08 June 2022

The “clap offering.”

CLAP OFFERING 'klæp 'ɔf(.ər).rɪŋ noun. Applause. (Meant for God.)

In American culture, the custom after someone performs—particularly if they performed well, but sometimes just to be polite or kind—is to clap one’s hands. It’s either praise for a good job, or meant to cheer up a performer who’s, y’know, trying. Not clapping means you either missed your cue, or you’re offended but aren’t gonna boo, or (which is more commmon) you didn’t know you were supposed to clap, ’cause you’re at a solemn or formal occasion—a fancy restaurant, a funeral, or even a church service.

Yes, a church service. When someone gets up to sing, in theory they’re doing it for God. Not the audience, not the congregation; not to entertain us, but praise God. So hold the applause, ’cause it’s inappropriate. They want God’s praise, not ours.

Which sometimes feels just weird. We’ve been conditioned to applaud a performance ever since we were little children. Any performance; even sucky ones. So if someone gets up and belts out a really stirring song for God, and they did a fine job, it feels just wrong to leave it unacknowledged. Especially when we enjoyed it too.

So Christians invented the “clap offering.” We applaud. Supposedly we’re applauding God, not the performer. But… yeah, we’re applauding the performer.

And those who are offended by such an idea can pretend it’s really directed at God. “Yeah, give God a clap offering! Give him the praise!” And some of us actually will direct our applause at God, and the performer can redirect our praises towards him… and again yeah, we’re applauding the performer. Didn’t they do a good job? (Or hey, it’s our kids on the stage!—and they weren’t good at all, but let’s make ’em feel better. Way to defeat that stage fright! Or whatever.)

Joyful noise.

Believe it or don’t, this clap-offering idea is actually biblical. Millennia ago, clapping became a near-universal sign of praise. There are lots of theories why, but they don’t matter. People applauded in the bible, and people applauded God too.

Psalm 47.1 NIV
Clap your hands, all you nations;
shout to God with cries of joy.
Psalm 98.8 NIV
Let the rivers clap their hands,
let the mountains sing together for joy…

People (and trees, rivers, rocks, etcetera) are encouraged to make a joyful noise to the LORD by כָ֑ף־יִמְחֲאוּ/yimkháhu-khaf, “striking the hand.” Usually with the other hand, although you notice people will slap their knees if they don’t have the other hand free.

Is this an offering? Kinda; we’re offering it to God. Although offerings in the scriptures are typically a material thing you bring to God, like an animal, grain, money, or food. I once had someone point out the “wave offering,” but that doesn’t mean we jut wave at God in worship; it’s describing how the offering got waved around a little before burning and eating it. Lv 7.30-31 Offerings appear to be material, and clapping ain’t material.

And not necessarily a valuable thing either. Remember how I said we’ll even applaud lousy performers?

But if we mean it, it’s as valid a form of worship as singing. So it’s okay to applaud God. I mean, we applaud him after we’ve just heard a powerful testimony, right? And he does plenty of things like that all the time; when should we not applaud him?

It’s just… as I said, it’s often a conditioned response to the end of a performance. The song ended; we gotta applaud! But the song wasn’t for us, so… so… let’s applaud God!

I mean, if it’s really a worship thing, we oughta see clap offerings in a lot of other places during our worship services. Fr’instance before other things. Before music. Before prayer. Before the service even starts.

Churches which don’t.

Some churches are worried all “clap offerings” are really hypocrisy, so they simply won’t do ’em. At all. Unless you’re clapping along to the music (and sometimes even then!) you don’t clap in their churches. Try it, and the rest of the congregation will try to frown you down.

Well, to each their own. But just because some Christians practice a form of worship wrong, doesn’t mean it should be banned altogether. Many of us can’t sing, or can’t sing well. Doesn’t mean we should be forbidden from singing! Likewise some of us aren’t any good at public prayer, but God forbid we keep people from praying.

There’s a time and place for joyful noises. And maybe Sunday morning worship in your church isn’t one of those places. Maybe that’s for good reason; maybe they’re control freaks. Sort that out between you and the Holy Spirit. Meanwhile, outside those services, clap and shout and cheer away.

Do it with the right attitude, and God will always appreciate it.