No one knows for certain when applause became a fixture in society. The first documented case is thought to be within the works of the third century B.C. Roman playwright, Plautus, who ended his works with the term “plaudite,” an instruction for the audience to clap. In time applause made its way from the theater to the political realm to the athletic arena to practically every area of daily life. It has even become a fixture for many in religion. Clapping can be found in the worship services of various denominations and even congregations who identify themselves as the church of Christ. Should this be the case? Does God approve of individuals clapping their hands in praise to Him or using applause to express joy?
As with everything this question is primarily one of authority. Colossians 3:17 commands “And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by Him.” Christ has all authority (Matt. 28:18) and His authority is legislated in His Word (John 12:48). Therefore, we must look to scripture for guidance in matters such as this. The Bible authorizes by command, example, and implication. Our task is to determine what God authorizes based on what He has said, not what He has not said. Consider the classic example of Noah in Genesis 6. God specified gopher wood as the material to be used in constructing the ark. Therefore, Noah was authorized to use gopher wood and only gopher wood. God did not have to say “Do not use oak, hickory, cedar, or elm” because He instructed Noah in a positive way.
Regarding hand-clapping during worship, we must look to the New Testament to see exactly what God has authorized and whether applause fits within legal parameters. God’s legislation for music in the worship of the church is found in Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16. Bot passages command Christians to teach and admonish one another and praise God by singing. In short, God has authorized congregational acapella singing exclusively. Consequently, everything else from playing a guitar to singing solos, to handclapping is excluded. No authority can be found for such things. Just as God did not have to explicitly eliminate various kinds of wood for Noah, so He does not have to explicitly eliminate the use of mechanical instruments of music, choirs, solos, or hand clapping in our singing to Him. He simply states in a positive way, what He wants.
In addition to clapping during worship, some will applaud as an expression of joy and approval after a baptism. The question of authority in the matter is whether God has authorized any for of expressing ourselves. First Corinthians 14 is a chapter in which the apostle Paul sets out regulatory rules for the assembly. In verse 16 he asks, “Otherwise, if you bless with the spirit, how will he who occupies the place of the uninformed say “Amen” at your giving of thanks, since he does not understand what you say?” The term “amen” is found 126 times in the New Testament and is translated from 2 different Greek terms (cf. Matt. 5:18; Rom. 1:25; John 1:51; etc.). Essentially, “amen” was a vocal means by which an individual affirmed the certainty, truthfulness, and reliability of something. Consider this biblical pattern in contrast with applause. Applauding is generally a response to entertainment whereas “amen” is a response to the message of God. To applaud after a baptism is not an appropriate response because God has not authorized us to express joy in just any way we choose. The example of scripture is to simply say “amen” (lit. so let it be!). To try and establish authority for applause requires one to find authority in silence. Such would be the equivalent of saying that Noah could have used pecan wood because God never instructed him not to. Consequently, one would have to allow any and all expressions of joy, from jumping up and down to high-fives in the aisle.
Should we clap our hands in the worship assembly? Is applause an acceptable reaction to the joyous occasion of baptism? The answer is no. God has not authorized us to do so. Though it may seem to be innocent, and perhaps in some cases it is, ultimately we must respect the authority of Scripture and not go beyond what it written.