of this issue rather than writing these things off as ‘blown out of proportion’.

“Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.”– Hebrews 12:28-29

For further reading, consider the philosophy of worship that Grace Heritage Church has detailed on their webpage:

Worship is the corporate expression of the delight, awe, and thankfulness that come from knowing our infinitely glorious and sovereign God and Savior. Because the distance between God and His creatures is so great, the only acceptable way of approaching God in worship must be revealed to us by God Himself. Therefore, He may not be worshiped in ways invented by us. This principle protects us from idolatrous worship and focuses our energies on those activities through which God has called us to draw near.

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15 Comments on “Is Applause Appropriate in Church?”

  1. nathan Says:

    This makes me think a lot about Joel osteen and Benny Hinn =0)


  2. I’ve never been comfortable giving applause in a worship service, but voicing an “Amen” in its true context, “Yes, Lord, so be it” (whether it’s a whisper or a shout) is an acoustic response which I believe honors God and the spirit of true worship.

  3. Nathan White Says:

    John,

    I completely agree. I also like to personally seek out the ‘performer’ after the service so as to thank them for being a blessing.

    SDG

  4. Allan Says:

    LOL, you gotta be kidding me 🙂
    My uncle was apart a church like that in Florida. They used the same arguements and applied them to applause, women even being allowed to speak in the church sanctuary (I’m not kidding), KJV, and even dress. Each of these things put emphasis on man, rather than God. We honor man if we do any of these things and it comes from the hearts attitude.

    Now I agree if (as a pastor) you feel your church is becoming more man honoring than God honoring by all means SHUT IT DOWN. But scripture states give honor where honor is due. It is due both to God but God also gave the ability to the one who is singing or speaking. THEY (the speaker or singer) are warned not to give to much credence to the well speaking of men. I don’t find it anywhere, that it states do not give honor to them that do so. It is about the attitude but will you stop the people from lifting holy hands because some do it for the applause of men and it came be just as thourghly applied to the saying of Amen. Is that not giving honor to man and God as well. We can not know the heart of what or why a man does what he does but as a pastor we can through prayer adress the issue with our congregations and remind them that our praise be unto God at the highest and to man for his willingness to give such praise as is due them,second.

  5. Allan Says:

    Correction, I do follow and mostly agree with what the writer is saying, I just don’t believe we should take it to the extreme.

  6. GOWITHGOSPEL Says:

    Why not Go With the Gospel of Jesus Christ (Romans 1:16-17) and stop fretting over the orthodoxy of the clapping of hands in our services? Read the book of Psalms again.

    Personally I do not participate in the practice or approve of the theater atmosophere in many contemporary churches, but the only way to change people and their practices is through the faithful proclamation of the true Gospel of Jesus Christ…..and
    helping them to become established in the Word of God.

  7. Nathan White Says:

    Allan,

    A) Maybe you didn’t read the last paragraph of my article. If so, then I’m sure you would not have made the hint at legalism.

    B) The argument of ‘giving honor’ does not mean that we need to secularize the ‘worship’ service so that the audience publicly acknowledges something that wasn’t even performed solely for them.

    I’m not trying to set rules here, I’m trying to get a few SBC’ers to examine their traditions.

    SDG

  8. Nathan White Says:

    GOWITHGOSPEL,

    The Psalms do speak of ‘clapping hands’, to the Lord that is. But most certainly this is something completely different than the applause.

    I agree, the root issue is the gospel. I was simply trying to point out some rotten ‘fruit’ of the man-centered theology that is so prominent today.

    SDG

  9. Allan Says:

    Nathan,
    I was not hinting that you were stating we SHOULD go into legilism. I used the illistration of my uncles church as one of the extremes I was speaking of in the following paragraph.

    I never said, stated, or insinuated that to ‘give honor’ was about secularizing the ‘worship service’. If you please note I said that if a pastor thinks this is happening SHUT IT DOWN. – commonly known as PUT A STOP TO IT. Which is the reason for my Correction and final thought : I just don’t believe we should take it to the extreme 🙂 Which I think it tant amount to what you believe. 🙂

  10. Peter Says:

    I agree with Nathan’s ending notes. The applause itself is not something to be feared. It is the motivation and intention behind it that must be looked at. Although all of the points Nathan made COULD be possible, as just about anything could be the case when it comes to human emotions and thoughts, that does not mean it is necessarily so. In the end, we must examine ourselves.

    However, sometimes when people give an “approving” applause, does not mean they picking and choosing particular parts of the worship that they want or dont want. Instead, it CAN also mean an affirmation or an outward expression of agreement. For example, if you read the Bible and have ever come across something in particular that really struck you or moved you spiritually, does the fact that you didnt have as much inspiration a few verses before when it was listing a geneaology or something make your current affirmation some sort of choice of accepting or rejecting? No it doesnt. In the same sense, just because the individual wasn’t clapping 2 seconds ago, and is now clapping, does not mean he was rejecting/uneasy about what was being said before, and then all of a sudden is accepting something that is palatable to him now (since he is now clapping)

    Hope this makes sense. thanks for the post

  11. tim brown Says:

    Nathan,

    These are excellent points. I think this gets more and more “blown out of proportion” in many of the “charismatic” type meetings, including the “conservative” assemblies in the SBC. Quite often they are patted on the back due to things like Promise Keepers, which seems to be an emotional smorgesborg of psychological biblese. Also, our society being involved so much with entertainment and such may play into this whole applause mentality. Somehow we feel like many are being entertained and the only way they know to respond to that entertainment is through applause.

    Worship is not entertainment. Worship is the creature standing before the Creator giving Him His rightful acknowledgement, reverence, glory, praise and honor.

    I certainly don’t think, and I think you would agree, that we should not have our emotions stirred during worship. If they are not, then maybe we should consider asking God to once again warm our hearts, or possible even give us new hearts. I love how the Puritans viewed the meeting of the church, in the fact that they believed God was honored and glorified when His Word was preached faithfully and accurately. May that be the goal of the church in its meeting and not what necessarily makes us feel good.

  12. Allan Says:

    That Tim is what I believe needs to addressed, as you stated “the entertainment”. The world has a very strong grip on our churches rather than vise versa. And the doctrine, the doctrine coming from these things (yes coming from them) is absolutely stagering. For instance, last night during an open bible study I hold, a woman left because I don’t believe like her. (full entertainment movement, charismatic, the works) and before she left, she gave me a book concerning much of her beliefs. (Dutch Sheets – Intercessory prayer) God help us with what is coming throug these men. He actually states Adam (and us) are exact copies of God, God lost all rights to earth and therefore was not permitted to do intervene until Christ became man and reclaimed that right back. So now we have all power in God to do all God can do, and it is considered sin to ask with this power, Father what is Your will. I say this only in relation to entertainment coming into our churches becuase He states also in this book. That just as we ‘give’ God they glory for our salvation, we can give ‘glory’ to one another now that we are like God ourselves and if like therefore we are! Were are the God appologists in contradicting these heretic charasmatic doctrines. We argue amongest ourselves while satan sweeps thousands of new beleivers to these places of heresy, without so much as a scream…NO! Don’t listen! Sorry, I am still alittle grieved that the lady would open her book by sheets instead of here bible because he has a Masters and Seminary degree. But in the last days they will turn their ears from sound doctrine and follow doctrines from demons. Im not against things that bring glory to the father and illistrate the manifold things of God, but when we look more like a Vegas than worshippers of a Holy God, it is almost if not to late.

  13. tim brown Says:

    Amen Allan! I agree. I have heard those items and have many of them recorded. They make your hair stand on end. But in any case these things aren’t new. Paul spoke of what was coming even in his own day. There have been many throughout church history who have turned their ears for a better tickle. This should not surprise us. However, we need to keep the line of difference between “conservative” and liberal very clear. Many conservatives are only that in relation to liberals, but in relation to our forefathers they are liberal themselves. Purity and holiness and love should be the manifestations of the church and that in relationship to the worship of the Sovereign God, not that which actually worships man.

  14. 4ever4given Says:

    I find applause personally uncomfortable. It appeals too much to my flesh regardless of my motives. Hearing “Amen” however causes me to reflect on the purpose of the “performance”… to bring glory to God.

  15. Timothy Says:

    I have heard many a fine Baptist preacher prompt the congregation for an “amen” after a particular point. Could not a prompted amen be a fleshly as a human-centered clap?

    And in the interest of full disclosure, I have found myself so engulfed in praise during some songs, that I have applauded…not because I’m giving undue honor to the performer or the performance, but because my heart is overflowing with joy and adoration for my Lord.

    One more thing to throw into the mix: I have seen the most reverent of congregations applaud a performance by its children’s department. What criteria do we apply in cases like that?

    Bottom line, of course, is the heart of worship…Jesus is our focus.


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