Is Hand Clapping Authorized in Worship?
When discussing the authority for hand clapping most want to debate its purpose. Those opposed to it say that while the purpose of clapping is to applaud, when we worship in singing or during a lesson from God’s word, we are not to be entertained and God is the audience. Those who defend the act say that hand clapping is merely a tool (like a pitch pipe or song leader) to help keep the beat in the singing as well as a method of showing approval when used during the sermon. While there are some points to be discussed with these arguments they do not center on the main issue. In whatever we do we should be asking if the practice is authorized by God in His holy word (Colossians 3:17). All other points fall behind this major query. It is with this humble desire, to submit to God’s will, that we address the question.
There is no Bible implication, account of action, or command to use hand clapping in New Testament worship. Under the oversight and direction of the apostles, the church in the first century worshiped as God desired (Acts 2:40-42). When congregations of the Lord’s body began to worship in an unacceptable way it was quickly corrected. For example, Paul taught the Corinthians not to treat the Lord’s Supper as a common meal and not to divide themselves in worship (I Corinthians 11:17-22, 33-34). Because we find no mention of clapping in New Testament worship, it should concern us to see it take place in worship today. This would apply to any song of worship to God including songs during children’s Bible class and Vacation Bible School. It would also apply to the sermon where many choose to applaud the preacher for a point he has made.
There are some religious bodies who wear the name of Christ but fail to follow His doctrine. They see no problem with choirs, instrumental music, or hand clapping as a part of worship. Some others would draw a line of distinction here; they would never consider adding an organ, piano, or guitar to worship, but categorize clapping differently, saying that because clapping is without tone it should not be grouped with mechanical instruments. I suppose if the argument were about categories of instruments we would need to consider that. But the issue is one of authority. Instrumental music is not authorized in worship because God commanded us to sing with the heart, with understanding, and to teach and admonish (Colossians 3:16; Ephesians 5:19; I Corinthians 14:15). Just as there are Old Testament passages that show the use of harps and such like, there are passages that refer to the clapping of hands (Psalm 47:1). However, the Old Testament is a different law. To take part of that law requires that we be bound by all of it (James 2:10). We cannot pick and choose which parts of the old law we would like to add to the law of Christ. Remember, there is no salvation in that law (Hebrews 10:1-4). To use a mechanical instrument, whistle, clap my hands, stomp my feet, make instrument-like noises with my mouth, or hum all go beyond God’s authority. Even if the argument that hand clapping does not create a tone was valid, then the argument would have to permit the use of drums in our worship to God. Clearly this goes beyond the authority of scripture.
Hand clapping is not, as some would assert, equivalent to saying “amen” during a lesson or at the conclusion of a song or prayer. This point, as mentioned in the introductory paragraph, is secondary to one of authority but needs to be mentioned for this reason: verbal agreement is authorized while non-verbal agreement is not. The use of the word “amen” is authorized in I Corinthians 14:16. Some would find this type of reasoning too strict but I submit that many need to change the way they think about the authority of the scriptures. “Does the Bible say anything against it?” is not the right question to ask. Consider that the Bible says nothing forbidding arson. There is not a bit of scripture that explicitly forbids the use of milk and cookies for the Lord’s supper. The correct question for all that we do in life or in worship is, “Where is the practice authorized in scripture?” When we ask that question regarding hand clapping during an act of worship to God we find that it is not. Therefore we are obligated to refrain from such a practice.