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