Clapping At Baptisms

In the Luke 15 parables of lost things, Jesus spoke of the rejoicing that one does after finding a lost sheep or lost coin (Luke 15:5, 6, 9). He compared this to the rejoicing done in heaven among the angels of God over the recovery of a lost soul (Luke 15:7, 10). He later described the departure and recovery of a lost son and the rejoicing and celebrating that occurred in response to the restoration of that lost son (Luke 15:24, 32).

Some say that the rejoicing in these passages authorizes clapping at baptisms and this has become a common practice among many different religious people. The clapping is done after a person emerges from the water of baptism. Christians should certainly experience and express joy in response to the restoration of the lost and in the conversion of alien sinners. The question is whether or not clapping is the appropriate and scriptural way to express this joy. A few things need to be considered.

1. Clapping is wrong if it takes the form of applause. Baptism is not a work of human achievement, merit or personal accomplishment.

Not all clapping serves the purpose of applause. A person might clap to the tune of a song. Such clapping amounts to participation in the song and is not intended as applause for the singer or musicians. Some people who clap at baptisms do not intend it as applause. Of course it is worth considering that the hand action and the sound that is produced by clapping hands is precisely the same regardless of the clapper’s intentions. The clapper would certainly not want to leave the impression that he thought of baptism as a work of merit or personal accomplishment that is to be rewarded by applause.

When clapping is done for applause it is done to reward some personal talent or skill that has been demonstrated in a performance or competition. We typically applaud at sporting or other entertainment events to reward those who excel or succeed in their performance. To follow up on an earlier scenario, the one who clapped to the beat of a musical performance at a concert might also then clap in applause to reward a good performance. Baptism is no such activity! Quite the opposite, baptism is an act of humble submission to God. It is not a performance or personal achievement. The apostle Peter described it as an “an appeal to God for a good conscience” (1 Peter 3:21). Paul makes this very clear in Colossians 2:12 when he wrote, “Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead.” Paul here states that baptism is a divine operation, not a human operation! It is not a performance to be rewarded. It is not an item on a check list.

Many of us have labored for years to refute the false claim that baptism is a work of human merit. Christians are often accused of believing that we “earn” salvation through baptism. We have responded over the years with passages like Colossians 2:12, pointing out that baptism is a divine operation, not a work of human merit. We have pointed out that baptism is simply a condition of salvation, as are faith, repentance and confession (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; Romans 10:10; Acts 8:37). After meeting these conditions one is still saved by grace (Ephesians 2:8; Titus 3:5). Meeting the conditions of God’s grace does not earn the sinner salvation. Rather, by meeting these conditions the sinner demonstrates his dependence upon God for salvation.

When clapping is done for the purpose of applauding baptism it actually strengthens the hands of the false accusers. The applause leaves the impression that we do believe that baptism is a work of human merit and accomplishment! Those practicing clapping for baptism will have a very difficult time explaining themselves to those who accuse them of believing that one earns salvation through baptism.

The expression “be baptized” is in the passive voice in passages like Acts 2:38; 8:36 and 10:47, 48. The passive voice suggests the idea of being acted upon. Though Peter “commanded” baptism (Acts 2:38 and 10:48), the person being baptized is through baptism “appealing to” God’s saving grace and mercy for a clean conscience (1 Peter 3:21 — “Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”) This is precisely the point of Colossians 2:12. By submitting to baptism one exercises his faith in “the operation of God.”  

Clapping to applaud the baptized person for what he has done treats baptism like a game-winning basketball shot or football touchdown. Baptism is not that type of action.

2. Clapping for baptism makes baptism a more important salvational act than other conditions of salvation.

The rejoicing in Luke 15 was over sinners who repented. The lost sheep was one of a hundred sheep but became lost and was then found (Luke 15:4-6). The silver coin was one of ten coins but was lost and then found (Luke 15:8, 9). The lost son was a member of his father’s house but was lost and then restored (Luke 15:13-24).

If clapping is an appropriate form of rejoicing, why do people clap for baptism but not for those who repent and are restored? Luke 15 is obviously dealing with the principle of restoration. Why not also clap for the other conditions of salvation? No condition of salvation is more important than the other conditions. Jesus said, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:16). Baptism is meaningless in the absence of belief.

Jesus said, “No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3, 5). Peter said, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins” (Acts 2:38). Baptism is meaningless without repentance.

Jesus said, “Therefore whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 10:32-33). Paul said, “For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation” (Romans 10:10). Baptism is meaningless without confession.

3. If the word “rejoice” authorizes clapping for baptisms, then do other New Testament uses of the word authorize clapping for other things?

The Greek word that is translated “rejoice” in Luke 15:6 and 9 is also used in other passages. It is used in 1 Corinthians 13:6 where Paul said that the person who acts by love does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but “rejoices in truth.” If the “rejoicing” in Luke 15 authorizes clapping for baptisms, why wouldn’t the “rejoicing” of 1 Corinthians 13:6 authorize clapping for truth teachers and preachers? Should churches be clapping for preachers after sermons? Class teachers after Bible classes? Song leaders after song services? (since songs are a form of teaching, Col. 3:16). Since prayers are to be asked “according to God’s will” (1 Jn. 5:14), does that mean that we should clap for public prayer leaders after prayers?

Where will this end! What about the man who makes remarks in preparation of the observance of the Lord’s Supper? Should we clap for him following his remarks? And what about the partakers themselves? If Luke 15 authorizes clapping for people for obeying the command to be baptized, then what about those who obey the command to observe the Lord’s Supper? Should someone say after the observance of the Lord’s Supper, “How about a round of applause for ourselves for doing what God commanded us to do?”

Paul also used this same Greek word in Philippians 2:17 and 18 when he spoke of his rejoicing with the Philippians and their rejoicing with him. Were they to applaud one another?

Surely we can see that the New Testament word “rejoice” does not mean clapping (and certainly not the clapping of applause!).


The New Testament is silent regarding the practice of clapping at baptisms, restorations or other things. However, we do read of “receiving one another” in the faith and “admonishing one another” (Romans 15:7, 14). We read of extending the “right hand of fellowship” to those with whom we enter fellowship (Galatians 2:9). We read of “comforting one another” with “words” (1 Thessalonians 4:18). We read of exhorting one another (Hebrews 3:13).

John expressed his joy for his brethren in words. He said that he had “no greater joy” than to hear that his children were “walking in truth” (3 John 4). The book of Philippians is known as the book of rejoicing, and how do we know of Paul’s joy and that of his Philippian brethren? Paul spoke it and wrote it and admonished them to continue to rejoice. In fact, he told them to “rejoice in the Lord always” (4:4). Did he intend perpetual clapping?

Joy can also be expressed in the singing of psalms, hymns or spiritual songs (Romans 15:9-11). James said that if anyone is merry, “let him sing psalms” (James 5:13). Singing a psalm, hymn or spiritual song is a very appropriate way of rejoicing with others after a baptism.

The most important lesson is that we avoid the pitfalls of error. Baptism is misunderstood by the vast majority of even “religious” people. Young people need to be taught the true nature and purpose of baptism. It is not a mere “check mark” in the list of things that one must do. It certainly isn’t a work of merit or personal achievement. It is a humble act of contrition and submission.

—Tim Haile

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