There is considerable interest in the question, "Is clapping in worship Scriptural?" I heard a brother recently who preached a sermon against the practice, and was approached by the elders who told him that they would not be having him to preach for them anymore. Change agents in the church are introducing two forms of hand clapping into some worship assemblies: as a display of approval and as a rhythmical accompaniment to singing.
Why is there such interest in this innovative involvement in the worship services of the Lord's church? The answer lies largely in the fact that many brethren are not well grounded in the Scriptures. Another factor involves the "baby boomer" generation relentlessly pushing for innovative changes in worship reflective of the growing trend of performance worship that seems to be taking hold in some quarters. These two factors combined, account for the ignorance manifested when brethren give Old Testament references in defense of a question dealing with New Testament worship. Defenders will allude to Psalms 47:1-2; 98:8 and other Old Testament references as authority for the practice. If the Book of Psalms authorizes clapping in New Testament worship, then by the same hermeneutical principle we have authority for shouting, dancing, animal sacrifice and instrumental music in worship.
In fact, hand clapping amounts to percussion. By definition "clapping" means, "to strike (as two flat hard surfaces) together so as to produce a sharp percussive noise." This is the primary definition of "clap" according to Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary. We would not add drums to the worship, but that is essentially what people do when they clap their hands in rhythmical accompaniment to singing, as some are doing.
The defense is sometimes made that hand clapping is an expression of appreciation and an act of rejoicing, to which is added, "The angels rejoice in heaven, why can't we?" The allusion is to Luke 15:10, however, the emphasis there is not on angels rejoicing, but the one who rejoices in their presence -- the Father himself. And, where is the proof that raucous, applause filled celebration occurs in heaven which calls for our imitation of the same in worship? It is not there! It may be the case that on some occasions some express "appreciation" by applause, but it is more often the case that when we applaud something or someone we are saying, "I have been entertained!" Our current culture has conditioned us to be entertained. That, in a nutshell, explains the growing interest in the hand clapping phenomenon among us.
Shall we applaud a person's baptism into Christ? Baptism takes us back to the very cross of Christ (Romans 6:3-11). This is a very humbling experience. It would be profane for me to applaud such a spiritually significant event, even though in my heart I rejoice even as the one being baptized (Acts 8:39).
The real issue in this is, are we free to follow personal preferences in worship? God has always demanded that our actions be authorized, approved and sanctioned by him (Colossians 3:17). Until we can show that the New Testament authorizes hand clapping in worship may we keep our hands folded in prayer, holding on to the Bible as it is being preached and busy in his service.