The arts arise out of humanity’s need to express itself outwardly. For simplicity hereafter attention is focused primarily on music and dance. However, the principles set forth apply to all related media and performing arts and fine arts.
Herein, fine art includes literature, paintings, drawings, music, dance, poetry, acting, drama, plays, and similar works. Hence, fine art includes performing where performing arts refer to such activities as music, dance, drama, plays and similar acts of doing; performing art is sometimes called performance art.
To perform is merely to do or accomplish something. This paper shall show that the key to understanding and accepting modern day praise dance is to assume that the dancers are indeed performing to celebrate or otherwise express their adoration, gratitude, praise and worship for and to God. This is similar to performing plays/skits in church. Of course, all such praise and worship performances are to be free of sexual seduction and violence. Moreover, church leadership is to ensure people, especially young people, do not become so consumed by the dance moves that they give the dance creation and/or performance priority over salvation and sound doctrine.
The creator or performer of art may have a variety of purposes and intent and motives. It may be to honor or otherwise represent God such as a picture of Jesus or a worship song or worship dance. It may be for recreational or entertainment purposes. It may also be created or performed to honor, encourage or inspire, or teach. It may be created or performed for evil as well as godly purposes. When fine art, including performing art, is rooted in sound biblical doctrine and truth, it is herein considered godly art.
Godly music and dance serve various purposes. These purposes include praise, worship, entertainment, and romancing one for whom you care deeply. These purposes also include singing, speaking, and teaching about the Lord’s character, salvation, judgment, and other matters as well as human sin (Psalms 96:2, 10; Colossians 3:16; Ephesians 5:18-19).
Yet, it is recognized that there is both godly and ungodly music and dance. Godly music and dance is that music and dance where words, instrumentality, and performance conform to the image of Christ. Godly music and dance seeks to glorify and promote that which is godly. Ungodly music and dance is defined as that which seeks to glorify and promote that which is evil; it conforms to the image of the devil.
God gives us much flexibility in godly music and dance. We may choose a specific form according to our preferences. We are not to criticize others who may prefer different forms from our particular preference. Just because personal preferences differ does not make either ungodly! The key is to hold to and promote that which characterizes godliness. All body movements expressing love for, gratitude, and worship of God are proper provided they are not characterized by sexual suggestion or violence and provided they do not mirror “nightclub” dances. The reason mimicking of “nightclub” dances should be excluded is that there should be a clear distinction between the church and the world regarding such activities.
We should seek to avoid and discourage ungodly music and dance. Yet we should recognize that avoiding ungodly music is difficult to do sometimes. This is because turning your radio on or riding down the road with your car window down could cause you to encounter ungodly music. Also, even some music advertised as Gospel Music may contain some impurity. Yet, we should do our best without being paranoid to avoid ungodly music. Participating in an clearly ungodly dance should be easy to avoid, however.
Music and Dance in the Bible
A variety of instruments are mentioned in the Bible. Psalms149- 150 lists some of them including trumpet, psaltery, harp, timbrel, cymbal, organ, and string instruments, in conjunction with dancing.
There were musicians used as part of worship. Indeed, Psalm 22 is written to the Chief Musician. The scripture says “And Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took a timbrel in her hand; and all the women went out after her with timbrels and with dances” (Exodus 15:20). Here the prophetess Miriam and other women danced in celebration of victory and played timbrels; this was group dancing. The Bible does not mention the type of body movements they performed. Perhaps some of the women, e.g., the younger ones, were more creative than the others in their body movements. Also the scripture says “Is not this David, of whom they sang one to another in dances saying, Saul slew his thousands, and David his ten thousands?” (1 Samuel 29:5). Could not two people facing each other singing and/or dancing as part of a praise team qualify as “they sang to one another in dances”?
Both music and dance including musical instruments are mentioned a whole lot of times in the Bible. They are mentioned both in conjunction with praising God (Exodus 15:20-21; I Chronicles 13:8). They are mentioned in human social events (Judges 11:34; I Samuel 30:16 Luke 15:25). Judges (Judges 21:21-23) and Song of Solomon mention them in conjunction with romance.
In 2 Samuel 6:16 David is mentioned as leaping and dancing before the Lord. Luke 6:23 mentions leaping for joy. Acts 3:8 mentions the healed man going into the temple walking, leaping, and praising God. In the Psalm 29:6 the word translated skip is the same word translated dance elsewhere in the King James Version so we see a variety of movements have biblical support.
Certainly, if one can leap and dance without musical instrument one can do so with instruments. Indeed, some form of bodily movement is natural and God-made in the presence of musical instruments. One need only be careful about movements and making sure the movements are not seductive or for wicked or idolatrous purposes as was the case concerning the golden calf (Exodus 32:19). Otherwise, the human imagination is limitless as God intended. This means different generations may create different movements that are righteous to do depending on the event.
Indeed, not all movements are appropriate for every occasion. For example, a romantic dance is appropriate for a social event whose focus is not worship. However, a romantic dance is not appropriate for a worship service. Moreover, a dance appropriate for human entertainment is probably not appropriate for a worship service. This means a dance appropriate for a wedding reception or a birthday party or the nightclub is generally not appropriate for a worship service. All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not (1 Cor. 10:23, 14:20). Worship should focus on God including communicating the things of God. Dances appropriate for a wedding or birthday party focus on humans. Judge for yourself would it be appropriate to break out in a “Holy Ghost Dance” at a birthday party? Even the secular world recognizes that not all forms of art are appropriate for all occasions. Would the secular world do a mime routine on the dance floor in a night club? No certainly not in the usual case!
David Danced Before the Lord
Some refer to David dancing in 2 Samuel 6:16 as justification for dancing in worship. Indeed, David act of dancing gives credibility to dancing in a worship setting. Some even say that David danced naked before the Lord in this case. But this is not so. Let us look at some scriptures concerning this event in David’s life.
2 Samuel 6:14-20 says:
14 And David danced before the LORD with all his might; and David was girded with a linen ephod. 15So David and all the house of Israel brought up the ark of the LORD with shouting, and with the sound of the trumpet. 16And as the ark of the LORD came into the city of David, Michal Saul’s daughter looked through a window, and saw king David leaping and dancing before the LORD; and she despised him in her heart. 17 And they brought in the ark of the LORD, and set it in his place, in the midst of the tabernacle that David had pitched for it: and David offered burnt offerings and peace offerings before the LORD. 18 And as soon as David had made an end of offering burnt offerings and peace offerings, he blessed the people in the name of the LORD of hosts. 19And he dealt among all the people, even among the whole multitude of Israel, as well to the women as men, to every one a cake of bread, and a good piece of flesh, and a flagon of wine. So all the people departed every one to his house. 20Then David returned to bless his household. And Michal the daughter of Saul came out to meet David, and said, How glorious was the king of Israel to day, who uncovered himself to day in the eyes of the handmaids of his servants, as one of the vain fellows shamelessly uncovereth himself!
1 Chronicles 15:25-29 says:
25So David, and the elders of Israel, and the captains over thousands, went to bring up the ark of the covenant of the LORD out of the house of Obededom with joy. 26 And it came to pass, when God helped the Levites that bare the ark of the covenant of the LORD, that they offered seven bullocks and seven rams. 27And David was clothed with a robe of fine linen, and all the Levites that bare the ark, and the singers, and Chenaniah the master of the song with the singers: David also had upon him an ephod of linen. 28Thus all Israel brought up the ark of the covenant of the LORD with shouting, and with sound of the cornet, and with trumpets, and with cymbals, making a noise with psalteries and harps. 29And it came to pass, as the ark of the covenant of the LORD came to the city of David, that Michal the daughter of Saul looking out at a window saw king David dancing and playing: and she despised him in her heart.
So we see from these scriptures that David was not naked. That is, the word uncovered in 2 Samuel 6:29 does not mean naked; this is supported by 1 Chronicles 15:27 in reference to the robe. Indeed, Michal complaint was not that David danced naked. Her complaint was that he was out of uniform fit for a King. David had on attire similar to what the common man had would wear rather than that which a King would normally wear. David’s clothing was showing humility before the Lord in unity with the other people. Other scriptures that provide insight into this event of David dancing are
Nevertheless, even if David had danced to the point of nakedness, one should ask would it proper for David to dance out of his clothes? Would it be proper for someone to dance in a church house to the point of dancing out of their clothes? What if a female danced and her breast came out and hung down out in the open? What if a male danced and his pants split in the front and his private part popped out? I would venture to say that everyone would be shocked and concerned?
Music generally consists of three parts: melody (words +tune), harmony (generally chords made of combination of words and tunes) and rhythm (beat or time). One may think of the words as appealing to the spirit, the harmony as appealing to the mind, and the rhythm as appealing to the body; of course, these are not mutually exclusive as each may appeal to multiple aspects of us. Yet, all can have either a positive or negative impact. For example unholy messages can impact the spirit negatively whereas holy messages can have a positive impact. Likewise, rhythm geared to promote ungodliness can have a negative impact but rhythm geared to promote holiness can have a positive impact. The words or message should be emphasized over the other components and attention drawn to the message. Thus the words or message should be emphasized over melody. A harmonious melody should be emphasized over rhythm.
Some question the use of “Rap” music in the assembly of believers. Some do so because it seems to have been started in a non-church environment. Well to that I say do we avoid basketball or football or the movies which is not universally understood to have started in a church environment? The key is the words and attitude of the musical settings. If a person is rapping about Jesus Christ or loving his mate in a righteous way and otherwise promoting that which is righteous and true, then the particular rap song or settings is okay. On the other hand if the particular rap song or rapper or setting promotes unrighteousness then that song and rapper or setting should not be promoted or encouraged.
So then the particular genre or rhythm or beat is not the issue. However, if the motive is to support or provoke one unto ungodly behavior then it is ungodly music and dance. If the words of the song glorify or promote or encourage evil then it is ungodly music. Indeed, romantic music can be godly or ungodly. For the Song of Solomon in the Bible is a song about godly romance. The atmosphere or environment or situation or purpose of the gathering is a prime consideration for determining the appropriateness of the music (Ecclesiastes 3). If the dance movements seek to encourage sexual arousal, publically or even privately between persons not married in the eyes of God, then it is ungodly. If the dance movements excessively display sexual movements that should be reserved for the bedroom between a husband and wife then the dance is ungodly when the clear intention is to mimic sexual activity. If the dance movements bring excessive attention to one’s sexuality then the dance should be avoided; this is especially true when the person reveals sexually attractive parts of his/her body due to lack of clothing or revealing clothing. Such movements combined with revealed body parts can be extremely sexually arousing. Such a combination spiritually borders on or amounts to pornography even if not legally pornography. Yes, in the final analysis God holds each person responsible for not giving in to temptation. But we are still our brothers and sisters keeper. James 1:13-15 says 13 Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man: 14 But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. 15 Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death. Here James speaks of personal responsibility in not giving in to temptation. But James also speaks to the fact that we can entice others to give in to temptation and that we should reasonably avoid doing things that entice others. Yet, we have no obligation to allow others to paralyze us from living a full and enjoyable life in the Lord.
Praise Music and Dance
The purpose of praise music and dance is to honor and recognize God and express one’s holy joy and gladness and appreciation as well as encourage others in the Lord. When singing and/or speaking accompanies the music and/or dance, this purpose may include speaking to and teaching others about spiritual matters in the sense of Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16.
When singing and/or speaking accompanies the music and/or dance, the musical instruments and/or dance should not overshadow the speaking or singing. In particular, the musical instruments should not be louder than the voice and the dance movements should not overwhelmingly draw attention away from the voice. Most praise music and dance should involve speaking or singing; otherwise one risks reducing one’s music and/or dance activities to mere entertainment or recreation.
Praise music and dance is not for recreation or entertainment; there are other godly music and dance for that purpose. Praise music and dance is to be done before the Lord as David did in II Samuel 6 and for purpose of celebrating the Lord. But not every music and dance is appropriate for that purpose if we are going to promote a distinction between us and the world. “Nightclub” dances/songs/dress are improper in the sacred sanctuary; some may be proper at other righteous non-worship oriented Rest and Relaxation ministry places/events.
Singing and dancing for Jesus that focuses on honoring and recognizes him as Lord and Saviour qualifies as music and dance before the Lord, whether in the church building or elsewhere. In other words, in praise music and dance the Lord is the focus. This characteristic distinguishes praise music and dance from recreational or entertainment music and dance because in recreational and entertainment music and dance, either the individual, a partner, or other individuals are usually the focus.
Praise music and dance are by definition included in the broad category of performing arts. So indeed, professional Christian singers perform. Praise dancers perform as well. Yet, we should be careful not to reduce praise music and dance to the level of secular music and dance. This would be akin to reducing biblical preaching to what we generally call motivational or inspirational speaking. Certainly, there is a place for motivational speakers in our world. But biblical preaching represents a distinct and higher ideal than motivational speaking. Likewise, praise music and dance represents a higher ideal than the secular performing arts based music and dance. We should be careful to maintain a strong distinction between matters of God and matters of the world in general. We should be careful to avoid terminology that may be detrimental to holding the church as a higher ideal than secular society.
Instruction in praise music and dance is appropriate, whether formal or informal. Indeed, just like instruction in preaching and spiritual singing is appropriate, instruction in praise dancing is appropriate.
Praise dancing may occur spontaneously or be planned. In either case, it results from a response to the beckoning of the Holy Spirit, operating within the believer and/or coming upon the believer. This may occur individually or as a group.
Churches have traditionally performed plays/skits and dramas as part of worship services. Individual or group praise dancing is of the same type of worship element as plays/skits/ dramas, whether preplanned or spontaneous. Both plays and dancing may involve elements of acting. These may involve a variety of body movements including but not limited to jumping, spinning, leaping, “face-offs” between two participant, etc. Once again the case of Miriam (Exodus 15:20) and the young women and those who sang and danced to each other (1 Samuel 29:5) provide powerful examples of biblical dancing. In such a case no sexual or violent intent is to be present. The key is that the participant is a believer and understands and appreciates the spiritual truths presented; in the case of young children, it is sufficient to be involved in a course of biblical study even if their understanding and acceptance of Jesus Christ is not yet sure. The absence of such an understanding and/or course of study and of seeking God would reduce the participant’s involvement to mere recreation and entertainment.
Praise dancing may involve elements of interpretive dance, including miming. II Samuel 6:12-16 speaks of David dancing before the Lord, including leaping; leaping and jumping are elements of interpretive dance, including miming. This scripture does not say that David sang although he and/or others might most likely did sang or said something while dancing giving the presence of musical instruments (2 Samuel 6:5, 15).
In interpretive dance, the participant is usually somewhat if not thoroughly familiar with and focused on the words and concepts being interpreted. Interpretive dance without accompanying word is akin to just playing a musical instrument without accompanying singing or speaking. Except perhaps for relatively quiet meditation, in a worship environment, such playing without accompanying singing or speaking would be appropriate in short bursts. However, such playing has minimal corporate value as a major or central element of an assembly.
The absence of words in a lengthy presentation reduces the presentation to mere recreation and entertainment; it serves no edifying purpose. Word may be from the participants or a recording but presentations should not be reduced to lengthy mainly preplanned physical activity. For example, there is little value in a congregation clapping their hands or dancing for lenghty periods without accompanied singing or speaking of some sort. Let common sense prevail being mindful of the need to distinguish the church assembly from the Saturday night concert of a blues singer or the Saturday night club scene.
Furthermore, the use of painting oneself and elaborate costumes for praise has very little, if any, spiritual value and potentially represents a detrimental merger of secular activities with worship. This is not to say that these are totally inappropriate; it is to caution against excess. We should always be mindful of the biblical principle that a little leaven leavens the whole lump. This means that which seems harmless for the moment may begin a slippery slope that causes unsound doctrine to grow and grow within oneself and/or the body of Christ. Let those who engage in interpretive dance consider these words of caution.
Finally, Christians should ensure that activities in worship services do not mimic or mirror what we can envision as occurring in the temple of idol gods or on the dance floors of secular clubs. The devil would love for such mimicking and mirroring to occur. In particular, most modern day praise teams are filled with young girls; therefore, we should be careful about a worship element that has no corresponding participation by young boys as such a condition suggest praise dance is mostly for females. We should be careful that such a practice does not increases the satanic feminization of the church in general and worship in particular. Yet, we should not be afraid to worship with godly liberty and godly creativity. Moreover, we should keep in mind the all women “praise team” led by Miriam (Exodus 15:20-21). So then an all girl/women praise team is biblical; but, we should also provide pronounced opportunity and visible methods for the young boys to praise God.
Musical Instruments in the Church
Use of musical instruments in a Christian worship service is optional according to the preference of those that form a particular congregation. Any denomination or church that prefers not to use musical instruments has a right to such a preference. Those who prefer to use a musical instrument likewise have a right to use such instruments as well.
The Bible does not command Christian to use nor does it command Christians to not use musical instruments. Thus, it would be unrighteous to say that a church that employs musical instruments is being disobedient to God’s Word. Likewise, it would be unrighteous to say that a church that does not employ musical instruments is being disobedient to God’s Word.
Musical instruments are merely aids to the musical or singing aspects of a worship service. Musical instruments are aids similar to microphones. Microphones enhance voice projections; musical instruments enhance the songs. Both microphones and musical instruments are mechanical or electromechanical devices. So then those who forbid musical instruments are hypocrites if they employ microphones and forbid musical instruments on the basis the musical instruments are mechanical or electromechanical devices not used in the Old Testament tabernacle or not explicitly mentioned as being used in the New Testament churches. Indeed, modern day microphones were not used in the Old Testament tabernacle or New Testament assemblies either. Moreover, there are a number of items used in modern day churches, including those who forbid musical instruments, that were not used in the Old Testament tabernacle.
II Samuel 6:5 says “David and all the house of Israel played before the Lord on all manner of instruments made of fir wood, even on harps, an on psalteries, and on timbrels, and on cornets, and on cymbals”. Clearly this and other scripture provide biblical evidence of using musical instruments in worship. If it was righteous to do in the Old Testament, it is righteous to do in the New Testament as a matter of preference. The Psalms contain a number of references to the use of musical instruments in praising and worshiping God. Examples are Psalms 149:3 and 150:3-5. I suspect that those who oppose the use of musical instruments in the church employ the use of some of the Psalms in their assembly as they may righteously do. So then it is also righteous for others to look at those Psalms that declare the use of musical instruments and to righteously employ musical instruments in their church assembly. There are those who say that the New Testament does not mention the use of musical instruments. To this I would say that even if that is true, it is also true that the New Testament does not mention the exclusion of musical instruments in the church. Moreover, in Luke 15:25 Jesus makes reference to musical instruments and dancing and in I Corinthians 14 Paul makes reference to musical instruments (I Cor. 14:7-8). It is true that neither Jesus nor Paul was addressing whether the use of musical instruments was proper in the assembly of believers. Yet, it is clear that their usage was known in at least society in general. It is also true that one could reasonable conclude that Paul spoke of their usage in the assembly of believers either as musical accompaniments and/or preparation for battle. Once again their usage is clearly optional in the New Testament context.
A Final Word
Certainly, one can produce and enjoy both music and dance and still display godly behavior. Indeed Judges 21 speaks of dancing (which most likely included music) being involved in godly matchmaking. There is nothing wrong with properly constituted Christian romantic and entertainment music and songs. (Psalms 30:11; Ecclesiastes 3:4; Luke 15:25; Judges 21:1-24; 2 Samuel 6:14; Psalms 150:4; Jeremiah 31:13; Song of Solomon)
Now let us consider the biblical notion of separation or clear distinction between the church and the world! This is important when we consider entertainment companies and artists that we support and promote either through word or purchasing their products and services. It is clear that there are some companies and artist who have no concern with godliness. The character of their products and services and events testify of this unconcern. Christians should avoid speaking positively of such artist and companies. Christians should avoid purchasing or promoting their products. Therefore, Christians artists should as much as possible publically associate themselves and/or their beliefs and values with companies and events who focus on integrating songs and music that promote a holy relationship between God and humans and between humans including human to human romance and entertainment. Sometimes separation is a most difficult thing to do since we are in the world although not of the world. For example, should a person accept employment in the ordering department of a store which orders and sells what some consider ungodly music? How about if Walmart sells music which some consider ungodly? It would not be wrong for a Christian to work in such a store or even to order that which the store sells since it is the buyer who consumes the product and is responsible for choosing it or not choosing it. Yet, the potential employee must decide based on his or her conscience. Some might say well the person should not work in such a store. But if you buy a carton of milk in such a store are you not contributing to the financial prosperity of such a store? I use this example to point out the difficulty we sometime have in separating ourselves from evil. Indeed we are in the world but we do not have to choose to consume, perform, or promote evil.
There are those who say we should not dance unless it is a praise dance or a “Holy Ghost” dance. Yet, they permit their children to participate in school (e.g., Junior High) dances. Not only that but in these modern times they permit their children to perform the same dances in the church house and call it praise dancing. Somehow that seems dishonest to me. How can we permit and teach our children to do one thing when they are kids and then expect them to not do it when they grow up? The bible says we should teach them what they should do so that they will know what to do when they grow up (Proverbs 22:6). Once again, there is nothing wrong with righteous romantic or other entertainment dancing; let’s teach them how to dance righteously.
The Christian community should be able to generate its own financial system that provides ample financial rewards to those who labor righteously in the music industry. The world is out of balance. The airways should be filled with church-oriented radio, television, and other mass media rather than having a sprinkling of “Gospel Music on Sundays, Mid-day or other times. Let Jesus take the front seat and the devil take the back seat in the music world. Yet, let’s remember the Song of Solomon in such an initiative.
To God Be the Glory