Poll: 80% of Adventists Still Uncertain of When to Clap.

We’ve all been there. On a rare Sabbath morning a competent musician delivers an awe-inspiring rendition of a spiritual song ushering the congregation into the presence of God. And upon their conclusion the congregation enters into the valley of wide-eyed uncertainty and indecision.

To clap or not to clap? THAT is the question.

Gratitude is not something commonly expressed in Adventist congregations. Taking a dutiful approach to ministry it is expected that you share your gifts on demand because God—or the Nominating Committee—says so. Your thanks is the warm feeling produced by hours of last minute frenetic practice mixed with anxiety percolating in the pit of your stomach.

“I just freeze up” said one rural church member after a traveling musician stopped on their way through town for church. “I was so moved inside, yet my outside was paralyzed. I heard one or two people give a couple token claps, but when I didn’t hear a third or fourth join in I… I just couldn’t go through with it.”

He went on to say that their previous pastor once vigorously clapped after a performance and three months later found himself in a new district. “They can’t fire me as a church member for clapping” added the church member. Then ominously concluded with “…but they have other ways of making you comply.” I tried to find out who “they” were but he only shook his head.

I have attempted more interviews with indecisive clappers but they were as reluctant with their speech as they were with their hands. One stalwart defender of traditional church, however, did step up to the challenge and clarified, “It’s not that I don’t appreciate musicians, it’s just that clapping worships the person not God. I prefer a hearty amen to clapping.” When asked if he ever said louder “amens” for some performances than others he made no reply.

One pro-clapper came forward and suggested Psalm 47 as supporting the clapping platform. The text says, “O clap your hands, all ye people; shout unto God with the voice of triumph” [Psalm 47:1, KJV]. “So you see, it’s a biblical MANDATE that we clap” she said triumphantly.

Since she was a women—known for a hermeneutics of sentimentalism and not cold logic—we confirmed this position with a man and it is indeed true that this is a “proof-text” in the pro-clapping camp.

As I’ve surveyed other Midwestern churches, another member offered an answer to the Psalm 47 conundrum via a website he had googled. The site explains that the “fact that hand clapping was commanded in Old Testament worship does not authorize it in New Testament worship any more than the fact that the burning of incense and the offering of animal sacrifices in Old Testament worship gives authority for them in New Testament worship” [http://www.tftw2.org/Tracts/handclapping.html].

Excited by this revelation I quickly asked what anti-type fulfilled the practice of clapping in the New Testament? The obvious answer is “the cross” stated the first elder of the no-clap congregation. He stated “Jesus’ hands were nailed making it impossible to clap.”


 However one impertinent youth piped up that in Ellen White’s six volume biography written by her grandson she states, at a Campmeeting, “I was stopped several times with clapping of hands and stomping of feet. I never had a more signal victory” [Arthur L. White, Ellen G. White: The Lonely Years (Washington D.C.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1984,) vol. 3, p. 46.]. This proved an horrific turn of events for the first elder who said he knew nothing of that quote and since it was in a biography it most likely fell under the category of hearsay from a grandson with a faulty memory.

Further complicating the issue is Pope Benedict the XVI’s statement in The Spirit of Liturgy where he states, “Whenever applause breaks out in the liturgy because of some human achievement, it is a sure sign that the essence of the liturgy has totally disappeared and been replaced by a kind of religious entertainment.” [p. 198]. This sets up a tricky dynamic for those who agree with traditional worship practices but also hold to the traditional position of disagreeing with whatever the Pope says.

The issue doesn’t appear to have any sign of abating.

Until then we are forced to endure the bold claps of the few, the timid claps of the indecisive, and the scowls of those whose hands rest firmly in the lap during service—save when for reasons unexplained waves of applause make their way through church service once or twice a year. Factors currently believed to contribute to widespread clapping are persistent efforts of the 10% who do know when to clap influencing the 10% waiting for the first 10% to clap, the visible clapping of leaders on the platform, and verbal cues from the pastor such as “let us clap.”



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13 responses to “Poll: 80% of Adventists Still Uncertain of When to Clap.

  1. This is a very entertaining study. Therefore, I’m sure there is no spiritual relevance and my clapping is totally appropriate as clapping should be limited to entertainment and NOT any moving spiritual enlightenment.

    Sadly, I am in that ever shrinking 80%. Yes, I get confused when someone raises their hands or claps or says an amen. Therefore I’m taking measures to deal with my fears by attending a congregation that seems to have pooled the 10% that clap and amen for everything and is predominantly black. These people are so moved and spiritually alive. I have to say, it’s a great experience when I can have it. I also like it that the pastor calls me a princess.

    Having a young daughter has taught me alot about what it means to be alive spiritually. My daughter is moved by music and she dances. It’s not sexual or inappropriate. It’s adorable, it’s wonderful and it shows me that I can be moved. Do we freak out when a little baby claps for something? Then why are we expected to be still and unmoving when God is trying to move us?

    That being said, I’m still sitting in the pew, embarrassed to raise my hands like I do in my shower when I sing praise songs at the top of my lungs.

    • Erik

      The Bible says to be separate from the world. The Spirit of prophecy says the angels in heaven veil their faces before God in reverence before Him. Are we not suppose to be coming before our God with fear and reverence?

      Who are we giving the praise to when we clap? If I went to a Rock concert, people clap and scream and cheer for the performance. Are we at church to be entertained by a performance or to give glory and honor to God our maker and redeemer? Is approval to go to God or to the pastor or person giving a song. I believe all the glory is to go to God in reverence. An Amen is something out of agreement with something spiritual. Would we say Amen at a rock concert? There is a distinction between secular and spiritual. From worldly and spiritual. And the Devil is busy getting the line blurred so that there is no right of wrong. A sad state of affairs.

      If clapping was acceptable before God, then the disciples and Mary at the foot of the cross should have been clapping the loudest for Jesus that He had died. Without Jesus dying, we would have no hope for redemption right? Clapping is irreverent and offensive. I have been at church when the congregation claps when someone has been baptized! Why? The Battle has just began for that soul by them taking a public stand for Christ. We should be in fervent prayer that they will continue to stand true for Christ, not clapping giving them the false impression that they have won that battle once and for all.

      We have got to learn what is sacred and what is secular and keep them separate. God is looking for a peculiar people who are willing to stand up for truth. Are you willing to take your stand for Christ.

  2. Awesome and hilarious post, Seth. I was horrified to follow your link and discover the anti-handclapping tract was real. Please tell me you made up the comment about Jesus’ hands being nailed to the cross so He couldn’t clap???

    Loved your point about the pope too.

  3. David

    I find this question interesting as I do not believe the question of whether or not to clap is really the issue at all. I have been in situations in a worship service where I felt applause was entirely appropriate and other times where I felt it was entirely out of place.

    I believe the real issue is a question of worship.

    Being a musician, I believe that music is just as much a part of worship as is prayer. From my biased perspective, it seems about as illogical to applaud after a musical number (that should be bringing glory to God and drawing those present closer to Him) as it would be to applaud at the conclusion of a particularly well-delivered prayer. I believe that, correctly delivered, a musical offering will generally tend to cause silence and joyful awe. But again, that is my rather biased personal opinion.

    I have also felt perfectly free to applaud with a congregation after hearing a personal testimony giving glory to God for an incredible revelation of His power, love, and caring.

    I believe the issue is really about why we feel compelled to applaud. Is it because we feel the performer did such a great job (and yes, I have heard and seen many “special” musical presentations that were definitely performances)? If so, then our adoration is misplaced. If applause is appropriate in worship, it must be in response to what God has done and in praise of Him.

  4. This piece on clapping is a master piece. I loved it. (But then, applause, hand raising, babies crying, autistic people making weird noises and texting comments and questions to the preacher to be answered at the end of the sermon are all common features of worship in the church I attend–North Hill Adventist Fellowship in Edgewood, WA)

  5. Nate Gemmell

    Universal Clapping Rules for Adventists 2010

    1. Never start the clap

  6. Geniac

    As a musician, my position is that clapping should be spontaneous, not forced or ritualized. Further if clapping occurs during my playing, restrict it to the 2nd and 4th beats. I support a black Adventist church family. If they are inspired by the music they will clap on the appropriate beats. An interesting thought; I was admonished by my critics to avoid, shall we say, “jazzing it up” because these Adventists are too straight laced. Well, it just so happens, jazz is my favorite music format and I ignored the critics. Guess what? They love the music! So much for critics and naysayers. Some of the members found a Hammond model A100 organ and since I’m right at home with tone wheel organs, a little well placed improvising with the hymnal banishes the ‘spirit of slumber’. Adventists are not legalistic or straight laced, they just need a little well placed inspiration every now and again. Can you picture what a latin rhythm does to “When We All Get To Heaven”?

  7. Gary Mc Donald

    Please note the language used by the prophet in Isa 55:12, 2 Kings 11:12, Psalms 47:1, Psalms 98:8 – Why are we so negative? God have made us in his image and has afforded us a variety of means to lift up his mighty name in praise as his spirit leads. If I clap because I was blessed by a wonderful rendition in song to the Most High, it is because I am grateful for 1) being part of the worship experience and 2) for the talent that God has given to the singer. My clapping is not to give praise to the artist but to give acknowledgement and to show appreciation. The Devil will stop at nothing to suppress the worship of God’s people and nowhere is this more evident than in the Adventist church. When Miriam and the children of Israel exited the Red Sea, she grabbed a Timbrel (Tambourine Exodus 15:20 – 21) and the rest is history. No doubt if some of our uninformed members were at the Red Sea, they would try to stop Miriam and the gang from rendering exuberant praises to the Most High. Trust me, Satan is laughing at us when we engage in such futile discussions.

    • Genaro Gamez

      First of all, where any of these texts referring to worship in synagogues or is the context more appropriately talking about being delivered from their enemies, after battles, etc? Second, as a musician who has praised God in many Adventist churches, I have seen several scenarios unfold. In some churches members break out in loud “amens,” some have people clapping (especially visitors), some, sadly, don’t even muster enough energy to show appreciation to their Creator.
      I have been an Adventist all my life and I have noticed how there are many differences within the Adventist church. Clapping is just one issue. What about wearing wedding rings, going to the movies, etc? God’s children are very diverse. The one thing that we should never forget is that everything we do, everything we say, how we carry ourselves, how we worship, everything should be done through love. I might not agree with others in regards to some of these issues, but God help me if I do not respond in love to my brethren when these issues come up (and they do).

      • Erik

        Good points! How did Jesus respond to those in sin? He loved them too much not to rebuke the sin. But he did it with tears in His eyes. The wearing of wedding rings and movie going? I ask these questions. Does the entire world do these things? How much of the world will be saved when Jesus comes? Do we have inspired counsel against such practice? Are we to come out of the world and be separate? Did rings originate from pagan customs? Can we go to movies and follow Philippians 4:8? Are we living in the Laodicean church period that are neither hot or cold?

        Have a blessed Sabbath.

  8. Sad indeed that some Adventists still refuse to clap – what happened to “make a joyful noise”?

    • Erik

      Pretty sad to say people have no idea what reverence for God really is. Angels veil their face when they come before the Lord in heaven. People go to Rock concerts and clap and cheer the performer. Why are we breaking the thoughts and meditation by clapping like we are at a sporting event? Why are we praising the performer and building pride in their heart? All the Glory should go to God. If we really believe we are in the presents of God, we should act like we are in the presents of the Ruler of the universe.

      I play the Trumpet. The talent I have to play came from God. The honor I would want from playing should not go to me, but to God. An “Amen” would all I would want to hear in reverence before the God almighty in which we are in the presents of. It is sad to say, but we are no different then a Sunday church. A watering down of our faith.

      We are in a battle for the mind down here. Satan is playing for keeps. We need to keep this in mind. I believe the time to make a joyful noise is when we rise to meet the Lord in the air at His 2nd coming. Not when we are in a fierce battle for our souls. Reverence for God need to be brought back to our churches in light of the serious time in which we live.

      May God bless you in your study of God’s Word and the Spirit of Prophecy.

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