Clapping at Conferences
March 14, 2015
Q. What is the sound of one hand clapping?
A. A conference where people are more thankful for the message than praising the man who delivered the message.
At a fairly large conference a few years ago, one speaker arrived with great fanfare - the guys on walkie talkies were intense. He was quickly whisked in. He told some great stories, some of which were entirely irrelevant to his topic, and also made a big theological mistake, but he got his standing ovation at the end of the talk because style almost always wins over substance.
I know some, perhaps even many, will say that clapping is harmless stuff; that it reflects a way in which we are thankful for the message. In the Bible, people clap to rejoice, approve, mock, judge, and show agitation (Ps. 98:8; 2 Kings 11:12; Lam. 2:15; Ezek. 6:11; 21:14, 17). We normally do it to either praise or, if we are holy, "give thanks." Clapping after people have preached sermons at conference is pretty standard, really.
Keep in mind that we all naturally suffer from loving the praise that comes from people more than the praise that comes from God (Jn. 12:43). You may be able to guard your soul when you clap for another man, but consider what your clapping (and perhaps standing) may do to that man himself. I just don't see how it's possible to divorce clapping from praising the man, even if part of the clapping is in thankfulness to God.
Aren't conference speakers the people that we should be especially careful with regarding our praise? I think we are all perhaps a little naive when it comes to how praise affects a man or woman.
Usually when God has met with me in a powerful way through the preaching of his Word, clapping isn't something I feel like doing. Can you imagine the churches of Pergamum (Rev. 2:12-17) and Laodicea clapping after receiving Christ's words (Rev. 3:14-22)? "Let's clap that Christ is going to spit us out of his mouth if we don't repent (Rev. 3:16)." There are churches that clap for their minister after he's preached, even here in Vancouver.
Perhaps we clap because the messages at many conferences aren't all that good, nor are they personally convicting. They are usually neatly packaged, filled with a couple of pithy sayings or quotes. I've even wondered if the speaker was bored with his own message, having already preached it many times before.
Recently, I've spoken at several conferences in different continents, all differing in size and audience. Not a single person has clapped for any of the speakers at these conferences, even the larger ones. I've been deeply thankful for that attitude by the audience. Of course, there could be another reason why they didn't clap...but I'd rather not consider that possibility.
If the Holy Spirit produces clapping in you after a sermon or a conference message, you really shouldn't be able to stop clapping, right?
But if the Spirit produces faith and repentance, you won't be able to stop believing and repenting. And that, to me, seems a far more desirable outcome.
Next time you go to a conference and you clap for the person who spoke, ask them whether they struggle with the adulation of men. Perhaps you won't be able to speak to them because they don't have time to speak with you, which makes the whole clapping thing rather strange, doesn't it?
I like the example of Chrysostom: his devotees would clap (and stomp) for him while he preached and after he preached. He preached against clapping, wishing to see a change of heart rather than a change of bodily motion. His hearers still clapped, even after that particular sermon. But at least he did his part. Some conference speakers need to do their part.
If you want to clap for God, do it after a baptism, not a sermon. I doubt very much the preacher will think you were clapping because of his posture during the pouring (dunking?).
Pastor Mark Jones would clap for the Wiggles if they came to Vancouver.