If you watch television broadcasts of a few worship services, you are liable to see a lot of hand clapping. In fact, clapping in religious services is so common nowadays that those who visit services of the churches of Christ may be surprised that there is no clapping. Every member of the Lord’s church, as well as everyone non-member who is interested in learning more about the body of Christ, deserves a biblical answer about why we don’t clap.
There are two reasons why someone might clap: (1) To clap “along” with music, i.e., to add percussion to the rhythm of songs; (2) To applaud. Consider why we do not use clapping for either of these purposes:
Why we do not add percussion to music in worship: The general principle in effect here is that man is obligated to give God what He wants in worship. Jesus said, “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24). Consequently, God always has viewed man as guilty if man offered to God something that God did not authorize (e.g., Leviticus 10:1-2; cf. Matthew 15:9). The specific application of this principle to the issue of clapping is this: God has been specific about what kind of music He wants us to use in New Testament worship—He wants vocal music. This excludes percussion by clapping or playing drums. Here are the New Testament passages with God’s authorization for vocal music:
- Ephesians 5:19. [A]ddressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart. . . .
- Colossians 3:16. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.
Why we do not applaud in worship: Applause is one way in which humans show approval to other humans. But mere humans must not be the objects of worship at all (Acts 10:25-26; Revelation 22:8-9), and so we do not applaud humans in worship. It is logically possible that man could applaud God, and yet God never asked man to applaud Him. (It makes sense that God would not ask us to show appreciation to Him in the same way in which we would show appreciation to a baseball player or a musician.) So, there is no legitimate object of applause in worship.
God did not accept unauthorized worship from Cain (Genesis 4). He did not accept unauthorized worship from Nadab and Abihu (Leviticus 10:1-2). He will not accept it from us. We always will be careful to worship the living God according to His prescriptions in the New Testament.