Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Does Applause Worship God?

“…if worship is a gift, then it is absolutely not what I am looking to get out of it, but what I am looking to give.”

Brewin, Signs of Emergence, p. 149.

My home church, Lakewood UMC (Ohio) has a magnificent organ and sanctuary. In my youth, appreciative postlude fans would gather just to hear the artistry of John Christian as he lit up the organ each Sunday. Dr. Joseph Albright, the Senior Pastor in those days, would cajole us during the worship service to, yes, enjoy the postludes, but please no applause because this was John's private worship.
Applause interfered with something that was between John and God alone.

I always wondered how applause could interfere with worship. Wasn't this brilliant organist playing for us, for our adulation and response? If it makes you feel good, then why not show it? But if his music was an act of worship, what would happen if he measured his offering not by his own sense of giving to God, but by the decibels of applause? What about human fickleness? What if John played something we didn't like- or he played something in a way that turned us off? Would the crowd begin to shrink or the applause stop altogether?

The pastor was reminding us of the essence of worship- it's about giving something- to God. It's about becoming God's own and being formed in the Holy One's image. And so, the questions about what the crowd will like and if they will clap loudly are moot.

I realize that clapping during worship may be the only way we have of expressing our joy and is highly relative to faith and cultural heritage. I think some Anglo congregations use it to prove that we can be spontaneous. However, in the general culture, applause still means approval for a performance or a TOUCHDOWN! And the louder and longer the better!

When it becomes all about my feeling good about myself, applause or no applause, my actions have ceased to be worship of God. To the degree that we want whatever pleases us as worship consumers, we take up the idolatrous, exhausting, and hopeless chore of being made in our own image.

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