Several years ago while preaching in the African city of Lagos in Nigeria, those who were attending the conference politely applauded their appreciation when I finished speaking. But immediately, the senior pastor of the church stood up and asked the audience not to applaud the speakers or the singers either. “We are here to worship,” he noted, “not to exalt and applaud men.”

My heart was warmed by the position the pastor took on this matter for it reflected my own experience in life growing up in a local church and my own point of view regarding proper acts of worship in a service. I do believe the modern day practice of applauding an individual for speaking or singing or other distinct acts is distracting from the act of worship, at the very least, and perhaps more.

When applause is allowed or encouraged the worship service tends to transform the heart and mind, drawing it from God to an evaluation of the performance.

When applause is allowed or encouraged in the worship service there is a natural movement from the sacred back to the secular.

When applause is allowed or encouraged in the worship service, time is no longer redeemed in honoring the Lord but spent on showing human approval.

I do not mean to be legalistic on this matter, but I think it is a topic for reconsideration.  I realize that individuals enjoy different styles of worship. Some people enjoy a very structured liturgical service, while others appreciate informality to the point that extremely casual attire is worn in worship while sipping a cup of latte. And of course the baseball hat turned backwards stays on no matter what.

As a pastor for thirty two years I always appreciated anyone who came to church, no matter how they were dressed. I never made a person’s attire a topic of a sermon or even discussion. But I did notice that individuals dressed differently, and acted differently, when the social norms and customs of the congregation were allowed to influence behavior.

Saint Andrew’s Chapel is a congregation that worships in Sanford, Florida. Dr. R. C. Sproul is the pastor. While worship tends to be formal in style, there is nothing stuffy or legalistic about the service. But the worship is designed so that once the service begins, all announcements and other distractions are over so the heart is drawn upward, not manward. While there is great appreciation for the classical music that is played by gifted musicians, there is no applauding. There seems to be a natural desire for hearts to embrace a holy hush as the congregation concentrates upon the things of the Lord and worship in the Word of God.

In the end, individuals will attend a worship service they feel most comfortable with, and that is as it should be. But I cannot help but appreciate a service that values decency and order, communion, the singing of hymns, and the faithful proclamation of the Word of Truth. Announcements and applause, and other distractions, should be distinct from the acts of worship in order to help the heart focus on the majesty of God.

If there is to be any clapping, let it be Godward. “O clap your hands, all ye people; shout unto God with the voice of triumph. 2 For the Lord most high is terrible; he is a great King over all the earth” (Psalm 47:1).  “Give unto the Lord the glory due unto his name; worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness” (Psalm 29:2). Let the heart say, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).

“We have come into His house
And gathered in His Name to worship Him;
We have come into His House
And gathered in His name to worship Him;
We have come into His house
And gathered in His name to worship Christ the Lord;
Worship Him, Christ the Lord.

“Let’s for-get about ourselves
And concentrate on Him, and worship Him.
Let’s forget about ourselves
And concentrate on Him, and worship Him.
Let’s forget about ourselves
And concentrate on Him, and worship Christ the Lord.
Worship Him, Christ the Lord.”

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