In response to the series I did on physical expressiveness in corporate worship, I received a follow-up question from the gentleman who originally asked the question. It was pretty extensive, but this was his closing query:
Bottom, Bottom, Lowest of Bottom Lines: Am I exegetically, theologically, homiletically accurate when I say, “God COMMANDS us to CLAP our hands!”? Or should it be softened to “God ENCOURAGES us to express our love and worship to Him using our bodies?” And then let people do what they’re comfortable with.
Great question. And I want to commend him for seeking to pinpoint as clearly as possible what God tells us in His Word and what He doesn’t tell us.
In a set of unpublished notes from a course he has taught, Iain Duguid suggests that three possibilities exist when we are dealing with commands for corporate worship from the Old Testament.
- It’s a command that points forward to fulfillment in Jesus, so it no longer applies. Animal sacrifices would be the most obvious example.
- It’s a command that applies enduringly and universally to all of God’s people and should be obeyed. For instance we are never to worship idols nor worship God in a merely external manner.
- It’s a command that reflects cultural and local practices given to ethnic Israel, which do not govern us directly but merely in “their general equity.”
It would be a stretch to say that lifting hands, shouting, or dancing, for instance, has been fulfilled in Jesus. But does that mean they are commands that are always to be obeyed when we gather to exalt God? That would be a hard case to make as well. I know I used to think that if I wasn’t jumping up and down at some point my worship of God was insincere or somehow inadequate. But, if that’s true, does that mean senior saints, those who are paralyzed, and uncoordinated people are in sin? No.
So that leaves us with the third category – culturally related commands that need to be applied in our specific context. However, I think we can do better than simply tell people, “Interpret these Scriptural commands for physical expressiveness in way you feel comfortable with.” That doesn’t address those who don’t show physical expression in worship due to laziness, selfishness, fear of man, or other idolatries. It also doesn’t acknowledge that many different “cultures” may exist in our culture, and that the church in many ways is called to be counter-cultural.
This is an example of the danger of looking for specific rules and commands to follow in gathered worship to make sure we’re doing everything “right.” We too easily justify ourselves before God by what we do or don’t do, and end up missing the weightier issue of loving God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. Rather than arguing whether a specific command applies to us at this specific moment, it’s better to ask, “Do our minds, hearts, and bodies reflect the overall biblical case for how we are to respond to God?”
Clearly, in both Old and New Testaments, God expects our bodies to reflect our heart’s desire to exalt his name and glory when we meet together. He gives us various ways that please him, one of the most prominent being singing. However shouting, dancing, lifting hands, bowing, kneeling are also physical expressions that can honor God when done from the heart in faith.
So, to someone who insisted that God doesn’t “command” us to clap our hands so therefore we don’t have to do it, I would ask the following questions:
- Assuming that God want us to exalt Him with our bodies, what physical expressions of praise in Scripture do you think ARE appropriate in corporate worship? How do you distinguish between what’s appropriate and what’s not?
- Do you think that all forms of physical expressiveness are natural, or that they can be learned?
- Is there a possibility that your resistance to physical expression is more rooted in laziness, lack of understanding, or a craving for people’s respect? How do you know?
- Is singing appropriate for worshipping God? If so, why not shouting? (Ps. 71:23; 81:1)
- Are there any physical expressions of worship modeled or commanded in the Bible that you’ve never engaged in? If so, why not?
I’m sure there are other questions that could be asked. Maybe you can suggest some. But I think these questions would be enough to get a meaningful conversation going, resulting in the individual examining his or heart more thoroughly to see where they might seek to exalt our Savior more sincerely, wholeheartedly, and passionately – which should be the main focus from start to finish.