Saying of the Amen, Clapping, and Hand-raising in Worship 1

by | Feb 16, 2015 | Biblical Worship

It is a caricature, but not a big one, to say that traditional worship is thought of as sitting on one’s hands, mumbling the hymn, and mainly being silent before God.  Contemporary worship, on the other hand, is thought of as a frenzy of clapping, hand-raising, and hallelujahs halfway to the dancing, rolling-in-the-aisles, and being slain in the spirit of the Charismatic and Pentecostal movement.  Thus, there is an unending battle between “the Lord is in His Holy Temple let all the earth keep silent before Him crowd” and “Clap your hands, all you peoples; shout to God crowd.”  Neither side in this battle—in my modest opinion—usually takes the time to ask if their preconceptions about worship are really rooted in Scripture.  Both assume that Scripture is—of course!—on their side.

What I propose to do over the next few weeks is to ask the Scripture about issues related to this debate (perhaps “yelling-match” would be a better word) and see if the Bible’s actual teaching on saying the amen, clapping, and hand-raising may shed light on what the atmosphere of worship should be.  Does scriptural worship look and sound more like traditional or contemporary worship?  I will propose that there is clear duty in saying the amen, a circumstantial possibility in clapping, and an occasional propriety in hand-raising.

But before I get into all that, I want to underscore the assumptions with which I approach this subject. Those assumptions are found in the most mature confessional expressions of the Reformation: the Westminster Confession, the Savoy Declaration, and the Second London Baptist Confession.  On this matter they speak with one voice, and I believe they speak biblically.  Substantially, these documents encourage us to think of worship in terms of a distinction between the required parts of worship and the circumstances of worship.

Speaking of the required parts of worship in chapter 22:1, the Second London affirms:

“The light of nature shews that there is a God, who hath lordship and sovereignty over all; is just, good and doth good unto all; and is therefore to be feared, loved, praised, called upon, trusted in, and served, with all the heart and all the soul, and with all the might.  But the acceptable way of worshipping the true God, is instituted by himself, and so limited by his own revealed will, that he may not be worshipped according to the imagination and devices of men, nor the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representations, or any other way not prescribed in the Holy Scriptures.”

The fact that this refers to the required parts of worship is made clear in the several mentions of the parts of worship that succeed this statement in chapter 22 and especially in 22:5:

“The reading of the Scriptures, preaching, and hearing the Word of God, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing with grace in our hearts to the Lord; as also the administration of baptism, and the Lord’s supper, are all parts of religious worship of God, to be performed in obedience to him, with understanding, faith, reverence, and godly fear; moreover, solemn humiliation, with fastings, and thanksgivings, upon special occasions, ought to be used in an holy and religious manner.”

The clear teaching of the Confession is, then, that the formal worship of God and all its parts must find explicit precedent in the Scriptures.  This is, however, qualified in an important way in chapter 1, paragraph 6b, which provides an important and very relevant qualification of sola scriptura as applied to the church and its worship:

“The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down or necessarily contained in the Holy Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelation of the Spirit, or traditions of men.

Nevertheless, we acknowledge the inward illumination of the Spirit of God to be necessary for the saving understanding of such things as are revealed in the Word, and that there are some circumstances concerning the worship of God, and government of the church, common to human actions and societies, which are to be ordered by the light of nature and Christian prudence, according to the general rules of the Word, which are always to be observed.”

I believe the confessional distinction between the parts and circumstances of worship is both biblical and crucial.  Hence, I cannot avoid this question about saying the amen, clapping, and hand-raising.  Are they required parts of worship?  Or are they circumstances of worship?  Asking this question is most enlightening with regard to these things and the modern debate on worship. We’ll begin our examination next week.

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