Friday, March 20, 2009

BIBLE STUDY: Raising your hands in church

I come from a conservative background of the Protestant church tradition. My friends and family tend to be non-demonstrative lot at church, with little more than the occasional "A-men!" when we are REALLY moved. So, it has bothered me to see a particular phenomenon from the charismatic/pentecostal tradition starting to appear in church - the raising of hands. This action, usually done during singing, always seemed showy to me and distracting. But, it is important to separate "it bothers me" from "it is wrong." So, I decided to do some research into the phenomenon, and see what the Bible had to say.

First, I found an amazing number of defenses of the practice online. The best explanation of why people lift their hands in worship came from here.

- Lifting the hands is a symbol of surrender.
- Lifting the hands is a symbol of trust.
- Lifting the hands is a symbol of openness.
- Lifting the hands is a symbol of affection.
The "surrender" symbolism is especially significant, it seems to me. In my own observation, I have noticed that the lifting of hands is especially common among women in the churches I have visited. Surrender is something that is culturally-appropriate for women in America - giving oneself to your husband, to your children, to your church, to your friends - but is less culturally-appropriate to the rugged individualism which governs men in our culture.

In looking through scripture, there appears to be three classifications for the raising of hands:
1. Prayer (5 references): 1 Timothey 2:8, Lamentations 3:40-42, Psalm 28:1-2, Psalm 141:1-2, Nehemiah 8:5-6
2. Worship (2 references): Psalms 63:3-4, Psalm 134:1-3
3. Study (1 reference): Psalm 119:48

Going by the pure number of references, it is clear scripture favors the raising of hands as a posture of PRAYER over worship. However, it is equally clear that scripture does call for the lifting of hands in worship. One interesting note from the same article listed above may be significant in this.
The Hebrew word for hand is the word yad; yadah means to “throw out the hand” or to worship with extended hands.
Which may indicate that the extension of hands to an object of adoration is simply an assumption of Hebrew culture.

Another article noted one other aspect of the raising of hands - which C.S. Lewis also applies to kneeling in The Screwtape Letters - is that movements and positions of the body influence the attitude of the mind and heart.

But of note also is this article which makes the claim that all raising-of-hands references in the old testament are related to the sacrificial system, and thus are inappropriate to a Christian world where sacrifices have been fulfilled by the death and resurrection of Christ. The author dismisses the 1 Timothy 2:8 scripture as a figurative passage asking for "clean hands" of Christians.

Overall, the middle road here appears to be that the raising of hands is a Biblical practice. It is permitted and encouraged by Scripture, but is not commanded or required. This article does a good job of summarizing what I have come to: worshiping with lifted hands is appropriate and scriptural, but should be done with an eye toward its potential impact on others around you. If you are in a service with people who will find it distracting, or who will be tempted toward showing off, then keep your hands down. If you are in a service where people are comfortable or ambivalent to the practice, go right ahead.

For me, this study has been a comfort. It reminds me that my own prejudices should not rule how I view others, or their relationship with God. Surely, some raise their hands to be showy. But others do so with sincere hearts, looking to praise God and obey scripture.

19 comments:

shadowmom1 said...

Although I am personally uncomfortsble raising my hands in a corporate worship service, I have no problem with others who do. When I have noticed, it was obvious that those raising hands are in a true spirit of worship. I am sure it pleases God when it is done from a free and blessed heart. I am equally sure it is not displeasing to Him if we do not raise our hands. He wants honest worship and He reads our hearts.

Ron said...

I am a hand-raiser, though not too often.

I always find it funny when there is a line in the song that says "we lift our hands toward heaven" and everyone is as stiff as a board.

Bow Hunter said...

Good article, thanks.

shadowmom1 said...

I "raise my hands in holy worship" in my car, but not when others are present. I was raised in a Puritan church and find public displays uncomfortable. It can be hard to move beyond that early training.

Stephen said...

if you are embarrased to show your affection for christ in public he will be embarrased to show you love in front of the father.He plainly said in scripture:if you are ashamed of me to men,i will be ashamed of you to my father.if it offends you even in church,then you need to evalueate your love for christ.if you think for a moment that if you do make it to heaven it's going to be a place of peace and quite and you are going to sit around in silence and meditate.you are sadly mistaken.heaven is LOUD.read the bible.there will be 100's of million people praising god to the fullest.if you were a sinner,like we all are.there is none rightous no not 1.we have all fallen short of the glory of god.and you were on your way to a burning hell for eternity.and a holy god stepped in and saved your stinking soul.set you aside,sanctified you,blessed you,keeps you,holds you.how in blue blazes can you sit in a church and sit on your hands,never stand up,look up pray up,hold your hands up and say thank you jesus for saving my rottin soul from all that.people get a grip.you think it could offend someone? please.get a grip.and oh yes.i am a pentecostal.but that should not just be in a pentecostal church.everybody should be raising hands and your voice and praise god.you will sit in front of a t.v. and scream at the top of your lungs at a football game,but you go to church in the presence of a holy god who saved your stinkin soul and just sit there.well,i guess we do live in the u.s.a. united states of the affended.hopes this clears this topic up...thanks for reading...

Anonymous said...

Stephen,
The Bible says doesn't say if you are embarrased to show affection He will be embarrased to show love to you. Talk about a bad translation!

The Bible does say if you fail to confess and deny Him before men He will deny us to the Father.

I hardly think that failing to raise hands in a church service is not confessing the Lord.

Anonymous said...

I think Stephan has a good point. How can someone be "embarrassed" to do something to praise God? The only way people can be "embarrassed" is if they are thinking about others, but worship should be only thinking about God. I too am guilty of this many times. There will be times that I feel like lifting my hands or crying out, but I don't, NOT because it will be weird to God, but because of the people around me, but WHY IN THE WORLD when worshiping God would we be so focused or conscious of other people that we would NOT doing something to praise Him?

I'm sure we can all agree the Lord is more then deserving of our full praises, and I believe there is BIG difference between "not feeling like raising your hands", and "feeling like it, but being too embarrassed to raise your hands for God", if your problem is the latter, I believe you should question and rebuke that feeling.

Get lost in God and focus on fully praising Him how your temple is compelling you to. Praise and worship should be solely about the focus on God...not the ppl around you, when we praise we should be motivated by the love of God and not deterred or pushed by the insecurities of the flesh.

P.S. I am saying this to myself also, so I believe all us ppl who get "embarrassed" should check ourselves and what our focus truly is when we worship. I know for me I'll be lost in worship till I wanna do something like raise my hands, then suddenly I become very aware of other ppl and I kno it takes away from God's deserving praise...that shouldnt be so.

Engellenkat said...

There are other reasons not to raise hands in worship...rupture, bulging, herniated disc in cervical area..ie neck. Doing so results in agonising pain. Up to passing out.
I also have bad discs in lumbar area and am two weeks out of surgery for the lower back surgery.
The lower back area had a new bulging herniated disc..I could hardly stand up..nerves to left leg wouldn't support me cut off. Pain unbearable.
I still have some unoperated on lumbar discs but they've scarred over and aren't bothersome for now.
So I guess I'd have been judged as ashamed of the LORD at some congregations. Neither standing nor raising hands. Especially since my therapist told me not to raise my arms above my shoulders but to fold them across my chest. I've been accused of acting superior by mexican friends for this hand folding..to bad my spanish is so bad that I can't explain. If I did my work would have fired me probably as to injured to do the job. So folded arms is a negative to some folks. It's since scarred over for a while and I'm not bothered in the neck.
I'm grateful to the LORD for the lumbar surgery for the pain was incredible and made it impossible to work..I hope and pray my work will take me back as they've promised and that I don't hurt myself more.
It's to bad those less demonstrative aren't given a break...it may be culture..mine is english, or like my case physical reasons. So give the shy a break..perhaps if they could also kneel, that's a sign of honour to LORD too.
Or would they accused of papist tendencies?
I am glad I can stand for portions of services now..before I feared worsing the condition,and it did, or worse embarassing myself and calling attention to myself by falling or passing out.
Prayer for my healing and a return to work before my family and I end up homeless would be appreciated.
I write for a hobby, songs and children's stories if you'd like to see some email me..I doubt I could make a living as a writer tho..That truly would be a miracle.
Getting through the intensive physical therapy fast enough and healing fast enough to do the heavy lifting demanded in my job is my main petition to the LORD. It's up to the LORD and outside of my control.

Rosie Child of God said...

I was raised in the teachings of the Church of Christ, and I love everyone. But I did find it hard to follow what I was being taught when I clearly did not receive from the bible what I was being taught.
I would watch what the adults in the congregation were doing and was confused as to the reason they went to worship. Most were watching everyone else so that they could chastise them for doing wrong or to gossip about them.
I was told that we did not kneel, raise hands or any outward demonstration to the Lord because that was making a spectacle of ourselves. We were supposed to do whatever everyone else did, which was nothing but standign or sitting with our heads bowed during prayer. If everyong was doing what everyone else was doing how did they know if someone else was doing differently? If they had their eyes closed which was another requirement how would they know if someone was doing differently?
I am now a hand raiser if I feel the need to do so. It is not a ritual where I do it all the time for certain things. I have to feel the need. I feel that it is a form of raising God in my presence, a form of acknowledging his greatness, his being above me, me subjecting myself to him, to humble myself to his greatness, and so many more things. But if you will notice it is always to show he is bigger and greater than I am.
I do not believe that we have to raise holy hands. But I believe we can. I believe that God will judge the reason we do everything by what he sees in our hearts. Because he will judge the heart not our hands.

Anonymous said...

Okay Stephen, I admire your zealous advocacy of your position, but I think you may be judging a bit out of your pay grade. ONLY God can see into our hearts. In Matthew 6:5, Jesus tells us, "and when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full." Jesus goes on to say,"But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you." For some, raising their hands could be an act of drawing attention to themselves or pride. It depends on the person whether the act of hand raising is an act of humility or pride. What is in anyone's heart is a question far above my pay grade.
In 1 Corinthians 14:16, Paul is quite clear is his specific direction to say "Amen" to show agreement. He doesn't instruct us to raise our hands or clap our hands to show our agreement or approval in worship. References to Old Testament hand raising may be misapplied in that references to "raising clean hands" often refers to a "offering to God a clean life." Raising hands was often involved in sacrificial practices. In the New Testament, we have the ultimate sacrifice, the death of Jesus Christ.
I've heard all of the arguments from the Old Testament and the "act of surrender" in support of hand raising. To me the most compelling reason for raising your hands is because you feel led to do so. The reason I raise my hands (when I do) is because as a father of four, there is nothing more heart-warming to me as a father to see those little hands come up on outstretched arms, usually followed by the phrase, "pick me up daddy." It is the request to be loved and cradled and hugged and comforted. It is the request to share a close moment.
I attend a church where hand raising is expected, but grew up in a church where hand raising was frowned upon. I fully expect to see both groups in heaven.
We need to authentically worship the one, true God. God is, as my sons would say, AWESOME! If raising your hands helps you demonstrate that, then have at it. Annie Dillard in Expedition to the Pole, said, "it is madness to wear ladies' straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews." Now THAT'S a worship service for an AWESOME God! And I feel certain that's what we'll be doing on the other side of the pearly gates. So. . . while we're on this side of the gates, show up to worship with a clean heart to praise and honor God with all of your heart, mind and soul. The position that your arms and hands adopt seems a distant, distant second.

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herniated disc said...

Others believed that there are only only one religion that can save us.. Some of them kept on convincing others to be with them, praise with them,. I can say that, no matter what your religion is.. if you truly live in the name of God,if you really follow his words and will then he will be the one to decide whether you will be save or not..

Linda said...

Do you raise your hands/arms at a ball game or other event in which you choose to show approval! If so, why not in praise of our Savior??? In reference to the words 'raising holy hands' or 'with my hands raised high', being in a song & people remaining stiff...it bothers me just as much for someone to raise their hands ONLY when the song tells them to. There is a song, "Worship is more than a song" .... I think that comes into play here....the words in the song are only that...words. Why not lift your hand when you sing "How Great THOU ART!" ???? In reference to only men doing it...women also weren't evne counted in Bible times....or much later in that part of the world ...when a passage said 5000, it referred to 5000 men. I raise my hand IF I'm led by the Spirit to, in worship, and I really don't care what anyone around me thinks. Too many people in the service are talking to their neighbor one minute and picking up singing in middle of a sentence....no that isn't worship. I don't raise my hand if I'm not truly worshipping God...and that might be in a church service, or my car or while I'm digging in the dirt.

censcoe said...

Like you I have been studying the raising of hands in church service. I find raising hands to God in prayer to be biblical, but I don't find anything about raising hands in praise and worship service. I think raising hands in church when you are not in prayer to be for show and brings attention to the hands. In all the verses you quoted and in others I have found, raising hands is done only in prayer.

censcoe said...

I feel the need to make one more comment. I am an older Christian and have seen churches fall apart because of this issue. Raising hands in non prayer services always brings contention. We should carefully study God's word on this matter, and not use the "if it feels good do it" approach. Something that causes so much contention should be a warning not to take it lightly.

Truefire said...

Wow.The church today is falling off a cliff... and more and more of our liberties we are losing and some say that they don't lift hands in church... and give a variety of EXCUSES to why they don't."Lift holy hands unto the Lord"My hands are not holy!Nothing about you or your flesh is holy.It was a comandment from God, not a pinky promise!I too was raised in a no music church of christ like Rosie, thank God I got saved out of it and am not a hand raising,tongue talking,worship loving sinner saved by grace and I will lift my hands to our awesome God every chance I get.So, if you happen to sit next to me in church,I won't be upset if you don't lift your hands because it will give me more room to move around as I do the Holy Ghost sway.Remember,"Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaketh."We may not know your heart, but He does!May you live under an open heaven of Gods mercy and grace.

Anonymous said...

If you read the scriptures "in context" you will find that all "hand raising" is to be in the attitude of prayer -- not praise. Many use the scripture of I Tim. 2.8 to endorse hand raising; however, if you look at the word "men" it is talking about men, not women. It is the Greek word "aner" which means man, sir, etc. I don't expect to convince anyone of this point of view but hand raising is only for men and only for prayer.

sarah mccracken said...

I agree with raising your hands in an attitude of prayer BUT most songs that I sing I sing as a prayer to my Lord. .. do yes I do sometimes lift my hand to him while I sing these words from my heart to my Lord! How Great Thou Art, It is Well with My Soul, What a Friend We have in Jesus, Victory in Jesus ... just to name a few. .. these songs when I personally sing them come from my heart as a thankful prayer for what He has done for me or a praising prayer for who He is! ... so yes I agree that it is in prayer BUT I never music is a form if prayer. .. just What I feel the Lord has showed me though :) the Lord is a personal God :)

sarah mccracken said...

But I believe music is a form of prayer. .. sorry about the auto correct