Clapping vs. Amen — Which Will Win?

Wally Morris

The increase in clapping of the hands in churches as a response to musical ministries and even preaching is one of the obvious changes taking place in many churches. What I find intriguing is why? What is behind this growing preference for hand clapping as a sign of approval rather than “Amen”, “Praise the Lord”, or some similar phrase?

Some reading this are perhaps already questioning the wisdom and motivation of this topic. “Why spend time discussing something so insignificant and harmless?” I submit that the changes we see are not insignificant and harmless.

With any topic, the first step is “What does the Bible say?” To some this might seem ridiculous. “What could the Bible possibly say about ‘clapping’?” The Bible uses the English word “clap” less than ten times, with a mixture of positive and negative contexts, with perhaps slightly more positive than negative. People clapped their hands to show approval (2 Kings 11:12) or disapproval (Job 27:23; Lamentations 2:15). Psalm 47:1 indicates that people clapped hands in praise to God, and, in a metaphorical sense, nature “claps its hand” in praise to God (Psalm 98:8; Isaiah 55:12). Note that all of the references are in the Old Testament. The New Testament does not record any examples of clapping in worship nor do the epistles mention the practice.

Although these references give us an idea of how people in the Bible used their hands in this way, these references by themselves do not completely answer questions about the use of clapping in churches today. As with the topics of dancing and drums, which the Old Testament mentions, we have to determine whether our current practice of clapping is similar to the clapping in the Old Testament. To be honest, I’m not sure if we can make that determination. Do we have enough information about Old Testament cultures to know with certainty the specifics of their cultural practices of clapping hands? Do we have any video showing how they clapped hands? Obviously not. Thus, we should be careful in assuming that the simple mention of the practice in the OT is enough to justify the practice in churches today.

I have watched hand clapping become more common in many churches. As hand clapping has become more common, the use of “Amen” or “Praise the Lord” has become less common. This is very similar to the growing use of the word “blessings” instead of “The Lord bless you”. Recently our church held an end-of-summer picnic where we also had a gospel quartet sing. Before the quartet sang, I purposely did not make any announcement about clapping or Amen in order to see what people would naturally do. At this picnic, about half of those who attended were not associated with our church and many were unbelievers. At the end of each song, most people clapped – automatically, without any encouragement. People didn’t need instructions for them to do it. When I see something like this, one of my first questions is “Why are people doing this?”

I think cultural expectations and conditioning are part of the answer. In American culture, people assume that you show approval to entertainment or speeches by clapping your hands. This assumption and practice has now become part of many, if not most, churches. I think this practice reflects the influence of secular practices and culture in our churches. A person must have some degree of Biblical knowledge and spiritual depth to say the words “Amen”, “Praise the Lord”, or similar phrases (1 Cor 12:3). By actually verbalizing the words, the speaker is openly giving witness to the Lord. Generally, an unbeliever would have no reason to say those words. I suggest that one reason clapping hands is popular is because it doesn’t involve much spiritual depth or knowledge to do so. An unbeliever can join in clapping hands in church without any spiritual commitment since the practice of clapping is common in our society, and no one would associate spiritual depth or even knowing Christ as Savior with the practice of clapping hands. However, to say “Amen” involves a degree of spiritual depth that an unbeliever simply does not have.

When attending a public event where at some point the audience begins clapping hands or gives a standing ovation, you may not really want to clap your hands or stand up but do so anyway because everyone is clapping their hands and standing, and you do not wish to be the only one sitting down. Of course, the same pressure can work to influence an individual to say “Amen” simply because the people around him do so. However, I think clapping has more tendency to do so, since it is a group activity. It also makes an unbeliever more comfortable, and often is almost automatic, done without thinking.

I find it strange that those who talk so much about following New Testament patterns and examples so easily conform and accept a practice that doesn’t have any New Testament precedent. The New Testament uses words and phrases such as “Amen”, “Praise the Lord”, and other phrases but never indicates that believers used clapping to show approval. We should not ignore this.

Clapping hands in churches is another small sign of negative cultural influence in our churches and the tendency to minimalist theology and practice. Christians today are less interested in doctrine and theology and more interested in experience. This minimalist theological pattern is influencing a wide variety of changes, including clapping. Some consider this change innocent, irrelevant, and neutral. I do not. I consider it an indication of growing shallowness in many churches and the influence of secular society upon believers. Perhaps we should explain more clearly and carefully in our churches why we say the words “Amen” or “Praise the Lord” and use clapping as another example of the almost unconscious influence of secular culture on believers today.

Wally Morris is pastor of Charity Baptist Church in Huntington, IN. The church blogsite is He has also published A Time To Die: A Biblical Look At End-Of-Life Issues by Ambassador International.


  1. Jim Stiekes on October 23, 2017 at 10:51 am

    To my understanding, clapping signifies approval or enjoyment but not blessing. Whether soft and private or boldly aloud, “amen” signifies that the soul and spirit have been refreshed, blessed, or enlightened. I just don’t feel that clapping is an appropriate response in worship. But then again, much music in our churches today is presented as entertainment with little regard for soul feeding worship.

  2. Thomas Overmiller on October 23, 2017 at 5:10 pm

    The response of “clapping hands” in praise to God is not entirely unrelated. Psalm 98:8 ascribes this response of praise to God to waters in a metaphorical sense, and Isaiah 55:12 does the same for trees. Admittedly, this does not prescribe church people doing this in an actual sense today, but it does correlate the idea of hand-clapping to praising God nonetheless.

    The church I shepherd DOES clap in response to musical specials, and this does seem to indicate a genuine response of praise and appreciation, not a congratulatory response to a performance or show. I find the argument against clapping hands in praise to be unpersuasive, though I am personally averse to any sort of showiness or entertainment atmosphere in church.

    • dcsj on October 23, 2017 at 5:24 pm

      Thomas, what if someone in the group is not clapping? Or, perhaps is clapping “because everyone else is”? There is a kind of group coercion in clapping that I find particularly distasteful. If a congregation were to be doing it during the preaching, that would be even worse.

      However, let me note that this is not a fundamental of the faith, nor are we presenting it here as such. It is an opinion piece, but one that I think is well founded. If Ps 98.8 justifies clapping in church, does Ps 98.7 justify roaring?

      Don Johnson
      Jer 33.3

      • Thomas Overmiller on October 23, 2017 at 5:32 pm

        Psalm 47:1 refers to directly to people clapping in praise to God, which indicates that this is not relegated to water and tree metaphors.

        And regarding the group dynamic, I would ask the equal and opposite question. What if someone in the group genuinely and sincerely desires to praise the Lord by clapping, but refrains because no one else is doing it? Wouldn’t that be the same conundrum?

        Ultimately, I am unaware of any argument for or against clapping as a way of expressing praise to God. It seems best to view this as a matter of individual liberty.

        • dcsj on October 23, 2017 at 5:45 pm

          What if someone wants to praise the Lord by clapping but refrains because no one else is doing it? I think the question answers itself. Clapping is a group activity. If someone starts as an individual, and no one else joins, what happens? The clapping becomes hesitant and dies off in embarrassment. It is hard to see it as an individual liberty if it is a group activity.

          However, as to your Scriptures, are you actually dealing with them exegetically, or are you using them as proof texts? I think Wally has at least considered the passages in his article. He doesn’t find them compelling as mandates for the current practice. I think you would do better to deal with his arguments for that point rather than simply citing them as authoritative statements.

          Don Johnson
          Jer 33.3

  3. Greg Linscott on October 23, 2017 at 11:20 pm

    Whether you come down on the side of Morris or Overmiller, it odes seem difficult to make a case that clapping is forbidden or that spontaneous responses of “Amen,” etc. were a pattern in the NT and modeled/authorized today. Morris’ arguments may make sense and be what many of us are accustomed to… but the article concludes with a lot of speculation and “it seems to me” kind of thinking… but nothing offered conclusive to make a condemnatory case against clapping or affirmative case for spontaneous “Amens.”

    What is to prevent this from being in a similar category of frequency and timing of church services, whether or not a church has its own building, which specific instruments it employs (or doesn’t), and so on? It may not be the brother’s preference or his church’s, but why can’t this be an matter that falls under local church autonomy?

    • dcsj on October 24, 2017 at 1:56 am

      Well, Greg, I think you are mischaracterizing Wally’s position and mine. I don’t think we are making a case that there is a hard and fast Biblical rule that applies. But that doesn’t mean the “it seems to me” opinion is invalid.

      Don Johnson
      Jer 33.

      • Greg Linscott on October 24, 2017 at 9:01 am

        I am not saying that the opinion is invalid. I am saying that it isn’t conclusive.

        Let me ask you this… One objection the author takes to clapping is the social pressure… Everyone is compelled to participate. That seems pretty weak, especially when we do things like “and all God’s people said…” Is standing during the Hallelujah Chorus problematic? The same kind of social pressure would apply.

        Culture does change. Not all of it is the best, but it is also not always clearly sin that must be avoided. Not liking a trend and lamenting change and what is lost is okay. Trying to make it like the opposition is clearly in sin is dishonest.

        • dcsj on October 24, 2017 at 12:24 pm

          I don’t think we are presenting it as anything more than informed opinion. Clearly, it is an adaptation brought on by something. The church never did this, even unbelievers never did this when visiting a church, say twenty years ago. Something sparked the change.

          I don’t think standing during the Hallelujah is a problem, but it definitely is the same kind of social pressure.

          I personally don’t like “And all God’s people said…” either – seems quite manipulative to me.

          To your last point, “Trying to make it like the opposition is clearly in sin is dishonest,” I think the term “dishonest” is a little harsh. Or maybe a lot harsh! As I said above, the change to applause in church came from somewhere, it didn’t spontaneously generate. It seems to me that this change is sourced in the entertainment culture (which charismatism seems to fully embrace), so I think a case can be made for opposition on the basis of worldliness. I recognize that others may differ, but surely setting forth one’s case is actually honest, not dishonest.

          Don Johnson
          Jer 33.3

          • Greg Linscott on October 24, 2017 at 9:44 pm

            “As I said above, the change to applause in church came from somewhere, it didn’t spontaneously generate.”

            So, when Washington or Lincoln gave political speeches and the crowds would respond in affirmation, they would not applaud?

            I understand that there are reactions that are common in entertainment, but they are not necessarily isolated to that context. If you get first generation Christians who aren’t immersed into our minority church culture, they aren’t going to catch everything that we’ve been conditioned to, whether clapping or ties and skirts on Sundays or other similar behaviors that carry a stigma in our context that don’t in mainstream society.

            The reality is that other changes have taken place that most of us have now adopted. I assume Don that not all the women in your family or church avoid wearing pants. The behavior carried a stigma in the past that it doesn’t now. Beards on men were common among Christians in the past, but had a stigma in “our circles” until recently.

            I get that clapping is against the grain for where we are. For whatever it’s worth, our church doesn’t applaud, typically, nor do we clap in rhythm, etc. But it isn’t a matter I can present that Scripture forbids… and there are plenty of behaviors we can and should emphasize because Scripture forbids or encourages.

            As far as constraint and manipulation… why is it any more objectionable or manipulative to clap or invite an Amen than it is to invite people to stand in reverence when Scripture is read, or invite them to sing congregationally? We have a controversy in society right now because some are kneeling during the National Anthem. Is expecting everyone to stand manipulative?

            I get the resistance to change. But these arguments seem like a stretch. If there is a case to be made, it seems it would be better to affirm a good practice and present a model, rather than make a stronger case than God does. We have no revealed reason at all to believe that God is offended by applause vs. Amens. We do know that He will not share His glory with another. Perhaps that would be the better thing to evaluate and consider, irrespective of which method we use to express affirmation and appreciation congregationally.

          • dcsj on October 25, 2017 at 1:27 am

            Well, it seems like we are in a Monty Python script… I said that there is a culture change going on in the church and you counter with Washington and Lincoln. What do they have to do with the culture change in the CHURCH in the last thirty years? There is no connection.

            You are welcome to your opinion that you think our arguments are a stretch. I wonder if you are attempting to make a serious counter-argument at all. You claim we are merely spouting opinion, but you only have your opinion to offer as a counter. So where does that leave us?

            I’ll just leave it there, not much more to say.

            Don Johnson
            Jer 33.3

        • Greg Linscott on October 25, 2017 at 8:37 am

          Washington and Lincoln have to do with clapping sourced in entertainment culture. It’s an observation that Wally’s assumption is not fully founded. People applaud in other contexts, too.

          You are right that I am countering opinion with opinion. The overall point is that neither side can make a case from Scripture, so from where I sit, it seems better to model something others can follow rather than to condemn something that we cannot conclusively determine God despises.

          With that said, the acknowledgement that this is merely opinion is encouraging. It may not exactly be an allowance for charitably extending liberty for those who clap, but it’s closer than where we started. I’ll take it, and bow out.

          Thanks for the interaction!

          • dcsj on October 25, 2017 at 2:17 pm

            Washington and Lincoln are now examples of an entertainment culture? Greg, that’s just bizarre.

            Don Johnson
            Jer 33.3

          • Greg Linscott on October 25, 2017 at 2:43 pm

            Don, no. They are illustrative that applause is not limited to approval of entertainers in the entertainment culture that Wally appeals to as ground for his objection. It has a long established history of use to express affirmation of political ideas, hence citing Washington and Lincoln (and likely earlier than they).

          • dcsj on October 25, 2017 at 4:28 pm

            Who said applause was limited to the entertainment culture? You’re the one stretching to make a point, I think.

            There are occasions when applause is appropriate in church settings. I don’t think Wally is arguing against that, I certainly am not. But the issue raised here is turning the worship service into an entertainment event by clapping for songs and even in the midst of messages, as if the church service is an entertainment event.

            This practice has come from the entertainment culture, not from Washington and Lincoln! That’s totally bizarre.

            Given discussions we have had in the past and the things you have emphasized in the past concerning music in church, hymns, etc., I am astonished that you are persisting in this line of argumentation. It makes me think you are just arguing because you want to argue, not because you have an actual point.

            Don Johnson
            Jer 33.3

          • Greg Linscott on October 25, 2017 at 9:45 pm

            Don asked:

            “Who said applause was limited to the entertainment culture?”

            To answer your question, Wally (the author of your article) said:

            “Applause in churches in response to music and preaching give the impression of entertainment, something we must avoid.”

            I am not encouraging clapping or looking to implement it in any church I serve in. But my experience over the last 10 years has taught me that on issues like we are discussing, there is room for varieties of practice, and that the connotations and stigma we may attach to a particular behavior because of our society and cultural context that are not as universal as we might wish them to be.

            And now I really am done. Feel free to email if you want to continue any further conversation.

          • dcsj on October 26, 2017 at 3:04 am

            Ok, let’s go through this step by step:

            Don asked:
            “Who said applause was limited to the entertainment culture?”

            To answer your question, Wally (the author of your article) said:

            “Applause in churches in response to music and preaching give the impression of entertainment, something we must avoid.”

            1. In Wally’s sentence, the “applause” is quite clearly NOT anything more or less than the applauding of special music and the bursts of applause sometimes heard in the midst of sermons, just as traditionally we have heard “Amens” and such outbursts.

            2. Wally’s sentence is not so naive as to suggest that this is the only kind of applause that ever exists. You raise Washington and Lincoln speeches as if Wally has no idea of such things. Please!

            3. Wally is objecting to a specific practice that he has clearly defined. You are throwing in a red herring. It has nothing to do with the subject at hand.

            As to my astonishment at your line of argumentation, we have talked at length on other blogs about music and meaning. I had the impression that you were much closer to those who consider the hymns and songs of the revivalists as shallow and trivializing the gospel. (I don’t happen to agree with that position.) The practice Wally is speaking out against is one that appears to have come into the church from the more entertainment oriented charismatic movement, it seems (to me and Wally) to at best be shallow and trivializing of the gospel and the worship service. Of all the people who would argue against this observation, it would seem to me that you would be one of the last to do so.

            Or do gestures and order in church services have no meaning, anything goes, it’s all liberty man, just so long as you praise Jesus?

            Don Johnson
            Jer 33.3

  4. Thomas Overmiller on October 24, 2017 at 9:06 am

    Please accept my apologies for anything I’ve said that conveys an argumentative spirit. Such is not my intention. The comments I’ve shared reflect my current thinking on this subject and my desire to view this from a biblical perspective. In doing so, and after reading the article, I still find it difficult to say that clapping is categorically inappropriate in a worship setting. My saying something, I hope to add to the conversation, but not fan an argument.

    The article mentions that “all of the references are in the Old Testament. The New Testament does not record any examples of clapping in worship nor do the epistles mention the practice.”

    But I am not aware of any NT worship settings where “amen” or “praise the Lord” is offered in response to singing or as expressions of praise in a church gathering. There is precedent for this in American church history, but that is not the same as NT precedent. Perhaps I am overlooking something here. A similar understanding would seem to apply to gathering for worship in a church building, passing an offering plate, or drinking juice from individual plastic cups rather than a common cup for the Lord’s Table. These practices are nowhere mentioned in the NT or have a different precedent in practice in the NT, yet we do them.

    The article mentions that “to say ‘amen’ involves a degree of spiritual depth that an unbeliever simply does not have.”

    I can see the truth in this statement, but my experience in a variety of fundamental churches over the past few decades also indicates that people can say “amen” with no degree of spiritual depth, but as a cultural norm and habit more akin to a vain repetition.

    Regarding exegesis of the OT passages on hand-clapping in praise to God, the trees and waters clapping their hands are not prescriptive, I definitely agree with that. They merely show that clapping hands is one possible way to praise the Lord. But Psalm 47:1 is a Psalm addressed to “all peoples” and emphasizes God’s present universal position as king over the entire earth, not in an eschatological or millennial sense, but in a sovereign, timeless sense. In this sense, it seems appropriate to understand this as a universal appeal. While it is true that this is an OT Scripture, does this mean it is inappropriate for NT worship? For whatever reason, I have a hard time allowing my dispensational convictions to lead me to this conclusion.

    These are my thoughts, and I’ll refrain from adding more. This is a good topic to think through. May God give us wisdom and grace to lead our churches – whether in clapping, “amening,” or silence – to praise God and sing to him “with understanding” (Psa 47:7). God bless.

    • dcsj on October 24, 2017 at 12:27 pm

      No, Thomas, I don’t think you are argumentative! I think that the topic is worth discussing because:

    • it is a change in church culture
    • it is sourced in something (in this case, the source is from outside the church, I’m pretty sure)
    • our main objective in church is the worship of our Lord, so we should be sure that what we do actually glorifies him, rather than ourselves.
    • Thus, I agree, it is worth talking about and thinking about.

      Don Johnson
      Jer 33.3

  • Wally Morris on October 25, 2017 at 9:01 am

    I appreciate the thoughtful responses to this article. One of the main points I am trying to make in this article (and other articles I have written and am working on for P&D and perhaps Frontline) is that the changes we are seeing in Fundamentalist & Evangelical churches and colleges are being driven by more than Biblical teaching. Our secular American culture is influencing and changing behavior and practice. The problem is that we are often unaware of that influence until the negative consequences show up much later. Applause in churches in response to music and preaching give the impression of entertainment, something we must avoid. One question is WHY are some Christians more willing to applaud rather than say “Amen”? They won’t say “Amen” (and I am not one who says it all the time, as some churches do), but find it very easy to applaud. As Tom noted, saying “Amen” can certainly be done without thought, but applause seems to be more likely to do so. The increase in applause in churches is part of a larger trend of “dumbing down” Christian behavior and practice. The example I used of “blessings” (an almost meaningless word) instead of “the Lord bless you” is a good illustration. Cultures and language always do this over time, such as “Goodbye”, an abbreviation of “God be with ye”. However, many in Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism seem unaware that culture is influencing them in some of these changes. (Some of the comments at another blogsite seem to be this way.) Thanks for reading. I’ll be glad to talk personally with anyone who wishes.

    If someone would like to discuss further, please contact me by using the info at our church blogsite.