There are several books I consult when I am studying Christian worship (besides the Bible, of course). These books have been trusted friends and advisors to me over the years. But when I turned to them to research “praise dancing” or “liturgical dance,” they were silent. I searched the table of contents, skimmed the pages, and scanned the indexes. Nothing.
So I Googled the subject. And I found a lot of websites that offer praise-dance training. I also found many links that sell liturgical dancewear. But the few articles my searched produced were not very beneficial. Some dismissed the practice as unbiblical, too worldly, or another harmful side effect of embracing Pentecostal or Charismatic practices. I didn’t find this helpful, even though I sympathized with their criticisms after reading some articles about dancing into the anointing, prophetic dance, and warring against Satan through praise dance.
And, for the record, you have already lost the debate if you mishandle scripture to make your point. Sorry, but Miriam dance after the crossing the Red Sea (Exod. 15) or David’s dance before the Ark of the Covenant (2 Sam. 6) cannot be the primary guidelines for what we do on Sunday mornings. And when 1 Corinthians 6:20 commands, “So glorify God with your body,” it is talking about walking in holiness, not dancing in worship.
Ultimately, I really couldn’t find much of a biblical case for praise dancing. However, I do not think we should accept an argument from silence on this issue. In the name of being biblical, some churches only sing the Old Testament psalms. Others refuse to allow musical instruments. Ironically, Psalm 150:3-5 says, “Praise him with trumpet sound; praise him with lute and harp! Praise him with tambourine and dance; praise him with strings and pipe! Praise him with sounding cymbals; praise him with loud clashing cymbals!” (ESV)
The fact that the New Testament is silent about many details of worship allows for spiritual freedom and calls for discernment. It does not speak against artistry and creativity. The beauty of the arts should not be reserved for the enjoyment and entertainment of the world, without having in place in the worship of the God who gives us creativity.
So I will not outright condemn praise dancing in this article. I actually think there is a time and place for it (Eccl. 3:1, 4), along with other physical expressions of worship. But it is a very limited place in corporate worship. It should only be allowed at specific, special times. And there should be careful, pastoral oversight over how it is done. Here are several concerns that should be taken into consideration when thinking through the place of praise dancing in worship.
Music selection. I appreciate the talent and passion of many contemporary Gospel and Christian artists. But some of their music should not be sung in worship, much less danced to. I have recently been in services where a dance was performed to a song about setting the atmosphere for a “financial breakthrough” and “instantaneous breakthrough” That’s nothing but shallow hype that arouses the emotions, but it is not the kind of edifying music prescribed in Colossians 3:16. Bottom line, the call to rightly divide the word of truth (2 Tim. 2:15) should apply to our music selection just as much as it does to our preaching and teaching.
Modest apparel. I fear that many of us do not take seriously what the New Testament says about modesty. So it does not surprise me that praise dancers are allowed to perform in immodest attire. However, I concede that this is one of the easiest shots critics take at praise dancing. And many dance groups are trying to silent it by encouraging care in the selection of dance apparel.
Reverent Dance-steps. This concern is probably closely associated with the matter of modest apparel. Bu it needs to be said that we should not allow praise dancers to be perform “worldly” dance steps in the name of worship. Are there any dances steps that are seen on MTV or BET that should be done in a Christian worship service? We should not allow a group to get up and start “boogying” or “getting crunk” and call it praise dancing.
Dumbed-down worship. One day, a woman walked into a greeting card store and asked the clerk, “Do you sell Christian greeting cards?” The clerk replied, “No. But we are praying for their conversion everyday.” Funny. But it is sad that we really are praying for the conversion of too many worldly things. God is not glorified when we take what the world does, put “Christian” or “Gospel” in front of, it, and bring it to church. And this is not the best way to do evangelism and outreach. It surrenders too much territory before the battle ever begins. The most faithful and fruitful way to reach our culture is to let the world be the world and to let the church be the church.
The ministry of the word. Everything that happens in corporate worship should be an extension of the ministry of the word. Our meetings should consisting of us singing the word, reading the word, praying the word, preaching and teaching the word, and responding to the word. So what should we make of churches that don’t take time to read the scriptures in worship do take the time for special dance numbers? With all do respect, people can go anywhere and see a good dance performance. But there are too few places where they can find sound and relevant exposition of the scriptures. There is a famine in the land for the word of God! By all means, let us not make praise dance the standard for excellent worship. Let the priority of worship be that a prepared and prayed-up man stands up and preaches the word (2 Tim 4:1-5).
My conclusions. I do not think it is wise to have praise dancing as a regular element of corporate worship services. These assemblies should concentrate on the essential elements of worship – most importantly, the ministry of the word. I believe that physical expression in worship is appropriate. I do not think that it is wrong to let the children and young people express themselves through song and dance. And I feel it is appropriate to have special, artistic presentations in worship occasionally. But I submit to you that the church needs to get back to the basics – for the glory of God, for the sake of the truth, for the building up of the church, and for the salvation of the lost. Let us not neglect the standard equipment for the sake of having room for the special features. And may sound doctrine dance joyfully in our corporate worship services!