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Applause in the Worship Service

Category Articles
Date November 4, 2011

QUESTION. Is it appropriate to applaud during the church service? Some believe that the worshippers are not given the opportunity to offer thanks for something they feel needs applause. But is it always directed to God, or is it directed to the person or persons who spoke or sang? Applause is often understood as an acclamation of a performance – of some human achievement. We need to be reminded that we gather to worship, not to be entertained. I believe we can ‘cognitively’ give thanks within the elements of worship themselves. We live in a world of entertainment and the younger generation seem to want more than just to listen.

ANSWER. During the few worship services I have led in which special music was provided in the midst of worship. I was not surprised to see a number of hands begin to clap, only to be restrained at the last minute. That’s one of the clearest arguments I’ve seen for keeping special music out of the worship service.

In our society, we use applause to acknowledge our appreciation for the performance of a person or a group. But, as you note, the church gathers to worship God – not to be entertained by men. Nor do we gather in order to highlight the talents of particular individuals or groups.

It is indeed appropriate to offer thanks to God for the love and mercy He has shown us, for the salvation he obtained through Christ, for the provision he has lavished upon us, and for the countless other gifts we receive from his hand. As we are reminded of his awesome and gracious works, our hearts thought overflow with gratitude!

And we should respond, offering a heartfelt demonstration of that gratitude.

But we should respond as a congregation – as the collective people of God, which is the body of Christ. That’s what we do when we sing Psalms of praise, when we offer congregational prayer, and even when we give our tithes and offerings. As a united body, the congregation extends its gratitude for God’s gracious care and sovereign works.

Were we to supplement that corporate praise with applause, our response would be transformed from the corporate response of the body to the individual responses of members. And while expressions of thanksgiving and praise should fill our lives, individuality should not characterize the worship brought by the church. After all, Jesus prayed that we would be one, as a testimony to the world of his work (John 17:21). And Paul rightly condemns the entrance of divisions and factions into the worship of the church (1 Cor. 11:17-18).

However, it is impossible to separate the act of applauding, as it is understood and used in our society, from individualism.

It’s also nearly impossible to separate applause from the idea of human achievement. We applaud men and women who do that which is praiseworthy. That’s the understanding of applause with which we operate from a young age. So even if a person were to intend his applause as an acknowledgement of what God has done, others would understand it as praise directed toward men – thereby robbing God of his glory.

Our elders are wise to protect the worship service from both performances and responses typically used to draw attention to individuals. The glory due to God demands that we offer our praise to him alone, doing so in ways that emphasize our unity as God’s redeemed people in Christ.

Rev. Doug Barnes is Pastor of Hills URC, MN. This article is taken with permission from Christian Renewal, October 26, 2011.

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