June 19, 2020

Clapping in Church

Clap your hands, all you peoples; shout to God with loud songs of joy.
For the Lord, the Most High, is awesome, a great king over all the earth.
—Psalm 47:1-2

I really don't like clapping in church. For one thing, nothing in church should be done as a performance. But also, at a certain point, all the applause becomes meaningless and obligatory. Maybe I could apply something here that Jesus said in a different context: You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot [Matt. 5:13]. In other words, some things are special, and when we spread them too thin, waste them unnecessarily, or fail to appreciate their true meaning, then we're in danger of making common that which should be special. That's my opinion, as unpopular as it may seem, of applause in church.

Applause in the Bible is a different matter. There, it's a rare occurrence. It's reserved for that which is truly special, and when people clap, they're acknowledging something spectacular. In the psalms, for example, hand-clapping occurs twice. And of those two times, one of them is metaphorical, for when in the 98th Psalm the floods clap their hands, we know that this is simply a figure of speech. Thus Psalm 47:1 is the only place where people are called upon to clap their hands in the entire psalter—the book of the Bible where we find all sorts of praise. For example, musical instruments as a way of showing praise are found dozens of time in the psalms alone.

But applause is reserved for God—specifically as an acknowledgment of God's sovereignty over all the earth. To clap for God is to belong to God—not as slaves or serfs, but as joyful children who are part of something truly special.

May your greatness, O God, make me truly joyful. And may the joy I reserve for you alone influence the rest of my life. For only when I am happy in you can my outlook be truly positive. Amen.

Here's my favorite version of the 47th Psalm: