Dancing: Why Would We Outlaw the Frolic of the Faithful?
- Dr. Daniel Christensen
- 2016 27 Jan
The Christian liberal arts college I graduated from outlaws behaviors such as drinking alcohol, watching rated-R movies, and dancing. When I was a student, I was indifferent to the beer ban because I'm not a drinker and I ignored the movie ban because I’m not a legalist. But the prohibition against dancing bothered me.
College is hard and I just thought if I did well on my final in Life and Literature of Paul I should be able to “bust a move” should the Spirit so move me.
My alma mater disallows dancing because it increases the likelihood that students will fornicate–at least this is their rationale. My own dancing serves the school's ultimate objective, as the rhythm-defying convulsions my body kicks out to music repel women with extraordinary effectiveness.
If a student is caught dancing, they are sentenced to dig irrigation trenches on campus. I’ve always wondered if campus visitors remember to appreciate how many unintentional births the college has prevented when they see its well-drained property.
University administrators encouraged students to hold each other accountable to follow their rules. Yet, they emphasized their no-dancing policy so often that when my friends or I left for a date, rather than saying, "remember not to dance, because it could lead to fornication," we would caution, "remember not fornicate, because it could lead to dancing."
The rule didn't remind me to save intimacy for marriage, though it did remind me of Footloose. In that movie, Ren McCormick (played by Kevin Bacon) is a dancer-without-a-cause. His high school barred dancing, so Ren and his friends went into the woods to boogie in secret. I imagine my former school is dumbfounded as to how Footloose is only rated PG.
To dissent from my school's no-getting-down decree I didn't have to go into the woods. I just had to open my Bible. God's people danced in deserts and cities, by the sea and in their homes. As is evident below, men and women, parents and children, and kings and paupers all danced in praise to God – and didn't receive any demerits.
1. Miriam's Conga Line
On the night all the firstborn boys in Egypt died, Pharaoh released the Israelites from slavery. He immediately regretted the decision and set out to recapture them. Pharaoh's army pursued faster than Israel could flee, cornering them between the lifeless wilderness and the Red Sea. Then God told Moses to stretch his hand over the waters and they parted. The Israelites walked on dry land to safety and the Egyptians drowned in the sea.
So how should a person respond to such a miracle? Shouts of praise to God would certainly be appropriate as would worship through song. But what about a tambourine-shaking conga line? Evidently.
"Then Miriam the prophetess, Aaron's sister, took a tambourine in her hand, and all the women followed her, with tambourines and dancing” (Ex. 15:20, emphasis added). It was Spring Break ’08... 1408 BC, that is. It was Ladies Night in the Sinai Desert. It was a Shindig in the Sand that would rival Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello's beach parties.
Primarily, though, it was God's people worshipping Him. God's redemption of them was the music to which they pranced along the coastline to express their hallelujahs.
The parting of the Red Sea wasn’t the only miracle that happened that day. Amazingly, there is no indication this dancing produced any illegitimate children.
2. David's Holy Hoedown
The Ark of the Covenant symbolized God’s presence among the Israelites, so it horrified them when the Philistine’s possessed it during a time of national instability. Then God gave David victory over the Philistines and the Israelites took back the ark. Its return signaled spiritual renewal in Jerusalem.
In response David “danced before the Lord with all his might” (2 Samuel 6:14, emphasis added). The ark’s restoration to its rightful place among God’s people, didn’t just call for a subtle head bob or a restrained side-to-side swaying. David threw all discretion to the Judean wind and cut a rug.
King Scissor-Feet was thanking God for returning the ark because it signified His approval of them. David felt such elation at God’s acceptance that nouns, verbs, and adjectives couldn’t sufficiently communicate his gratefulness. What words couldn't say, his feet could.
3. The Prodigal Son's Homecoming
After spending all his money on wild living in a distant country, the prodigal son went home where his non-condemning father threw him welcome-home party. His older brother’s resentment began when he stumbled upon the celebration: “He heard music and dancing” and “became angry and refused to go in” (Luke 15:25-26, emphasis added).
Whether it’s the twenty-first century, or the first, it’s always been hard to arrive stag at a homecoming dance. The issue, though, wasn’t that the older brother was dateless, it was that he was merciless. His merciful father, in contrast, was dancing because he was overjoyed that his lost son had come home.
In this parable, the father represents God and the son represents sinners. Unlike the other stories of dancing in the Bible, the story of the prodigal son doesn't describe people dancing for God, but God dancing for people. God won't temper His celebration over his children's homecomings for those who can’t find the groove of grace. He loves it too much when His children come home.
He’ll dig trenches for that.
That dancing is sometimes associated with immoral behavior in the Bible (e.g. Ex. 32:19) isn’t reason to refrain from the expression altogether. I appreciate my former school’s intentions to uphold biblical morals; however, narrowing their students' breadth of worship is counterproductive to that end.
My own dancing leads nauseated observers to conclude that there must be a line between worshipping God with dancing and embarrassing Him with it. But since my tempo-spurning jolts and spasms are expressions of thankfulness and gratitude to God, I don’t believe He would punish me. I expect God would be pleased watching me dance – even if He was laughing along with everyone else.
Daniel Christensen has been in ministry for 20 years as a youth pastor, senior pastor, and as a professor. He currently teaches at Corban University and Northwest University. He enjoys spending time with family and friends, and vacations at the Oregon Coast.
Publication date: January 27, 2016