To Dance or Not To In Church: A Brief Examination

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I worship in a Reformed Baptist church—-Truth Missionary Baptist Church— and praise and worship which includes dancing and clapping is not an element of worship when we meet for corporate worship. We sing hymns and the psalter played to the tune of an organ. We adhere to The Regulative Principle of Worship (RPW) which primarily teaches that “the corporate worship of God is to be founded upon specific directions of Scripture.” This can be expanded by looking at the words in the Westminster Confession of faith which states that

…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 imaginations and devices of men, or the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representation, or any other way not prescribed in the Holy Scripture” Dt 12:32; Mt 15:9,10; Dt 15:1-20; Ex 20:4,5,6; (WCF 21.1)

Simply, the elements of corporate worship must be those things that are explicitly taught in Scripture or can be inferred directly or indirectly from Holy Scripture. What isn’t explicitly taught in Scripture, or by inference can be deduced, we reject as  an element of worship. Throughout Scripture, God has indeed “regulated worship” and not just anything was allowed in worship. The worship of God is not to be profaned. Paul says all things must be done decently and in order. What then are the elements that can be present in a corporate worship one may ask?

The confession again answers this:

The reading of Scriptures with godly fear;the sound preaching, and conscionable hearing of the Word, in obedience unto God, with understanding, faith, and reverence; singing of Psalms with grace in the heart; as also, the due administration and worthy receiving of the sacraments instituted by Christ; are all parts of the ordinary religious worship of God: besides religious oaths, vows, solemn fastings, and thanksgivings upon special occasions, which are, in their several times and seasons, to be used in an holy and religious manner. (WCF 21.5).

Now corporate Christian worship is not a trifling moment to show all kinds of dancing skills. Can you pause perharps to examine whether the dancing you engage in or observe in church is indeed God glorifying?

On 15th June, 2018, I was at a retreat with my colleague seminary students who are from all denominational backgrounds–Pentecostals, Charismatics, Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians and I was the only Reformed and Calvinist amongst them. Now, common to all the denominations gathered (apart from myself) was the element of dancing during what is popularly called praise and worship.

So it was time for praise and worship and the leader announced “we are going to dance to the Lord“. As is to be expected, because of my beliefs; I did not participate in “the dance to the Lord”. I found a place at the back while praise and worship goes on.

Now a friend, who knows my stance about dancing in corporate worship, stepped onto the dancing floor with insinuating moves directed at me (note they were doing this to the Lord). He was dancing and at the same time looking and pointing towards my direction while gleefuly laughing. He was obviously dancing to spite me. While dancing, he also prompted another colleague, then pointing to me, he told him “in his[my] church they don’t dance”. He was clearly enjoying himself while teasing me in his dancing. Having gotten a teasing accomplice, they will dance towards my direction mockingly while giggling. What surprised me was the playful manner this was been carried out while at the same time it was suppossed to be a dance unto the Lord. It was a heart-breaking moment for me. Even if my friend has a problem with my theological stance, this, the period of praise and worship, which was suppossedly to God, was not the time to prove me wrong. He should, as it were, give it all to the Lord. But no, in the “dancing to the Lord”, he found a place to tease me.

Right in that meeting, my convictions about dancing not being an element of corporate worship was strengthened. There was no reverence. I tried getting the attention of the two when they danced towards me by asking; “are you dancing to spite me or you are indeed dancing to God?” The “accomplice” got the message and backed off (or so I thought). Afterwards, I went to this friend privately and asked “what were you doing, dancing to God or spiting me?”. To my shock; he answered “both”. Here is a Christian, a seminary student, a friend and one of the sharpest brains in the class (he was once applauded by our Christian doctrine professor for a Christology paper he submitted) who steps foward to dance to God and at the same time dance to spite another believer.

Sadly so, many people dance suppossedly to God but the true motive for their dance is far from pleasing God. I have heard people after dancing and sweating in church remark that “this is my only disco where I can can dance and be happy.” So for such a person, dancing in church is nothing but entertainment; a substitute for a night club. Before a praise and worship session sometimes worshippers are told to dance their problems away. Some people, especially the youth will dance with all kinds of dancing skills— borrowed from the world of course. No wonder, every dance form that shows up in the world, finds expression in corporate worship. Dancing cannot be controlled, its motives cannot be determined and it is not found as an element of corporate worship:

The elements of New Testament worship are prayer (Mat. 6:9; Phil. 4:6; 1 Tim 2:1-2; 1 John 5:14), Scripture reading and hearing (Neh. 8:8; Acts 15:21; Rev 1:3), preaching and hearing of the Word (Neh. 8:8; Mat. 28:19-20; Luke 24:47; 2 Tim. 4:2), singing of psalms (Eph 5:19; Col 3:16; James 5:13), administration and receiving the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper (Mat 28:19; Acts 2:42; 1 Cor 11:23-29), as well as occasional oaths (Deut 6:13 with Neh 10:29) and vows (Isa 19:21 with Ecc 5:4-5) 1and “upon special emergent occasions, to separate a day or days for publick fasting or thanksgiving, as the several eminent and extraordinary dispensations of God’s providence shall administer cause and opportunity to his people” (2 Chron. 20:2-3; Ezra 10; Neh. 9; Joel 1:14, 2:15; Zeph. 2:1-3; Matt. 9:15).2

A careful observer will recognise how dancing has flung open the door of irreverence into the gathering of God’s people. At this point, I will make no conclusions about whether to dance or not. I leave that to the reader to assess their position. I will here end this article with words from John Calvin’s book, The Necessity of Reforming The Church.

…when we are left at liberty [without regulation], all we are able to do is go astray. And then when we have turned aside from the right path, there is no end to our wanderings  until we get buried under a multitude of superstitions” [3]

Notes

1: https://purelypresbyterian.com/2017/01/31/what-is-the-regulative-principle-of-worship/#ft7

2:https://purelypresbyterian.com/2017/01/31/what-is-the-regulative-principle-of-worship/#ft8

3: John Calvin, The Necessity of Reforming The Church (Linn:Monergism Books, 2018), ebook

2 thoughts on “To Dance or Not To In Church: A Brief Examination

  1. Sir, I am not surprised by your view on dancing to worship the Lord corporately. But you gave no scripture stating it was wrong or even inappropriate. We can look back at King David and others who worshipped by dancing. Even King Davids wife was struck barren when she made fun of him.

    I want to point out the men you mentioned who spited you as they danced supposedly for the Lord were in sin. They cannot dance to spite you and simultaneously dance for the Lord. I completely agree they were in the wrong and it is shocking and extremely sad brothers in the Lord would think this was humorous.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Tiffany, thanks for making the time to comment and to disagree gracefully. I would also be glad if you could further explain why you are not surprised about my views about dancing in corporate worship.

      Now, though it is true I have not provided any Scriptural basis for dancing, there equally is no Scriptural basis for dancing in corporate worship in Scripture especially in the New Testament. King David’s dance before the ark was a procession and an individual’s expression of worship to God. It wasn’t in the context or environment of corporate worship.

      Liked by 1 person

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