Lifting Holy Hands, Part Two, by Pastor Josh Larsen

holyhands2.gifThe Positions Against Lifting Hands In Worship

          Before I attempt to address the views of those opposed to the practice of lifting hands in worship, I must admit that I have virtually no sources for what I present as the primary reasons not to lift one’s hands. This is not due to a lack of searching. I have spent a few weeks scouring books on worship, Internet publications, and periodicals in search of quotable statements against hand raising. I could not find much of anything. So I admit that this portion of my paper is based on my own experience in discussing this topic with a number of people within fundamental Baptist circles. I am also willing to consider any views that this paper does not address, should someone care to bring them to my attention.

          When I ask people who are opposed to the idea to state the reasons behind their opposition, the first response is overwhelmingly something along the lines of, “Well, that’s what the Charismatics do!” One writer who subscribes to this line of reasoning states, “Lifting hands over the head … is a taught religious practice. It does not normally happen (except in utter lostness and hopelessness) unless it is in response to a charismatic leader with whom the worshipers have developed a too-close connection.”[1]

          This argument does not appear to be grounded in anything more than reactionary rhetoric, and does not stand up to sound inspection. There are virtually no other practices we avoid as Baptists simply for the sake of reacting against the Charismatic movement. The gift of tongues may come to mind, but our reasons for not speaking in tongues go much deeper than simply, “That’s what the Charismatics do.” We avoid the practice of speaking in tongues because of our interpretation of Scripture, not out of a disdain for the Charismatic movement. The same goes for healing and prophetic utterances. Going to a priest for confession is not wrong because the Catholic Church teaches it; it is wrong because Hebrews teaches us that we have no need of a priest. We do not say that infant baptism is wrong because Presbyterians practice it; we believe it is wrong because it does not line up with Scripture. Likewise, the fact that many Charismatics and Pentecostals lift their hands while praying and singing cannot be sufficient ground for us to summarily reject the practice.

          A second line of reasoning against lifting hands in worship is that it is mainly an emotional experience. Almost inevitably, when discussing this reasoning, the words “touchy feely” make an appearance. When church members start raising their hands while they sing, this argument insists, we start careening down the slippery slope of emotionalism. Next they might start clapping and swaying to the music.

          I would wholeheartedly agree with the notion that we need to flee skin-deep emotionalism. However, I am concerned that our segment of fundamentalism has gone too far in the other direction. In an effort to flee emotionalism, many churches have discredited emotions altogether and focused mainly on the intellect. Jesus wants both the mind and the heart to be engaged in worship. Remember his conversation with the Samaritan woman by the side of the well? She was asking about authentic worship, and Jesus said that “true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him.”[2] God is not interested in our minds being set on him if our hearts are not engaged. The Pharisees were very good at turning everything having to do with religion into an intellectual formula. Jesus told them they were experts at cleaning the outside of the cup, but they paid no heed to the filthiness of the inside.[3] And their condition was most dire in the realm of worship. Of their heartless worship Jesus said, “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.”[4]

          We must not be so wary of emotionalism that we disdain emotions, for our emotions are absolutely critical to true worship. J. Oswald Sanders writes, “Our emotions must be engaged. We are to put not only intellect but emotion into our worship. A cold heart cannot truly worship.”[5] He also had this to say concerning the danger of emotionalism: “One who loves with the emotions only will be a sentimentalist. One who loves with the will only will be legalistic. And one who loves with the intellect only will have little warmth. God desires the love of the whole personality.”[6] Another author I found to be passionately articulating the need for an engaging of the emotions in worship without pursuing emotionalism was John Piper:

Worship must have heart and head. Worship must engage emotions and thought. Truth without emotion produces dead orthodoxy and a church full (or half-full) of artificial admirers (like people who write generic anniversary cards for a living). On the other hand, emotion without truth produces empty frenzy and cultivates shallow people who refuse the discipline of rigorous thought. But true worship comes from people who are deeply emotional and who love deep and sound doctrine. Strong affections for God rooted in truth are the bone and marrow of biblical worship.[7]

          Third, many people insist that the raising of hands in worship is an empty gesture that is done primarily as a public show of piety. They see people with outstretched arms and hands and practically hear them shouting, “Look at me! I’m worshipping!” I concede that this is probably sometimes the case. But if we are going to ban raised hands because some people do it for the wrong reasons, we had better ban soloists as well. And all church pianists. In fact, how many people can say that they have never given a thought to how their clothes look in the eyes of others on Sunday mornings? 

         The simple fact is that everything we do in worship can be done for the wrong reasons. The pride of life and the fear of man follow us everywhere we go. This is why Jesus told us to worship in total privacy when possible.[8] He knew that we would constantly battle the temptation to put our religion on public display. But he did not intend for us to never worship publicly. We cannot search the hearts of our brothers and sisters in Christ during a worship service, but we can search ours. And I will agree that if a person is unable to lift his hands in church without striving to draw attention away from God, then he should keep his hands at his side. However, not everyone with raised hands is a religious performer. 

         One last criticism that I have heard against the raising of hands is that it is not a mandate for the church. Nowhere are Christians specifically commanded to raise our hands when singing or praying. The closest the New Testament gets to commanding this practice is in Paul’s first letter to Timothy. Paul tells Timothy that he wants men to pray “lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling.”[9] Some prefer to take this figuratively. In fact, one writer put it pretty bluntly: “…he undoubtedly means this figuratively. To offer clean hands to God in a literal way, like little children showing parents that they have washed, would be preposterous.”[10]

           For now, let us assume this passage is figurative and that there is no commandment to pray or sing with hands uplifted. I am not convinced that this is a good enough reason to refuse a particular practice. After all, this is the same reasoning that many leaders in church history refused to allow instruments to be played during the worship service. Take, for example, the organ. “This instrument was first used in a North American church in 1702, not sooner because it was opposed by those with Puritan roots. Finally in 1770 the first Puritan church, probably real risk-takers, acquired one!”[11] Surely we are not really going to avoid any custom or tradition simply because it is not specifically commanded in the Bible. If we are, our worship services are in need of some considerable trimming!

           The question now becomes one of purpose. It does not necessarily matter to many people if the views against the practice are weak. Why bother doing it? What does the lifting of our hands in corporate worship signify in our churches in 2006?

to be continued…


[1] Kenneth Sublett. http://www.piney-2.com/LiftingHands.html

[2] John 4:23

[3] Matt. 23:25

[4] Mark 7:6

[5] J. Oswald Sanders, Enjoying Intimacy With God, (Grand Rapids: Discovery House Publishers, 2000),90.

[6] Ibid.

[7] John Piper, Desiring God (Sisters: Multnomah Books, 1996), 76.

[8] Matthew 6:6

[9] 1 Tim. 2:8

[10] Dr. Peter Masters, “Worship in the Melting Pot”,  FreedomMinistries.org.uk; available from http://www.freedomministries.org.uk/masters/hands.shtml; Internet; accessed 23 January 2006.

[11] Tom Hovestol, Extreme Righteousness (Chicago: Moody Press, 1997), 116.

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17 responses to this post.

  1. Hey, Josh. Found your link somehow, and ironically had just published something on my own blog about my “baptist girl inhibitions” preventing me from rejoicing with “holy hallelujah hands”. Kind of said as a joke, but kind of not. I definitely have to say that there are times a physical expression of my joy seems genuinely motivated, however, in a corporate worship setting, those inihibitions get me every time. Thanks for the insightful article(s).

    Reply

  2. Posted by Josh Larsen on June 15, 2006 at 10:54 am

    Glad you stumbled across the article, Jenny! I checked out your webpage and am now up to date on the Muth family. I think there are quite a few people in your shoes. In fact, my wife was for a while. She was not only uncomfortable lifting her hands, she was uncomfortable seeing it done at all. It probably has everything to do with our conservative upbringing. That, and everyone always jokes around about “getting Charismatic,” and the joke is usually accompanied by swaying with lifted hands. It definitely has a certain stigma. Anyway, thanks for your input.

    Reply

  3. Posted by Rachelle on October 22, 2006 at 11:23 pm

    Thankyou for your imput about raising hands. I attend a presbyterian church and I thank the Lord for His leading and guidance to His Holy Word. One day I read in His Word, to lift up Holy hands unto the Lord. During a Sunday Service one day I experienced a wonderful presence of the Holy Spirit and peace came upon me. The Holy Spirit impressed on my heart to lift up my hands to worship Him. I had been feeling so down and depressed and I did not know what to do any more. As I lifted up my hands unto the King of Kings, it was not to impress anyone but to worship the King of Kings because He is worthy to be praised. As I was obedient to His leading depression left me and Joy filled my heart. Songs of praise filled my heart and I am so greatful for His love for me. Love also filled my heart to love others alot more than I had been. Selfish thoughts left me and God became my all. I am greatful to Jesus for all He has done for me. I used to criticize others for doing things diferently from what we have been taught but God dealt with my heart and changed me from the inside out. Rachelle

    Reply

  4. Posted by Nikki on February 18, 2007 at 3:25 pm

    I stumbled onto this article today, and am quite appalled that people would be opposed to anyone worshiping the way they want! I was raised in the Episcopal church for many years, and now as an adult with the choice of where I worship, I have joined a church that is more to my view of Christ. I have to agree with Rachelle, in the thought that when I lift my hands in worship, it is to praise the King of Kings, and Jesus my Lord and Savior, not to impress anyone or to say “Look at me, Im worshiping”. I think if you dont like what other people are doing in church, look the other way. After all, hasn’t God taught us not to Judge others!
    But thank you for the article, it was a view I hadn’t even realized was present in today’s culture.

    Reply

  5. Posted by AAD on April 16, 2007 at 1:09 am

    Thankyou so much for your article!

    I attend a church that believes in raising hands to worship, and have often lifted my hands in worship.

    Let me state with no anger whatsoever that rasing hands is a choice and varies from person to person, even in Pentecostal churches.

    Unfortunately I had a friend who was not the same denomination as me. I invited her to a service, the worship time began, people started raising their hands and she got up and left! I was getting a drink and saw her power walk out of the door. I chased after her and asked her what was wrong, she promptly replied, “You and your church,” got in her car and left.

    I was utterly amazed. As I stated before, I think that raising hands is a person’s choice and is not determined by the denomination of church that he or she goes to.

    My friend will not speak to me anymore and it has become a rather silly situation. The only further explanation I could get out of her was that her church believed that raising hands was wrong.

    I agree strongly with Rachelle that when I raise my hand it is to worship not to show off. If other people are showing off when they raise their hands that’s their problem.

    Good on you for commenting on such a touchy situation.

    God Bless.

    Reply

  6. Posted by Sam on May 16, 2007 at 6:56 am

    Wow, good explanation of the arguments for and against. I went looking for this because, having grown up in Baptist circles, I’ve often felt compelled not to lift my hands during musical worship… it’s seen as a bit showey and not genuine.

    It’s only been in the last 5-10 years that a few people have really begun lifting their hands. The first bloke drew attention (didn’t seem to be seeking it though) for the simple fact that no-one, that I knew, had ever put their hand up while singing. Then a few more. Now, out of 60 people, we might get 10 or 11 that will put their hands up.

    My challenge was when I moved to a new church in a different city at the start of 2006 — there was no-one at this church (another Baptist Church, albeit a little more old-fashioned) that put their hands up. One of my mates, who plays the music up the front, said he always gets embarrassed when people put their hands up. He genuinely thinks it’s weird and that people are only making fools of themselves. I was quick to defend it. Then I’ve thought about it having really had the urge the other night to throw both hands straight up and belt out “My chains fell off, my heart was free”. I didn’t. I will next time.

    It’s not about drawing attention to myself, although I recognise that some do this. It’s quite the opposite — I choose not to because I worry about what people might think. I suspect God is saying to me “so, you’ll compromise your worship because of what other people think of you?”.

    Having thought about it, I wondered what Biblical references there are to the practice. I now see that this is a consistent manifestation of prayer, thanksgiving and worship. It’s not to say that you HAVE to lift your hands in order to be genuine. But I do feel that, with the Biblical principle there and indeed the Holy Spirit prompting us to give our all and ignore what other people think of our worship, it becomes an important thing for me.

    Thank you for your article — very rational with Biblical references.

    Reply

  7. Posted by Dr. John Harris on December 20, 2007 at 2:12 am

    I have been Baptist all my life, and Black (African American Baptist, have been lifting our hands, shouting, and dancing in church for years, as well as hear the Word of God from male and female preachers, and having deacons and deaconesses serve communion, our common debate has been over women pastoring, not preaching in the pulpit. But we have always lifted our hands, and some of the deaconesses would get in the middle isles with their hands up screeming “thank ya”.

    Reply

  8. Posted by Frances on April 3, 2009 at 5:47 am

    This & related issues have troubled me for over 20 years, and I have seen wonderful congregations split over them. My gut feeling (Holy Spirit directed?) resulting from all my experience with Churches of various denominations & worship styles, is that however sincere an individual may be, ‘Charismatic’ behaviour does not come from a holy source. Sorry to be blunt, but from what I have seen in Australia, hand-raising is usually the thin end of the wedge, leading to a very destructive outcome. I hate feeling this way about fellow worshippers, and am still trying to research this scripturally to ensure I do not have a wrong bias. I am open to correction as long as it is from Biblical truth. Personally I believe that too many Christians who wish to seem ‘modern’ & tolerant are biting their tongues about these issues to avoid conflict, while those who are attracted to the Charo/Pente ways are not at all inhibited. Even though they generally can’t give a good justification for their behaviour, Charismatics don’t mind whether their behavior distracts or offends other worshippers. It is this attitude which (to my thinking) is the key FRUIT which demonstrates the ungodly spirit behind the whole movement. I agree with everything you said about needing the balance of intellect & emotions in worship, & that absence of support for something in Scripture does not equate with condemnation. However, so far I find the overall tone of the New Testament and especially the words of Christ to be at the other end of the spectrum from publicly demonstrative emotional ecstacy. Obviously we must all be respectful of one another, but Paul emphasised order in public worship. If a little hand raising was as far as things went, that would probably be no problem. In the final analysis you can only judge any tree by its fruit. Sorry for rambling – I gathered have so many thoughts over the years. I pray God will lead me to the truth in this matter & am open to any wisdom out there…. Thank you for your time.

    Reply

  9. Posted by Duane on July 29, 2009 at 1:07 pm

    I challenge you and your readers to examine the Bible using Strong’s Concordance searching for the phrases spread out your hands”, “stretcg out your hands” and “lift up your hands”. You will find at least 17 references to these phrases and virtually everyone of them refer to the act of worship! Should they be used in Christian worship? Eight(8) of these come from Psalms!! Since there are no biblical references that tell us not to raise our hands and seventeen that indicate we should, guess what I think is alright? Yep.

    Reply

  10. Duane,

    I’m not sure if you think you are disagreeing with the article or not, but the point of this 3-part series is that Christians ought to lift hands in worship. So I think you would find agreement, not disagreement with your point.

    Reply

  11. Posted by Nathan Davis on January 19, 2010 at 8:07 pm

    There is no single method that God requires we must follow every time!
    Is there anything intrinsically wrong with holding up one’s hands when in prayer? No, there is not. The lifting of the hands is neither demanded, nor forbidden. There is no sin in falling upon the ground in prayer (Mk. 14:35), but would such be wise in a church setting? One must remember that perception on the part of others, and the exercise of good judgment, is an important element in Christian conduct.

    Reply

  12. Posted by Don't agree on March 1, 2010 at 12:42 pm

    I actually left my church and started attending another over this issue. I have been raised in a faith that places high value on calm, peace, quiet and serenity. This includes no instruments in church and no wild outbursts.

    My decision for leaving came when my church got a new Pastor. Within days “raising hands” and “Faith healing” became a new thing. Most simply followed suit — I, and a few others, did not. One Sunday the pastor pointed us out before a group prayer by saying; “I know some of you dont like raising you hands but I think you should try.”

    I left and I don’t plan on going back. From personal experience, hand raising appears to be more of a cultural/social act than anything else.

    Reply

  13. Posted by Sarah on March 4, 2010 at 4:12 pm

    I went to churches all my life where they would have said raising hands, or really doing anything besides holding very still with a hymnbook, was wrong. Probably even closing your eyes or looking too emotional would have made some uncomfortable. I agreed; after all, as this article said, all that stuff was “what the Charismatics do.” Gotta look out for those “holy rollers.” 🙂

    Hm. I recently started going to a different church. The doctrine is probably nearly identical to the doctrine of my old church. However, in worship, some people raise their hands. Some people don’t (probably the majority). Some people close their eyes. Some people sway a little (not sensually, there is a difference). Some tap their feet. Nobody that I know of has stormed out of a service mad. Sometimes I raise my hands; sometimes I just fold them and close my eyes. Sometimes, if the song deeply touches or convicts me, I cry. It depends on the song.

    I think that this issue is an important one, not over “Is it sinful to raise hands?” I think that’s an extreme position. I think that it is more, “Are the hands I am raising holy? Am I doing this for attention, or truly because I am worshipping my God?” I think it does matter HOW we worship, and rolling on the floor or frenzied, uncontrolled emotions have no place in worship. Paul counseled against confusion, not emotion. I felt that this article was very fair and balanced. I also think that it is largely up to the worshipper. I don’t think it is a measure of the person’s spirituality, whether they do or do not lift their hands.

    Reply

  14. Posted by kennon on September 3, 2010 at 1:03 pm

    Emotions are part of God’s design…otherwise why do we have them. If taking emotions out of the person to adhere to the religious beliefs of an organization is your way of doing something, then I need to go no further. I would dare say that your way of explaining “WORSHIP” would be a misguided attempt, also. I am not tring to be hard nose here but try to understand. You are right I believe when your statements of people doing things for show, rather than for true worship is a problem. But when you have the power to see into someone’s heart to question ,are you doing this for the right reason or not then I guess you can tell if the people are truly saved or not…Is raising of hands so offensive to those around you that there is a debate as to do it or not, then just maybe the ones that dont raise there hands offend those that do, because they have a grater understanding of surrendering to God! God’s Love

    Reply

  15. Posted by kennon on September 3, 2010 at 1:20 pm

    For those of you that have trouble, simply raising your hands…what are you to do with”Every knee shall bow”… Yes an outward emotion just as raising hands! By the way , there are two outward emotions taking place ,knee’s bend and the whole body bending down!! Better start getting use to using your body for the Lord! The word says present your body a living sacrifice to him!! That means all of who you are!!

    Reply

  16. Posted by Joel on September 12, 2010 at 7:40 am

    As a Charismatic, I went to a Baptist youth group. No problem with raising the hands there. Everyone worships in their own way. If you are offended by someone raising their own hands then frankly you’re paying too much attention to others and need to focus on being led by the Holy Spirit in your own worship of God. On the subject of tongues…no one in that Baptist church could explain to me how a Baptist can interpret that tongues (or the other 8 gifts of the Spirit in 1 Corinthians 12) are wrong. One girl told me they were “of satan” and then aplogized later after speaking to her mother. That girl is now attends a Charismatic church. Paul says in 1 Cor. 14 “I speak in tongues more than you all” and “I wish you would all speak in tongues.” This comes AFTER the one verse that Baptists hold to in 1 Corinthians 13:10. It is clear in verse 12 that the Bible is not “that which is perfect.” Who will we see “face to face?” Clearly it is Jesus at His 2nd coming. Charismatics do not believe tongues is a salvation issue. But we do ask the question, why say “no” to the tools offered by God to help you live this life on earth? Words of wisdom, words of knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, prophecy, discernment of spirits, tongues, and interpretations of tongues. These are all very real. They are gifts offered by the Holy Spirit as he desires (12:11). This is where the Charismatics (at least the ones on TV) mess it up. A person doesn’t have the gift of healing. The Holy Spirit will work any one of the 9 gifts through you at the time when they are needed. Anyway, not to offend anybody…just trying to push a lifelong pursuit of Holiness for us American Christians.

    Reply

  17. Posted by Sheryl wiggins on June 29, 2015 at 11:13 am

    Great article Josh! Thank tou for yet another wise writing. I have to agree with Rachelle. She put it perfectly. I raise my hands to worship the King of Kings, Lord of Lords. I have no desire to bring attention to myself.
    It’s purely a love from my heart to my Maker and Savior.
    When my husband and I discuss things from our day, I have no desire to raise my hands to him when in I’m in agreement with him. Albeit a very close and loving relationship, I do not wish to raise my hands to him at all, ever. It’s a completely different relationship I have with my husband verses my relationship with the Almighty.
    In reality, my husband on this earth, my brother in Christ in the eternal. God, my Father, is the Creator of my soul, Creator of my family, Jesus paid the price for lowly little Sheryl, and He didn’t have to. He chose to! The Holy Spirit who guides me, directs me, shows me what is right and what is wrong! How can I not be grateful? And a mere lifting of my hands is all I can do in complete agreement with words spoken in song, or in prayer. However, there are times when I lift my hands, it’s out of wanting to get as close as I possibly can to Him. All I want at that moment is His closeness, and reaching up seems to give me that closeness. It’s personal, and it’s private. Just Him and me at that moment.

    Reply

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