Dance in Worship? Part One: A Biblical Perspective

The Lord has been very gracious to me in so many ways. One way is in giving me the talent to dance and to choreograph. I was recently also given the freedom to share one dance of my heart with some others. It was my joy and my honor to be able to worship the Lord with everything within me! I have often hesitated at the thought of dancing as a form of worship. This is because I know that not all people think it to be a good thing. Several times I have heard statements that there shouldn’t be dancing in corporate worship. I doubt that we will ever all agree about this (just as there are so many sad divisions in the body of Christ), but I had to go searching for myself and create my own convictions. After studying the Bible, some aspects of the Jewish culture, (language primarily) and even some early church history, I believe that my conviction is the same. Dancing in corporate worship is alright, however, we need to be careful of the type of dancing, the specific moves, and the dress. And at any time, if the dancing is not unto the Lord, then it needs to end.

So how did I come to this conclusion? Let’s begin where all things should, with what God says. As I am being reminded daily in my current Bible study, the Old and the New Testament work together and the God of the Old Testament is the same God that we see in the New Testament. It generally seems to me that if something was an acceptable act of worship in the Old Testament when they were under the law, then it would be in the New Testament church when we are free from that law, too. That said, let’s begin with the Old Testament:

Exodus 15:20  Then Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took a tambourine in her hand, and all the women went out after her with tambourines and dancing.

This immediately follows the miracle of the Red Sea. As Miriam sang praises to the Lord for His glorious triumph, the women danced. At this time there was not yet a tabernacle or a specific spot for worshiping. All the men, women, and children were there. It may not have been a time of planned worship, but it was worship and it was corporate. A little later in chapter 32, when Moses comes down from having received the law, the Israelites are dancing before a golden calf. If you read this story, you’ll see that they wanted to worship! They were following the traditions of Egypt in making something for that worship. When they are corrected in their worship, the dancing is not changed or corrected — only the worship before the calf. It seems that God did not find the dance unacceptable, but I would never rest my conviction on this point alone.

In Judges 11:34, 1 Samuel 18:6, 21:11, 29:5, 30:16, and 2 Samuel 6:16 there is dancing in response to every victory that the Lord gives the Israelites. The most well known of these is the last passage in which David danced when the Ark was returned to Israel. Each time, they rejoiced in God for His work.

The Psalms mention dancing several times:

30:11  You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; you have loosed my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness

87:7   Singers and dancers alike say, “All my springs are in You.”

149:3   Let them praise His name with dancing, making melody to Him with tambourine and lyre!

150:4   Praise Him with tambourine and dance: praise Him with strings and pipe!

Wow! God gives us dancing unto Him in the place of mourning! That is exactly where my heart is in this moment. He has turned my sorrows, my fears, and my failures into rejoicing before Him! And I love how the dancers are included in what praise is being raised up to God. It’s as if it is assumed that where there is music, there is dance! Since I can barely stand still to a good song, that is right up my alley!

As fun as the Psalms are, I love even more this prophecy in Jeremiah. The Lord promises to give Israel her dance again.

Jeremiah 31:4   Again I will build you, and you shall be built O virgin Israel! Again you shall adorn yourself with tambourines and shall go forth in the dance of the merrymakers.

Jeremiah 31:13   Then shall the young women rejoice in the dance, and the young men and the old shall be merry. I will turn their mourning into joy; I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow.

Again, if God found dance acceptable in the Old Testament (acceptable enough to restore it to them!), why not in the new?

In Lamentations 5:15, Israel groans because they no longer dance. The sins of the fathers have brought punishment for generations and they don’t like it! They want to dance before the Lord again.

Finally, what about dance in the New Testament? Well, you’d be hard-pressed to find an English translation that uses the word dance in any other verse, but there is one that is always translated “dancing.”

Luke 15:25   Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing.

Recognize that? It’s the parable of the Prodigal Son. Do you see it? Those that are in the house of the Father are dancing with joy for the new life of the younger son! A spiritual victory! A wonderful reason to dance!

I have also learned in my searching that there were many words for dance in the Hebrew. Only one gives any sense of it being as a couple. It was usually something done as an individual or a group. This person did a very nice job of delineating several of the Hebrew words with the meaning, some origins, and Biblical examples: http://www.spiritwinddance.com/hebrew.htm . The Greek does not have sooo many words for dance, but this same site did a nice job of showing that, as well. http://www.spiritwinddance.com/greek.htm . I love that the word for rejoice comes from the word that means to “jump for joy!” I don’t know if this is true, but many take that to mean that it was assumed that part of rejoicing was leaping and dancing around.

So based on these things, I believe that dancing in corporate worship can be a good thing! I don’t believe that any and all dancing is appropriate, though. The point of the dance is to draw attention to the Lord and what He has done. I know that not all will agree with me and that’s okay. We each have to follow the convictions that the Lord has given us. He has given me the freedom to dance — in a way that honors Him. In a way that does not draw attention to me. In a way (and a dress) that does not draw men’s hearts and minds away from worship. More tomorrow…

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