Hand Clapping in Worship

By Grover Stevens

I have been asked by several if hand-clapping in our worship services is right. I understand that some churches of Christ in Lubbock engage in this practice. Hand-clapping in our worship services is justified and defended as “authorized” or “scriptural” on the same grounds as “song books, church buildings, paid preachers, kitchens in church buildings, restrooms, water fountains, etc.”; and also directly by the Scriptures. Psalm 47:1 and 2 Kings 11:12 are specifically given as “authority” for it.

I note first of all that these Scriptures are from the Old Testament or “old covenant” which has been “fulfilled,” “done away” and “taken out of the way and nailed to the cross” (Matt, 5:17; Rom. 7:4; Gal. 2:18-19; 2 Cor. 3:6-14; Col. 2:1417). Under the “old covenant” they had animal sacrifice, mechanical instruments of music, incense, plural wives, etc. Are these also “authorized”? It makes one wonder how much the preachers and elders of these churches know about the Bible.

Also, I would say that if we have Scripture (specific authority) for hand-clapping in our worship, then there is no need for general authority such as for church buildings, song books, etc., but we will look at both.

Psalm 47:1 reads, “O clap your hands, all ye people; shout unto God with the voice of triumph . . . with the sound of a trumpet” (Psa. 47:1,5). If this passage of Scripture authorizes “hand-clapping” in our worship services, then it also authorizes “shouting, ” and “sounding of trumpets. ” Why would these not “also be a way for the worshiper to participate in the service,” as is contended for the hand-clapping? Will the preachers and elders and members of these churches accept that? And if not, why not? That which proves too much, proves nothing! As the Apostle Paul says concerning the law in Galatians 5:3, if the “law” (Old Testament) is authority for one thing then we become “debtors to do the whole law.”

Furthermore, if this Scripture teaches hand-clapping in worship, then it is not a matter of choice, we should all do as it says, “Clap your hands,” “shout unto God,” and “sound a trumpet.” When the Scriptures tell us, “Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord” (Eph. 5:19), we understand that all Christians were instructed to do what this says when we assemble for worship. Why is this not also true of Psalm 47:1?

2 Kings 11:12 reads, “And he brought forth the king’s son, and put the crown upon him, and gave him the testimony; and they made him king, and anointed him; and they clapped their hands, and said, God save the king. ” This book is in the Old Testament and all that has been said about that applies here also. Furthermore, if this passage of Scripture authorizes “hand-clapping” in our worship services, then it also authorizes inauguration services for rulers and the other fan-fare that goes along with such political affairs in our worship service. It is my understanding of the nature and meaning of hand-clapping that this (inaugurations and other such social, secular, recreational and political affairs) is the type of gatherings where such is proper, but not in the worship of God.

What about scriptural authority for “church buildings, paid preachers, song books, etc.?” In order for a thing to be authorized by “general authority,” it must be subordinate to something that is commanded or authorized. Thus a church building is authorized under the command to assemble (1 Cor. 11:18,20; Heb. 10:25). The command to assemble of necessity includes a meeting place for that “coming together” (1 Cor. 11:18). That place may be a place that is rented or owned or donated for that purpose. So the “church building” (meeting place) is authorized under the command to assemble; as are also the rest rooms and drinking fountain, lights, seats, etc. Song books are authorized under the command to sing. There is no authority either specific or generic for “kitchens in church buildings”! The church is commanded to: (1) Preach the gospel, (2) teach them to observe. . ., (3) to “make distribution to those among them that are in need (Acts 4:34-35), and (4) assemble for worship or teaching. Kitchens are not subordinate to any of these commands! If so please teach us! Paid preachers are authorized in 1 Corinthians 9:14 (see vv. 3-14); 1 Tim. 5:18; 2 Cor. 11:8; etc.

Those who object to hand clapping in worship to God are accused of “making laws where the Bible does not make laws.” It was the Lord Jesus Christ who said, “In vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men” (Matt. 15:9). Here a thing so simple as “washing hands” in a religious act which the “elders” of the Jews had authorized but God had not, is the object of Christ’s condemnation. Read Matthew 15:1-14 and Mark 7:2-9. Christ and the Bible made this law! (See also: 2 Jn. 9-11; Col. 2:18-23, notice particularly verses 20-22; 2 Cor. 7:17.) When the Lord says we are not to add to the word of God, he means that we are not to teach or practice – do anything for which we should have authority from the Word of God, but do not. That would be adding to the Word of God.

Folks are warned to, “not become legalistic” about these things, Since this word (legalist, legalistic) cannot be found anywhere in the Bible, I do not know just what is meant by it. It has always been my understanding that when a person or thing is “legal” that he is observing, obeying, keeping, living within the law, and that when a person or thing is not legal that it is illegal – that he is disobeying the law and is therefore a criminal. Christ is our King and our “Law giver” and it is my understanding that all who would be his (Christ’s) disciple should obey him (Heb. 5:9; Rom. 16:25-26). Our Lord Jesus Christ said, “Why do you call me Lord, Lord and do not the things which I say?” Is this being a legalist? Are those who oppose being a “legalist” encouraging people to disregard God’s commands on the grounds that if they insist on keeping God’s commands they would then be “legalists”? Are they telling us that to keep from being a “legalist” we should do whatever is right in our own eyes? The Scriptures tell us that “when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven, ” he will “take vengeance on them that obey not the gospel (law) of our Lord Jesus Christ. ” If obeying the Word of Christ is being a legalist, then I pray that God will help me to be a legalist! If that is not the meaning of being a legalist, will someone please teach me what the Bible says about this!

Also in justification of hand-clapping it is asserted, “No one asks questions about ‘where do you got the authority to sleep in church?… Does anyone think that this “is also a way for the worshiper to participate in the service”? Is this also justified on the same authority as church buildings, paid preachers, restrooms, and drinking fountains?

I read in the New Testament that when a brother leads us in prayer that it is appropriate to say “amen” (1 Cor. 14:16), but I have never read where anyone did or was encouraged to clap his hands. I do not read where the brethren clapped their hands when the 3000 were baptized on the day of Pentecost, or when Paul, the great persecutor of the church, was baptized, or anybody else. The Scriptures teach us to express our joy, cheer, gladness, praise, in “speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord” (Eph. 5:18-19; Col. 3:16-17; Jas. 5:13); hence we are to express our emotions in teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord, not in hand-clapping, shouting or sounding trumpets. Rather, the Word of God teaches us that “when the whole church be come together into one place” that “all things should be done unto edifying,” and that “all things should be done decently and orderly” (1 Cor. 14:23,26,40), and there is no indication that Paul thought that such solemnity and holiness was any indication of 66rigormortis”!

It is our heart’s desire and prayer to God, and we urge every faithful Christian to join us in praying, for these brethren that they will study these things in the light of God’s Holy Scriptures with an open mind and a view to the judgment day in which we will all stand before the judgment seat of Christ and be judged in righteousness by those things that are written in the Sacred Scriptures.

Guardian of Truth XXXV: 4, pp. 106-107
February 21, 1991