Praise Him With the Timbrel and Dance

Written By Timothy Fish

Published 6/8/2006


I was raised in a very traditional Baptist home. There were some things that I knew Baptists just didnít do. I wasnít always told why Baptists didnít do these things. One of these things is dancing. I donít know that I would have even questioned it as a doctrine if it wasnít for the fact that I have noticed some of the less conservative Baptist churches have not only relaxed their restrictions on all dancing, but have even begun hiring dance instructors to teach interpretive dance. Because of my background, that is a little hard for me to swallow, but I was raised in a BMA church and, if that means anything, that means the word of God comes first in determining what I believe and the traditions of the pasts and the things I would like to be true have to be placed aside if they are in conflict with the word of God. So to understand what is right and wrong in this issue we must look to the Bible.

The Bible mentions dancing several times. If we take all of the mentions of dancing together, we find that there is some dancing that was done in a manor pleasing to God and there was some that was not. Letís look first at dancing that was pleasing to the Lord and consider what bearing it has on us today. Then we will consider dancing that would be displeasing to the Lord and try to determine what position we should have when we consider dancing today.

If we read Psalms 149 and 150 we find an interesting command in how Godís people have been commanded to praise him. ďPraise him with the timbrel and dance,Ē it very clearly states. If it had been written today it would probably use the word tambourine rather than timbrel. The timbrel was an integral part of Jewish praise and for good reason. The next time you feel really excited about something, pick up a tambourine and start beating or shaking it and see if it doesnít relieve part of that pressure that has built up in your chest. When the Jews had something to praise God about, it was a lively affair. The music was loud, there was the sound of tambourines and their feet didnít stay planted in one place. When the Ark of the Covenant was returned in II Samuel 6 we find that David put aside his kingly robes and joined with the people in dancing and shouting.

Dancing was used in time of celebration. After a victory in battle the people would dance as a means of showing how excited they were. This is a far cry from the way we praise God today. That doesnít mean our praise is wrong, but most of our praise is limited to singing. Someone might tell what God has done for them. Someone might get really excited and lift up a hand to the Lord. In most Baptist churches, even those where dancing is used, are rather reserved when it comes to expressing their praise to the Lord. By all indications, God found the more visible praise expressed by the Jews to be pleasing.

Some have said that things are different now. It was ok for the Jews to dance in the Old Testament, but since the New Testament doesnít mention using dancing as a means of praising the Lord it is different for us. I hate to think of what God must think of people who think they can ignore what God has said just because he didnít repeat the command, but the key thing to take from this is that it is praise that pleases God. Shouting, music and dance are not pleasing to God in and of themselves. Only when they are part of heartfelt praise to God do they fulfill the command of Psalm 150.

If we stop here we might conclude that our Baptist forefathers were just wrong and the more moderate churches are just correcting a mistake, but letís consider the other side before jumping to conclusions. There are many things that are displeasing to God. Not everything that we might claim to do to praise God is actually pleasing to him. Even if we do something with good intentions it may still be displeasing to God if we are acting outside the known will of God. Then there are some things that we might do for our own pleasure that God does not want us to do.

One of the sins that the Bible mentions repeatedly is sexual sin. It tells us that sex outside of marriage is wrong. Then if that wasnít enough to make us aware that it is wrong, Jesus went a step farther and stated that to even lust after a woman is like already committing adultery with her in our hearts. If we want to be pleasing to God then we must avoid things that cause us to lust for another person unless they are our spouse. If you are single and you want to know how far you can go with your girlfriend or boyfriend, the simple answer is that if you are at the point that in your mind you are asking questions like, what if she offered to have sex with me?; what if she took off her shirt? What if she offered to let me touch that body part?; then it is time for you to implement your quick exit strategy. And yes I do mean that you should have a quick exit strategy and know what things will tell you that it is time to use it immediately.

When God made men and women, he designed them in such a way that not matter how ugly or smelly they might be a physical attraction can exist between a man and women that blinds them to all the defects in the other person. When used as God intended, this attraction can strengthen a marriage. In the days of arranged marriages it may have been what kept what kept some of them from killing themselves. It is during the courtship rituals that this physical attraction can cause problems. It is at this time that singles can allow themselves to be so blinded by lust that they throw aside good judgment and either marry or become sexually active with someone they shouldnít.

Unlike the dances that the Jews did in praise to God, much of the dance we see today is designed to heighten oneís lustful feelings toward a person of the opposite sex. Take ballroom dancing as an example. The clothing many of the women wear is mostly not there. The moves they make are designed to highlight her legs or the man may run his hand along the front of her body in a move that draws attention to her breasts. Even in the days when ballroom dancing was a popular form of entertainment one has to ask why people would want to be in a room full of men and women who had no deodorant and hadnít taken a bath in weeks if they werenít blinded by the physical attraction that exists between a man and women in close contact. Ballet is another example. The dancers wear clothing that leaves little to the imagination. Ballet dancers touch each other in places that unmarried people shouldnít be touching and even married people shouldnít be touching those places in public. I need not even address the issue of the dancing that occurs at bars and clubs or the clothing that is worn. That should be self explanatory. It should be blatant that dancing, that will cause men and women to lust for someone other than oneís spouse, is outside the will of God.

What of the dancing that occurs in the churches of today? Is it to be embraced or should we follow the example of our forefathers and call it wrong? To answer that question we must take a closer look at what dancing does occur within churches. When the stance was taken that all dancing is wrong, two things happened. One was that dancing was considered taboo and the other is that dancing was redefined in such a way that not all dancing was included in the definition. No one would dare accuse a hellfire and brimstone preacher show was pacing the floor, pounding the pulpit and shouting as he preach of dancing, but if a tambourine had been placed in his hand he may have looked an awful lot like what David did when the Ark of the Covenant was returned. Could a person who is tapping his toe while he sings or the gospel pianist, who is all over the keyboard, be violating the rule not to dance? Most would say no, but what is dancing if it is not moving in response to a feeling evoked by music? We add a few motions to music, but we keep our feet firmly planted on the floor and we donít call it dance. We get really enthused while weíre singing and we might even move our feet a little, but we donít call it dance. So some of the dancing that occurs in church is not called dance even though it is probably similar to the active praise in which the Jews participated.

The dancing that is making its way in to churches and keeping the dance label is a performance type dance. It is usually called interpretive dance and is similar to ballet in that it is supposed to tell a story, but it is dissimilar in that the dresses are usually longer and it doesnít require the athleticism of ballet. Let me make it clear that this is only my opinion and it may not be in agreement with the opinion of other members of South Park Baptist Church, but it is my opinion that if an interpretive dance can be performed in such a way that it communicates a biblical message without drawing attention to the dancersí bodies or causing them to touch each other in ways that are inappropriate then it there it would be hard to find any more wrong with it than we would find with a skit or a play. Having said that let me say that I have yet to see an interpretive dance troupe that meets these requirements. My exposure has been limited and those I have seen have been on video, but I have seen sensual dances performed within churches; I have seen a troupe wearing skirts that went to their ankle but a slit that went nearly to the waist; I have seen moves that didnít seem to say much more than ďlook at me! Iím dancing at church!Ē and I have seen dances that were nothing more than ridiculous. If that is all these interpretive dance troupes have to offer then I say fire the dance instructor and use to money to buy tambourines for the congregation.