In our last article, we took note of the changed attitude toward the dance by the churches today. Whereas in the past the church has always squarely opposed the practice of dancing, now the churches are beginning to tolerate and even promote dancing. The members, and especially the young people, are encouraged to redeem the dance.
Apparently there is Scriptural support for this approval of dancing. For the Scriptures themselves speak of dancing, dancing on the part of children of God, dancing which was approved of by God. Those who are busy promoting dancing in the churches today appeal to these Scriptural passages as proof for their contention that dancing is permissible for the Christian.
Exodus 15:20 records the dancing of Miriam, Moses’ sister, along with other women of Israel at the time of God’s deliverance of Israel through the Red Sea and His drowning of Pharaoh’s host: “And Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took a timbrel in her hand; and all the women went out after her with timbrels and with dances.” I Samuel 18:6 records the dancing of the women of Israel in celebration of David’s slaughter of Goliath and the subsequent defeat of the army of the Philistines. II Samuel 6:14 describes David’s dancing at the time of the bringing up of the ark of God: “And David danced before the Lord with all his might; and David was girded with a linen ephod.”
Mention is made in several places in the book of Psalms of the dancing of the people of God. In Psalm 30:11 we read, “Thou hast turned for me my mourning into dancing: thou hast put off my sackcloth, and girded me with gladness.” In Psalm 149:3 the psalmist enjoins God’s people, “Let them praise his name in the dance: let them sing praises unto him with the timbrel and harp.” In Psalm 150:4 he exhorts, “Praise him with the timbre1 and dance: praise him with stringed instruments and organs.” The prophet Jeremiah describes the response of the people of God to God’s redemption of them like this, “Then shall the virgin rejoice in the dance, both young men and old together: for I will turn their mourning into joy, and will comfort them, and make them rejoice from their sorrow.”
It might seem, at first glance, that the Scriptures do indeed give their approval to social dancing. Initially it might seem that not only do the Scriptures not condemn social dancing, but they actually encourage dancing on the part of the people of God.
A closer look at these passages, however, will show that this is not the case. A careful study of these Bible texts which speak of dancing will show that there is a sharp difference between the dancing of the Bible and social dancing.
First of all, the dancing spoken of in the Old Testament was a part of the religious worship of the people of God. Their dancing was usually in grateful celebration of some wonderful deliverance which Jehovah had wrought for His people. They danced in spontaneous praise for the special tokens of God’s favor. Their dancing was an expression of their joy in salvation. Their dancing was not simply a hobby. It was not a form of relaxation. It was not for the physical exercise, or for entertainment. It was emphatically an aspect of their worship of God. The children of Israel didn’t hold parties which featured popular music to which the guests might dance. No such thing. They danced to the Lord.
Although dancing did have a place in the Old Testament worship of God, it no longer does today. The fact of the matter is that the New Testament nowhere mentions dancing in connection with the worship of the New Testament church. All the important aspects of the church’s worship are mentioned in the New Testament: the preaching, prayers, singing, giving of our offerings. Nowhere is dancing included as a part of the worship of the New Testament church. The reality to which the dancing of the saints in the Old Testament pointed is the joy in the Holy Spirit, Who has now been poured out into the New Testament church.
Secondly, the outstanding difference between social dancing and the dancing spoken of in the Scriptures is that in the case of the latter the people of God dancedsingly. The men of Israel did not dance with the women of Israel. But they danced individually and separately. There was no fond embrace, no intimate contact, no sensual movements of the body. And there was none of that because their dancing was not the mixed dancing which characterizes the social dance of today. Miriam and the women of Israel danced in celebration of God’s deliverance of Israel. The women danced in joy over David’s defeat of the Philistines. David danced at the bringing up of the ark. They danced individually.
This same point is made in McClintock and Strong’s Bible Encyclopedia.
It remains to notice further that the Jewish dance was performed by the sexes separately. There is no evidence from sacred history that the diversion was promiscuously enjoyed, except it might be at the erection of the deified calf. . . . In the sacred dances, although both sexes seem to have frequently borne a part in the procession or chorus, they remained in distinct and separate companies.
The social dance, the dancing with partners of the opposite sex, is promiscuous. It is a violation of the seventh commandment of God’s law. It is sexual uncleanness. Our fathers were right when they described dancing as “the mother of fornication.” It necessarily arouses in those who participate sexually impure thoughts and desires. It promotes and often leads to the act of fornication itself. Young men and young women are not permitted the intimate contact with each other which they have in the dance. Because our nature is what it is, the dance cannot be practiced without a breaking of the seventh commandment of the law of God.
The explanation of the seventh commandment by the Heidelberg Catechism in Lord’s Day 41 makes very plain this condemnation of the dance. In that Lord’s Day we are taught that the seventh commandment not only forbids the overt act of fornication, but that (God also forbids in the seventh commandment “. . . all unchaste actions, gestures, words, thoughts, desires . . . .” And not only does God forbid all of these things, and account these things as fornication, but God also forbids “. . . whatever can entice men thereto.” Positively, the seventh commandment calls us to “. . . live chastely and temperately, whether in holy wedlock, or in single life.” Really, there can be no doubt that dancing is forbidden the child of God. No child of God who knows himself, and no child of God who recognizes his calling to live a chaste and holy life, can in good conscience participate in the dance.
It’s worth noting that the dance isn’t always spoken of in Scripture with approval. There is another kind of dancing mentioned which is far different from that which was sanctioned by God in the Old Testament. There is the naked, lascivious dancing of the children of Israel about the golden calf described in Exodus 32. On account of that dancing God punished Israel severely. There is also the mention in Job 21:11 of the dancing of the children of the ungodly rich, children who are obsessed with the pursuit of pleasure. I Samuel 30:16records the eating and drinking and dancing of the ungodly Amalekites, a dancing and celebration in which they were engaged at the very moment in which God destroyed them utterly through His servant David. Let those who seek to introduce the dance today beware of the same impending judgment of God.
This is our judgment of dancing. Dancing and the Christian life are incompatible. The child of God is called to separation from this form of worldly entertainment. His refusing to dance is simply part of his calling from God to live the antithesis. His not dancing is obedience to God’s call to him in II Corinthians 6:14, 17: “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you.” The Christian young person takes seriously the Word of God in Ephesians 5:3, 11: “But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not be once named among you, as becometh saints. And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them.”
Yes, this may very well not be a popular course to take. If you refuse to dance you might lose some friends. You might even be mocked. But then, this has always been the life of the people of God in the world. You are in good company! And most of all, painful and self-denying though this way may be, it is the way of the favor of God. And that, in the end, is all that matters.