Mercy Street Church of Christ
Abilene, TX
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Praise Him with Dancing

Praise Him With Dancing
What is God's View of Dancing?
by Al Maxey

George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950) once characterized dancing as "the vertical expression of a horizontal desire." With regard to some forms of dancing, I doubt anyone would argue too vigorously against this frank assessment. On the other hand, there are arguably and demonstrably forms of dancing that are far nobler in nature; dances that do not even remotely resemble the uninhibited sexual gyrations to which we are all too frequently exposed at every turn in our increasingly decadent society. Therefore, determining the "rightness" or "wrongness" of dancing from the perspective of our God is not as "black or white" as some might have us believe. Not only must one define what one means by "dancing" (there are many, many forms), but one must also determine the purpose of said specific dance (i.e., the emotions and reactions it seeks to evoke in both participants and spectators). The intended response of a "lap dance," for example, is worlds apart from the emotions a ballerina seeks to draw forth from her audience as she performs Tchaikovsky's "Swan Lake."

Although some within the religious world (both Christian and non-Christian) would prefer to ban all dancing of any kind, the reality is that there is no justification whatsoever within God's inspired Scriptures for such a general ban. Indeed, "dancing was an essential part of Jewish life in Bible times" [Holman Bible Dictionary, p. 334], and is spoken of approvingly time and again in the Bible. Our Father clearly delights in witnessing His children dancing before Him, as the Word indicates over and over. Therefore, we should exercise great caution lest we condemn that which our God approves.

First, let me hasten to state what should be obvious to those who truly seek to live in accordance with God's divine will: if we knowingly engage in base behaviors that bring out earthy emotions in ourselves and others, then the likelihood is great that said actions are not spiritually affirming or divinely approved. In other words, if by your actions you cause another to think or behave in ways contrary to God's expressed will, then you need to carefully and prayerfully reevaluate your actions. Let's be brutally honest here, okay?! Much of what takes place out on the dance floor these days is designed to arouse one's dance partner sexually. That is simply an undeniable fact, although I realize many will protest this assessment vigorously. Not all dancing is this way, mind you, but much of it is. Step back sometime and objectively scrutinize such movements. You can't help but detect an obvious "horizontal desire" on the part of a great many of the participants (and more than a few of the observers). If we are truly seeking to reflect Jesus in our every action and attitude, we might want to rethink such behavior.

Although the text does not specifically state it to be such, most biblical scholars feel that the dance of the daughter of Herodias before Herod on his birthday [Matt. 14:6; Mark 6:22] was most likely very sexually provocative. It certainly got the attention of Herod, pleasing him so much that he swore an oath to her: "Ask me for anything you want, and I'll give it to you, up to half my kingdom." Now, that was some dance! Gregory of Nazianzus (c. 329-390), viewed by church historians as one of the "Eight Great Doctors" (theologians) of the ancient church, characterized the stunning dance of this woman as utterly "shameless" in nature. "Salome, a girl between twelve and fourteen years of age, danced before the king and his lords. The dance may have been very sensual" ... indeed, "the outrageous morals of the Herodians suggest it" [The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 8, p. 338]. "The dance was probably a lewd one" [ibid, p. 670]. R.C.H. Lenski wrote, "The exhibition was thoroughly pagan and had been learned while the girl and her mother lived at Rome with Philip" [Interpretation of St. Matthew's Gospel, p. 558]. Though none of us were present at that event, we can safely speculate that this young girl's "sensuous display before the immoral king" [The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, vol. 2, p. 12] was not designed to bring glory unto God, but rather to elicit an ungodly response from a man. Never underestimate the power of persuasion that is contained in dancing. Given the right circumstances, it can forever change the course of kings and kingdoms, to say nothing of the lives of common men!

The primary principle of God's Word behind this caution is perhaps best stated by the apostle Paul in 1 Thess. 5:22 -- "Abstain from all appearance of evil" (KJV). Within this same epistle Paul makes it clear that our lives are on display, thus we should walk in such a way as to command the respect of those around us [4:12]. It seems to me this might be rather difficult to pull off while gyrating sensually on a dance floor. Just something for us to think about. Paul urges Christians to focus their thoughts upon those things which are pure and noble and right [Philp. 4:8]. One has to seriously wonder if this is really where an individual's mind might be as they watch their partner undulate to a pulsating, rhythmic beat before their eyes. Again, just something for us to think about! You must each judge the intent of your own heart. Just be aware that another (God) is doing the same.

With these strong cautions firmly in place (and they were meant to be strong), we note that the Bible does have some rather positive things to say about the people of God expressing their devotion to Him via dancing (although certainly NOT in the type of dancing discussed thus far). Lest you think this parenthetical statement somewhat strange, I actually had an "exotic dancer" (i.e., a stripper) at one of the clubs in Santa Fe, New Mexico call my office one day to discuss her "dilemma." She wanted to know if it would be okay for her to continue her career as long as she "danced for the Lord." She felt she could "glorify God" through the exhibition of His "handiwork" (her body). Now, how's that for "rationalization"?! You can probably guess my response to her!! Anyway, let it be said that although the Bible does speak favorably of dance, it is NOT of the sensual varieties just discussed. "Dancing in the Bible, except in the case of Herodias' daughter, seems to have little relationship to the sensual" [The Wycliffe Bible Encyclopedia, vol. 1, p. 420]. "Men and women didn't generally dance together, and there's no real evidence that they ever did. Social amusement was hardly a major purpose of dancing, and the modern method of dancing by couples is unknown" [The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, vol. 2, p. 12]. "The dance of the Jewish people was similar to what we today call the folk dance. It was performed by both males and females, although apparently not in mixed groups" [Holman Bible Dictionary, p. 334]. "The Oriental dance was performed either by an individual man or woman, or by crescent lines of men dancing together and holding each other's hands, or of the women by themselves performing similar movements" [Dr. James Hastings, Dictionary of Christ and the Gospels, vol. 1, p. 407].

Dancing among the ancient Jews, who lived, worked and worshipped under the old covenant, was neither complex nor regulated. It was primarily an expression of the heart, not a mandate of law. It embraced old and young, male and female, and none were excluded due to class distinctions. It was indicative of "a simple life in which the feeling of the moment found hearty and uncritical expression. Further, it implied a very close connection between mental and physical states" [ibid]. Quite simply stated, it was the emotions of the inner man bursting forth in visible celebration and praise --- a demonstrative joy usually brought forth by some very special occasion (whether secular or sacred, although for the Jews the two were largely inseparable) that made it impossible for one to remain still or silent. Such a moment had to be felt to be appreciated to the fullest. As a parent, if you have ever watched your young child suddenly begin dancing and leaping and clapping and shouting over something that filled his or her heart with joy, you have some perception of the inherent, God-given need of mankind to express similar deep-seated emotions in some visible manner. Dance is one such expression, and by definition of the several Hebrew words employed, this signified a "leaping, lifting up of feet; a whirling, skipping about," oftentimes to the sound of music or some rhythmic beat (drum, tambourine, etc.).

Although some pagan nations danced during times of great mourning, so as to attract the attention of the gods, the Jews did not dance during such times. "The mood behind the dance was one of celebration and praise" [Holman Bible Dictionary, p. 334]. For example, when Jephthah (the 9th judge of Israel) returned home from battle, "his daughter came out to meet him with tambourines and with dancing" [Judges 11:34]. This was a joyous occasion, although that joy would all too soon turn into great sorrow [see my analysis of this tragic account in Reflections #224 --- Jephthah's Reckless Vow]. Yet another occasion of tremendous joy was when God delivered the people of Israel from their Egyptian captivity. After crossing the sea on dry land, and then witnessing the water close in over the army of Pharaoh, Miriam, the sister of Moses and Aaron, "took a timbrel in her hand, and all the women went out after her with timbrels and with dancing" [Exodus 15:20]. When the prophet Jeremiah prophesied that a day would come when Israel's fortunes would be restored by God, he stated, "you shall again take up your tambourines and go forth to the dances of the merrymakers" [Jer. 31:4]. A few verses later we read, "Then the virgin shall rejoice in the dance, and the young men and the old, together, for I will turn their mourning into joy" [vs. 13]. Dancing was additionally a vital part of Jewish weddings during biblical times, and I have no doubt that Jesus and His disciples danced at the wedding in Cana of Galilee [John 2:1-11], as was the custom of the day.

After he had killed Goliath, the Philistine giant, David and the army of Saul returned home, and "the women came out of all the cities of Israel, singing and dancing, to meet King Saul, with tambourines, with joy and with musical instruments" [1 Sam. 18:6]. And who can forget David "dancing before the Lord with all his might" as the ark of God was brought back to its rightful place [2 Sam. 6:14f]? And who can forget that his wife, Michal (Saul's daughter), despised him within her heart because she saw him "leaping and making merry" [2 Sam. 6:16; 1 Chron. 15:29]? By the way, who was punished on this occasion: the dancer or the denouncer?! I really liked David's firm rebuke of his wife: "I will celebrate before the Lord!!" [2 Sam. 6:21]. There are men today who would also try to throw a wet blanket upon our celebration before the Lord, just as Michal sought to do with David. God made this woman barren to the day of her death [2 Sam. 6:23], which may also explain the barrenness of the legalists today!!

Speaking of people who want nothing to do with such spiritual merrymaking, consider the elder brother in the Parable of the Prodigal Son. He stood outside the father's house in a huff, while inside there was "music and dancing" [Luke 15:25]. You mean there was "music and dancing" IN THE FATHER'S HOUSE?! That's right -- as there ever should be! We rejoice in His presence! We celebrate! Didn't Jesus speak of great rejoicing in heaven over a single sinner who repents [Luke 15:7, 10]? Of course, the "elder brothers" will have nothing to do with it, and they can all, to this day, still be found standing outside in the dark. Some people just don't get it!! In our Father's house there is celebration ... praise ... visible and audible expressions of great joy. During times of worship, the people of Israel would sing and dance to the accompaniment of musical instruments ... AND GOD LOVED IT. Odd, is it not, that our Father apparently HATES IT so much today that He would actually send one to hell for daring to do what HE LOVED previously, and even speaks of providing again IN HEAVEN? So much for being the same yesterday, today and forever!!

Brethren, I once had the privilege of worshipping with a "black church" while I was at the university. It was an experience I will never forget, for I truly felt I had just experienced a "taste of heaven." There was tremendous joy and celebration during their time of worship. When they sang ... they actually MOVED! There was no sitting still and staring at the back of the head in front of you. They were in the aisles, they were clapping, they were shouting ... they were worshipping!! God was honored that day (of that I have no doubt), and I was edified. Oh, that more of our assembly times could be so ALIVE in the Spirit of God. Yes, there is a time to mourn, but there is also a time to dance [Eccl. 3:4]. As we come before our God in worshipful celebration, this is NOT the time for mourning! Let us celebrate!

Praise the Lord! Sing to the Lord a new song,
and His praise in the congregation of the godly ones.
Let Israel be glad in his Maker; Let the sons of Zion
rejoice in their King. Let them praise His name with
dancing; Let them sing praises to Him with timbrel
and lyre. For the Lord takes pleasure in His people.
Psalm 149:1-4

Praise the Lord! Praise God in His sanctuary.
Praise Him with trumpet sound; Praise Him with
harp and lyre. Praise Him with timbrel and
dancing; Praise Him with stringed instruments
and pipe. Praise Him with loud cymbals.
Let everything that has breath praise the
Lord. Praise the Lord!
Psalm 150:1, 3-6
Final Thought

Well, to this point we have dealt with the two least controversial aspects of dancing, and the opinions expressed will most likely be well-received by most disciples of Christ Jesus. Lewd, seductive dance is not a good thing; allowing our bodies to become involved in expressions of praise to our God and of joy for His blessings in life is a good thing. Even our more ultra-conservative and/or legalistic brethren would have difficulty objecting with these principles, although their comfort zones might be challenged if disciples within their assemblies should become too expressive of their heartfelt devotion!! But, comfort zones were meant to be challenged. Failing to do so can quickly transform them into crypts. We will probably additionally find little disagreement among most disciples regarding dances that are largely cultural and regional in nature. Square dancing is popular in some regions of our nation. So also is polka and clogging. Many of the native Americans have dances that date back thousands of years -- dances that reflect who they are and their journey through life. The same is true with the African tribes, the people of the South Pacific, the Asians. Every nation, primitive or modern, has various folk dances that depict their culture and history. In Vienna one might dance the waltz; in Hawaii the hula; in Mexico there's a hat dance; in Spain the flamenco; and on and on. Although a few might denounce even these forms of dance, I personally find nothing whatsoever wrong with them, and find no principle in Scripture that would condemn them.

I guess the real point of concern among most Christians, whenever the topic of "dancing" is raised, is -- should a Christian go out dancing at the clubs, or attend the high school prom, or dance at a wedding? Is such couple dancing (males and females dancing together) sinful? Frankly, this is an area where, in my view, we must allow the individual disciple to make their own judgment call, as they know best their own heart. Each disciple must examine the event they are contemplating, and their motivation for participating, in light of God's guiding principles. And each disciple should be brutally blunt with themselves in their evaluation. Most of us know our hearts very well, and we know if our motivation for any given activity is God-honoring or self-gratifying. Not all gratification of one's desires is wrong, by the way! Various desires of our human nature can be fulfilled in a God-honoring way! But, as we are all very much aware, there are many, many other ways provided by this world to fulfill our desires that are not really conducive to the pursuit of personal purity. These we should avoid at all cost ... for if we do not, they will prove personally costly one day.

I will not presume to make this judgment call for my fellow disciples. I will simply caution them to use sound judgment in the determination of their own course of action; judgment based upon a careful and prayerful consideration of God's guiding principles for our lives. "For we will all stand before God's judgment seat ... and each of us will give an account of himself to God" [Rom. 14:10, 12]. I may advise you, but it is not my place to choose for you. My wife and I do not go to clubs, nor do we engage in public dancing. That is our choice, but we do not judge or condemn those who choose differently. I see nothing wrong with a husband dancing with his wife at their wedding, for example, or with a father dancing with the daughter he has just given away (depending on the nature of the dance, of course). We have never done this, but have no problem with others doing so, and have attended weddings where there was dancing. In short, we must judge each circumstance on its own merit (or lack thereof), while honestly judging our own hearts to determine our true motivation for participation at such an event. Let us never forget that, as Christians, our lives are on display ... we are lights upon a hill ... and people are watching. May our every action bring only glory to our God, and may we always shun those actions that do not. Life lived by this principle will be a rewarding one!


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