A Brief History of Dance in the Church

Dance in the church has had an interesting and somewhat tumultuous history. Although dance was very much part of the roots of Christian spirituality coming as it did from Jewish roots, the place of dance in the church was nevertheless questioned and at times rejected outright.

During the middle ages for example, many church edicts outlawed dance as part of Christian worship. This went as far as threatening with excommunication (rejection from the church family) of any who dared to dance inside or even in front of churches. The Synod of Cahors (France) 1206).

The Council of Wurzburg (W.Germany) threatened heavy punishment for anyone who participated in church dance, and described dances at night watches and saints feasts as “grevious sin”.

The Council of Norbonne (France) declared, “henceforth nobody will dare to dance in a holy temple or a churchyard during divine service.”

These various prohibitions ceased after about 1780AD but the generally negative attitude of the church toward dance and sanctified movement had shaped a mindset that was prohibitive, leading to a church largely devoid of the joy and life that dancing can bring.

Through the latter part of the 18th through to the 19th Century however, God has worked powerfully to restore dance and the Arts to their rightful place in His Church and His creative and vibrant Kingdom.

The great moves of God during the Wesleyan revivals for example were attended by great outpourings of God’s Spirit, manifestations of His power, and wild exuberant dancing and singing as people realised their release from the awful burden of sin.

This was further manifest in the Pentecostal revivals of the early 20th Century, and in particular the worshipful move of God known as the Latter Rain outpouring which followed.

By the time of the sweeping Charismatic movement of the 1960’s the church was experiencing a great liberation into manifestations of the Holy Spirit’s gifts and anointing. Coupled with this amazing move of God was an epidemic of exuberant worship, with church dance playing a vital part in the glory of this period of church history.

The prophetic and apostolic move that followed in the 1980’s and 90’s helped to further establish the prophetic nature and significance of dance, drama and the arts as part of the full expression of Christian worship and creativity.

We can certainly be thankful today that church dance has found its place in the broad and exciting landscape of church worship and ministry in our generation. God continues to restore life and vitality to His Bride as she prepares for His return, and dance in the church, alongside many other creative expressions, is intimately and gloriously interwoven into this restorative history.

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