When I first moved to Sparks two and a half years ago, I was taken off guard one Sunday when the church began clapping after a baptism. I remember feeling very uncomfortable at the time because for the eight years that I had been preaching (at the time), clapping after a baptism was something that denominations and liberal churches did...not us.
While it's still hard for me personally to clap after a baptism (because it feels awkward for me), my position has changed. Now, instead of cringing when folks clap after a baptism, it's something that makes me happy and that I wish more congregations would do.
The issue of clapping after a baptism came up in a recent discussion, so I'd like to address the issue briefly here. I hope that you will consider these thoughts with an open mind.
First of all, why is it that some brethren oppose the practice of clapping after a baptism? There are four reasons that I have come across over the years.
Clapping after a baptism is a denominational practice. There is a fear that if we begin clapping after a baptism like the denominational folks do that we are on a slippery slope that will make us look more and more like the denominational churches. It's worth noting here at the beginning that this doesn't make it wrong. Are we ready and willing to condemn all other incidentals and practices that originate with denominational churches? I bet we'd have to give up a whole lot more than most people recognize. Secondly, I question whether it originates with denominational churches at all. Sure, denominational churches may clap after a baptism, but don't people clap in a number of settings? Weddings. Sporting events. Political rallies. Concerts. Graduations. Maybe instead of assuming that churches that clap after a baptism are imitating denominations, we should assume that people are just...being people...and reacting to a joyous occasion in a way that seems normal and instinctive.
Clapping after a baptism is a reflection of emotionalism. Those who make this objection are basically saying that we don't want to become like the Charismatics and Pentecostals. Clapping today, jumping over the pews and speaking in tongues tomorrow. Really? Of course, when pressed on whether or not it is wrong to display any emotion during the assembly or in response to a baptism, those who make this objection will acknowledge that it is okay to do so. By acknowledging such, they have given up the argument. Their opposition to clapping after a baptism becomes completely subjective.
There is no authority for clapping after a baptism. But is it an act of worship? Not at all. It's simply an emotional, joyful response to one of the greatest things we can witness in this life - the salvation of a soul. I'm reminded of the person who says "that's right" in response to a point during the sermon, or the way a congregation may laugh in response to an anecdote or joke told during a sermon. These aren't acts of worship; they are natural, emotional responses to what is taking place. More on this in just a moment.
We shouldn't clap after a baptism because we might offend certain people. Those who make this argument often appeal to Romans 14 or 1 Corinthians 8 to say that if something is a matter of liberty, we should be willing to give it up for others. "If it bothers someone, we just shouldn't do it" often becomes, "It could bother someone, so it's safer to just avoid it altogether." But that's NOT necessarily what either of these passages teach. In Romans 14, Paul tells those on BOTH sides to be more tolerant of the different views of the other side. The weak is to bear with the strong and the strong is to bear with the weak. Over in 1 Corinthians 8, Paul is telling us that we should be willing to give up our liberties if using our liberties will cause another brother to stumble. Neither passage is telling us that we must give up our liberties simply because a fellow Christian "doesn't like it" or "feels uncomfortable about it." We have to be big boys and girls. Unless clapping after a baptism causes another brother to stumble, we need to be patient and longsuffering with each other in this.
Now, I'd like to make a few points in favor of clapping after a baptism.
In Luke 15:10, we're told that "there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents." In both Acts 8:39 and Acts 16:34, there was rejoicing following baptisms. I think we'd all agree that celebrating a baptism is completely normal! It should bring us great joy. Now, the question at hand is, "how can we express that joy?" In some churches, there may simply be a few smiles and handshakes or hugs afterward. In other churches, the congregation may let out a hearty "amen." Many of the churches I've associated with over the years respond by singing a hymn. And in some churches like the one here in Sparks, folks may express their joy by clapping.
Personally, I think if we're going to clap and holler when our team scores a touchdown or we bowl a strike or our child accomplishes some great feat (like learning to ride a bike or graduating from high school), it's absurd to suggest that we cannot clap after a baptism...which is far more important and special.
If the Scriptures do not specify how the angels express their joy or how those early disciples rejoiced, is it not left up to us to decide how to express ourselves here?
But the one passage that really jumps out at me is 2 Samuel 6:16-23. This is the story about the return of the ark of the covenant to Jerusalem during David's reign as king.
"Now 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 whirling before the Lord; and she despised him in her heart." (2 Samuel 6:16).
Did the Scriptures authorize David to leap and whirl on such an occasion? Of course not. This wasn't an act of worship as much as it was an expression of pure joy. David was overwhelmed with emotion to see the ark of the covenant make it to Jerusalem.
The end of verse 16 says that Michal despised her husband in her heart. This led to a confrontation between her and David in verses 20-22.
"Then David returned to less his household. And Michal the daughter of Saul came out to meet David, and said, 'How glorious was the king of Israel today, uncovering himself today in the eyes of the maids of his servants, as one of the base fellows shamelessly uncovers himself." (vs. 20)
Michal's point was twofold: (1) David was acting more like the base fellows than the king, and (2) his actions served as a bad example to those who witnessed him. Isn't this similar to the argument that many make against clapping after a baptism? We're acting more like the denominational churches. We should be more dignified. We should consider our example.
But notice David's response in verses 21-22...
"So David said to Michal, 'It was before the Lord, who chose me instead of your father and all his house, to appoint me ruler over the people of the Lord, over Israel. Therefore I will play music before the Lord. And I will be even more undignified than this, and will be humble in my own sight. But as for the maidservants of whom you have spoken, by them I will be held in honor."
David's point was that even though his actions may have appeared undignified to Michal, it wasn't wrong for him to openly express his spiritual joy and excitement before God. For her to seek to squelch his joy or judge his expression of joy was wrong. The text makes this clear.
Clapping after a baptism isn't an act of worship. No one is suggesting that we should clap during our singing or be filled with "Holy Spirit laughter." It is simply a natural expression of our sincere joy following a very special and joyous event. Just as the angels rejoice when a sinner repents, we should rejoice as well. If some do that by clapping, we cannot condemn them for it.
I personally wish that we were all like David in that we had such joy and emotion within us that we could not help but express it regularly. This is why I like to see a church respond with emotion following a baptism, whether it's a hearty "amen" or clapping. I actually wish we'd all jump up and shed tears of joy and clap and whistle.
But my main point here is not to tell you how you must react, just that we must refrain from judging those who react by clapping.