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 Vol. 4, No. 1 

 

January, 2002

  

~ Page 17 ~

 

A Sermon on Dancing

By Grady Miller

Grady Miller A series of lessons on moral issues would be incomplete if we did not give notice to the problem of the modern dance. I confess that I broach this subject with fear and trembling. It is the one sermon that usually gets me into trouble -- not so much with elders and deacons, or Bible class teachers, or even with fathers and sons, but with mothers and daughters! An old fashioned sermon on dancing seems to prompt more exasperation and frustration than just about anything else I am liable to say from the pulpit.

Of course, those of you who are older and more mature in the faith have heard sermons on dancing before, although it's probably been a while. It may be that our youngsters are hearing this lesson for the first time this morning. I hope not.

The August 9, 1997 Ledger (Lakeland, FL) printed an article by Clark Morphew that poked fun at preachers who rant and rave about dancing. One of Mr. Morphew's readers sent him an old tract written by a medical doctor, E.S. Sonners. Dr. Sonners said, among other things, that dancing is a "reversion to savagery" and that a "young girl enjoys the dance because she is drugged by suggestive music and emotional over-stimulation into drunkenness, a frenzy that takes her back nearer to the beast."

Dan Osterhus, the preacher, told Mr. Morphew that the tract "was printed 40 or more years ago. My records show we haven't reprinted that tract for nine years. I can't really defend it at all."

Fifty years ago, James H. Harwell wrote an article titled "The Real Issue Involved in Dancing" (Gospel Advocate, February 10, 1949) in which he made this observation.

It is not to be denied that preachers have often been unreasonable in their ranting and raving about the evils of dancing. Many absurd charges have been hurled from the pulpit, and ridiculous accusations have followed. Undoubtedly, young people have oftentimes turned away in disgust after hearing dancing upbraided, because they knew they had not heard a fair and representative discussion of the question. But young people are entitled to an intelligent and sane explanation as to the impropriety of dancing with members of the opposite sex. They are, above all things, entitled to know why dancing is frowned upon as a questionable and evil practice.

The last thing I want to be is unreasonable! I know how some folks will jump on an outrageous statement, overthrow that argument and ignore everything else. So, before we get deep into this matter, a few common-sense observations are in order.

Of course, we all know that music has the power to make us move -- whether it be clapping our hands, patting our feet or swinging around in a circle. No one can seriously argue that all of that moving to music is inherently sinful and always leads to lust and lasciviousness. Watching Fred Astaire dance with Ginger Rogers just doesn't do it for me. The same with mountain clogging or a Mexican hat dance or that Irish troupe doing the Riverdance. I watched part of a documentary the other night on aging and issues confronting the elderly; dance therapy is helping to get some folks up out of their chair and encouraging them to exercise and simulate their circulation. I've watched young children in P.E. classes at school learn the rudimentary steps of square dancing. I remember having to do so as a boy, and how I hated it. Of course, that was before I learned how much fun it was to play with girls! And I just know there can't be anything wrong with clapping and jumping up and down while the band plays Rocky Top!

I want you to open your Bibles this morning. It may surprise you to learn that the Bible has something to say on this subject. In fact, the word "dance" and its various forms are found twenty-seven times in the Word of God.

The dances of the Bible can be divided into four distinct categories. Let us notice each of these.

Figurative or Symbolic Dancing

"Dance" sometimes stands for a happy way of life marked by joy, prosperity and contentment. Such "dancing" is not really dancing at all; at least, it is not what the modern mind understands by the word "dance." Notice these examples taken from Scripture.

"Thou hast turned for me my mourning into dancing: thou hast put off my sackcloth, and girded me with gladness; To the end that my glory may sing praise to thee, and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks unto thee for ever" (Psalms 30:11).

"Then shall the virgin rejoice in the dance, both young men and old together: for I will turn their mourning into joy, and will comfort them, and make them rejoice from their sorrow" (Jeremiah 31:13).

"The joy of our heart is ceased; our dance is turned into mourning" (Lamentations 5:15).

It is clear that "dancing" in these passages refers to the whole tenor of life, reflecting a life of joy and blessing just as "mourning" calls to mind gloom and despair. This understanding sheds some new light on Solomon's familiar words.

" a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance" (Ecclesiastes 3:4).

The Bible is not the only book that uses "dance" in such highly figurative fashion. For example, William Blake's "The Fly" [1794] employs this usage.

Little Fly, thy summer's play

My thoughtless hand has brushed away.

Am not I a fly like thee?

Or art not thou a man like me?

For I dance and drink, and sing,

Till some blind hand shall brush my wing.

In more recent years, Jackson Browne has recorded "To A Dancer," a song which compares a young girl's life to a dance. Here is "dancing" without music, rhythm or movement.

Exuberant Dancing

Many of the Old Testament references to dancing convey little more than a jumping for joy and a gleeful, energetic celebration.

"And Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took a timbrel in her hand; and all the women went out after her with timbrels and dances. And Miriam answered them, Sing ye to the Lord, for he hath triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider hath he thrown into the sea" (Exodus 15:20-21).

"And Jephthah came to Mizpeh unto his house, and, behold, his daughter came out to meet him with timbrels and with dances: and she was his only child; beside her he had neither son nor daughter" (Judges 11:34).

"And it came to pass as they came, when David was returned from the slaughter of the Philistine, that the women came out of all cities of Israel, singing and dancing, to meet king Saul, with tabrets, with joy, and with instruments of music" (1 Samuel 18:6).

"And David danced before the Lord with all his might; and David was girded with a linen ephod. So David and all the house of Israel brought up the ark of the Lord with shouting, and with the sound of the trumpet" (2 Samuel 6:14-15).

It is clear that each of these verses describes a great celebration by the children of Israel: Miriam led the women in singing and dancing after God destroyed the Egyptian army by the same water he parted to save Israel; Jephthah's only daughter rejoiced to see her father return from his battles and celebrated his homecoming; the Israelite women sang and danced when their men returned from the war against the Philistines; David danced "with all his might" when he was able to return the ark of the covenant to the people of God. These scenes may remind some of our own national celebrations. Americans "danced in the streets" at the end of World War I and II, the landing of men on the moon and other great events in our history.

While these dances were accompanied by music, it is certain that their spirit was far removed from that of the modern dance.

Religious Dancing

Although we are not entirely happy with the label we have given this classification, it may serve to describe the dances offered in praise of the God of Israel by his people of long ago. Under the Law of Moses the Hebrews were commanded to praise God with song, instruments of music and dancing. Notice these passages from the Book of Psalms, the songbook of ancient Israel.

"Let them praise his name in the dance: let them sing praises unto him with the timbrel and harp" (Psalms 149:3).

"Praise him with the timbrel and dance: praise him with stringed instruments and organs" (Psalms 150:4).

The nature of these "religious dances" is not entirely certain. It may well be that the enthusiastic leaping of David and the heart-felt dance of Miriam, along with similar celebrations, would be included in this category. No one could witness a gala affair without learning that the cause for joy was the power of Almighty God.

Still, these two points must be kept in mind as we consider these passages from the Psalms. [1] Whatever these dances to the praise of God may have been, we can be certain as to what they were not! Surely, no one would argue that these dances were in any way comparable to the sensual gyrations of the modern dance. [2] New Testament Christians realize that the Law of Moses was nailed to the Cross (Colossians 2:14). Dancing in praise to God has gone the way of incense burning, Sabbath-day keeping, the temple sacrifice and instruments of music.

Worldly or Sensual Dancing

Have you noticed something interesting and important about the passages we have read thus far? None of these Bible verses has mentioned men dancing with women! And yet, these are the "proof texts" sometimes cited to justify the modern dance!

Indeed, the Bible does describe what may happen when men and women dance. This dance is not merely figurative or symbolic or the natural reaction to stupendous events. And it is certainly not a religious dance!

And the people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play. And the Lord said to Moses, "Go, get down! For your people whom you brought out of the land of Egypt have corrupted themselves" (Exodus 32:6-7).

And when Joshua heard the noise of the people as they shouted, he said to Moses, "There is a noise of war in the camp." But he said: "It is not the noise of the shout of victory, Nor the noise of the cry of defeat, but the sound of singing I hear." So it was, as soon as he came near the camp, that he saw the calf and the dancing. So Moses' anger became hot, and he cast the tablets out of his hands and broke them at the foot of the mountain" (Exodus 32:17-19).

Look at one more passage, this time from the New Testament, and the lesson will be yours.

"Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleaness, lasciviousness, Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God" (Galatians 5:19-21).

Take a good, close look at that word "lasciviousness" (from aselgeia). If you are reading from the New King James, your Bible talks about "lewdness." Other translations have "sensuality" (NASB), "debauchery" (NIV), "licentiousness" (RSV and NRSV) or "shameful deeds" (CEV). What is lasciviousness? Thayer's Greek-English Lexicon defines it as "filthy words, indecent bodily movements, unchaste handling of males and females." It was a word used by Plato, Basil, Plutarch, Demosthenes, Josephus and the Apostle Paul to denote behavior that is basically sensual in nature.

"They which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God!"

Another "work of the flesh" in Galatians 5 is komos, translated "revellings" in the King James Version ("revelries" in NKJV, "carousing" in the NASB, "orgies" in the NIV and "carry on at wild parties" in the CEV). The word was most often used in connection with drinking. However, Liddell and Scott, in their English-Greek Lexicon, note that the word had a close relationship with "music and dancing" and often described the sensual behavior following a victory at the public games.

Let us resolve that we are going to be bound by God's Word. If "lasciviousness" and "revellings" are going to keep some out of the kingdom of God, I don't want to be in that number. And, no matter what "lasciviousness" and "revellings" may be, that's the kind of behavior I want to avoid. If aselgeia applies to tree climbing and swinging from a limb, don't invite me to a tree-climbing, limb-swinging party. And if komos takes place at a spelling bee, don't look for me there.

On the other hand, if these words describe the behavior and activity that may take place at a Homecoming Dance or high school prom, why would the child of God want to place his soul at risk? And knowing the importance of Christian influence, why would he or she want to be a stumblingblock to others?

Conclusion

It is not always easy to be different or to reject that which the world so eagerly embraces. Nor is it always easy to follow where Jesus leads.

"I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do things that you wish" (Galatians 5:16-17).

Death and Dying Death and Dying
by Dickie Hill
paperback, 160 pages, 14 chapters
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