Position Paper: Dancing


The reason for the church creating a “position paper” on the subject of dancing is due to the wide range of opinion and practice among Christians regarding whether it is spiritually appropriate for believers to participate in dancing. This question needs to be addressed for both the practice of the individual believer, and church sponsored activities and events. This paper will not resolve the ongoing controversy in the wider Christian community, but it is aimed at shedding additional light on the Biblical principles that should be applied, as well as the cultural factors that have changed the practice of dancing since the writing of Scripture. The goal is to establish dancing guidelines in wisdom for the church and individual.

Biblical and Cultural Background

Included at the end of this paper is a survey of all the passages in Scripture which mention dancing. From the twenty-four passages surveyed, it is clear that dancing played a role in the culture and society of that time. We also have examples that dancing played a role in some of the significant events of Biblical history.

Culturally, it seems that dancing was a more common part of their life than for us today. They danced to signal courtship availability, to celebrate military victory, to worship, and to highlight special occasions. One common theme in the examples of dancing mentioned in the Bible is as an expression of joy and celebration. Dancing is three times contrasted with mourning.

The way they danced was significantly different than the norm today. They practiced gender separation in dancing; women with women, and men with men. They danced in gender groups without pairing off. The most common form of dancing today is gender mixed and in pairs. Additionally, women danced more commonly than men. Biblical examples include Miriam leading “all the women” of Israel in dancing at the defeat of Pharaoh, the daughters of Shiloh dancing at a feast of the Lord, and the women of Israel dancing to meet a victorious King Saul returning from battle.

Most examples of dancing in the Scriptures describe it as a normal and healthy part of life. In certain spiritual settings it is even seen as a holy thing.

The Psalms exhort us to, “...praise His name with dancing”, and “David was dancing before the Lord with all his might”. Noticeable exceptions to dancing as a healthy part of life, or a holy expression of worship are when Israel corrupted themselves in out of control dancing while Moses was on Mt. Sinai, and the daughter of Herodias dancing to influence Herod. Both of these exceptions seem to describe a wrong purpose motivating the dance and a sensual element in the expression of the dance.

Biblical Concerns

The Biblical exhortation quoted above to “praise His name with dancing” is still part of God’s Word for us to apply to our lives today. However, the question that is commonly asked as to whether Christians should dance is usually not concerned with whether it is appropriate to dance before the Lord. The question addresses whether it is appropriate for believers to individually pair off male and female and dance in the type of dancing common today.

There is no commandment in Scripture stating, “thou shall not dance”, but the kind of dancing in question for believers today did not exist in that day. The lack of a clear prohibition is not proof that God is pleased when believers participate in any and all forms of dancing in vogue today. There are broader Biblical principles that must be considered and applied to the issue of dancing today. Following is a short list of passages that could alter the believer’s perspective and practice regarding dancing.

  • “...abstain from every form of evil” - I Thessalonians 5:22

  • “...like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior” - I Peter 1:15

  • “Do not love the world nor the things in the world” - I John 2:15

  • “...do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body” - I Corinthians 3:19-20

The decision for the conscientious believer whether to dance or not involves the greater concern for the glory of God. “...whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” (I Corinthians 10:31) Does this activity glorify the Lord? Would it please Him for me to do this? What would Jesus do in this situation? These questions are healthy to ask before participating.

Current Cultural Climate

An important factor that should not be overlooked in the effort to establish guidelines for dancing that would reflect God’s wisdom is the extent to which the changes in our present society’s moral standard have led people to approach dancing in an entirely different way than is described in the Bible.

In earlier American history the community barn dance was a place where the entire family would participate together with strict oversight for the younger people to insure appropriate male and female interaction. Eventually, the “sock hop” developed to provide a dance for young people, but there were always adult chaperones present.

Dancing as a social and personal expression has radically changed mirroring the changes in social morality through the 1960s / 1970s / 1980s / 1990s to the present day. Granted that the following example might be an extreme, but the concern is that the behavior described is no longer as “taboo” as it once would have been. At a recent advertised “rave” dance at a large well established local church a young woman removed her top and danced in the midst of the other dancers until “security”, which was there for crowd control, approached her and required her to put her top on. What is wrong with this picture?!! It seems that so much of dancing today has become nothing more than a vehicle for sensual expression.

The question of what is appropriate for believers is complicated by the great variety in current dance forms. The differences between ballroom dancing, square dancing, country line dancing, and rave dancing are more than simply style. In two of these dance forms for example, square dance and country line dance, the emphasis is more on the group enjoyment of the dance, rather than the sensual / romantic connection between couples. Simplistic solutions either permitting all dance forms in the name of Christian liberty, or banning all dancing out of fear of the worst case scenario have both been tried by churches resulting in either moral compromise or legalistic frustration.

Recommended Church Dance Guidelines

  • Avoid applying one single rule to all kinds and occasions of dancing.

  • Do not sacrifice Christian liberty to dance for the sake of caution.

  • Do not sacrifice godly caution about dancing for the sake of Christian liberty.

  • Remember that what is permissible is not always profitable
    (I Corinthians 10:23).

  • Remember that one person’s liberty can be another’s stumbling block (I Corinthians 8:9).

  • Identify and avoid using clearly ungodly music in any dance (YMCA).

  • Foster a “family atmosphere” in dances involving the entire family
    (i.e. wedding reception dances).

  • Allow dances that are intentionally group oriented (i.e. square dance).

  • Avoid dances that emphasize mixed gender pairing off among singles.

  • Allow married pair dancing for the purpose of building marriage intimacy (i.e. marriage retreat).

  • Avoid cross-couple dancing (other partners) in marriage couples dances.

Survey in Scripture: Dance

  • (Exodus 15:20) Miriam the prophetess, Aaron's sister, took the timbrel in her hand, and all the women went out after her with timbrels and with dancing.

  • (Exodus 32:19) It came about, as soon as Moses came near the camp, that he saw the calf and the dancing; and Moses' anger burned, and he threw the tablets from his hands and shattered them at the foot of the mountain.

  • (Judges 11:34) When Jephthah came to his house at Mizpah, behold, his
    daughter was coming out to meet him with tambourines and with dancing.

  • (Judges 21:21) and watch; and behold, if the daughters of Shiloh come out to take part in the dances, then you shall come out of the vineyards and each of you shall catch his wife from the daughters of Shiloh, and go to the land of Benjamin.

  • (Judges 21:23) The sons of Benjamin did so, and took wives according to
    their number from those who danced, whom they carried away. And they went and returned to their inheritance and rebuilt the cities and lived in them.

  • (1 Sam 18:6) It happened as they were coming, when David returned from
    killing the Philistine, that the women came out of all the cities of Israel,
    singing and dancing, to meet King Saul, with tambourines, with joy and with musical instruments.

  • (1 Sam 21:11) But the servants of Achish said to him, "Is this not David
    the king of the land? Did they not sing of this one as they danced, saying,
    'Saul has slain his thousands, And David his ten thousands'?"

  • (1 Sam 29:5) "Is this not David, of whom they sing in the dances, saying,
    'Saul has slain his thousands, And David his ten thousands'?"

  • (1 Sam 30:16) behold, they were spread over all the land, eating and drinking and dancing because of all the great spoil that they had taken from the land of the Philistines and from the land of Judah.

  • (2 Sam 6:14) And David was dancing before the LORD with all his might, and David was wearing a linen ephod.

  • (2 Sam 6:16) Then it happened as the ark of the LORD came into the city of David that Michal the daughter of Saul looked out of the window and saw King David leaping and dancing before the LORD; and she despised him in her heart.

  • (Psalms 30:11) You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; You have loosed my sackcloth and girded me with gladness,

  • (Psalms 149:3) Let them praise His name with dancing; Let them sing praises to Him with timbrel and lyre.

  • (Psalms 150:4) Praise Him with timbrel and dancing; Praise Him with stringed instruments and pipe.

  • (Eccl 3:4) A time to weep and a time to laugh; A time to mourn and a time
    to dance.

  • (Song 6:13) "Come back, come back, O Shulammite; Come back, come back, that we may gaze at you!" "Why should you gaze at the Shulammite, As at the dance of the two companies?

  • (Lam 5:15) The joy of our hearts has ceased; Our dancing has been turned
    into mourning.

  • (Jer 31:4) "Again I will build you and you will be rebuilt, O virgin of
    Israel! Again you will take up your tambourines, And go forth to the dances of the merrymakers.

  • (Jer 31:13) "Then the virgin will rejoice in the dance, And the young men
    and the old, together, For I will turn their mourning into joy and will comfort them and give them joy for their sorrow.

  • (Matthew 11:17) “We played the flute for you, and you did not dance;
    we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.”

  • (Luke 7:32) "They are like children who sit in the market place and call
    to one another, and they say, 'We played the flute for you, and you did not
    dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not weep.'

  • (Matthew 14:6) But when Herod's birthday came, the daughter of Herodias danced before them and pleased Herod,

  • (Mark 6:22) and when the daughter of Herodias herself came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his dinner guests; and the king said to the girl, "Ask me for whatever you want and I will give it to you."

  • (Luke 15:25) "Now his older son was in the field, and when he came and
    approached the house, he heard music and dancing.

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