Saturday, September 25, 2010

Shall We Dance?

Brian Edwards’ book Shall We Dance addresses a very important question facing the contemporary church. How should the contemporary church worship and evangelize? Edwards explains that we can divide Christians into two camps on this question. One camp has embraced and promoted dance and drama in their practice of worship and evangelism. They have done so because they sincerely believe that dance and drama add new life to these vital functions of the church. In contrast, the other camp has viewed dance and drama as worldly alternatives to true biblical and God-centered worship and evangelism.

Edwards definitely fits in the second camp and so do I. His arguments are clear, convincing and most important, Biblically correct. He examines the practice of dance and drama in worship and evangelism from three different, but complementary angles. Edwards reviews their use historically, biblically and practically. I will attempt to summarize briefly and comment on his arguments.

Historically, the early church rejected dance and drama because of its pagan religious roots and blatant immorality. Drama and dance in the first few centuries of the early church were vile indeed. All the early church fathers agreed that they had no place in the life of a Christian, not to mention worship. Cyprian expressed the majority opinion when he said, “Scripture forbids gazing upon what it forbids to be done.” Modern Christians would do well to heed Cyprian’s words regarding television and movie viewing!

Unfortunately, as the church entered the Middle Ages it was filled with sin and corruption. Much of this was due to Constantine making Christianity the state religion of the Roman Empire. As the Empire forced pagans into the church, they brought the trappings of their pagan worship with them. This led to a long period of spiritual decline. It was during this period that they introduced dance and drama into the church. Edwards astutely observes that a period of spiritual decline always precedes the introduction of dance and drama into the church’s worship. In my opinion, the historical facts bear witness to his conclusion.

Some have claimed that reintroducing dance and drama into the contemporary church is essentially reclaiming what the church lost during the Middle Ages. Obviously they have failed to interpret the events of church history correctly. For the church to reintroduce dance and drama into its practice of worship and evangelism is to acknowledge it is in a state of spiritual decline!

After the darkness of the Middle Ages, the early reformers like Groot, Hus, Wycliffe and Tyndale came onto the scene of Christianity. They had little time for drama or dancing because they were to busy trying to stay alive! Their primary response to these activities was to condemn their practice. As Edwards aptly points out that the early reformers reintroduced preaching into the church not plays!

In contrast to the early reformers, later reformers began to use plays for their purposes. The truth is they were used mainly as weapons to attack the Catholics and their doctrine. The Catholics returned the favor. In England, this feud between the Protestants and the Catholics led to intervention by the monarchy. This intervention resulted in secularization and rapid moral decline of drama.

England’s Puritans were not unlike the early reformers in their response to drama. They generally rejected drama that was immoral but tolerated it if it was good. Of course, it must be stated that there was some disagreement among them. Some Puritans totally rejected plays of any kind. Puritans also loved good music and enjoyed proper dancing. It should be emphasized that despite how they felt about drama and dancing, these were never a part of their worship and evangelism practices in the church.

The successors to the Puritans were the evangelicals. Like the Puritans, they were against plays because of their immorality. In addition, they saw them as mere entertainment lacking any power to transform people’s lives. Charles Spurgeon, a Victorian evangelical and Baptist preacher, considered dancing and drama to be a severe hindrance to spiritual life. His view adequately reflects that of most Victorian evangelicals.

This concludes my summary of Edwards’ historical argument against drama and dancing in the church. This brief survey of history reveals a couple of important facts. First, it’s only during times of spiritual decline that the church has resorted to drama and dancing in worship and evangelism. Second, many Christians have also excluded these activities from their personal lives because they recognize them as hindrances to spiritual life. These facts show there is really no historical basis for using drama in the worship of the contemporary church. In my estimation, when we introduce these into our practice of worship and evangelism it simply shows our ignorance of church history.

Edwards’ second and most significant argument against the use of drama and dance in worship was the Biblical argument. It’s the most significant argument because as New Testament Christians we believe that the Scriptures are our final authority in faith in practice. This definitely applies to how we practice worship and evangelism in the church.

Is there any evidence in the Scriptures that dance should be a part of worship? Some Christians would say there is. Edwards demonstrates that these adherents of dance cannot prove their position from the Scriptures. After my own review of the Scriptures, I would have to agree with his conclusions.

When one examines the New Testament there is absolutely no evidence or support for dancing in worship. In fact, dancing is mentioned only five times in the entire New Testament. Two of those verses, Matt.14:6 and Mark 6:22, talk about Herodias lewd dance that led to the death of John the Baptist. The other three verses, Matt. 11:17, Luke 7:32 and Luke 15:25, are used by Jesus in sermon illustrations.

The Old Testament contains twenty references to dancing. We can divide these references into five categories. Our first category would be the victory dance, which was done in response to a military victory over an enemy. This is the kind of dance described in Ex. 15:20, Judges 11:34 and 1 Sam. 18:6-7. A second category would be the festival dance. This is what was apparently taking place in Judges 21:21-23. A third category would be dance in pagan worship. We see this illustrated in Exodus 32:19 and 1 Kings 18:26. The fourth category is dancing in Hebrew poetry and prophecy. It is usually used to illustrate joy after a period of sorrow or judgement. The final category is David’s dance. This is the category that dance adherents believe gives them their strongest Scriptural support. The problem is they have not done the hard work of Biblical exegesis to support their claim. David’s dance was as Edwards put it, “ . . . exceptional; it was not David’s customary way of worship. The truth of the matter is David’s dance was a single moment of enthusiastic celebration.

In summary, there is no support for dancing in worship anywhere in the Scriptures! If God had wanted us to dance in worship He would have made it clear in His Word. God went to great lengths in the Old Testament to teach His people how to approach and worship Him. Dancing was not a component of that teaching. This also is true of New Testament teaching on worship.

Edwards’ conclusions about the Scriptural evidence for dance are mirrored when it comes to drama. The New Testament says absolutely nothing about drama. Neither does the Old Testament. Some would attempt to use figures of speech like parables to make a case for it. In reality, figures of speech do not meet Edwards’ or anyone else’s definition of drama. Other adherents of drama attempt to claim that symbolic acts like Passover, The Lord’s Supper and baptism make a case for drama. Again, these symbolic acts do not meet any thinking person’s definition of drama. Furthermore, their purpose is not to reenact but to remember and identify. The primary scriptural ground that adherents cling to for drama in worship is the Old Testament Prophets. They claim that the symbolic actions of Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel give support to their position. Clearly, as previously stated, there is a vast difference between symbolic action and drama. The crucial point is that we can make no case for drama from the Scriptures. My belief is if the Scriptures do not teach it then we should not be doing it!

Edwards’ third argument against drama and dancing in worship was the practical argument. In his practical argument, he gave seven reasons why contemporary Christians should not introduce dance and drama into the churches’ worship. First, Edwards said that dance and drama reflect the worst of society’s standards. I would have to agree. Church history, modern television, and the movie and music industries all serve to support his conclusions.

The second practical reason Edwards gave against dance and drama in worship was that they often trivialize the serious. Edwards said, “ Dance and drama are fundamentally entertainment.” Therefore it is easy to trivialize serious subjects like Christ’s suffering and death.

Another practical reason Edwards gave against dance and drama was they avoid direct or personal confrontation. He rightly pointed out that the primary means of delivering the gospel in the New Testament was public preaching and personal witnessing. These require personal contact. The gospel by nature is a message that requires confrontation and demands a response. Drama and dancing definitely fall short in this regard.

The next two practical reasons Edwards gave in opposition to drama and dance are closely related. He said they must be interpreted and that they are not the most effective means of communication. Again, I would have to agree with his conclusions. Dance and drama always are open to individual interpretation. If we want people to get the correct or intended meaning, we have to explain it to them. If we have to explain it to them then why not simply preach the truth the way the Scriptures command?

Edwards’ sixth practical reason for not allowing dance and drama in worship is that they are nothing more than an escape from reality. This is closely related to the idea they are entertainment. Unfortunately, the majority of people today use entertainment as an escape. We in America call it vegetating. This is the last thing we want people today when they come to worship! True worship is focusing on God and responding to Him. You cannot do that while vegetating!

Edwards’ final practical reason against dance and drama in worship was they are open to sensual responses. I must admit this reason speaks loud and clear to me. I come to church to worship God not to experience sexual temptation. Unfortunately, the way some women dress today makes that difficult. Having young ladies dancing around in leotards would make it a hundred times more difficult! No thank you!

The practical reasons against dance and drama in worship and evangelism are powerful. Coupled with the historical and Biblical arguments they slam the door shut on the use of dance and drama in the church’s worship and evangelism. Edwards also does a fair job of exposing the danger of dance and drama from a personal perspective. He says these activities are not wrong per se but they have the easy potential for misuse. My experience and observation would lead me to agree completely!

Edwards ends Shall We Dance by declaring that preaching is the best way to do worship and evangelism in the contemporary church. He proves his point both historically and scripturally. The early church, the reformers, the Puritans, and the evangelicals all believed that preaching was the best way to worship and evangelize. Early church preaching turned the world upside down. The preaching of the reformers led society and the church out of the dark ages. Evangelical preaching sparked revival on two continents. History clearly shows that God blesses and uses preaching.

The Scriptural arguments for biblical preaching in the New Testament are overwhelming. Edwards does a fair job of presenting them. Matthew 28:19-20 would be enough evidence for preaching by itself. Each gospel has similar exhortations. In addition, the book of Acts is the historical account of the early church preaching the gospel publicly and privately. Acts contains thirty-six references to preaching and it is filled with sermons and testimonies. Also, the epistles are filled with exhortations to preach and witness. My favorite exhortation is in 2 Tim. 4:2, “Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage--with great patience and careful instruction.”

In short, Shall We Dance is an important book that every preacher and worship leader should read. Amazingly, I found little in this book to disagree with! It does an excellent job of explaining why preaching should be central to our practice of worship and evangelism. I would heartily recommend reading the last two chapters of this book on a regular basis. They provide tremendous encouragement and motivation for those who are committed to preaching the Word!

1 comment:

Jonathon said...

I would agree with the general point that preaching is the best and most scripturally supported method for testifying to the truth of the gospel. I also cannot argue with your historical and practical arguments. However, on the Scriptural side, I believe you are making a classic "argument from silence". I would agree, the Bible nowhere speaks to the use of drama, and the mentions of dance are neither recommended nor prohibited. But the conclusion you reach doesn't necessarily follow. The silence of Scripture could also be enlisted in support of these practices, as so: There are many commandments in Scripture and many clear commands about practices to be avoided in worship (such as sacrificing unclean or blemished animals). In none of these is there a statement against dancing or drama. Therefore, God must not have a problem with it.

We do many things that the Bible doesn't tell us to do - because wisdom tells us that they are in keeping with the general guidelines of Scripture. The statement, "If the Bible doesn't tell us to do it, we shouldn't be doing it", is a pretty broad statement that could be applied to such activities as taking up a weekly offering in church, printing a bulletin, using a piano, brushing teeth, driving a car, etc.

Many of your points about drama are well-made. If we are using drama in worship, its purpose should never be to entertain. But, just as we use illustrations in sermons to bring points home, sometimes a visual act can make a point much more clearly than the spoken word. Much of Scripture is story - and story can be presented very vividly through drama. That said, I do not believe that drama should replace preaching in worship. It should be used as an occasional "add-on" to our services to make specific points.