addressing legalism in the Adventist Church: Dancing

Updated: Jan 9, 2020

I have held off on posting this for a long time because I was afraid. I was afraid of how people would react and I didn't want to deal with the backlash that my view might cause. I have reached a point in my spiritual journey, where I just can't hold this in anymore. My strength and my peace no longer come from people or even from a church body, instead, I find my purpose in Christ and in the truths of the Bible. I believe that the way we are handling the following topics in our church denomination today is doing more harm than good- especially for young people such as myself.

I realize my ideas might be radical to some readers, but instead of trying to argue with me or debate each other I encourage you to simply go to the Bible and draw your own conclusions for yourself. Sometimes we rely far too heavily on popular opinion or on "being right". The world is not such a black and white place. It's time to let it go and let some issues work themselves out privately between you and God.

For the sake of clarity, I am defining legalism as dependence on personal moral law rather than on religious faith.


When I was a little girl, I took gymnastics lessons at a gym that also taught ballet. I doubt my parents will remember this because it was pretty insignificant overall, but there was one day as we were leaving that I saw how pretty the girls looked in their tutus and dance slippers and I asked my mom if I could do that too.

"We don't dance." was her reply.

I thought about this about as deeply as my 7 or 8-year-old mind could, and every time I was at the gym after that I looked at those girls differently. Were they bad because they were taking ballet? What does the Bible say about dancing?

"Praise the Lord! Sing to the Lord a new song, his praise in the assembly of the godly! Let Israel be glad in his Maker; let the children of Zion rejoice in their King! Let them praise his name with dancing, making melody to him with tambourine and lyre! For the Lord takes pleasure in his people; he adorns the humble with salvation. Let the godly exult in glory; let them sing for joy on their beds."

Psalm 149:1-9

"For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;"

Ecclesiastes 3:1-22

"And David danced before the Lord with all his might. And David was wearing a linen ephod."

2 Samuel 6:14

"And as soon as he came near the camp and saw the calf and the dancing, Moses' anger burned hot, and he threw the tablets out of his hands and broke them at the foot of the mountain."

Exodus 32:19

"For when Herodias's daughter came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests. And the king said to the girl, “Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it to you.”

Mark 6:22

"And watch. If the daughters of Shiloh come out to dance in the dances, then come out of the vineyards and snatch each man his wife from the daughters of Shiloh, and go to the land of Benjamin. And when their fathers or their brothers come to complain to us, we will say to them, ‘Grant them graciously to us, because we did not take for each man of them his wife in battle, neither did you give them to them, else you would now be guilty.’” And the people of Benjamin did so and took their wives, according to their number, from the dancers whom they carried off. Then they went and returned to their inheritance and rebuilt the towns and lived in them."

Judges 21:2-23

Of all the issues I have studied so far, this one was one that I knew the least about. Because no one around me ever really danced and I never really saw dancing (what can I say, I was a pretty sheltered kid haha) while I was growing up, it wasn't until high school that I even really thought about if dancing was "good" or "bad". In high school, I was exposed to what I think of as two different categories of dancing: sexual and artistic. I saw a lot of music videos where people were dancing by grinding, shaking, and carrying on like they were having sex through their clothes (just keeping it real!). I have also been to ballets and broadway shows where the dancing is complex and beautiful and I am moved to tears.

As I looked over these verses, I was reminded of those different dance experiences.

We see verses that speak about a time to dance and using dancing to express joy and praise. David used dancing to express his gratitude and happiness in relation to what God had done for Him. But we can't ignore the verses we see that also show dancing being used in the wrong way. There is dancing being used to call on a false god and worship an idol. There is dancing being used by women to entice men sexually. There are men seeking out dancing women to find someone to marry and have sex with.

When I saw all this I was reminded of the study I did on Jewelry... I don't think the issue with dancing really has to do with the dancing itself, but instead how you are using it.

The reality is, we as humans are emotional. Some people might argue that emotion is due to the fact that we are sinful and live in a sinful world. I don't agree. I think God Himself is emotional. After all, God is love- an emotion. Look at children, who are perhaps the closest thing we have to pure human beings. Children are so emotional! While sometimes this is a hassle, other times this is beautiful. There is nothing like watching a child swing on a swing set, her face lit up in pure joy, giggles pouring out as she squeals, "I'm flying!" Or how about the face of a little boy who just tasted something he really likes for the first time, "Mmmm yummy!" He licks his lips. How about when we watch a heartwarming movie or hear a really gorgeous piece of music. We might start to cry. Life would not be as enjoyable if we could not express how we were feeling. Sometimes we express that through our actions better than we do through our words.

I have been to churches where dancing, clapping, and any sort of movement is looked at as a sin or something unholy. I have also been to churches where there is so much dancing, clapping, and movement that I'm distracted by it. I think both extreme types of service are taking away from what God intended.

I have a friend who left the SDA church she was attending (though she still supports SDA doctrine and the Bible) because she said she was never able to feel or connect to anything there. The sermons were monotone, the music was quiet (they were only allowed to play piano accompaniment), and the audience was unresponsive. She now keeps the Sabbath at her home and goes to a church that meets on Sunday. Yes, I know our entire church experience shouldn't be emotional and I'm definitely not advocating that we leave the church because we can't fully express our emotions- but I do want us to be aware of the effect some of these "regulations" are having on people.

If I am speaking about myself personally, it is kind of heartbreaking for me when I go into a church and read in the bulletin that, "clapping is not permitted." Sometimes when someone sings a song to God and I want to show my support, I naturally start to express my appreciation through clapping. I am so moved by singers and speakers that I can just tell are sharing straight from the heart and from a love for Jesus. I also think it is kind of funny that we are fine with a loud "AMEN" but not clapping. I've heard some pretty enthusiastic amens that might not have fit the "silent atmosphere" requirement that we've made up for ourselves. Yes, I agree that we need to be reverent in the sanctuary, I just don't think a silent audience necessarily guarantees reverence. It might simply mean everyone is sleeping.

Look, I'm not trying to advocate for disrespect. I know there are many forms of dancing that are not good... but let's be real. When it comes to dancing I think it is pretty obvious when someone is motivated by some version of sexual immorality and when someone is literally dancing for joy. Instead of putting our worship (or the worship of others) in a box, let's allow ourselves to feel something!

Just a heads up, I will be dancing like a crazy lady when I walk through those pearly gates. You've been warned!

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