Dance in Worship

To wrap up our recent series on theological variety, I want to share an article written by a great Brother in Christ, Bradley Rhodes. Just like not everyone does communion the same and not all Christians do baptism the same and not all Believers understand atonement in the same way, there is beautiful diversity in worship. Christians sometimes condemn each other over worship practices – but I believe God embraces so much more than our narrow minds are willing to. Dancing may not be for your church specifically, but there is no reason to ban it for all Believers – David danced… in public… in his underwear… and God blessed it!

If you read it straight forward, it’s a powerful reminder that we need to constantly reassess our theological opinions in light of what Scripture actually says – instead of thinking the way we were raised is always right in God’s eyes. If you read it as tongue in cheek, it’s a powerful reminder that those who are the most judgmental will be measured by the same measuring rod. So before we judge others, remember that even if something isn’t “right for us,” that doesn’t mean it’s wrong for everyone else. Enjoy!


Dance in Worship – by Bradley Rhodes

Dance
Photo Credit: BethelRedding.com

I have a radical proposition for many churches (nondenominational, Baptist, Catholic even!): if you do not have dancing in your congregational worship, you are in open, unrepentant sin. This is a very serious charge, but I fully believe this is consistent with biblical, congregational worship.

Before we dive into the Scriptures, I will first explain how churches decide to construct their worship. There are two main approaches to worship:

1.) Whatever is not forbidden in the Bible is allowed;

2.) Whatever is not commanded in the Bible is forbidden.

The first approach is called the Normative Principle and the second is the Regulative Principle.

A corollary to the Regulative Principle is that what God has commanded, you do not omit. In arguing for the inclusion of dance in our congregational worship, I hope it comes as no surprise that I fully subscribe to the Regulative Principle.  I do not go as far as the Church of Christ theologians, who argue that only what is commanded in the New Testament is allowable in our assemblies, and who therefore sing a capella because the NT commands singing but not the use of “instruments.”

Deuteronomy 6:5 tells us to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart … soul … strength and … mind,” strength here mainly meaning body. Although there are other elements to strength, like strength of character, one would scarcely argue that the body is not intended to be part of our strength.

But in case you have doubts about the role of the body in worship, Rom 12:1 tells us “to present your bodies as a living sacrifice . . . which is your spiritual worship,” and 1 Cor 6:19 reads, “your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you.” The joyful expression of dance is exactly how we may worship the Lord with our whole bodies, not only privately, but also among the body of Christ.

Some well-meaning Christians, even elders, have given a number of reasons why not to dance in congregational worship. They claim that the kind of exuberant dancing we see in the Old Testament is indicative of the kind of worship which was given to Baal. But pagans also had temple prostitutes and sacrificed meat to idols. Does that mean that sex is bad or that meat is bad? No.

There is God-honoring sex and meat eating, and there is corrupted sex and meat eating. So it is with dance. A God-honoring expression of dance is found in Ex 15:20, where Miriam and all the women of Israel sing and dance of God closing the waters on the Egyptian army.

But, you might object, that is not in the assembly or temple of Israel. That’s just a group of people honoring God in their daily lives. I’m glad you brought that up, because of Psalms 149 and 150.

149:1,3 reads, “Praise the Lord! Sing to the Lord a new song, his praise in the assembly of the godly! … Let them praise his name with dancing, making melody to him with tambourine and lyre!”

Psalm 150:1,4 is different in the best way: “Praise the Lord! Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty heavens! … Praise him with tambourine and dance; praise him with strings and pipe!”

Just in case you believed there was a difference between God’s assembly and his temple or dwelling place, Psalm 149 and 150 cover both. The only way these verses do not tell us to dance is if we ignore the context and demand that the words “dance” and “assembly” must occur in the same sentence. I should also mention that the exhortations to dance are in fact imperatives.

To dance in congregational worship is commanded by Scripture.

You might then object about the instruments. Must we really use harp and lyre in church? I would argue that the instruments given can be generalized to representative types like wind, string, percussion, etc., which are found in most cultures of the world. And there is nothing wrong with having a capella once in a while either, as long as instruments are not forbidden.

If we take the cultural approach, you might argue that our culture does not have much dance, and you would be dead wrong about that. America has invented several dance styles, including swing and salsa. The secular and pop culture is loaded with dancing, much of it non-sexual. The United States has one of the strongest traditions of dance in the world, so that is one more reason why we should include it in our services.

If we did dance in our congregational worship, what would that look like? Is it okay for people to be gyrating wildly in the pews? Perhaps not. The principles for dancing should be the same as for the other aspects of meeting. Just as prophesying and speaking in tongues was to be done in an orderly fashion, so also should dance.

The best example of God-honoring corporate dance I can think of is the hand motions that go to “Lord I Lift Your Name on High.” Could you imagine if we had similar routines for some of our songs and hymns? In the same way that we have a few singers at the front leading the singing, we should also have a few at the front to lead the dances, and they may be the same people as the singers or different. Because of practicality, we might refrain from much or any footwork. But we have perfect ability to lift hands, to sway, to clap, to make hand and arm motions similar to sign language if not real sign.

When songs mention in their lyrics being on our knees before God, why do we not kneel? Why do we never bow our whole bodies to the Lord together or lie prostrate (within practical reason)?

Undoubtedly, some will not be able to join in this. The old, the paralyzed, and others may be limited in their ability to dance, or some may be in deep sorrow and are not in a spiritual state to move joyfully for the Lord. Yet, the deaf do not sing, and a despondent man is not in a position to sing joyfully to the Lord. This does not stop us from singing songs of joy in the service, so these arguments should not stop us from dancing joyfully to the Lord. Furthermore, not every song needs a dance, and possibly, not every dance needs a song.

Each one praises as the Lord has made him able.

A godly man taught in our church, “There is a reason we wouldn’t let little Sally do her baton routine during the offertory.” I agree, but for a different reason. It is not because we don’t dance – it is because such a display is not congregational, same as why our church does not have a stage singer in the offertory but rather sings all together as a congregation. But if your church already has a singer during that time, I say, go, Sally, go.


 

Rogue Millennials’ “Theological Variety” series is meant to encourage Christians to educate themselves on the wide variety of Christian belief and practice allowed through Scripture. Additional articles in this series have included:
Intro: Theological Variety
Theological Variety: Communion
Theological Variety: The Bible

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