Should We Applaud in Church?

Someone raised this question recently in preparation for our upcoming congregational meeting. Why don’t we regularly applaud whoever sings the offertory? We do occasionally but it is rare when it happens.

D. A. Carson has some helpful insight on the question on page 88 of his book noted below.

Applause used to be unknown. Then it came to be deployed after special music. Now it is sometimes heard punctuating sermons. This is, I think, a regressive step. True, some might consider this to be a kind of cultural equivalent to a voiced “Amen!” I take the point, and would not want to introduce new legalism by banning applause outright. But the fundamental difference between “Amen!” and applause must be noted: the “Amen!” is directed to God, even if it serves to encourage the person who is ministering, while applause in our culture signals approval of the performer. God is left out, and the “performer” may the more easily be seduced into pride. This is one of several ways by which the rules of the entertainment world have subtly slipped into corporate worship and are in danger o destroying it from within.

That about sums it up.

A Call to Spiritual Reformation is a worthwhile read.

4 responses

  1. I definitely agree with this (not only theologically, but practically), but have been wondering about this idea recently: does applause only apply to humans? I understand that's its primary and overwhelming application, possibly too much to overcome, but can it be directed to God? Singing is another example where our culture often directs the medium to humans, but the church is able to have a larger vocabulary than the culture. But maybe applause is just too much to overcome, though.

  2. I guess I follow Carson's rationale, but I still end up seeing it as a distinction without a difference, for all functional purposes.

    Both “amens” and applause serve to affirm whatever was said or done from the platform (hopefully with sincerity). Both carry the potential to inflate the ego.

    Yeesh… of all the things to clog your pastor's inbox.

  3. Both comments add to the richness of the debate. Thank you! I think applause can be directed to God. I want to believe when we experience it, it both encourages those that minister and reflects praise to God. And an “amen” can inflate the ego too. I can testify to that and not for good reasons. I think Carson does overstate the case when he says that God is left out in applause. Maybe, but not necessarily. I am more concerned about the need to affirm the one ministering out of some cultural obligation and failing to reflect adequately on the effect of the song sung, particularly when the text and spirit of the tune aim at self-examination and soul-seeking. But I still think he has a point that a hearty “amen” is more likely to remind us that we are in a service of worship than applause, but may God keep us from enslavement to either and do what He requires at the moment.

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