Clapping: Another Form Of Worship

By Alvin Jennings


This is a plea for unity based on the knowledge of the truth of Jesus: “May God … give you a spirit of unity … as you follow Christ Jesus.” (Romans 15:5-7)

With this plea before us, our purpose is to give:
(1) A definition of worship,
(2) A discussion of the various worship forms in the New Testament,
(3) A statement of the limitations Jesus put upon Himself in obeying the Father,
(4) An answer to the question, “Is the act of clapping authorized in Christian worship?”
(5) Clapping as applause in joyful response at current events, and  
(6) Conclusion.


The word “worship” in the New Testament is derived from the Greek word proskuneo (proskunew): to kiss the hand to (towards) one in token of reverence.  Among the orientals (Persians), to fall upon the knees and touch the ground with the forehead as an expression of profound reverence.  In the N.T., by kneeling or prostration to do homage to God and to the ascended Christ.[1]

A further definition is found as: to prostrate, do obeisance to; the honor, reverence, homage paid to God.  “Worth-ship” reduced itself to the English word “worship,” denoting the worthiness of the individual receiving the special honor due his worth.[2]

The expressions “ritual, rite, and liturgy” are also of interest: Ritual is defined as “the established form for a ceremony … for a religious ceremony … any formal and customarily repeated act or series of acts.”  Rite is a “prescribed form or manner governing the words or actions for a ceremony, a ceremonial act or action.”  Liturgy is a procedure, “a rite prescribed for public worship.” [3]

“Worship” in a broader sense of the word has no reference specifically to our conduct in public assemblies of praise.  Here, all of our life and even our body is said to be an offering on a daily basis “as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – your spiritual act of worship” (Romans 12:1, NIV.  Other versions translate this as “your reasonable service” KJV).  An example of one’s whole life being devoted to God is seen in Abraham, and yet there was a designated time, place and performance when he was commanded to go to Mount Moriah to “worship.”  He commanded his servants to stay “while I and the boy go over there.  We will worship and then we will come back to you” (Genesis 22:5).  This was a specially appointed time and place of testing when God was to see his faith and obedience expressed in the specific way he had been commanded.  God approved what He saw in his worship there and said: “Now I know that you fear God” (Genesis 22:12).



The acts of homage paid to God as defined in the New Testament, and not by any man-made creed or catechism, are given below.  An examination of sources, from both inside and outside of churches of Christ, agrees on these forms or expressions of adoration, worship and praise in corporate worship in the New Testament:

1. Reading, Teaching or Preaching from the Scriptures. Acts 2:42; I Cor. 14:19;James 1:22; Col. 4:16.

2. Prayer. I Cor. 14:14-16.  Men are authorized to  pray “in  every  place,”  which  would include the public assembly.  The posture may vary according to place and circumstance, including kneeling, standing, lifting hands, etc.  The prayers should be understandable and clear so that all may say the ‘amen.’  Prayers, as well as other acts of public worship, are to be led by the men (males).

3. Singing.Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16; I Cor. 14:15.

4.Contributing.I Cor. 16:1-2

5. Partaking of the Lord’s Supper.  I Cor. 11:18-34; Acts 20:7.

Other more complete studies on these acts of worship: “Why I Am A Member of the Church of Christ,” by Leroy Brownlow; “Introducing The Church of Christ,” by 50 ministers in the churches of Christ, Alvin Jennings and John Waddey, editors – for these articles see the following link : New Testament Church; “Thou Shalt Worship The Lord Thy God,” by Andy T. Ritchie, Harding University; “The Church of Christ,” by Ed Wharton, Sunset International Bible Institute; “The Church,” by Eddie Cloer, Harding University, “Instrumental Music In The Public Worship Of The Church,” by Everett Ferguson, Abilene Christian University.  All the above writers are associated with churches of Christ. Also confer “Pictorial Bible Dictionary,”[4] International Standard Bible Encyclopedia[5] and many more works on doctrine, biblical language and ecclesiastical history.



Obedience to God is necessarily related to the silence of authority.  Jesus listened to what the Father taught Him and this placed parameters on His obedience to the Father.  He completely and lovingly submitted to the will of His Father.  His choice to do what the Father willed and no more is significant.  If our goal is to be like Him when we obey Him, we will only do what He commanded.  We obey Him as He obeyed the Father.  Jesus did not act presumptuously on His own.  He only did what the Father commanded Him to do.  Many passages in the Gospel of John verify this: John 4:34; 5:19; 5:30; 5:36; 6:38; 7:16-18; 8:26-29; 10:18; 12:48-50; 14:10, 31.  Jesus only did what He was told to do.  He did not act “on His own.”  Only one of these passages is quoted here: “For I came down from heaven not to do mine own will, but the will of Him that sent me” (John 6:38).  For a complete study on this principle, see “LET ALL THE EARTH KEEP SILENCE,” by Philip Sanders, minister, Concord Road Church of Christ, Brentwood, Tennessee.[6]  A further confirmation of this principle is seen in Hebrews 7:14, where the divine writer argues that Jesus could not be a priest on earth, because the law of Moses said “nothing” about priests from the tribe of Judah. Also see a warning from the old covenant where two men presumed to worship in a way “which the Lord commanded not.” They were stricken dead for their disobedience. (Leviticus 10:1-7)

Without observance of this fundamental principle, the New Testament would become an endless listing of the things Jesus was NOT to do, followed by an endless list of prohibitions against thousands of things His disciples are NOT to do.  The world could not contain such a book.  We are commanded not to “go beyond that which is written” (I Cor. 4:6).  “If any man speaks, let him speak as the oracles of God” (I Peter 4:11 or, “If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God” (NIV).  “Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God.” (2 John 9a, NIV)

If any person wishes to practice or follow any action in worship, he is obligated to produce the New Testament authority for it.  Those of us who observe the acts of worship shown above can easily cite the Scriptures authorizing them, either in direct commands, from approved examples from the apostles of Christ, and/or from necessary inferences in the New Testament. 



The word “clap” does not appear at all in the New Testament, either as an act of worship or in any other connection or setting.  It is defined as “to strike together so as to produce a sharp percussive noise; to strike (the hands) together repeatedly usually in applause.”[7]  It is mentioned in the Old Testament only 9 times, principally as “an emphatic expression of joy” (2 Kings 11:12; Psalm 47:1; Lam. 2:1).[8]  It is nowhere in the Bible referred to as an act of praise, adoration or worship.   Old Testament passages generally have reference to accounts of joyful celebrations as in war victories.  In no place is it mentioned in connection with worship of any kind.[9]

After biblical times, however, clapping as rhythmic accompaniment to singing during worship has a long history.[10] Historian Neander regretted that in his day the sacred music of both Eastern and Western churches had already assumed “an artificial and theatrical character, and was so far removed from its original simplicity that even in the fourth century the abbot Pambo of Egypt complained of heathen melodies being introduced into the worship of the church accompanied as it seems ‘with the action of the hands and feet.’”  Isidore of Pelusium also complained of the theatrical singing especially of the women, which instead of inducing penitence for sin, tended much more to awaken sinful desires (in Biblioth, Patr. VII, 543).  From this, one must wonder about clapping.[11]

Jimmy Jividen points out that understanding is an essential element in worship in song (I Cor. 14:24-16).[12]  Drums or clapping cannot speak, so why should one want to use them or use percussion sounds as acts of worship, as practiced in African and other heathen cultures?  In some areas of West Africa, some churches of Christ have been lost due to promotion of worship with drums, dancing, substitution of other elements for the Lord’s Supper, women leadership roles, etc. Churches there have been lost, with their remaining equipment being given to Pentecostal groups.[13]  Handclapping and beating on drums have been likened to one another.

It may be said that clapping is no different than tapping the foot to the beat of the music, sometimes done even unknowingly because of the beat and joy expressed in music. It may go undetected even by the one who does it, and is hardly ever noticed by anyone else.

Clapping as an act of worship had its introduction into some churches of Christ in just the last few years. It made its way into denominational worship somewhat earlier in both Catholic and Protestant services. It has not come without bitter debate and controversy, as is evidenced by Google in its 1,000 listed websites in which the subject has been debated hotly over the past 15 years or so. Wherever unbiblical practices are allowed, controversy and division abound.

The practice of clapping in worship has not been listed in any indices of the books of church history by Mosheim, D’Aubigne, Philip Schaff or Edward Gibbons.  Earl West, who chronicled the history of the current restoration movement in his 6-volume set, Search For The Ancient Order which covers the period 1849 through the mid 20th century, has no reference in his indices to clapping as worship in the churches of the restoration era.  Nothing has been found of such concerning this period of restoration church history by historians James Deforest Murch, Leroy Garrett, Louis Cochran, Robert Richardson, Garrison/DeGroot, or John Fletcher Floyd.  Indices have been examined, but complete texts have not been thoroughly read.

The practice of clapping hands in worship was unheard of in our churches prior to twenty-five years ago.  It was among the first of several changes that have made their way into many of our congregations.  Following that came the demand for a “contemporary style of worship” which led to the introduction of mechanical music praise to some of their services.  Some have downplayed the place of the Bible in their preaching and teaching, replacing it with stories and humor.  Some are now fellowshipping denominational groups, and no longer wishing to be identified with churches of Christ, they have changed their name.  They have concluded that we are not the church Christ built, but just a denomination founded by Barton Stone and Alexander Campbell.



What about spontaneous expressions of joy and approval over something of current interest that might be announced to the congregation?  “Announcements” themselves are in a category apart from the distinctive functions of the services of worship.  Examples of this would include:

A. Announcing the occasion of a decision to be baptized, especially when this involves an unusual event such as when a when it involves a person of unusual concern who has delayed obedience for a long while.
B. Announcing the appointment of elders, deacons, ministers, missionaries, etc.
C. Announcing the resignation of an elder or others who have served the congregation faithfully for many years.
D. Announcing appreciation for distinctive services involving the congregation.
E. Announcing arrival of a newborn baby, or the recovery from a dreaded disease.

This aspect of public assembly would be an appropriate time and occasion for members to show respect by applauding if they wished to do so, rendering “honor to whom honor is due” (Romans 13:7), and should be carried out without offense to any.  It is not an act or part of rendering public praise and worship to God.  



We do not say that hand-clapping in worship necessarily leads to other undesirable things in our worship.  “But it, along with the rest, is a symptom of a spiritual illness at work among many of our churches.  They have grown weary of being simple New Testament Christians.  They want something different and more exciting.  Rather than clapping being the cause, it is an early symptom of spiritual illness.”[14]

“Having attended the Lord’s church all my life, and having been a preacher some fifty years, I find clapping at a service of worship to be distracting, disconcerting and offensive.  True, that alone does not make it wrong.  But those who wish to make changes in the way we worship must exhibit some maturity and responsibility beyond what feels good and is exciting to them.  If clapping is, as they think, neither right nor wrong, then they should abstain from doing so if it is offensive to their fellow-worshippers (I Cor. 10:23-24).  This practice can easily slip into other forms of emotional expression that result in confusion and disorderly conduct.  This, Paul shows us, is unacceptable (I Cor. 14:33, 40).  We are under obligation to do everything in our power to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bonds of peace (Eph. 4:3).  If such unauthorized practices cause unhappiness and discord among brethren, those who introduce them are failing to maintain that unity.  Since our commitment is to worship and serve as did the earliest Christians, those who want the excitement of clapping must acknowledge that such is not mentioned in the New Testament.  There, outward expressions of approval in worship were with a vocal “Amen” (I Cor. 14:16).[15]

“I prefer to think that those who clap at a service do not do so for malicious reasons or to harm the body.  It is primarily because they have not been taught better.  Perhaps a kindly word of concern spoken to your elders or preacher would be sufficient to stop the practice.  It is a trend away from simple Bible-based worship toward an emotion-based and sensational type service.  That kind of worship we do not need; Scripture does not authorize it.”[16] 

In these more modern times, with the rise in prominence of the charismatic Pentecostal style rites, ceremonies or expressions with their near 100% participation in clapping, they have demonstrated on some occasions “wild” body motions, whooping noises and whistling such as might be observed at a sporting event.  These disturbing trends have not been observed among churches of Christ to this extent, but the allowance and encouragement even to a small degree has caused faithful members to be uncomfortable, especially among the more mature members who are unaccustomed to any act in worship for which there is no biblical authority.  Even though the practice of it has been engaged in by an estimated 5% or less of the membership in some congregations,[17] it is disturbing to see members of long-standing so troubled about it they feel compelled to worship elsewhere.



[1] Joseph Henry Thayer,  A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, 1889, Harper and Brothers.
[2] Merrell Tenney, editor, Pictorial Bible Dictionary, Zondervan, p. 899. 1969.
[3] Webster’s Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary. G. & C. Merriam Co., Springfield, MA.
[4] Merrill Tenney, op cit.
[5] James Orr, editor, International Standard Bible Encylopedia (5 volumes), Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1949.
[6] Philip Sanders, Let All The Earth Keep Silence, Star Bible and Tract Corp, pp 27-30, second edition, 2005.
[7] Webster, op cit, p. 153.
[8] International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, ibid, Vol. I, p 665. 
[9] James Strong, Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, , date unknown
[10] McClintock and Strong, Vol. VI, page 758.
[11] Phil Sanders, Handclapping With Singing in Worship, unpublished letter, Oct. 14, 2008.
[12] Jimmy Jividen, Worship in Song, Chapter 2, pp 15-22. Star Bible Publications, Ft Worth, TX.
[13] Jay Lockhart, Gospel Advocate, Nashville, TN., September, 2008, pp 20-21..
[14] John Waddey, preacher and editor, Christianity Then and Now, Phoenix, AZ.  Personal letter, Sept. 25, 2008.
[15] On saying the ‘Amen,’ see chapter 22, “Handclapping In Worship To God,” David Miller, Piloting The Strait.  He observes that “amen” is found 126 times in the NT, and that it is a term signifying what was said or done as being reliable and true, valid and certain (Kittel, p 338 and Brown, p 99) and that saying ‘amen’ does not “match the functions of handclapping.”  Miller also has an unpublished addendum to this chapter that answers questions on the subject.  He insists that all of our actions in worship “must be authorized, approved and sanctioned by God,” and that there is no limit to what else would occur if one thing is allowed without Scripture warrant.    
[16] Waddey, ibid.
[17] Howard Stein (song director), personal letter, September, 2008 .

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