Praise God with the Dance

7. September 2015 17:04 by Edward L. Smith in   //  Tags:   //   Comments (0)

Praise God with the Dance

Therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your spiritual worship.  Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God.

Romans 12:1-2

 

Living in this modern era of Christianity can sometimes have its challenges. One of the challenges we face is worship. How do we as a Church worship God in the context of our modern era that will be acceptable worship to Him? It is going to be my goal to approach this subject first from a Biblical perspective, then a historical perspective, and finally a practical perspective.

 

It is my prayer that by the end of this post we can come to a Biblically historical God-Honoring, Christ-Centered, Gospel-Saturated view of what it means to “Praise God with the Dance”.

 

Biblical Perspective – Praise God with the Dance

Most people when it comes to studying a subject such as this will look into the Bible, find the word dance and come to a conclusion. Let’s explore this subject as deep as the tools I have will allow.

First off it should be noted that although you read the English word dance you should know that, that word has a Hebrew or Greek word it was translated from. While dance is used in our English translations it has been translated from 6 different Hebrew words and one Greek word.

 Hebrew: 1) H4234 Original: מחול mâchôl – 6 uses, 2) H4246Original: מחלה mechôlâh – 8 uses, 3) H2342Original: חילחוּל chûl chı̂yl – 58 uses, 4)H6452Original: פּסח pâsach – 7 uses, 5)H7540 Original: רקד râqad – 9 uses, &6) H3769 Original: כּרר kârar – 2 uses.

Greek:G3738 Original: ὀρχέομαι orcheomai – 4 uses.

It is clear that the usage is wide ranged but clearly depicts some form of jubilant celebration. What I have gathered from these definitions is that the dance we see in Scriptures was a skipping, leaping, and twirling, spontaneous exuberant burst of expression from the child of God. This distinction, in my opinion, is critical in our understanding and will be addressed shortly.

Here are two things that the Bible is clear on: 1) Dancing was used as a form of worship and 2) Dance was used in the worship of God in celebrating an occasion.

Historical Perspective – Praise God with the Dance

OK its clear that from the Old Testament through the New Testament dance was used especially during times of feast and celebration. So moving forward one thing must be noted is that during times of persecution there wouldn’t be much celebration. You don’t find dancing beyond a brief mentioning in the Gospel records. I conclude that the reason is during the unfolding of the Church in the book of Acts, the writings of James and Peter, and beyond into the first century persecution and scattering is at fault.

History proves that with the changing of the guard in Roman rule immorality became rampant and dance started to evolve into something more than the spontaneous acts of dancing out of an expression of worship. This downfall into immorality caused Christians to become cautious and breakaway from dancing. It became extremely difficult for the Church to differentiate the worldly aspect of dancing and purify the dance by ridding it from all traces of paganism. 

Another change that took place came during the time where dance became more liturgical & theatrical; it also became something of a structured order in worship services. Two early Church fathers Justin Martyr (A.D. 150) and Hippolytus (A.D. 200) describe joyful circular dances in the early church; dance was perceived as one of the 'heavenly joys and part of the adoration of the divinity by the angels and by the saved”. There is also evidence of dance integrated into the ritual and worship of the Church in the writings of Hippolytus (A.D. 215) and Gregory the Wonder-Worker (A.D. 213-270). Amazingly even with the disgrace and distain that came from dance’ new place in the theater, it still remained as a precious act of worship to Christians. It was clear that the original idea of the dance “was to bring glory and honor to God, and take the focus off the self.”

The challenges didn’t go away and as the holiness of dance was dissolving because of the outside influences of the Roman Empire, the early church leaders desired to save it by emphasizing the focus of the Christian dances to emphasizing the spiritual element within the dances. In a sermon on Palm Sunday A.D. 367, Epiphanius (AD 315-403) describes the festival's celebration in the following way:

“Rejoice in the highest, Daughter of Zion! Rejoice, be glad and leap boisterously thou all-embracing Church. For behold, once again the King approaches ... once again perform the choral dances ... leap wildly, ye Heavens; sing Hymns, ye Angels; ye who dwell in Zion, dance ring dances.”

 

He wasn’t alone:

Ambrose (AD 340-397) Bishop of Milan, “The Lord bids us dance, not merely with the circling movements of the body, but with the pious faith in him.”

 

Gregory of Nyssa (AD 335-394) described Jesus as the one and only choreographer and leader of dancers on earth and in the church.”

Even the early leaders of the Protestant Reformation supported dance in worship, who would have thought that?

Martin Luther (1525) wrote a carol for children entitled From Heaven High in which two stanzas support the role of song and dance in worship.

William Tyndale in a prologue to the New Testament wrote of the roles of joyous song and dance, about the joyous good news of Christianity.

In full discloser there were men of the Reformation who opposed dance also but these men knew the importance of dance as a sacred act which needed to be kept within the churches worship to God. I believe that God has created dancing for His worship, and I believe that it has been taken by the enemy and abused. So, how about some practical realizations about dance in worship?

Practical Perspective – Praise God with the Dance

I want to give some basic and practical things to consider when using dance in worship.

First and foremost why would anyone want to take the acts of the secular and profane and offer it as an act of worship to God? Can you read in Scripture where the people of God used acts of worship from the Canaanites to offer to God? How about the Jebusites or Moabites or any “ites” for that matter? NO! The worship of God was clearly descriptive throughout Scripture. The worship of God is exclusive to Him and Him alone.

 To be more specific doing new fad dances that the world does like the nae-nae or the whip are comparable to the Israelites taking Canaan practices and using them as acts of worship.

 Secondly I would say dance neither should accompany every song nor be part of every worship service. Not all songs move us to dance. Forcing ourselves to dance to such songs just for the sake of dancing is neither appropriate nor right.

 Third worshiping with the dance should be done while the whole congregation sings and instrumentalists play. Dancers should be part of a celebration that also includes worship leaders, singers, and instrumentalists. Dance, like playing an instrument or singing, can be inspired by God. The goal must be to keep all forms of worship centered upon God and not the aspect of worship. Worshiping God with the dance should never be entertainment during the gathering of the Church.

Conclusion: All of this is about a God who desires that we worship of Him from an obedient, broken, and contrite heart. Out of all the reasons to dance, the greatest one is because God loves us dancing for Him out of a pure heart. Worship is a heart issue. Out of the heart flows expression. The Psalmist speaks about such worship in Ps 149:4 “For the LORD takes delight in His people”. Therefore, we are to praise Him with the dance because it pleases Him. We are unable to gain any kind of merit through our works, our salvation is solely by grace through faith, and yet there is one thing that we can offer to God: our praise. And because it is something so precious to Him, wouldn’t we want to do it with all our heart, soul, mind and strength because He is worthy to be praised?

 

May God be honored and glorified through the Worship with the Dance.

SDG

 

About Edward L. Smith

My ministry philosophy would consist of these essentials—a High View of God, the absolute authority of Scripture, Expository Preaching, Sound Doctrine, Personal Holiness, and a Biblical view of spiritual authority. All ministries must be God-Honoring, Christ-Centered, & Gospel Saturated. (1 Corinthians 10:31)

 

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