Why do some denominations get more physical in worship than mine?
Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – which is your spiritual worship. – Romans 12:1
I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. – Philippians 1:20
Next, let’s look at the various forms of physical expression and their biblical roots.
2. Shouting – Psalm 27:6 says, “Then my head will be exalted above the enemies who surround me; at his tabernacle will I sacrifice with shouts of joy; I will sing and make music to the Lord.” Also see Ps 47:1, Ezra 3:1 and Ps 35:27.
3. Singing – Psalm 47:6 says, “Sing praises to God, sing praises to our King, sing praises.” Also see Ps 105:22 and Ps 92:1.
4. Laughter – Psalm 126:1-2 says, “When the Lord brought back the captives to Zion, we were like men who dreamed. Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy.”
5. Weeping – Luke 7:38, 47 says “…and as she stood behind [Jesus] at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them … [Jesus said] her many sins have been forgiven – for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.” Also see Ezra 3:12-13.
2. Standing – Psalm 119:120 says, “My flesh trembles in fear of you; I stand in awe of your laws.” Also see Neh 8:2 & 5. Standing shows respect and reverence.
3. Dancing – Psalm 149:3 says, “Let them praise his name with dancing and make music to him with tambourine and harp.” Also see Ps 150:4, 2 Samuel 6:14-15 and Ex 15:20. Dancing is an expression of joy and celebration.
4. Kneeling – Psalm 95:6 says, “Come let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker.” Also see Mt 18:26. Kneeling is a sign of humility before our King and an expression of submission. Jesus taught us himself on the night that he was betrayed to kneel and pray.
5. Stillness – Psalm 46:10 says “Be still and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”
2. Clapping – Psalm 47:1 says, “Clap your hands, all you nations; shout to God with cries of joy.” Also see Isa 55:12 and Ps 98:8. Clapping is a form of showing happiness and excitement. The best kind of clapping is the natural applause that occurs when the congregation is overwhelmed by God’s grace and wants to show thankfulness.
3. Lifting Hands – Psalm 63:4 says, “I will praise you as long as I live, and in your name I will lift up my hands.” Also see Ps 134:2 , Neh 8:6 and 1 Timothy 2:8. Lifted hands are a sign of gratefulness, dependence, expectation, reverence, celebration and surrender and can also be a posture for prayer. There are a total of 39 biblical commands to raise one’s hands either in blessing or in supplication in worship.
You will note that most of the above passages come from the Psalms. David liked to worship the Lord with all of his being; heart, mind and body and all of his senses. Furthermore, he did not care what other people thought of his worship. He had an audience of One.
I do worship in a congregation and denomination that is not overly expressive. I think that our limited use of expressiveness is more of a tradition and a characteristic trait of our Lutheran forefathers than anything else. I do not sense that it limits our worship or the outpouring of our hearts or that we refrain out of fear of man, wrong teaching or complacency.
Some things to consider:
1. There are warnings in scripture of using physical expressiveness wrongly:
a. When you spread out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood. (Is. 1:15)
b. The hands we lift to worship God should be holy hands (1 Tim. 2:8), made so through our humble trust in the atoning work of the Savior.
2. We never prove our devotion to God by external acts alone. God looks upon the heart. But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” – 1 Sam 16:7
3. We are to worship with reverence. Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe – Heb 12:28
I realize that this may be a dividing-line topic between denominations. It should not be. Yes, I am more reserved in my physical expressiveness than others might be. Yes, I see the scriptural basis for using our bodies in worship. But I am at peace being reserved in worship, and at the same time I can respect those who worship a little differently in this regard because our God is great enough and worthy enough to be glorified using many more forms of worship than I can possibly offer myself. In the end I pray that our churches be filled with the kind of truths and expressions that most clearly communicate to others the value of the One that we worship.
Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version, Copyright© 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of International Bible Society