Dancing in Church!

Evan Rogers leading worship at Jubilee Community Church, Cape Town when the people refused to end the service.

Evan Rogers leading worship at Jubilee Community Church, Cape Town when the people refused to end the service.

The Origins of Dancing in Church!
It may be unrealistic to try and specify a moment when dancing in church meetings became popular.

But the specific reason for such exuberant joy is obvious to all who know the power of the gospel.

This was highlighted with characteristic insight by CH Spurgeon who noted that Isaiah 35:6 states that the mute man doesn’t merely talk but ‘shouts’ and the lame man doesn’t merely walk but ‘leaps’, when the power of the gospel works in his life!

In the most obvious sense, then, the origins of dancing in church are just the normal human responses of those who are freed by the power of the love of God in Jesus Christ. This gospel truth is made real to them by the Holy Spirit. This may well be why so many charismatics quote the verse ‘Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty!’ (2 Cor 3:17)

‘This is the Holy Ghost, Glory!’
The early Methodists began to dance. And then they danced a lot. These guys were seriously joyful at the close of the 18th and the beginning of the 19th Century, and they continued to dance!

This, let it be known, was considered dangerous and divisive, but from this distance of time, the descriptions are merely humourous:

‘At the spring sacrament at Turtle Creek in 1804, Brother Thompson had been constrained just at the close of the meeting to go to dancing, and for an hour or more to dance in a regular manner round the stand, all the while repeating in a low tone of voice: “This is the Holy Ghost, Glory!”

‘But it was not till the ensuing fall or beginning of the winter that [they] began to encourage one another to praise God in the dance, and unite in that exercise, justly believing that it was their privilege to rejoice before the Lord, and go forth in the dances of them that make merry.’

The Methodists used popular tunes, from the ‘drinking-saloons and playhouses’ and added new Christian lyrics.

Shaking Hands during Worship
Winthrop S. Hudson, in his article, ‘Shouting Methodists’ relates how it was common to shake hands during the close of a service, whilst still singing:

‘Shaking Hands while singing was a means, though simple in itself, to further the work. The ministers used frequently, at the close of worship, to sing a spiritual song suited to the occasion and go through the congregation and shake hands with the people while singing.

‘And several, when relating their experience at the time of their admission into the church fellowship, declared that this was the first means of their conviction.

‘The act seemed so friendly, the ministers appeared so loving, that the party with whom the minister shook hands would often be melted in tears.’

Other ‘Physical Manifestations’
At the risk of casting doubt over the credibility of the main body of these American Methodists, yet unable to resist an hilarious final paragraph, I quote Hudson once more concerning some physical phenomena that was reported amongst some of them.

An eye witness reported that sometimes, before being impelled to dance, a person’s head would ‘fly backward and forward, and from side to side, with a quick jolt.’ This phenomena was given a name: ‘the jerks’!

‘Sometimes…the whole body would be affected. The more a person labored to suppress the jerks, the more he staggered and the more rapidly the twitches increased.’

Although this was observable, it was not considered proper to merely imitate this behaviour in order to appear more spiritual! So that’s sorted that out!

In the mean time, don’t be afraid to truly rejoice in the magnificent salvation that you  have received in Christ!

(Quotes from ‘Shouting Methodists’ by Winthrop S. Hudson, Encounter Magazine 1968)

© 2010 Lex Loizides

Shouting Satan’s Kingdom Down – the Dawn of American Revivalism

Before we leave the 18th Century Methodists we ought to venture into another of their meetings, this time in America.

The period we are looking at is late 18th and early 19th century, so we’re fast forwarding slightly and entering the exuberance of American Methodist revivalism.

The Shouting Methodists!
In a fascinating article that appeared in ‘Encounter’ Magazine in 1968, Winthrop S. Hudson wrote of the ‘Shouting Methodists’.

These fervent American converts were less concerned about appearing sophisticated than they were about celebrating their new found freedom in Christ.

Clearly, some of their exuberance sounds a little over the top, and, perhaps of more concern, the spontaneous expressions of praise may have become expected behaviour.

Hudson, quotes from a variety of sources, including Alexander Campbell who ‘declared that the Methodist church could not live without her cries of “glory! glory! glory!” And he reported that “her periodical Amens dispossess demons, storm heaven, shut the gates of hell, and drive Satan from the camp.”’

“Shout, shout, we’re gaining ground,” they sang. “We’ll shout old Satan’s kingdom down.”

The ‘Shout Song’
Hudson’s somewhat technical attempt to describe the phenomena of worship during these highly charged meetings make for comical reading:

‘”Shouting” was praise or, as it was often called, rejoicing. Both its practice, including the clapping of hands, and its meaning was partly shaped by Old Testament texts.

‘Initially “shouting” was probably no more than [sudden utterances] of praise. But it quickly became…a type of singing, a type of song, a “shout song,” or just a “shout.”

‘If a “shout” was an [expresion] of praise and a song of rejoicing, it also became the name of a religious service, a service of praise, a praise meeting.

‘People spoke of going to “preaching,” of going to a “class meeting,” and of going to a “shout,” a praise meeting. “When we get home,” they sang, “we’ll have a shout in glory.”

The Dancing Methodists!
‘Finally, for some, a “shout” became a dance, a shuffling of the feet, a jerking of the head, a clapping of the hands, and perhaps an occasional leap.

‘Most often it was a circular march, a “ring shout.” Thus Webster’s Third New International Dictionary defines “shout” as “to give expression to religious ecstasy, often in vigorous, rhythmic movements (as shuffling, jumping, jerking) specifically, to take part in a ring shout.”’

More next time….

© 2010 Lex Loizides

Hilarious Hymns That Need to be Read Again (if not sung)!

We’ve been looking at the fact that the Methodist movement, in its heyday, was truly a people movement. And their songs reflected that!

Every new movement of churches seems to produce a new resource of great songs. This has been true since the charismatic movement in the 1960’s and 70’s.

We might argue that we are enjoying an era of great creativity in the Christian Church in the West at the moment.

Testimony Songs
But nothing really compares with these gems from the Methodist archives!!

In Stith Mead’s Methodist songbook, Hymns and Spiritual Songs of 1807, the initial impression of a convert is reported:

‘The Methodists were preaching like thunder all about.
At length I went amongst them, to hear them groan and shout.
I thought they were distracted, such fools I’d never seen.
They’d stamp and clap and tremble, and wail and cry and scream.’

It is impossible to imagine such a song being sung in churches today! The closest I can think of is Paul Oakley’s ‘I love your love!’, although that is much more recognisable as a worship song than the above!

The People Were Jumping!
A later Methodist songbook, The Hesperian Harp of 1848, has a dialogue song between a Methodist and a ‘Formalist’.

In this segment we hear the Formalist’s impression of the Christian meeting he attended:

Such groaning and shouting, it sets me to doubting.
I fear such religion is only a dream.

The preachers were stamping, the people were jumping,
And screaming so loud that I nothing could hear….

The men they were bawling, the women were squalling,
I know not for my part how any could pray….

Amid such a clatter who knows what’s the matter?
Or who can attend unto what is declared?

To see them behaving, like drunkards, all raving,
And lying and rolling prostrate on the ground.
I really felt awful, and sometimes felt fearful
That I’d be the next that would come tumbling down.

He Tumbled!

Ultimately, of course, he did tumble. His heart was glowing, Christ’s love was flowing, and ‘peace, pardon, and comfort’ he found.
(from ‘Shouting Methodists’ by Winthrop S. Hudson, Encounter Magazine 1968)

Well, if describing their normal church services in song became part of the history of this amazing revivalist movement, then dancing and shouting was also a strong feature.

But more of that next time…

Click here for a great album by Paul Oakley (UK) or here for itunes USA

Click here for a new song co-written by Lex and Paul Oakley

© 2010 Lex Loizides

Noisy Meetings!

The Problem of Praiseless Praise and Joyless Joy!
Most Christians are used to passion in their gathered church meetings. It would be strange, in a perfectly logical sense, to encounter strict formality, dull routine and lacklustre praise (how can you praise someone blandly, with praiseless praise, joyless joy?)

The Bible repeatedly exhorts us to praise God with joy filled hearts and even with shouts of joy!

The Sound Psalmists
David says, ‘I will praise you, O Lord, with all my heart’ (Ps 9:1) and the sons of Korah cry repeatedly, ‘Sing praises to God, sing praises; sing praises to our King, sing praises.’ (Ps 47:6)

You have to admit, you don’t need to go far in the Book of Psalms to realise these guys are exhorting the gathered community of God’s people to exuberant expressions of joy!

Again, Psalm 66:17 says ‘I cried out to him with my mouth; his praise was on my tongue.’ And there’s even a Biblical exhortation to clap our hands and shout – during a time of worship!! (see Psalm 47:1)

Anyhow, for the great Evangelistic preachers of the 18th Century, the noise didn’t usually come from meetings of believers.

Noise, sometimes overriding everything else, came from the mobs and crowds that were hired to disrupt their meetings, and who blew trumpets, banged on drums and threw copious amounts of dirt and stones.

The meetings were also disturbed by the loud cries and shrieks of those who were suddenly aware of their desperate need of God’s forgiveness, or who were being delivered from some form of bondage.

Non-Christians behaving, Christians raving!
However, when Wesley visited Gwennap in Cornwall (England) in 1747 he was surprised by a welcome reversal.

A very large crowd gathered to listen attentively to his preaching. Wesley writes, ‘About half an hour after five I began at Gwennap. I was afraid my voice would not suffice for such an immense multitude.

‘But my fear was groundless; as the evening was quite calm, and the people all attention.

‘It was more difficult to be heard in meeting the society, amidst the cries of those, on the one hand, who were pierced through as with a sword, and of those, on the other, who were filled with joy unspeakable.’
(from John Wesley’s Journal, Vol 2, p.62, Baker Edition)

May God give us such ‘revival’ scenes once more, with multitudes gathering to hear the good news of the grace of God in Christ, and church meetings filled with foretastes of heavenly glory.

More next time…

© 2010 Lex Loizides

Jonathan Edwards Defends the Effects of the Power of the Spirit

The Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the Spirit of God

The Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the Spirit of God - Wesley's edited edition

Effects on the body are neutral from a Scriptural point of view
In his ‘Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the Spirit of God’ Edwards once again urges an impartial and judicious evaluation if such physical manifestations take place.

‘A work is not to be judged of by any effects on the bodies of men; such as tears, trembling, groans, loud outcries, agonies of body, or the failing of bodily strength.

The influence persons are under, is not to be judged of one way or other, by such effects on the body; and the reason is, because the Scripture nowhere gives us any such rule.’ (Jonathan Edwards, Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the Spirit of God’, from Jonathan Edwards On Revival, Banner of Truth p.91)

But Edwards ‘comes out fighting’ to defend the convictions the Spirit produces
So having stated that they are strictly ‘neutral’ in respect of Scripture he then strongly defends such experiences, even suggesting that it is foolish to be dismissive about them:

‘I do not know that we have any express mention in the New Testament of any person’s weeping, or groaning, or sighing through fear of hell, or a sense of God’s anger;

but is there any body so foolish as from hence to argue, that in whomsoever these things appear, their convictions are not from the Spirit of God?’ (ibid p.93)

and he continues,

‘indeed spiritual and eternal things are so great, and of such infinite concern, that there is a great absurdity in men’s being but moderately moved and affected by them.’ (ibid p.95)

Encouragement for Worship Leaders
To the delight of many current worship leaders, he, perhaps unintentionally, gives us a beautiful apologetic for exuberant worship when he writes,

‘And when was there ever any such thing since the world stood, as a people in general being greatly affected in any affair whatsoever, without noise or stir? The nature of man will not allow it.’ (ibid p.95)

More next time…

You can purchase Edwards on Revival here

You can read a review of Edwards on Revival here

© 2009 Lex Loizides

Jonathan Edwards – a participant in Revival and a judicious student of Revival

Jonathan Edwards, first among America's theologians and philosophers

Jonathan Edwards, first among America's theologians and philosophers

Edwards in Revival
One of the contributory factors to Edwards’ depth and openness to the Spirit in his writings is simply the fact that he had experienced the power of God himself.

He was not merely an armchair theologian or commentator, writing from a remote perspective, without having seen the power of God at work in the conversions of men and women and the subsequent impact in a community.

This made a considerable difference in his ability to value peoples’ spiritual experience. To put it simply, he wasn’t freaked out by the operation of the Holy Spirit in peoples’ lives, and their various responses to His power.

Edwards was a participant as well as an observer. At just 33 years of age, he was an astute student of the ways of God.

From single to multiple conversions

It wasn’t long after the sudden conversion of a young lady that the whole town was in the grip of a full-scale revival.  This was not a case of christian believers becoming more fervent in their faith. This was the major part of the population being suddenly drawn to God.

The impact on the town itself was palpable. The main topic of conversation was Jesus Christ and the way of Salvation. Hundreds were converted.

Edwards writes:
‘All other talk but about spiritual and eternal things, was soon thrown by; all the conversation, in all companies and upon all occasions, was upon these things only, unless so much as was necessary for people carrying on their ordinary secular business.’ (Jonathan Edwards, A Narrative of Surprising Conversions, from Jonathan Edwards On Revival, Banner of Truth, p.13)

He continues,
‘But although people did not ordinarily neglect their worldly business; yet religion was with all sorts the great concern, and the world was a thing only by the bye.

The only thing in their view was to get the kingdom of heaven, and every one appeared pressing into it.

The engagedness of their hearts in this great concern could not be hid, it appeared in their very countenances.

It then was a dreadful thing amongst us to lie out of Christ, in danger every day of dropping into hell;

and what persons’ minds were intent upon, was to escape for their lives, and to fly from wrath to come.

There was scarcely a single person in the town, old or young, left unconcerned about the great things of the eternal world.

‘The work of conversion was carried on in a most astonishing manner, and increased more and more; souls did as it were come by flocks to Jesus Christ. (ibid p.13)

Old Northampton

Old Northampton

The Town itself seemed altered
This work of God, as it was carried on, and the number of true saints multiplied, soon made a glorious alteration in the town…

the town seemed to be full of the presence of God: it was never so full of love, nor of joy, and yet so full of distress, as it was then.

There were remarkable tokens of God’s presence in almost every house. (p.14)

Our public assemblies were then beautiful; the congregation was alive in God’s service, every one earnestly intent on the public worship,

every hearer eager to drink in the words of the minister as they came from his mouth;

the assembly in general were, from time to time, in tears while the word was preached; some weeping with sorrow and distress, others with joy and love, others with pity and concern for the souls of their neighbours. (p.14)

More next time…

You can purchase Edwards on Revival here

You can read a review of Edwards on Revival here

© 2009 Lex Loizides