LIFTING UP HOLY HANDS
T. PIERCE BROWN
We have seen on television programs those who are engaged in various activities of a religious nature, such as gatherings of Promise Keepers, charismatic meetings, snake handling and other services lifting up their hands and swaying back and forth in apparent joy and ecstasy. There are an increasing number of those connected with the Lord’s church, especially among the younger members or those who are inclined to be more demonstrative and emotional, who raise their hands and go through other gymnastic exercises as they worship.
The question is sometimes raised about its legitimacy or propriety. Most of us who are older and consider ourselves conservative look with suspicion on it, to say the least. Others would classify it as not just “liberal” but probably also heretical. I would rather examine it soberly, logically, and in terms of scriptural principles insofar as possible. 1 Tim. 2:8 says, “I will therefore that men pray every where, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting.”
The first question we may ask is, “Is this Pauline injunction to be understood as a command from God for male beings (andras in the Greek text) to literally lift up holy hands and pray at every place you happen to be?” If you go swimming, you are at some place. Are you commanded to lift up holy hands and pray before you jump off the diving board? When you go to the bathroom to clean your teeth, must you lift up holy hands and pray before or after, or both? Surely almost any thoughtful person would answer, “No.” However, most of us would admit that you have a right to pray in such a situation if you choose, and that you may hold your hands in any position you desire. Let me emphasize that I am not opposed to people literally lifting up holy hands when they pray.
Most of us can see the similarity to the meaning in Heb. 12:12, “Wherefore lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees.” We would have a difficult time if we went around lifting up all the hands that hang down, for that would include almost everyone, and probably more than we realize have feeble knees. When God delivered the Israelites into the hands of their enemies (Judges2:14) it surely does not take a scholar to know that it did not involve the literal hands. If I were discussing the matter with a person who could not understand that, I would probably “wash my hands of the matter” fairly soon. If a person can understand what God meant in Isa. 49:22, “I will lift up my hand to the Gentiles,” he surely can understand the meaning of “lifting up holy hands.” It has nothing to do with sitting in an auditorium and waving ones hands in the air.
We are forced to conclude that the expression, “lifting up holy hands” is a figurative expression, the meaning of which is approximately the same as Romans 12:1, where we are to “present our bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God.” Our whole body, including our feet, is supposed to be as holy as our hands. We cannot but wonder if those who are so interested in “lifting up holy hands” in some emotional gathering are half as interested in presenting their bodies a living sacrifice.
However, that does not answer a second question that may be asked. If it is not a transgression of God’s law to literally lift up our hands when we pray, why are so many brethren skeptical of the practice or opposed to it? I can answer only for myself, but I am generally opposed to any practice in worship that seems to be some fad borrowed from denominational or charismatic group. I am not opposed to our going out of the building through the front door simply because some denominational group does that. I am not opposed to going out through the window if it seems advisable under some circumstance. I am opposed to starting a practice of going out through the window just because some group decides they do not like the “old traditional way” of doing things.
In the second place, I am generally opposed to any activity that appears to be produced primarily by an appeal to emotionalism, whether it is for the purpose of increasing the emotional response, or a result of a heightened emotional situation. I am not opposed to having and showing an emotion. It might even be an indication of greater spirituality in some cases if we could see tears flowing down some cheeks as we partake of the Lord’s Supper. However, I would oppose anyone orchestrating some external physical activity, such as turning on blood-red lights over the “Lord’s Table” or giving some moving dramatic performance at that time to get us into a crying mood.
There are times when I sing, “When I survey the wondrous cross” that I get “choked up” and cannot sing aloud. I have an idea that I have raised my hands or clenched my fists as that song was sung. If I were directing the singing of that song during worship, it is probable that I would raise one or both hands during that time. But I would be opposed to anyone raising the hands or swaying the body when it appeared that such activities were designed for the purpose of exhibiting or creating some emotional response.
To clarify the principle about which I am writing, I am not opposed to what is now spoken of as “contemporary music,” in contradistinction to many of the old songs that have been in hymnbooks since they were first used. I am opposed to the use of any song that is designed or used primarily to produce some emotional response rather than to increase the spiritual welfare of those who singing. When any song has complex music, with bass, tenor, alto and soprano leads, with a group of meaningless words or phrases being repeated over and over without saying anything significant, it seems apparent that the primary purpose for which God commanded singing “to teach and admonish one another in psalms, hymns and spiritual songs” is not being achieved. Anyone who had directed VBS and had the children sing, Abra, Abra, ham, ham, ham” may have an idea of the thing about which I write. That practice maybe the root of some of the current “craze” to spend thousands of dollars to get new songbooks to cater to the taste of those who feel more at home with rock music and jazz than they do with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs.
I am not objecting to little children singing “action” songs that have a different beat, nor am I questioning the motives of those who raise their hands and sway back and forth when they sing. I am suggesting the reasons I am opposed to any kind of activity or direction that seems to lead to more sensuality rather than to more spirituality. Even little children in VBS who get the impression that stomping their feet and raising their voices in a shout is more pleasing to God may be facing in the wrong direction. If you can give an honest answer to a simple question, it may be helpful. If you are accustomed to waving your arms around and swaying back and forth when you sing a spiritual song, do you put your increased spirituality into action and do more to serve humanity and/or win some soul to Christ for the glory of God than those of us who are more sedate?
T. Pierce Brown
1068 Mitchell Ave.