This is the Day
I’ve visited churches where the worship culture includes exuberant singing and dancing! These cultures emphasize joyfulness in our hope and in our loving God.
I grew up in a worship culture that emphasizes the solemnity of coming before the Almighty, including in our prayer and singing. This culture was shaped over centuries by the traditions of Catholicism, and then the traditions of Calvinist Protestantism, further polished in the British culture, and transported to North America where I am.
As I grew up, it was understood by all that you don’t dance in church.
But you know, there are other cultures.
Which is right? Is quiet contemplation and private soul-searching better, or is giving voice to joyful praise better? Personally, I believe that either without the other is incomplete. Worship should be quiet, and it should be loud! There’s a time and place for each.
There are brothers and sisters who are upset by loud worship, believing it is irreverent. There are brothers and sisters who believe that unless it is loud, it is sterile, not from the heart. Each tends to consider the other’s worship to be less than it should be—perhaps even offensive. What we need to do is turn to scripture, and when we do we find right and true worship of the one God comes in both forms!
Probably most of you reading this are from a culture like mine. So let’s take a look at the thing that’s the farthest from the comfort zone of our upbringing—dancing.
Who danced before the Lord? Right! It was David, recorded in 2 Samuel 6:14-22 and 1 Chronicles 15:27-29. Not a sedate waltz, either: he danced “with all his might!” David was not without failures, but remember: he was the man God said was after His own heart, he was a foreshadowing of Christ, and he was promised eternal life in God’s Kingdom.
David danced with all his might.
Especially in his psalms, we see David was someone both exuberant in praise and hushed in solemn awe, depending on the circumstance. This is someone we would aspire to be like, wouldn’t we? We sure don’t want to be like Michal, who despised David for dancing before the Lord, do we?
Oh and by the way, we might notice that David was not alone. Look at those passages. The whole nation, a massive congregation, joined in—and it was with “loud music” on horns and cymbals and strings and tambourines. And with shouting! All of which was clearly right for the joyous occasion. We just cannot claim that this kind of worship doesn’t honor God. It does! If we’re uncomfortable with it, that’s our culture talking, not God’s direction.
This isn’t the only instance of something similar. Remember after the Red Sea crossing? Moses wrote a song about it, and everybody learned it. Take a look at it in Exodus 15. What kind of song does it look like to you? It looks to me like an exuberant, effusive, emotionally charged song of praise! A loud song, considering the enormous number singing it.
And guess what? “Then Miriam the prophetess…took a tambourine in her hand, and all the women went out after her with tambourines and dancing,” singing this song (verses 20-21).
I’ll let you do your own follow-up on other instances of dancing, and you can add in loud singing if you want. You’ll find that not all dancing in worship is what we would want to be part of. Loud musical worship is not automatically right worship. Dancing in worship is not automatically commendable. And the reverse is true too, of course. Solemnity can be false piety or empty ritual.
Here’s some advice from Paul: “What am I to do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will pray with my mind also; I will sing praise with my spirit, but I will sing with my mind also.” (1 Corinthians 14:15) Neither all head nor all heart.
But dancing? We are exhorted, encouraged, (commanded?): “Let them praise his name with dancing, making melody to him with tambourine and lyre!” (Psalm 149:3) And, “Praise him with trumpet sound; praise him with lute and harp! Praise him with tambourine and dance; praise him with strings and pipe! Praise him with sounding cymbals; praise him with loud clashing cymbals!” (Psalm 150:3-5) Loud! And yes, even with dancing.
“Praise him with tambourine and dance”
I’m not sure how far I can go shaking off the culture trained into me. I’m not going to push it, but I have come far enough to see that there’s a place for tapping feet, clapping hands, raising arms in joy and thankfulness. We all think of ourselves as part of redeemed spiritual Israel, do we not? Heirs of the new covenant of Jeremiah 31:31-34. (We’re told we are in Hebrews 8:8-12.)
If we are, then part of our future, God says to us earlier in the chapter: “Again I will build you, and you shall be built, O virgin Israel! Again you shall adorn yourself with tambourines and shall go forth in the dance of the merrymakers.” (Jer 31:4) Music and dance—in God’s Kingdom! I think I want to be part of that, and there’s no reason we can’t start now.