Appendix 3 —
Should we applaud God in church? No, that does not sound right. Should we applaud fellow Christians? We all recognize that applause is a very strong form of flattery and that clapping our hands in applause for musicians, singers, or preachers will not help them remain close to God.
Is this something we should just keep doing, or should we pause and consider what is involved here? Should we be praising frail humans so often, so vigorously? Here are several facts you will want to know. I recognize that I am rowing against the stream in telling you this, since applauding by Christians seems almost universal now. But you want me to tell you the truth, don't you?
There are many pastors and non-rock Christian musicians and singers who earnestly wish that people would not applaud them. Yet it continues anyway. Few dare to speak up and say, "Brethren and sisters in Christ, applause is not God's plan for our lives. There is something better."
Consider this chapter to be a message from your pastor, urging you toward a better course;—for many pastors would heartily approve of what I will here briefly say to you.
Where did applause come from?
"Clappers were among the earliest and most characteristic instruments" of Egypt and were closely associated with the idolatrous worship of Isis, the Egyptian goddess of fertility (The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, ed. Stanley Sadie, 6:70 and 4:427). It goes on to explain that "clappers" were wood or ivory instruments shaped like the forearm and hand. These, along with the clapping of hands, was used in the worship of heathen gods in ancient Egypt.
The Egyptian priests taught the people that the gods liked the expressions of flattery. The priests liked being applauded also.
The practice spread from there to other heathen nations. Both priests and witch doctors quickly found that it dramatically deepened their control over the minds of the people.
It is a startling fact that the effects of both the beat and applauding people are similar. According to Dr. Paul Hamel, an Emeritus Professor of Music, the clapping of hands and beating of drums work together to intensify the emotions, deaden the thinking power of the frontal lobes, as well as affecting the entire body.
Commenting on the captivating influence of clapping in inducing trancelike states of reduced mental discernment, we are told:
"The rhythms of the drums, reinforced by clapping, can amplify the rhythms of body movements . . Clapping can also play an important role in producing the hypnotic effect necessary to certain ritual dances" (New Encyclopedia Britannica, Vol. 16, p. 945).
Applause lowers the threshold of thoughtful analysis, and renders the mind more susceptible to incorrect concepts and emotions it would otherwise guard against. When we applaud someone, we are giving him a carte blanche—an open door to our mind. We are saying, "Whatever you say, whatever you do, I want it!"
Although hand clapping has always been common in heathen worship, it was not part of the worship of the true God at the ancient sanctuary of Israel.
No one applauded either God nor His ministers. All the worldliness of Egypt, all its styles of worship, the Israelites had to leave behind, when they chose the Creator God as their God.
"And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, I am the Lord your God. After the doings of the land of Egypt, wherein ye dwelt, shall ye not do: and after the doings of the land of Canaan, whither I bring you, shall ye not do: neither shall ye walk in their ordinances. Ye shall do My judgments, and keep Mine ordinances, to walk therein: I am the Lord your God. Ye shall therefore keep My statutes, and My judgments: which if a man do, he shall live in them: I am the Lord."—Leviticus 18:1-5.
They had entered into a solemn covenant not to follow the ways of the world. It is a covenant we need to more frequently renew today.
The Israelites could not give the excuse that it was their "culture" or their "custom" to worship God in His sanctuary with drums and clapping, as they had seen done in Egypt. Yet there are people who today use that excuse for doing such things in church.
We know that pagan practices, including hand clapping, had entered the early Christian Church by the time of Chrysostom, bishop of Constantinople (A.D. 398-404). He wrote how he mourned that preachers and other Christian speakers were being applauded by church members in those Christian congregations which had become worldly. We need Chrysostoms today who will plead with the people to return to the humble, godly faith of our forefathers.
The services of the ancient sanctuary were centered around the cross. It was a place of sacrifice, a place of repentance, a place for God to make appeals to the heart. A place to rededicate lives.
The sound of applause would have disturbed the solemn appeals of the Holy Spirit, as He attempted to speak to hearts at each religious gathering. One significant problem here is where Christians go and what they watch—when they are not in church: the theater, sports arena, worldly musical concerts, and television shows.
Because of worldly entertainment they indulge in at other times, the people have come to expect that, at religious services, the performers up front will entertain and the audience will pay them with flattering applause.
But the house of God is not a sports arena, and a truly Christian concert should not be one either.
Applause is an intense form of praising men. Yet, in giving it to an erring mortal like ourselves, we weaken our own hold on God and we do not help the one we are praising. Flattery always injures. It exalts people and separates them from God. In the minds of those giving it, such lavish praise tends to make a god of the one they are applauding. Those who receive it imagine that they are greater people than they really are. Weakened by the overflowing praise, they are more likely to fall into sin when they leave the podium or stage.
Applause shifts the focus from the vertical to the horizontal. Our attention and devotion has been radically turned from God to mortal man. This injures those who give it and those who receive it.
Applause in a Christian gathering reveals that it is not a closer walk with God that the audience came for. They are saying that they really do not want Him around; they want to praise men.
The ancient sanctuary service was designed to create deepest respect for the awesome holiness of God, and the urgent need to repent of sin and obey His stated requirements.
We must magnify, not decrease, the difference between the holy and the unholy. Our thoughts must be directed to our God. We are not to clap in adulation of the sayings and music of fallible man.
In Leviticus 10:3, the Lord declared that He must be sanctified and glorified in all those who enter a meeting place where He is present. That great truth still applies today.
We should not ape the ways of the world, and we surely should not bring them into church!
The rounds of applause become a temptation to some religious speakers and vocalists. They come to live for the applause; and, in their thirst for still greater approval, they do that which will increase it. It becomes heady wine for them. Encouraging pride and self-adulation in our fellowmen is a dangerous thing to do.
Speakers become addicted, not to telling the truth that men and women need, but to receiving praise. They are tempted to tell more jokes, give flowery sermons, and refrain from condemning sin.
"Christian" singers artificially give a breathy, "contemporary" song, sung with swaying body and hand motions, eyes half closed, microphone held close to the lips. The hearty applause tells them that they succeeded—at what? at drawing attention and praise to themselves.
They well-know how unworthy they are; yet the applause glorifies them as though they were a god. Craving all the more applause, the only way they can increase it the next time is to keep lowering the standard of their presentation—keep making it more worldly. The craving for ever more applause becomes intoxicating. It becomes the only measure of success.
Applause measures entertainment value. Think about that a minute. Applause in church and religious services reduces them to little more than entertainment for its own sake.
People leave, thinking that they have had their religion for the week, and they are free to go home and watch more entertainment on television. The search for entertainment becomes their religion, their recreation, their way of life.
Indeed, while the applause produces a craving in the performer for ever more, it leaves a feeling of emptiness in the hearts of those who, having praised men, leave the religious meeting. Many are tempted to leave the church entirely and seek more exciting entertainment out in the world.
Here is an interesting question: What are we trying to accomplish by clapping? Is it to give praise and adulation to the performers? If so, we have defeated the purpose of the gathering, which was to give honor and praise to God, and to renew our dedication to Him.
By applause, the message conveyed to speakers and performers is "Please us and we will applaud you. That is the only reason you are here: to please us."
But does it make us more like God? Does it help us draw closer to Him? Does it help us resist temptation and sin? Does it help us study the Bible more and obey its precepts?
Everywhere we go today, there is artificial excitement and a craving for entertainment. Must we drag our churches down to that low objective also?
Intelligent people who are thinking about what they are hearing do not applaud. They are too intent on the message and the urgency of its meaning.
Clapping of hands is mentioned only nine times in the Bible, and it never occurs in a worship service. Nowhere in the Bible are we told to praise men, with clapping—or without it.
Let me conclude this brief chapter with two stories:
In the summer of 1972, I attended a college to finish up master's level certification. Hearing that the Democratic convention was on the television in the lobby, I watched it for an hour and was astonished. As the cameras would pan out and in to individuals, it was clear that the clapping by the audience was deadening their abilities to consider the message of the speaker, who happened to be the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. Then a camera panned in on one woman who was doing something very different. She was sitting there silently listening to the message and thinking about it. I will never forget what I saw that night. The others were being mindlessly entertained, their perceptions dulled by their interest in clapping. She was quietly listening and thinking about what she heard.
Then there is the intriguing experience which happened to young John Thurber and his singing group. Returning from a North Carolina youth congress in the 1960s, they were driving into Chattanooga.
"The quartet and Marilyn Dillow, our young-lady soloist, were riding into the city about 5 p.m. The car radio was advertising a gospel all-night sing in the civic auditorium. We had never experienced a gospel sing; and, since our music was hymns and gospel songs, we felt we could discover some new music by attending.
"We were college kids with no money, so we stopped at a gas station and changed into our uniforms. We hoped that the person at the ticket counter would recognize us as a quartet and let us in free. Well, she not only let us in free; she showed us right up to the stage door, apparently assuming that we were on the program!"
Backstage, Thurber explained the situation; and the auditioner was startled when they told him that they sang simple songs without accompaniment.
"The man was surprised but asked us to sing anyway. Jack blew the pitch pipe and we sang The Old Rugged Cross. No frills, just the plain message in simple style. The man asked us to sing another . . When we finished, he got up and said for us to go backstage and wait. We might be used some time during the program.
"We felt a little nervous standing around with all the famous gospel quartets and trios that were advertised features for the evening.
"Soon the program started, and the first quartet to be introduced was one of the most popular ones at that time. The place went wild with whistles and thunderous applause. The group sang for about twelve minutes and came backstage. The audience wanted more, so the group went back out."
The atmosphere continued to get wilder, with still more applause, plus other noises from the audience. Thurber's group had never been to such a worldly concert.
"We were not sure which spirit was evident—one of praising God or one of praising men. But which spirit it was became quite evident in their next song, and we knew we were in the wrong place! The title of that [second] song was Hallelujah Boogie.
"We huddled together and discussed whether to exit the backdoor or stay on just a little longer. We decided to stay, hoping the music would improve.
"But when the quartet came off stage, the emcee went out and introduced us as the next group! Much to our surprise, we heard him talking about this college quartet from the Chattanooga area that had happened in, and that were different. 'They don't use any accompaniment, but sing a cappella,' he explained.
"We were stunned to be second on the program. The crowd gave us polite applause as we walked on stage. Wayne went to the microphone, introduced us, and announced our first song, The old Rugged Cross. When we finished, we got very little applause, and we felt sure this was out of place.
"Wayne introduced our second song, Have You Been in the Garden with Jesus, Alone with the Saviour in Prayer? When we finished this time,—there was absolutely no applause.
"Wayne said to us, 'Let's sing one more and leave.' He chose a number that Marilyn sang with us, The Song of Heaven and Homeland:
" 'Sometimes I hear strange music, Like none e'er heard before, Come floating softly earthward, As through heaven's open door. It seems like angel voices, In strains of joy and love, That swell the mighty chorus Around the throne above.' Marilyn was off stage behind the curtain with a microphone, adding an obligato part. Her voice sounded truly like an angel's. —When we finished, there was again silence."
Why had they stopped clapping?
First, instead of applauding people, the audience sat quietly thinking about the powerful message in the simple songs, clearly heard words they had just sung.
Second, the Holy Spirit was able to use these simple godly songs, without accompaniment, to reach their hearts. They sensed its presence—and knew it was a time for silence and thoughtful reflection on their part.
Third, they knew they should not be applauding these godly young people who had brought this divine presence into their midst.
Lastly, everyone in that vast civic center knew they should not be applauding the presence of God or clapping while the Holy Spirit was moving quietly upon their hearts!
At this juncture, the question could be asked: What should have been done next?
The answer is something which is never done. The Holy Spirit was pleading with the hearts of the audience, and all could sense it. The meeting should have been stopped right there, and a godly servant of God should have stepped to the podium and made a series of urgent appeals to the audience: a call to many to accept Christ for the first time, followed by an appeal to many to rededicate their lives to Him. The need to put away sin and live dedicated lives should have been presented. A call to come forward should have been given, and those who did should have been counseled and helped, provided written materials, and directed to godly pastors who could help them remain with Christ.
But this was not done, simply because, first, it would not be customary to do this. Second, when such situations occur (and they do occur!), few are alert to what is happening and daring enough to cooperate with God in bringing the people to Him.
"As soon as we walked off stage, the emcee went back to introduce the next group. But the audience started to applaud lightly and kept on doing so until the emcee asked if they wanted to hear more of our kind of music—and they kept on applauding."
The only way the audience knew to get them back on stage was to begin applauding continuously, but they did it softly.
"So we went back and sang for another twenty minutes—once more without any applause.
"As we were coming off stage for the second time, one of the singers in another gospel group said to us, 'Don't ever change your music; it's of God. I know that some of our music is not pleasing to God.' "
The message of this chapter has been that applauding speakers and singers interferes with thoughtful attention to the message. The blatant praise of the human instrument causes the Spirit of God to withdraw itself. Like a steady drum beat, it dulls the forebrain so it can more easily be moved by a power from beneath.
The Bible teaches that we are to live our lives dedicated to God and His service, and that we are to reverence His sanctuary.
"And He said, Draw not nigh hither: put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground."—Exodus 3:5.
"The Lord is in His holy temple: let all the earth keep silence before Him."—Habbakuk 2:20.
"But as for me, I will come into Thy house in the multitude of Thy mercy: and in Thy fear will I worship toward Thy holy temple."—Psalm 5:7.
If your pastor were here, he would probably be glad you are reading this chapter. He wants you in heaven. It is only as, through the enabling grace of Christ, we adhere to the rules given in the Bible that we are safe.
When others about you are applauding men, what should you do? If (if) there is something in the message that prompts a godly response on your part, what should that response be? How did God's people in Bible times show their appreciation of what was said? Although it may seem old-fashioned, the Bible has not changed; why should we? We are plainly told His plan for us in this respect; here it is:
"And all the congregation said, Amen, and praised the Lord. And the people did according to this promise."—Nehemiah 5:13.
"And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people (for he was above all the people); and when he opened it, all the people stood up: And Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God. And all the people answered, Amen."—Nehemiah 8:5-6.
Twelve times in Deuteronomy 27, the people are directly commanded by the Lord to say "amen" as the way to express their agreement and approval of what was about to be said in a religious meeting.
"Amen" means "Yes, it is true; I agree; that is right!" Look the word up in a complete KJV concordance; it is said 72 times! Are we ashamed to be as old-fashioned as the Bible writers?
This is the Bible pattern given us of God. Responses from the audience of "Amen" and "yes" indicate understanding of what is said and agreement with the message. Notice that the response concerns the meaning of the words or the songs themselves. It is not in the slightest praising the humble instrument bringing the message. Praising the speaker or performer would, Biblically, be totally out of place.
The way which God has marked out for us is to carefully consider and think through the message as it is given. If that message is true, we should acknowledge it as such, and then apply those principles to our lives.
The world's way is to set the thinking powers aside and lavishly praise the speaker for his performance. This very act dulls the deliberative functions of the mind still more.
Let us choose God's way.
As we draw nearer to the coming of our Lord, should our worship become more like the world,—or less like the world and more like heaven? None of the angels are praising one another up there. The several songs in the book of Revelation reveal that they only live to praise God and worship Him.