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At our previous church, one¬†Sunday morning our pastor recognized a member of our congregation who has just recently become a United States Marine. He was asked to stand. The congregation then clapped and, after a few moments, stood to their feet and gave him a standing ovation. Fast forward to the invitation at the end of the worship service: a lady came forward during the invitation saying that she had been previously baptized but she realizes now that she was never saved. She is now professing before the church that God has indeed saved her and she now has a genuine relationship with Jesus Christ. After sharing this with the congregation the pastor said, “If you rejoice with her please show it with a good hand clap.” And, of course, everybody clapped.

What is wrong with this picture? The congregation gave the Marine a standing ovation but the salvation received a mere cursory hand-clap? We just recognized that a person had experienced the greatest miracle of all, a spiritually dead person was brought to life and given eternal life and a relationship with the Creator of the World, and all we can muster is a hand clap? I am not saying that we should have given her a standing ovation. I do not think that we should because the work done in her life was a work done by God, not something done by her own power (Ephesians 2). However, I believe the contrast in excitement shown by our church in these two situations is merely a symptom of a bigger problem in the evangelical church. What is the evangelical church about? Have we gotten so consumed with issues of our culture that we forgotten what should really excite us as the Body of Christ?

The example mentioned above is just one example of ovations given when it was probably not appropriate. When there is special music, whether it is a soloist, ensemble or choir, the congregation almost always expresses affirmation with applause. When it is really good, there is a standing ovation given. When Fred Luter spoke at our church recently, the congregation gave him a standing ovation following his sermon. When my parents first spoke at our church they received a standing ovation. What are we saying with the applause and standing ovations? Worship and proclamation of the Word are not performances. It is not as if we are listening to the President’s State of the Union Address, or listening to music in Carnegie Hall, or applauding a great ice-skater’s performance.

If we have truly been worshipping in spirit with the music, is a standing ovation appropriate? If God has truly pricked our hearts with a sermon, is it appropriate to stand up and clap? It is one thing to stand in honor of our Lord as King George II did in 1742 during Handel’s Messiah. That is analogous to us standing in honor when reading the sermon text. A standing ovation is another thing all together. When will we realize that we are not performing but leading in worship to an audience of One? When will the clapping and ovations in church stop?

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