Why do we applaud in church?

Imagine sitting in a court room. You are the defendant. You are guilty beyond a shadow of a doubt of the crime for which you are accused and for which you will be receiving the death penalty. The representative of the jury stands while the whole courtroom waits in silent anticipation until the verdict is read: “We find the defendant ‘Not guilty'”. Instantly the courtroom, filled with your friends and family bursts into an uproar of shouts, applause and cries of celebration. The accuser, his argument rejected, is struck dumb.

Now imagine a wedding. Two people being joined together forever. The fervent prayers of the parents are being fulfilled as they see their children joined with a lover who will serve and protect them faithfully. All the fears of the past are wiped away as the pastor declares before the whole community that these separate people are now one flesh, forever united in a bond of love. The whole community of witnesses bursts into applause as the bride and groom exit, beaming with joy for how they have been loved beyond words. The whole community begins to party with music and a feast!

Imagine serving for years as a slave under and oppressive master. Your body shows the scars of beatings and your heart weighs heavy with the total lack of any hope of deliverance. Suddenly, a sound resonates clear and high through the whole countryside. It’s the blast of a trumpet declaring the that Year of Jubilee has come. No longer will you serve the wicked and oppressive master. You are free. The chains that bind your hands and feet fall off and immediately you begin to shout, dance and sing.

Imagine that you are slowly dying of a mysterious disease. Every day your body becomes more and more weak. Every moment, you feel life slipping from you and darkness overtaking you. All the time you feel choked, unable to breathe, and limp with no strength to even lift your head from the pillow. Then at the moment when all hope is lost, the healer comes into your hospital room. He takes a mysterious elixir from his bag and gives you a drink. Immediately, you feel your strength returning. Immediately your lungs fill with air. Immediately, you leap from the bed and begin to shout. You embrace the healer and shower him with kisses.

Imagine the whole nation suffering under a severe dictatorship. For years the government has been an instrument of corruption and oppression. Food is scarce. The police, a tool of the oppressor, randomly arrest people who simply disappear. The nation stands in a constant state of war with every able body forced to fight and die in service of the unjust ruler. One day, there’s a mighty battle. The just and rightful king has returned. He throws down the old government and sets up a new government that will last for all ages which brings peace and prosperity to not only the whole nation,  but the entire earth. As the king takes his throne, and the crown is laid upon his head, the whole earth begins to shout and rejoice that the old era is gone and new era is dawning.

We applaud in our worship services because we have been declared innocent. We have been betrothed. We have been set free. We have been healed. The King has returned.

Psalm 103

Of David.

1 Praise the LORD, O my soul;
all my inmost being, praise his holy name.

2 Praise the LORD, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits-

3 who forgives all your sins
and heals all your diseases,

4 who redeems your life from the pit
and crowns you with love and compassion,

5 who satisfies your desires with good things
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

6 The LORD works righteousness
and justice for all the oppressed.

7 He made known his ways to Moses,
his deeds to the people of Israel:

8 The LORD is compassionate and gracious,
slow to anger, abounding in love.

9 He will not always accuse,
nor will he harbor his anger forever;

10 he does not treat us as our sins deserve
or repay us according to our iniquities.

11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his love for those who fear him;

12 as far as the east is from the west,
so far has he removed our transgressions from us.

13 As a father has compassion on his children,
so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him;

14 for he knows how we are formed,
he remembers that we are dust.

15 As for man, his days are like grass,
he flourishes like a flower of the field;

16 the wind blows over it and it is gone,
and its place remembers it no more.

17 But from everlasting to everlasting
the LORD’s love is with those who fear him,
and his righteousness with their children’s children-

18 with those who keep his covenant
and remember to obey his precepts.

19 The LORD has established his throne in heaven,
and his kingdom rules over all.

20 Praise the LORD, you his angels,
you mighty ones who do his bidding,
who obey his word.

21 Praise the LORD, all his heavenly hosts,
you his servants who do his will.

22 Praise the LORD, all his works
everywhere in his dominion.
Praise the LORD, O my soul.

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  1. #1 by Heidi Vincent on October 27, 2010 - 1:36 pm

    AMEN! This was very encouraging!
    P.S. We are praying for you guys! I’m excited for Soren to meet your new little ones!

  2. #2 by Dad on October 27, 2010 - 4:41 pm

    Love your strong images and biblical focus! May we continue to applaud his great and marvelous deeds!

  3. #3 by Rinnie on October 27, 2010 - 11:52 pm

    Thanks for such a great explanation, Kirk. I have wondered about the clapping before, and now it makes total sense. All glory to God.

  4. #4 by MTW Europe Member Care on October 28, 2010 - 6:43 am

    We sometimes have problems with clapping in worship, because our culture tells us that clapping is for recognizing performers. Often the occasions of clapping are when a “performer” in worship has done well, and the style and handling of it makes it look like a performance. But the biblical references to clapping are associated with praise to God, not to men. We need to turn from our culture’s ideas of what clapping is about (whether we are the “performer” or the audience) and redirect it toward the praise of God, as you have described it. We don’t clap for the man who blows the horn for Jubilee because he played well, but for the God-given freedom. We don’t clap for the jury chairman for a well-made announcement, but for the declaration of God-given freedom from condemnation, etc.
    Dad M

    • #5 by kirkwardmusic on November 2, 2010 - 4:31 pm

      thanks for taking the next step in the analogy that I hadn’t made: we don’t clap for the trumpet player on the day of Jubilee. That’s exactly where we need to encourage our congregations to go in their understanding of celebration in worship.

  5. #6 by dee on October 30, 2010 - 10:04 pm

    Oh I wish what you write was true!

    My experience, both as as music team member and then as just another soul in the pew…most of the applause is for someone in front of the congragation who puts on a good show.

    Face it, in our culture, we clap for the best performance.

    That’s why I very much think applause is something that the church needs to leave at the door on Sunday morning.

    • #7 by kirkwardmusic on November 2, 2010 - 4:45 pm

      dee, as in most controversial issues, there are two ways to address it. We either provide an biblical alternative to where the culture has strayed (moderation) or we shut down the whole practice in order to avoid the possibility that it might be misused (prohibition). I prefer the former because I believe it reflects our role as the church to redeem the creation for the Creator.

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