But the LORD is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him.
Habbakuk 2:20 ESV
Not only is applause an expression of pent-up emotion, it is also a way of expressing appreciation for some performance that we especially appreciate, either for its excellence, or because we want to encourage someone who is making a good effort however flawed, like children who stand in front of the conversation, with their tiny voices all but hidden under the sounds of some recorded group.
The children may be a special case, but otherwise, applause for some musical offering in a worship service is not appropriate. Why not? It is because of the term I just used. It is an “offering” to God in our presence. It is not a performance. Suppose in ancient times a rich man brings a beautiful bull into the Temple for sacrifice. Clearly it is a prize animal, perfect in every way. What do we the worshippers do? Do we applaud? Do we congratulate the rich man for going to such obvious expense? Does he graciously bow in our direction? I hope not!
An offering is given to God, not to us the fellow-worshippers. To be sure, an especially precious offering may, indeed, should, move us to deeper, more heart-felt worship. But it is an offering to God! It is not given to us. It is not a performance for us. We should not be moved to say, “Wow, you did a really great job. It moved me. Thank you!” If the offering moved us to focus on the performer and the performance, then something was wrong. A whispered “thank you,” a reverent “amen,” yes; applause, no.
Does all this paint me as a curmudgeon, an old man who wants to stifle spontaneity in worship? Perhaps. But I would like to think that my motives are a little better than that. It seems to me that applause is a way of focusing the worship experience on us, and that way, as the old maps say, “there be dragons.”