Ask Pastor Dave: Is It Okay to Whistle and Shout in Church?

q-aThis question strikes at a familiar tension. On the one hand the worship of God is a serious and solemn event, one worthy of respect. Yet, the worship of God should also excite us, and the truths of His Word should compel us to joy and jubilation. The answer to this question then could simply be yes, but it should be thought through carefully. The best answer will take into consideration corporate context, situational appropriateness, and personal motivation.

We can indeed shout and whistle in corporate worship. Worship throughout the Bible involves all sorts of emotions, responses, and sounds. We are commanded to “shout for joy” (Psalm 100:1), we are to make a “joyful noise” (Psalm 95:1), we are to clap our hands (Psalm 47:1), and to lift our hands (1 Tim. 2:8). In 2 Samuel 6 King David is said to “dance before the Lord.” There are many responses that are right in our worship. We may shout, sing, clap, hoot and holler, whistle, dance, and more. We may also be quiet, reflective, solemn, and still. Both responses are right, for the Bible calls us too to bow down and kneel  before the Lord(Psalm 95:6). So determining when each response might be right is an important piece in our worship.

We begin by considering the context of our corporate worship. The gathering of the church is not first and foremost about my desires or tendencies in worship, it is about serving one another (1 Cor. 14:26). So, if my excited worship would be a distraction to my brothers and sisters then I should control myself and remember their needs. If it would be considered disruptive or misunderstood then I should think twice about those dramatic responses that might not serve the body well.

I should think too about the situation. Excited, dramatic, jubilant responses are not always appropriate. I recall years ago being at a conference as the preacher spoke in solemn tones about the destructive nature of our sin. People began to shout and holler during this part of the sermon and the preacher finally had to speak to those vocalizations. He reprimanded us, saying that we should not be shouting but weeping. That in that moment the “amens” and “yes, Lords” were not appropriate, for we were reflecting solemnly on the wickedness of our sin. Consider the situation in which your worship takes place. Does this moment call for shouts of praise or silent reflection? Does this situation fit the clapping of our hands and the raising of our hands, or would it be better met with tearful prayers and bowed head? Some of us are inclined to shout and hoot and holler at any and everything, such is not a fitting response to all situations, and it may reveal a thoughtlessness on our part. If I am not thinking about the appropriateness of my praise then I am probably not really thinking about praise at all.

Finally, the most important and pressing issue is to consider the personal motivations of my heart. What is compelling me to worship in the ways that I do? Throughout the Bible God reminds us that he is concerned first and foremost with the attitude of our hearts. So, he rebuked Israel for following the rituals of worship without the heart of worship. “This people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me” (Isa. 29:13). Jesus repeats this same phrase in the New Testament applying it to the religious leaders of His day (. Matt. 15:8). In multiple places God says He does not delight in sacrifices, but would rather desire the heart of the worshipper (see Ps. 51:16; 1 Sam. 15:22; Is. 1:11; Hos. 6:6). So it is not enough just to be excited during worship. Many people can get emotional at the sounds of music or the communication of passionate preaching. Some people may even be drawn to such dramatic displays for the sake of appearances. But we must evaluate the state of our hearts. What draws such worship from us? Reflection on the person and work of God? The truths of His word rightly understood and grasped? We can shout and whistle and hoot and holler and dance in worship, but we ought to evaluate what motivates us to such responses.

It is perfectly acceptable to respond in worship with excitement. More than that, there are times where it seems most fitting to respond this way. Yet we should never engage in such displays of praise without thought. Think of others, think of your situation, and think of yourself. Does this response fit me in this situation among these people? If so, then rejoice in the freedom you have in Christ to shout to the Lord with all your voice. If not, then shout to the Lord within your heart, and give praise in appropriate ways.

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