Clapping to Songs
Paul K. Williams
Eshowe, South Africa
I have noticed some articles in opposition to the practice of applauding speakers in church, articles to which I say a hearty "Amen." Preaching is not entertainment to be measured by an applause meter.
In South Africa our problem is slightly different; it is that the denominations love to clap in rhythm to the songs. Naturally, denominational practices influence brethren; so we must frequently teach that, just as instrumental music in worship is unauthorized, so also is the "music" of clapping.
I attended a wedding at which a young denominational preacher made a speech. When he stood up he began a song. As he paraded up and down the aisle he first got everyone (except Christians, I am happy to say) clapping, then he got them on their feet stomping. When he began to speak he had the audience so "hot" that they roared "Amen" to anything he shouted.
Just here is a major objection to clapping to the rhythm of songs: It is a method of manipulating the mood of the audience. Frequently the clapping becomes faster and more vigorous as the song progresses, bringing the audience to an emotional "high." This emotional feeling is thought to be spirituality, so the higher and more often the high can be repeated, the greater the spirituality of the people and the more they are convinced that they are being moved by the Holy Spirit. Yet what they experience is an artificially produced emotional feeling, a feeling which can be duplicated by dancing to rock and roll music. It has nothing to do with spirituality.
The Christian does experience spiritual emotions, deep emotions. Sorrow for one's sins, grief over the fall of a brother, rejoicing with the angels of heaven over the return of the prodigal, the deep glow of security in the love of brethren, the inexpressible joy when contemplating God's love for us, the sweet longing for heaven - these are real and precious experiences for every Christian. But they are not artificially induced; they come from real faith and an understanding of the word of God. They do not depend upon exciting circumstances such as clapping or upon mood-inducing actions such as dimmed lights, hand holding and closed eyes.
Several years ago I baptized a devout boy about 14 years old. He became very precious to Helen and me, so when about six months later he became enamored of the preaching of a Pentecostal preacher I was greatly concerned. I attended the tent services to see what was attracting him and was appalled to hear so much error preached in so little space of time! Yet the audience loved it because their mood was influenced by the guitar and organ music, clapping, shouting, and other such things. With difficulty I pried my friend away from that kind of emotionalism. Many months later he told me: "Brother Williams, after I was baptized I thought I had lost something. The excitement had gone out of my religion and I thought I had lost my spirituality. That is what the Pentecostal preacher supplied. But today I understand that he was producing an artificial excitement. Now that I understand the word of God better, I have an abiding excitement, an enthusiasm which I will never lose because it comes from God's word." He had learned to tell the difference between manipulated emotions and the emotions which come from faith.
Therefore clapping in rhythm to songs is sinful for two reasons: (1) It is as unauthorized as is instrumental music in worship. Clapping is not singing, and singing is all that the New Testament tells us to do (Col. 3:16; Eph. 5:19). Clapping produces a sound just like the guitar or organ or drum does, but that sound is not singing. (2) It produces artificial excitement which takes the worshipers away from the simplicity of the gospel and the true emotions produced by the gospel. When we rely on anything except the gospel to attract, or convert, or edify people we are sinning against God. The gospel is the power of God to salvation (Rom. 1:16), and it is that which will make us grow (1 Pet. 2:2). If the preaching and practice of that gospel will not attract, convert or hold a person, then other means will not work. Other means will only attract a person to a spurious religion, not to Christ. They will produce a counterfeit spirituality which will prove disastrous in the day of judgment.
Guardian of Truth XXXV: 15, pp. 451-452