What is irreverent worship?

4 minute read

Stan at Winging it opened up a discussion about applause in worship. While he takes a relatively neutral approach to the subject, clapping at the end of any part of a church worship service is anything but innocent. Some say it is the very definition of irreverent worship.

What is reverent worship?

What exactly is reverence? Websters unabridged defines it this way: (a) honor or respect felt or manifested : deference duly paid or expressed (b) profound respect mingled with love and awe, as for a holy or exalted being or place or thing. This second definition, profound respect mingled with love and awe gets at the core of reverent worship.

When you choose to behave in a way which displays profound respect mixed with love and awe towards God, your actions are not going to be confused with those of someone who is ordering a coffee at the Dunkin Donuts. Nor are you going to look like someone tripped out on Ecstasy at a rave.

Reverence to the Lord is sober. It’s attentive, quiet and alert. It’s inconceivable that you would simultaneously check your email on your phone while you’re having an audience with the Queen of England. So how in the world could it possibly be okay for you to check Facebook while you’re supposedly worshipping the King of all creation?

But other people do it…

It doesn’t matter if other people behave abominably. If you consider yourself a Christian, your ethics, behavior and morality must be better than those of the people around you. This will rarely happen if (for example) you are only around people of your own age. The Church of God is made up of people in every stage of life. You should be modeling yourself against those with years of experience, maturity, sobriety and good Christian character - and soaking up all the wisdom they can provide.

If you don’t see many gray heads in your worship service, there’s something very, very wrong with your church.

What is a worship service?

What exactly is a worship service? Are you there to be entertained? If you are, that makes you the focus, not God. If you’re clapping to reward whatever’s going on up there on the stage, that makes the star whoever is up there on the stage. There is nothing at all Protestant (or Lutheran) about that.

Back to the question of applause


How much reverent worship do you think is happening while those around you are enthusiastically banging their hands together in response to a performance? Stan writes:

In a Christianity Today article they tell us the "worship wars" are waning. You know, all that disagreement about choirs or praise bands, bulletins or projection equipment, drums or organs. All that silly traditional stuff is on its way out. While many churches held two services -- one for the "traditional" and the other for the "contemporary" -- that is on its way out, too. You get the new version or nothing. The trend, it seems, is toward more informality and more alignment with the popular culture's music and methods. Also noted, _Increasingly informal worship is part of a movement away from belief and doctrine._ -[Winging it: Applause](http://birdsoftheair.blogspot.com/2016/01/applause.html).

The destruction of reverent worship

Stan is on to something much more important than applause. That something is the attitude or spirit behind the radical changes which both Protestant and Roman Catholic worship services have undergone since Vatican II. People tend to get distracted by the shadows - hymnody, organs, guitars, drums, contemporary music, etc. What has really happened is a profound cultural shift, perhaps even more unyielding and absolutist than the “generation gap” forced upon American society in the 1960’s.

The liturgical shifts - changes in worship styles - are related to the systematic destruction of reverence across the broader society. Remember the definition of reverence. It’s not just a feeling generated by music or an artifically altered consciousness shift. Reverence in worship is demonstrated by an attitude of submission to God with mind and emotions intact. In the greater society reverence shows itself in a willingness of the young to learn from those older and more experienced and to respect tradition and authority.

In any society a lack of respect for authority - taken to its logical extreme - will result in a destruction of order and a collapse of the regime. In church worship a lack of reverence will do the same thing.


The disruptive applause in church worship services is not “giving God a round”. The real issue is not clapping at all, but focus. Irreverent worship gives the honor due to God to another. Wasn’t this the heart of Satan’s rebellion?

No doubt some will choose to hear what I’m saying through their own filters. Very well. But this doesn’t change the fact that there is a war going on in the churches. Those taking over more and more worship services through their stealthy “worship wars” are not showing a very Christian spirit. Instead the cheerleaders for the new worship styles thumb up their noses at thousands of years of God glorifying worship. The churches are now ours, they seem say. Take it or leave it. And don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

Cover image - Hillsong church.

Originally published at: Comfort for Christians



Well said! In every church weve attended (as we move around the country), the applause is always for the soloist/special music group. It becomes applause for the performance – the performers are the focus of the praise. (Oh, there is applause for baptisms, but I dont see that as along the same line - as Stan points out.)

If the pastor and elders (or bishops and priests and ministers) of that particular church say nothing, then maybe were the ones in the wrong house. This round of the war is over. The good guys lost.

Agreed Glenn. I really cant see how the type of applause youre describing can be seen any other way. Although like Stan, applause is not a big deal to me. Its more an indicator. Or a mosquito next to a Grizzly. I spoke to one pastor about the ear-deafening volume of the music in one particular churchs worship service. Really? he said. That bothered you? Its like describing water to a fish. They are completely unable to see it. And when they get what youre saying, you become a “legalist” taking away their “Christian Freedom”. Uh, no. Thats not what this is about. At all.

When it comes to applauding the performances, we just dont participate. The volume of the music is something Ive brought up many times, but no one seems to care. Your last paragraph is right on the money - and I love the analogy!

Couldnt agree more! Occasionally we clap after an especially inspired message at bible study – not at all what you describe here. Distressing to hear pastors Dismiss complaints about volume. Thats my first clue that the focus is on self, not God, in a service. (I dont consider having my adrenaline jacked up a good path to quieting my heart before the lord.)

Thats amazing! This is what has been bothering me about the new church Hubby and I have been attending. Were not baptists but have been intermediately attending the First Baptist Church because we have many friends there plus a motorcycle group. Its a typical Protestant church except theyre not singing the old hymns AND theres applause at the end of their sorry music productions. Hubby and I are pretty fed up with it. I told him well go to Sunday School, because its a real learning experience and our same circle of friends, then skip the “service”. Thank you confirming what Ive been feeling all along. Have a blessed day Alec. You sure have blessed me.

And you are so right about the systematic destruction of reverence. Sparkys comment is very discouraging. I tend to think there is a whole “underground “ church here that turns their back on what she encountered. I long to be drawn by the word and be lifted above the clouds by the music!

Hi Baysider, I honestly dont think that many of them have the mental framework to understand the objections. Seminary instruction may have ruined these guys. They are clones when it comes to the most essential matters, no matter the denomination, nor the supposed confessional statement. Alec

Oh Sparky, So sorry to hear this - and am comforted to know that Im not the only one who sees it. At one church, I really considered more than one week going to the Sunday School and skipping the service - just like you and your husband! But Im so conflicted about it. It makes such a strong statement. What will the pastor think when he sees people at Bible Study but skipping the service? I hate to put people on the spot like that. I personally came to the conclusion that I cannot attend that church at all. The possibility of worship of God there has been destroyed. I love what you wrote here:

they’re not singing the old hymns AND there’s applause at the end of their sorry music productions.

Sorry is right! After the last time I attended that particular church, in a moment of unguarded tongue I told someone I trust, How can they take the most amazing truth of the glory of salvation and of Jesus Christ and make it sound like a dopey off-key version of a Muzak tune? And sing it badly! Weve got to keep laughing. Somehow God is allowing all of this. Wherever 2 or 3 are gathered and all that. Well get by even if all the churches go to pot. God bless you. Alec

Hi again Baysider, Perhaps youre right. There very well may be. In December I was preparing to write a series on what some have called “The Dones”. I did initial research and decided not to write it up. The issue is complicated by the fact that there are multiple groups of people who decide to stop going to church. I understand some of the reasons. I also believe that God has commanded us in times like these to make sure not to forego weekly gathering with other saints. (Hebrews 10.25) Its surely not easy to know what to do. One thing, if the church is clearly off on essentials, its a no go. But then the question becomes, what are the essential essentials? If the church covers up pedophilia is that a reason to leave? Or if it funds abortion? Of if it denies justification by faith alone? Or if it is legalistic? Or if it is lawless (antinomian)? Or if it denies the literal truth of the creation and the worldwide flood? Heres the good news, Baysider. You already are drawn by the word and lifted above the clouds. the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his. (2 Tim 2.19) And God has given you eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. (John 10.28). And most comforting of all: “These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) Alec Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. Philippians 2.12

Oh, what an uplifting reply. Thank you! We are blessed to have lovely music created by us in our bible study. Its run something like a mini-church and Sunday school with individual small groups, and a lecture to the whole body. We have 2 different sessions with congregational singing! (And many talented singers and instrumentalists - like the lovely Z, e.g.). We had an elderly teacher who retired 2 years ago. She used the old hymn books (but not exclusively) and picked ones that were relevant to the lesson that week. She knew em all, boy! We had a lot of GREAT songs and music (still do). I LOVED so much of that singing. But you know what? One day an acquaintance turned to me after singing one of my favorites, and she said “if its one thing I REALLY dont like here is singing this old stuff out of these” as she tossed the hymnal down into the holder. I said nothing. Later she saw me singing lustily along without the hymnal (I have many memorized) and realized shed make a mistake. It gave me an opening to tell her about their value in worship and good teaching (our teacher never picked bad ones). She at least understood there was more depth to congregational singing than entertainment and excitement. Once people are hooked on the adrenaline of the swell of of an entertainment service, I think only the Holy Spirit can move hearts back to a better mode of worship. Maybe we should be praying for His moving through the congregation more than we do (than I do at least). And that gets us right back to the top of your post, does it not?

It is sad. Theyre bad about taking one word or phrase and saying it ad nauseam. Thats just too much for me. So far the only person Ive confided in is my husband. I do believe what the Apostle Paul teaches and that women should not speak out in the church but consult her husband. I have a tendency to view things a bit skewed (not just because Im female but also because I suffered a lot of emotional abuse as a child). Well, for now, I will attend the Sunday School because theyre actually teaching in that sphere. Thank you for your thoughts on it. I value your opinion greatly. Have a blessed day.

You might enjoy this light postscript. Remember the old Dick Van Dyke show? I just remembered an episode where Rob and Laura were attending a (I think) synagogue service. After the singing, or some event Rob raised his hands to claps, and Laura shushes him right down. I twas humor then - being so out of sync that youd clap like that (as you write above) in church. The whole, darn culture understood you didnt do that.

Hi Alec, Still checking out your blog. I remember Stans post and I believe I left a comment about how we dress for service. Im sure I left one about music. In any case, I see how we dress as a manifestation of reverence as well, and have not gotten over the sartorial choices common today. As a child growing up in a Roman Catholic family (Im now 61, BTW), polished shoes, neckties and jackets were mandated by my parents. My sisters were in dresses with hats or bonnets and Mom covered her head as well. There was a direct reference to the connection between how we dress and for Whom. I understood it then and it stayed with me. While I dont necessarily wear a suit for every Sunday service, its not for lack of reverence as much as lack of a decent suit that fits (Im working on it). I rarely, if ever, wear jeans, and then only if going to a particular service was a last minute snap decision. I never feel good about it because it just seems so disrespectful. I also have a problem with the music, and while it could simply be the I prefer traditional hymns, there is no doubt most of the “contemporary” music is simply bad. Worse, however, is that the lyrics of too many are unacceptable. As to applause, I suppose it would depend upon what is being applauded. The announcements of church business that includes reports of having reached a monetary goal (getting that furnace replaced) justifies applause. A good performance by a singer or musician does as well and I dont think doing so means that the focus is the person, but just a natural response of appreciation for the persons God given talents used in praise of God. While I do, however, believe it is more appropriate to save it for afterwards, it may also be for some another way to say “Amen”. After all, its a worship service, not a funeral. Applause isnt necessarily a sign of a lack of reverence for the situation. It might be a sign of reverence itself. We are all moved in different ways. It puts me in mind of a joke I once heard, of a black man from a mostly black Baptist congregation on a business trip. He finds only a mostly white “WASP-ish” church to attend on Sunday. During the sermon, he responds as he and his fellow congregants back home does, with loud “Amens!” and “Praise the Lord!” at various points. This the people find distracting. Over and over the man gives out a “Praise the Lord!” as the pastor tries to focus on his message and the people try to follow. Eventually, one usher feels compelled to approach the man and says to him, “Excuse me. But we dont Praise the Lord! here.”