This is from the October edition of First Christian Church’s Courier newsletter. It is part of an ongoing series of reflections which you can review here.
The conversation surrounding the meaning and purpose of clapping in worship has grown wider and deeper over the past few months. I am thankful for your thoughtful comments and engagement in the matter. There is much more that could be said, and I hope that the close of the series will not shut down our continued conversation.
I will offer a sketch of my personal thoughts in two installments with two convictions front and center: 1) the ways we choose to worship are not more or less theological, they are always already theologically charged. Accepting or rejecting clapping as an appropriate response to certain activities within worship has a theological meaning: the question is what meaning it carries for us. 2) Who we understand Jesus to be, as the Christ, is crucial to discerning what clapping might mean.
So, who is Jesus the Christ? The church has long wrestled with how to understand who Jesus is and what it means to call him the Christ. That said, a recurring motif in the history of Christian thought is that Jesus the Christ is at one and the same time both human and divine (John 1:1). Another way to say it is that Jesus is “the Word made flesh” (see John 1:14). The very wisdom and character of God is en-fleshed (in-carnated) in Jesus’ birth, life, death, and resurrection. Our messy, bodily humanity—sinfulness and all—is “assumed” by God through Jesus in the incarnation.
There is a subtle but tremendously important implication here: Humanity and Divinity are not mutually exclusive. In other words, if Jesus is our “key” to unlocking the meaning and truth of who God is and what it means for us to be God’s faithful people, then the convergence of Divinity and Humanity in Jesus means God can be found in the most splendid and most mundane of human activities. More acutely, the incarnation challenges any neat separation of “secular” (human) and “sacred” (divine) that we often impose on church life (leaving aside the category confusion of those terms already at work—see last month’s article).
Thus, 1) If we confess Jesus as the Christ, Humanity and Divinity at one in him, then it does not matter how “secular” clapping is—the argument against clapping only because it is “secular” is utterly bankrupt. We need a better, more sound theological reason not to clap in church. 2) When we clap for a human activity (say a solo or choral piece, or a baptism), we are not deferring attention from God as if God cannot shine through our human activity. Again, God and humanity are not mutually exclusive; we can clap for a human act/performance and, at one and the same time, give honor and glory to God. We need a better, more sound theological reason not to clap in church.
This does not mean that all clapping is good and right in our worship (this issue, like life, is too complex to make absolute, wide-sweeping pronouncements—sorry). The Incarnation, as I’ve laid it out, only suggests that clapping in church can be a profoundly faithful activity that glorifies God. In the right circumstances, like a baptism, I’m persuaded clapping is entirely appropriate and should be encouraged. We do not dishonor the liturgy or deflect attention from God just because we clap. Jesus helps us see something quite the opposite: the liturgy can be enlivened and enhanced by our clapping, and God will delight in our thunderous applause as a fragrant act of worship.
Next month’s conclusion to the series: A Theology of Clapping (part 5): Freedom