Coming soon at a church building near you will probably be a dance troupe—especially if you live near Cleveland, Tennessee. Newspapers love stories like this one. If fifteen people were baptized during a gospel meeting, they would probably not even include a whisper of it. But let someone brew beer while worshiping God, or serve non-alcoholic Pina coladas while doing Jamaican dances, and those will receive attention. The article about the dance troupe garnered a large layout in section E of the Times Free Press of Chattanooga on November 19, 2016.
Above the headline, across the top of the page (except for one column) is a photograph about 5 x 7, containing a scene from the story of Joseph. Underneath two lines of description of the story is found a large title in the following style:
To the right of the title is a small picture (about 1½ x 2), that shows a cast member being made up. Below the title in a (2 x 2¾ inset) is one of the performers, who also teaches dance. The last scene on the page (just under 4 x 6 in size) shows more characters from the Troupe. A performance at Lee University was being advertised. The 45 dancers were performing “Dreamer: The Diary of Joseph” for free (E1). One wonders what kind of dancing is performed. The answer is that it is a mixture of different types—from ballet to hip hop, with even some tap dancing thrown in.
What is its purpose? “It is used to add beauty and emotion to a service” (E6). No doubt it may do exactly that, but the question few ever ask is, “Did God authorize it?” (Most people do not understand this principle, which shall be examined more fully later.) God certainly knew about the power of dance. It found a tremendous response in Herod—so much so that he promised half of his kingdom to Herodias’ daughter. John was beheaded as a result of the beauty and emotion she evoked.
The article focuses on Unity Dance Troupe, but it also mentions that dancing in worship has become more popular in recent years. This group does not dance the way Herodias’ daughter did, which most scholars have thought was in quite a seductive manner. The costumes of the Troupe are loose-fitting and not intended to draw attention to their bodies—but rather “keep their audience focused on the message they are trying to convey” (E6). A spokeswoman for the group says: “I think audiences see the heart and worship behind it and see the presentation of Bible stories in a new perspective” (E6). But again, the question must be asked: “Does God authorize it?”
The Old Testament
As one might expect, Miriam and the women of Israel are cited as justification for dancing in worship today. Not much is actually said in Exodus 15:20-21:
Then Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took the timbrel in her hand; and all the women went out after her with timbrels and with dances. And Miriam answered them: “Sing to the Lord, For He has triumphed gloriously! The horse and his rider He has thrown into the sea!”
It was a joyous occasion. Many believe that, after each section was sung by the men (Ex. 15:1-18), the women responded with this chorus. The text does not say what kind of dancing it was, nor is any specific motion mentioned in other similar verses, such as Judges 11:34 (Jephthah’s daughter); 21:21 (the daughters of Shiloh); 1 Samuel 18:6 (Israelite women upon David’s return); 21:11 (a reference to 18:6); 29:5 (another reference to 18:6)—or even Exodus 32:19, where there was dancing in connection with the golden calf. Nothing in the Hebrew word conveys the type of dancing referred to. It seems to be an expression of joy.
The Hebrew word cited above was Strong’s #4246. A related word [#4234], is also found several times (Ps. 30:11; 149:3; 150:4; Jer. 31:4, 13; Lam. 5:15). This Hebrew word simply describes a generic dance.
Two other words are used less frequently. One of those [#2342] Strong defines as “to twist, whirl, dance, writhe, tremble, be in anguish, be pained.” It is translated “dance” in Judges 21:21 and 23. Another word finds its way into Hebrew texts [#7540], and it refers to “skipping about, dancing, or leaping.” It is used in Job 21:11, Ecclesiastes 3:4, Isaiah 13:21, and 1 Chronicles 15:29.
The word describing David’s dancing is found only in 2 Samuel 6:14 and 16 [#3760], which means to whirl or dance. The only other Old Testament verse with dancing in it (not already mentioned) is 1 Samuel 30:16. The word used there [#2287] usually refers to holding a feast, but it also can include dancing.
These are all the words used in the Old Testament that are translated dancing. Generally, there is no negative connotation inherent in these words. Something evil might happen in connection with dancing, such as being associated with the golden calf, but that is incidental. Most of the dancing was individual and involved nothing more than expressions of joy, as with Miriam and the women, the daughters of Shiloh, David, and Jephthah’s daughter. As Solomon put it in Ecclesiastes 7:4: “There is a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.” The contrast in both cases is between sorrow and joy.
What, therefore have we seen about dance in the Old Testament? Many participated in it on certain occasions. But there are three notable points to observe from all these words and passages. First, none of these involved concepts that we find in modern ballroom dancing. None of the instances involved men and women as partners. Second, none of the dancing involved lascivious movements or unchaste handling of males and females. Third, none of these instances involved worshiping God. They were not done in either the tabernacle or the temple, nor were they conducted by the priests or the Levites.
The New Testament
But even if they had been authorized in worship, it would have been under a covenant that is no longer in effect. The Law was nailed to the cross (Col. 2:14), and it has been replaced by the New Testament of Jesus Christ. No one can go to the Old Testament and cite it as authority for what is practiced in New Testament worship. This is true as it pertains to dancing, the use of instrumental accompaniment when singing, using incense, or worshiping on the Sabbath day.
“But,” someone protests, “Psalm 150:4-5 says that we should praise God with the timbrel and the dance, with stringed instruments, with flutes, and with loud cymbals.” Yes, it does, but that was under the Old Testament. Paul states very clearly in Galatians 5:1-4 that anyone who tries to go back to the Old Testament to justify a religious practice (such as circumcision) must obey everything written there (including animal sacrifices)—and even then he would still only have succeeded in falling from grace. Notice that no one ever quotes a New Testament verse to justify dancing or the use of musical instruments.
The reason is that our system of worship does not authorize these practices. We must have authority from God, Jesus, or the Holy Spirit who inspired the New Testament for us to be certain that what we teach and practice is, in fact, pleasing to God (Col. 3:17). It is not necessary to have a command that says NOT to dance or use incense or use musical instruments to accompany singing. Where does God authorize it?
Are there any words in the New Testament that deal with dancing? Yes. One word  is used in four verses. Two of them refer to a general statement the Lord made: “We played the flute for you, and you did not dance” (Matt. 11:17, Luke 7:32). The other two instances both refer to the daughter of Herodias dancing for Herod and his friends (Matt. 14:6; Mark 6:22). Notice that, as with the Old Testament verses, 1) none of these involve concepts that we find in modern ballroom dancing or instances of men and women dancing as partners; 2) none of the dancing involved lascivious movements or unchaste touching; 3) none of these instances involved worshiping God; and 4) none of them were done in connection with the church. So far as we know, Jesus did not dance, leap, or whirl before God, nor did any of His apostles.
One other Greek word is translated “dancing,” and it is found only in Luke 15:25 . It refers to a circle, a ring, round dancing. Nothing seems to be wrong with this kind of dancing. Many countries have various folk dances that do not resemble in the slightest intimate ballroom dancing, nor is there any inappropriate behavior. Those dancing in Luke 15:25 were rejoicing in the return of the prodigal son. Since the father in the story represents God the Father, this expression of happiness was evidently authorized. However, this event does not authorize dancing in worship to God. Nothing either in the Old or New Testaments does.
Social and Religious Acceptance Is Not Adequate
The newspaper article says that certain religious groups are accepting the Dance Troupe. The United Methodist Church has been okay with it for more than ten years; the Church of God has allowed performances there, also. Even the Baptists are into it (E6). The article found that amusing.
Who hasn’t heard jokes about Baptists and dancing—“Baptists think dancing is one of the seven deadly sins,” for example (E1)?
Now some are not only accepting it; they are involved in it. The article highlights Katie Ervin, who “joined a praise dancing club at age 9. Now a senior at Silverdale Baptist Academy, she began teaching praise dancing at age 15…” (E6).
However, a practice cannot be determined right or wrong by who accepts it. For centuries many religious groups rejected the use of instruments of music in worship, but now almost everyone accepts the practice. Yet those who opposed it had valid Scriptural reasons for doing so. For more than two hundred years, the people in the northern kingdom worshiped a golden calf as God in two different locations. They also had priests from just any tribe instead of from the Levites. They changed a feast day appointed by God (1 Kings 12:25-33). We don’t know how they felt about it when it was first done, but after a generation or so, it was accepted and never changed back. God took them into captivity because of the sins of Jeroboam, who made these changes (2 Kings 17:21). Passage of time does not change something wrong into something right.
Using a dance troupe is, at this time, something new and novel. It may well gain acceptance—especially if people find it meaningful. However, the acceptance of the practice will not be approved by God, who has not authorized it. If it prevails, it will be just one more thing that “Christians” have become enamored with. One wonders what kind of impact might be made upon this world if those professing to be Christians would spend as much time and study on being evangelistic. In other words, what if people studied to be ready to give an answer to everyone who asks a reason of the hope that is within us? What if we were ready with Scriptural answers to Biblical questions? Having that ability takes talent, study, and practice, too.