Friday, May 6, 2011

How is this a good thing?

Earlier this week, I said that there is some confusion among Baptists concerning the tradition of dancing. Some have pointed to verses in the Bible (and rightly so) that tell us to praise the Lord with dance and have suggested that the tradition itself is wrong. God calls for dancing, so let’s dance, they say. Then there are those who don’t know why Baptists don’t dance, but that’s the way grandma taught it, so let’s keep those feet still. Then there are those who say that as long as we’re not dancing in the church building, it’s alright. You get the picture. It isn’t as clear as it was when everyone said that Baptists don’t dance.

In the Bible, we find dancing that is appropriate and dancing that is inappropriate. (Ecclesiastes 3:4) That sounds simple enough, but how do we draw the line between the two? Psalm 149:3 and Psalm 150:4 appear to be talking about appropriate dancing in praise to God. When you look at the Second Baptist Houston video, it wouldn’t be hard to argue both ways, depending on your personal opinion concerning dancing. The thing is, turn off the sound and it looks like a bunch of people out doing exercises. Rather than making a judgment call on what Second Baptist is doing, take a look at the photos shown here.

Courtesy of (c)istockphoto/baytchev

Courtesy of (c)istockphoto/pobytov

Courtesy of (c)istockphoto/leggnet

Courtesy of (c)istockphoto/konstantin32

I picked these images because ballet and ballroom dancing are two styles of dancing that many people consider to be pretty much okay. Sadly, these images are not the exception but are very typical. There are church people who think nothing of taking their children to ballet lessons. There are other forms of dancing that aren’t good, they think, but these must surely be okay. Let me ask you fathers, is this how you want your daughters to dress? You know as well as anyone what goes through the heads of young men when they are placed in a situation like this. 2 Timothy 2:22 tells us to run away from these temptations.

When we look at some of the clothing some of these praise dance teams are wearing in church, they might be more modest than the images above, but that doesn’t mean they are as modest as they should be. The reason for the Baptist tradition of prohibiting dance is that the nature of modern dance (as John R. Rice called it) draws attention to the dancer’s body, often promoting thoughts of things that we would be better off if we didn’t think about. To add to that, drunkenness and dancing often go hand in hand. When was the last time you saw a picture of people doing a country line dance that didn’t have beer sign somewhere in the picture? It takes more than a beer sign to get drunk, and aside from their jeans being too tight, country line dancing is relatively modest, but can we not say that if country line dancing promotes drinking then they pretty much all do? Modern dancing also promotes adultery and other sins. It was because of lust following a dance that John the Baptist lost his head.

And yet, the Bible tells us to praise the Lord in dance. How do we resolve this?

One thing to consider is that dance encompasses much more than just the structured dances that we think of today. When we look at ballet and professional ballroom dancing, these dances are designed for show. Much of what churches are calling praise dances are designed in much the same way. The dancers spend long hours putting together their performance. The night of the performance comes and they all get on stage and put on the show. Contrast that with what David did when the Ark was brought back. He threw off his robes, ran out into the street and danced, much to the displeasure of his wife. This wasn’t a practiced thing that took place on a stage. He was just so excited that he felt like dancing.

Dances that take place on stage are about communication, not praise. That’s not to say that communication is wrong, but if we really want praise dancing, we should look at what’s taking place in the pews. That guy back there who is tapping his foot—he’s dancing. That woman swaying back and forth—she’s dancing. That guy lifting his hands in praise—he’s dancing. Some churches are a lot freer with their movement as they sing praise than others. And look at the musicians. They may not have a choreographed dance, but the guy with the sax is moving around quite a bit. Those violins seem to be going up and down. And that guitar player is all over the place.

The thing is, it is possible to praise the Lord in dance without putting on a provocative show. Just as praising him with singing doesn’t require us to sing a solo, we can dance without drawing attention to ourselves. But it might not be what so many people think of as dancing. Modern dancing, whether in the bar or in the church, isn’t about our praise to God, but it’s about encouraging people to look at the dancer’s body. The Bible may not go into much detail about what kind of dancing is appropriate and what is not, but is has a lot to say about appropriate dress, things that are inappropriate to see, and inappropriate thoughts and actions. If it isn’t appropriate for a man to touch a woman in a certain way when the music isn’t playing, it isn’t appropriate when it is, no matter what the choreography might call for. If it isn’t appropriate for a woman to dress provocatively, what makes her think she can stand on stage and lift her leg over her head because the Bible says to praise him in the dance? When it comes to many forms of dancing, we wouldn’t be wrong in holding to the tradition against it because they are designed to encourage inappropriate thoughts. They aren’t appropriate in our church or out in the world either. The problem we face today isn't that our churches have forgotten how to dance but that too many churches are becoming too worldly. If there is any doubt, just take a look at those images above and tell me how this is a good thing.