July 11, 2007

Back to Basics

Recently I participated in an extraordinary homecoming at Sligo church, where I spent three years as associate pastor for evangelism. It was a grand reunion reminiscent of heaven as I reconnected with friends I had not seen in almost two decades and sang of God’s great faithfulness. I was dancing in my heart.

Since joining the Adventist Church more than 30 years ago, I’ve heard the caustic criticism that dancing is the sole domain of the devil. But a review of the Bible and Spirit of Prophecy writing shows that there is dancing, and then there’s dancing.

A diligent study of His Word reveals that God loves dancing (see Ps. 149:1-4). He Himself put rhythm in our bodies and the beat in our hearts so that when we hear the sweet music of grace, we can respond naturally to the cadence of holiness and the melodies of salvation.

Dancing was a significant part of community life and worship in the Old Testament. Jubilation or exuberant rejoicing and singing were always accompanied by dancing to the rhythm of tambourines and clapping.  This moving expression of commitment was consecrated as part of a Jewish wedding ceremony and performed by the groom after vows of fidelity to his bride. It inspired the sons of Korah to pen a poem called “A Song Celebrating the King’s Marriage” (Ps. 45).

King David danced vigorously when he restored the ark, despite the denouncement of his wife (see 2 Sam. 6:14-16). Ellen White cautions against conjuring images of worldly dancing when we read or hear this story.* She wrote that there was nothing in David’s dancing that is comparable to or will justify modern dance. The popular dance of our day draws no one nearer to God, nor does it inspire us to purer thoughts or holier living. It degrades and corrupts. It unfits men and women for prayer or the study of God’s Word, and turns them away from righteousness into ways of revelry. Morals are corrupted, time is worse than wasted, and often health is sacrificed.

David’s dance was an act of sacred worship steeped in gratitude with songs of a nation saved by grace through faith in God. It wasn’t some halfhearted moves performed with reluctance like a despised duty. It was a dance full of energy and excitement compelled by the Holy Spirit, energizing David from his head to the soles of his feet. He was inspired from the depths of his soul to the marrow of his mind. His moves were spontaneous with passion as one who is a man after God’s heart and realizes that he is.

When we perform our religious rituals, we should do them with all our might. Conductors have dislocated shoulders while leading orchestras. Singers lose their voice while practicing for a performance. Athletes suffer concussions, break bones, and sprain joints while intensely pursuing their sport. But we seem to lack the passion or purpose to stretch beyond our natural capacities when we worship the Lord.

When we sing, we must sing with all our might. When we pray, we must pray with all our hearts. When we study Scripture, we must do so with all our mind, soul, and spirit. And when we sense the powerful presence of the same Holy Spirit who motivated David to dance, I hope we’ll have the courage to rejoice with mind and body.

The New Testament use of the term agalliao suggests that some of God’s good saints may be in for a great surprise. The word describes the passionate dance of a bridegroom. And Jesus did it, despite the dismay of His disciples (see Luke 10:17-21, where the word is translated “rejoice”).  And the redeemed, it seems, even those reluctant to dance on earth, will dance before the Lord at the marriage supper of the Lamb (see Rev. 19:7-9, where agalliao appears).

I pray that you’ll be at that great homecoming to shake off the awkward fear that inspires frigid sanctity, and dance with Jesus in glory!