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[I really enjoyed this article by Andrew Wilson that he posted on his blog on Wednesday, February 3, 2016. It is a brief response to the answer given to this question asked by Jonathan Leeman.] Continue reading . . . 

[I really enjoyed this article by Andrew Wilson that he posted on his blog on Wednesday, February 3, 2016. It is a brief response to the answer given to this question asked by Jonathan Leeman.]

Is dancing acceptable as part of Christian worship in corporate gatherings? I'm surprised the question is even asked (although that no doubt reflects the fact that I live in a charismatic bubble), or at least by anyone who has read the Psalms and/or heard of Africa. But in the latest edition of the 9Marks mailbag, a superb regular feature which I have profited from and quoted before, that question is asked of Jonathan Leeman, a writer whom I greatly respect and who has written for us here before, and the answer given is ... no.

Jonathan certainly shows his working. He begins by articulating the Regulative Principle—a guideline for corporate worship that has been around since the Reformation, which is essentially that if something isn’t prescribed in Scripture, we shouldn’t do it in our corporate gatherings—and applying it in a very helpful way:

When it comes to what the church does when it gathers, however, I hold to a freedom from principle rather than a freedom to principle. Individuals sometimes insist that, in light of 1 Corinthians 10:31, they are free to worship God however they please in corporate worship. My response is to speak on behalf of the congregation: I believe a congregation should remain able to gather with the church every week, since God commands them to, yet remain free from being required to worship in a way that they find troublesome or a stumbling block.

Which is fair enough, to a point (although I wonder how that argument does not end up in a slippery slope when people find it “troublesome” to have guitars, or PA, or modern music, or old music, or minor chords, or ...). One of the jobs of a pastor is to protect members of the church from being steamrolled by noisy and assertive individuals, and this applies to worship in corporate contexts as much as anywhere else. The question you’re probably asking, though, is how somebody else dancing might impinge on my freedom in worship. Well:

I only want to bind the congregation’s conscience where Scripture binds it. To allow one person to dance in the corporate gathering, another to finger paint, another to mime, and another to play Beatles songs for the prelude, requires every person in attendance to worship God in those ways, at least as witnesses. Better, I think, to only require what Scripture requires of the saints when they gather: preaching Bible, reading Bible, singing Bible, celebrating the ordinances, gathering offerings, and doing anything else necessary to remaining a corporate body in good order (like giving announcements, etc.).

It’s fascinating that giving announcements (which isn’t mentioned in the Bible) gets a pass, while dancing (which is mentioned frequently) is ruled out—and put on a par with playing Beatles songs in the process. So what does Jonathan make of all those references to dancing in Scripture? This:

What about David dancing before the ark? David also brought sacrifices to the tabernacle, which we would never permit. In other words, I don’t think we can take Old Testament tabernacle worship as directly applicable to a New Testament church. We’re under a New Covenant.

This, for me, is quite weak. Animal sacrifices are explicitly abrogated in the New Testament, which is certainly not true of dancing. But let’s swallow the New Testament Only Regulative Principle for a moment, notwithstanding the fact that technically, it doesn’t allow for any musical instruments in worship, notices, video, amplification, electric lighting, printed bulletins, or any number of other things I suspect Baptist churches use in corporate worship settings. Granted, David danced before the ark, and was commended for that; but is there any indication in the New Testament that dancing would have happened in Christian worship?

Indeed there is:

Be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart ... (Eph. 5:18-19)

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. (Col 3:16)

The Spirited life, the word-filled life, results in singing psalms. Presumably, Psalms like this:

You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; you have loosed my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness, that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent. (Ps 30:11-12)

Singers and dancers alike say, “All my springs are in you.”(Ps 87:7)

Let Israel be glad in his Maker; let the children of Zion rejoice in their King! Let them praise his name with dancing, making melody to him with tambourine and lyre! (Ps 149:2-3)

Praise him with trumpet sound; praise him with lute and harp! Praise him with tambourine and dance; praise him with strings and pipe! Praise him with sounding cymbals; praise him with loud clashing cymbals! Let everything that has breath praise the LORD! Praise the LORD! (Ps 150:3-6)

Notice that all of these refer to corporate worship practices for God’s people (just in case anyone wants to make the silly argument that the Psalms therefore require us to fight battles and soak our pillows with tears, for example). To these, we could also add promises of the return from exile, right before the famous promise of the new covenant to come, like this one:

Then shall the young women rejoice in the dance, and the young men and the old shall be merry. I will turn their mourning into joy; I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow. (Jer 31:13)

Unless we are to imagine the New Testament churches singing songs about corporate worship that exhort people to dance without actually dancing (and presumably singing about trumpets and cymbals without actually using any, and so on), it seems clear that dancing is included within New Testament worship. So it’s not just that the Regulative Principle is inconsistently applied by anyone who uses a microphone or an advertisement for a church event. It’s not just that it pushes in the wrong direction when it comes to most Western Protestants, . . . And it’s not just that the prohibition of dancing in corporate worship is indescribably, well, white. It’s that even on its own (questionable) terms, it is a bad argument against dancing in church, since this is something that is not only urged on God’s people in the Old Testament without any hint of abrogation, and promised as part of the new covenant experience, but sung about repeatedly in the New Testament. If anything, a quick biblical survey indicates that never dancing in corporate worship is a problem, rather than that ever dancing is.

So should you be dancing? Yeah.

1 Comment

I shared this article from Andrew as well! I think we can get so caught up in our traditions regarding Scripture (in particular the Regulative Principle) that we fail to actually listen to Scripture- if that makes any sense- and in so doing we end up labeling as impure what God has called pure (to turn a phrase). When we do this we miss out on aspects or expressions of our faith that God would have us enjoy!

On a side note, thank you for recommending Andrew Wilson's blog! I have truly enjoyed reading his thoughts and been challenged and encouraged through them.

Hope you and Ann are doing well! Hopefully we will see you guys again soon!

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