Monday, March 21, 2011

Dancing Around the Issue

DAY 13 OF 46

Sometimes I wonder if, just maybe, I've been thinking too hard about this holiness thing.

When the Apostle Paul instructs believers to refute conformity with this world (Romans 12:2), I've thought that to mean we shouldn't automatically emulate the practices and methods of the culture around us. "In the world, but not of it."


When God reprimanded the Israelites for following the customs and patterns of the heathen kingdoms around them, I've thought that God wants us to learn from the mistakes His Chosen People continued to make throughout the Old Testament. Like all those times they wanted what everybody else had and did.

So I've kinda developed a worldview which diminishes the culture around us and elevates the Deity we profess to worship and adore. My reading of the scriptures is that we can't serve two masters. I've also found that I can't read the Bible for very long without stumbling over all of those warnings in there about unholy living in general and sexual immorality in particular.

You know - all those things that get in the way of holiness.

Don't Do Do's and Don'ts

Over the millennia, a lot of what Christianity is supposed to be about has been perverted into a foreboding list of do's and don'ts. Instead of a life lived by faith in the Fruit of the Spirit, it's become a framework of rules and deprivations which is supposed to make us feel morally superior. Except none of this is how Christ intended for His redeemed to live.

Reacting to this strict behavior pattern espoused by more ascetic Christians, other believers have decided that, in order to not err on the side of caution, they should swerve to the opposite side of the straight and narrow. To them, holiness becomes less a list of what's right and wrong and more of a smorgasbord of stuff lathered with grace and topped with a dollop of freedom in Christ. Which makes for a very appetizing diet for the spiritual life.

Except, like a lot of other things in our hedonistic society, I often wonder how healthy it really is.

Take the polarizing issue of dancing, for example. Some Christians forbid it outright, more concerned about appearances of impropriety than Biblical historicity. Other Christians try to ignore it, or tolerate its more banal genres like folk dancing as cute cultural novelties. Some Christians take a snobbish tone, green-lighting waltzes and ballet, yet steering clear of anything involving pop music. Then there are those Christians who dismissively paint any restrictions on their fun as mere legalism. Anything that gets any body part wiggling and jiggling is OK by them.

Analyzing Dancing

Like a lot of things, however, I tend to look not at style, but substance. And when it comes to dancing, substance plays a key role when determining its appropriateness for people of faith. After all, what does dancing involve? Perhaps breaking down the components of this physical activity and applying principles of holiness and Christian living to them can help us reconsider the pitfalls and benefits of dancing for believers.

1. Dancing is in the Bible

Yes, dancing can be Biblical. This shouldn't be surprising; remember, the Israelites danced spontaneously, and also during religious festivals. However, this dancing was designed as an expression of joy and celebration for God's glory. The physical gyrations of the dancers were not sexual in nature, but actually appropriate for entire families. The music was culturally authentic, yes, but it was not immoral.

2. Music usually accompanies dancing

I suppose you can dance to complete silence, but most dancing takes place with music. In Biblical times, the music to which God's people danced was intentionally spiritual and its lyrics doctrinally authentic. In our day, however, most of the music to which people dance is, frankly, secular rubbish, full of sexual innuendo or blatant sexuality. Not to mention nihilism, carnality, debauchery, anarchy, and other themes of moral relativism.

3. Dancing involves moving your body

With the possible exception of King David dancing before the Lord in an inadvertently immodest manner, the dancing of God's people in the Bible may have been exultant, but it was hardly bawdy or exhibitionistic. These days, however, the way people move their bodies while dancing to popular music usually borders on the sensual. Which, yes, may be a subjective term, but let's face it - we're all sexual beings, and different people can get turned on by a variety of body movements which may or may not be intended to entice sexual reactions. Many Christian women who like to dance scoff when I bring this up, but I believe men have more of a problem with this than women. For some of us men, seeing a woman do certain things with certain parts of her anatomy - and not just the famously attractive parts - can conjure thoughts which are sinful.

4. People dance with non-spousal partners

Wiggling and writhing to seductive music in front of somebody to whom you're not married: does that sound like a wholesome activity? If you're dancing with - or in the presence of - somebody who isn't your spouse, what kind of sexual energy might you be misdirecting?

So, You Think You Can Dance?

I am not anti-dance or anti-fun, but neither am I convinced that most dancing in our post-modern culture benefits our spiritual walk. That being said, some forms of dance actually do have a substance other than moral risk. For example, I've witnessed a formal quadrille that New York's Junior League has to pay people to learn and perform. To be honest, it's hard to fault the artistry of the quadrille's precision and kaleidoscope of movement, where regulated footwork trumps licentious gyrations. There's nothing that isn't rated G.

Hmm... Does that make me a Christian snob? Well, I've been accused of worse things. Does it help that I don't care much for ballet?

For contemporary dancing to popular music, however, I just don't see how you can reconcile its characteristics with the principles of holy living. Not that I'm an expert in holy living myself. In fact, one of the reasons I feel so strongly about this topic stems from the unholy thoughts I'm tempted to have about other Christians I see dancing, say, at weddings.

If I'm the only single Christian male who feels and thinks things that don't honor God, then please forgive me for ascribing my abnormal sin nature on the rest of the evangelical community. If I'm the only guy whose mind can get flooded with lust watching people dance to pop music, then maybe I need to be tied up and shipped off to the loony bin. (Yes, I know some of you have dreamed of doing that to me anyway...)

But something tells me I'm not the only person who struggles with immorality when there's dancing going on. Remember, just thinking about adultery means you're guilty of it. That's not my law, that's God's. I don't know about you, but I have trouble avoiding that sin just walking down the street on a summer day, let alone intentionally placing myself in an environment conducive to it. God doesn't measure sin on a sliding scale, does He? Either something is sin, or it's not, right?

Lust indeed is a sin, but here's a question: can married people lust after each other? Think about it: having sexually provocative thoughts about your spouse is actually a good thing, right? Even God wants His spousal couplings to be physically happy with each other. In fact, some dry, stagnant marriages could even benefit from a healthy dose of sexual awakening. So is contemporary dancing always wrong for believers? Perhaps not for married people, dancing together in the privacy of their own home, for instance. After all, some of which makes contemporary dancing dangerous in public might just be the spark a languishing marriage needs.

After all, my problem with dancing centers on lust being a dangerous thing. Except when it's not lust, such as spouses dancing together to God-honoring music. So the maxim which applies here doesn't involve the activity of dancing as much as it does what happens while you're dancing.

We believers enjoy freedom in Christ from enslavement to sin. Christ purchased that freedom for us, and for His glory. Should we squander God's invaluable gift to us on frivolities like dancing to the same soundtrack as the world around us?

After all, if you'll pardon the expression, doesn't the One who pays the piper get to call the tune?

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