In recent years I’ve observed a number of Reformed-type churches trying to institute corporate handraising in certain sung parts of worship. This often does not seem to work very well. 1. Some people don’t do it. 2. Some do it half-way. 3. Some do it with one hand. 4. Some dramatically stretch to the ceiling with both hands. 5. Some put their hands out wide into the faces of their neighbors.
So I have some questions.
1. What is the Biblical basis for trying to institute this? Traditional Reformed/Presbyterian liturgical practice enjoins the pastor to pray with his hands raised. 1 Timothy 2:8 says “the men (aner)” are to offer prayer. Since this is a pastoral epistle, THE men are taken to be the pastors/leaders in worship, not all the men in the room.
2. All the instances I can find of lifting hands are either to place a benediction, or in prayer. I don’t see any instances of raising hands during song.
3. If we come to believe there is some value in corporate handraising, then it makes sense for it to be in prayer, or in sung prayer. Perhaps the reason it is not “working” very well in many churches is that the Doxology and the Gloria Patri are NOT prayers. They are not addressed to God. There’s no one to lift your hands to in the Doxology and Gloria Patri, so the act seems absurd at some level. Both songs (which are actually the same song) call on others to praise God, but are not prayers or praise directed to God.
4. That might change, in the Gloria Patri, if instead of singing “Glory BE to the Father…” we sang “Glory to the Father….” In that case, we would be directly glorifying God.
5. And it would make sense in the Gloria in Excelsis: “we praise Thee, we bless Thee, we worship Thee, we glorify Thee” etc. That is, if the churches started singing things like that.
6. There is also the problem that the two common Gloria Patris in common use in non-liturgical churches are both musically pretty sorry, and the Doxology is usually sung as slow as molassas. Nobody’s going to feel like lifting his hands up during such drippy songs. Nor will they be much inclined during a slow and gooey singing of “Holy, Holy, Holy” or something else actually addressed to God. If the musicians are not going to support the congregation with vigorous playing, nobody’s likely to get excited!
Conclusion: I see three things that are problematic with modern Reformed/Presbyterian corporate handraising:
A. The Bible does not seem to teach it in any clear way, so people are dubious.
B. People are asked to raise their hands during things that are not prayers.
C. People are asked to raise their hands during dreary slow music.
I write this not as someone opposed to corporate handraising per se, but as someone opposed to pointless ritual acts stuck in for some reason I cannot fathom. The minister is to have his hands raised during ALL prayers. If the congregation is asked to raise hands, it should be in prayers they say, or in prayer-songs. Not at random times.