Dancing As Part of Worship?


Was dancing part of worship in the early church?


In the Old Testament, especially during the time of David through to Hezekiah, dance was a part of worship, as can be seen in Psalm 149.

Psalm 149:1-4 - Praise the Lord! Sing to the Lord a new song! Praise him in the assembly of the godly! Let Israel rejoice in their Creator! Let the people of Zion delight in their king! Let them praise his name with dancing! Let them sing praises to him to the accompaniment of the tambourine and harp! For the Lord takes delight in his people; he exalts the oppressed by delivering them.

Another psalm that expresses this is Psalm 150:4.

By the time of the New Testament, it seems that dance was more of a secular thing (Matt 11:17; Matt 14:6; Luke 7:32).

Now the big question is: Did they dance in the 1st Century church?

I do not believe so. If we look at Paul's instructions to the young churches, we find that there were specific things that were to happen or not happen. It all can be summed up by these words:

1 Corinthians 14:40 - And do everything in a decent and orderly manner.

Paul, while explaining the usage of the gift of tongues, tells the Corinthians that they need to take turns, and someone must interpret. This was for the strengthening of the church. Bedlam and noise were wrong, as Paul says that God is a God of peace, not a God of disorder.

1 Corinthians 14:22-33 - So then, tongues are a sign not for believers but for unbelievers. Prophecy, however, is not for unbelievers but for believers. So if the whole church comes together and all speak in tongues, and unbelievers or uninformed people enter, will they not say that you have lost your minds? But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or uninformed person enters, he will be convicted by all, he will be called to account by all. The secrets of his heart are disclosed, and in this way he will fall down with his face to the ground and worship God, declaring, "God is really among you." What should you do then, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each one has a song, has a lesson, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. Let all these things be done for the strengthening of the church. If someone speaks in a tongue, it should be two, or at the most three, one after the other, and someone must interpret. But if there is no interpreter, he should be silent in the church. Let him speak to himself and to God. Two or three prophets should speak and the others should evaluate what is said. And if someone sitting down receives a revelation, the person who is speaking should conclude. For you can all prophesy one after another, so all can learn and be encouraged. Indeed, the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets, for God is not characterized by disorder but by peace....

Gill, in his commentary, states that the phrase used in 1 Corinthians 14:40 not only applies to the gifts of the spirit, but also to everything that has preceded these instructions.

Let all things be done decently and in order - Which may refer not only to what is said in this chapter, but in the foregoing part of the epistle; go not to law before the unbelievers; let not a believing yokefellow depart from an unbelieving one; let not him that has knowledge sit in an idol's temple, and eat meat there; let not a man pray with his head covered, and a woman with hers uncovered; come not to the house of God to eat and drink intemperately, thereby reflecting dishonour and scandal on the ordinance of the Lord's supper; let not any speak in an unknown tongue in the church, without an interpreter, as if he was a madman, nor suffer women to teach in public; all which are very unbecoming, and contrary to the rules of decency: do not encourage animosities, factions, and parties; despise not the faithful ministers of the word, but honour and obey them in the Lord; neglect not the discipline of the church, lay on censures, and pass the sentence of excommunication on such as deserve them; keep the ordinances as they have been delivered, particularly that of the Lord's supper; observe the rules prescribed for prophesying and speaking with tongues, and so all these things will be done according to the order of the Gospel: and the words may be considered as a general rule for the decent and orderly management of all things relating to the worship of God, and discipline of his house; that in all things a good decorum, and strict order, be observed, that nothing be done contrary to the rules of decency, and the laws and commandments of Christ. (Emphasis mine-MDS)- John Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible

In Acts 14:23 elders were appointed for the churches to ensure that things were done properly. Paul assigned Timothy to this as well (1 Timothy 3:14-15).

If you look at the qualifications for deacons & overseers they were to be self-controlled and respectable and dignified.

1 Timothy 3:2-10 - The overseer then must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, an able teacher, not a drunkard, not violent, but gentle, not contentious, free from the love of money. He must manage his own household well and keep his children in control without losing his dignity. But if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for the church of God? Deacons likewise must be dignified, not two-faced, not given to excessive drinking, not greedy for gain, holding to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. And these also must be tested first and then let them serve as deacons if they are found blameless.

Notice that this was also to apply to their wives:

1 Timothy 3:11 - Likewise also their wives must be dignified, not slanderous, temperate, faithful in every respect.

There are things that are listed as events within the church, such as reading of scripture, exhortation, teaching (1 Timothy 4:13), breaking of bread and taking of wine (not a meal, but a memorial - 1 Corinthians 11:23-34), and singing (Colossians 3:16 - most likely congregational singing - Matthew 26:30) and prayer (Ephesians 5:19). Dance or any other "entertainment" is missing from this list. While there is no condemnation of dance in the New Testament, I do not believe that it is something that is self-controlled, respectable, dignified or a way to do things in a decent and orderly manner.

Written by Matthew Smith