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Miami Baptist Association, 1865

By L. G. Leonard, D. D.

"Social Dancing"

      DEAR BRETHREN: - At the last session of this Association one year ago, at Middletown, it was voted that "the writer of the Circular Letter" be requested to prepare an essay on the subject of Dancing.

      The subject, it is seen, is stated in its most general form, and would admit of very great latitude in the consideration of it. Dancing might be treated in many aspects - as an art, as an accomplishment, as an index of the manners of a people. But I remember that in the present instance the appointment was made by a religious body, representing Christian's churches; and that the paper requested is intended to go forth as a circular letter to those churches. These facts furnish the only explanation I have of the special purpose of the appointment, and with the interpretation I give them, I announce, the question of dancing for purposes of social amusement, as my theme.

      Is the practice consistent with the proprieties of the Christian profession and life?

      Assuming that I have not greatly misapprehended the design and purpose of the Association in assigning this theme, there must have been in the minds of those who voted the appointment, grave importance attaching to the question.

      It would seem, also, from the gravity of a vote, directing that the "circular letter" be in the form of an essay on the subject of "dancing," that in some quarters, at least, the question is not considered as wholly settled. Some minds are not at rest.

      On a subject so old and hackneyed, about which so much has been said and written, and upon which opinions, moreover, are so generally formed, the prospects are not flattering of contributing in any appreciable degree, by aught that may be said within the brief limits allowed to this paper, to a satisfactory solution of the question.

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      We may premise, however, that man is a social being. Christianity does not frown upon this element of his nature, but places itself in harmony therewith. It does not seek to cramp and repress, but rather to give a healthy expansion, to sanctify and elevate, and thus with loving and gentle ties to bind all hearts together.

     Is, then, the practice of dancing as a social amusement, consistent with this high purpose?

      Of the mere act of dancing as a species of calisthenics, we need not speak. Placed simply on the ground of an athletic exercise, the probabilities are that to most minds, and minds the best qualified to form an opinion on such a subject, the system of Dio Lewis will appear a more excellent way. Yet, if any are otherwise minded, so far as the purposes of this essay are concerned, we may safely leave them to the quiet enjoyment of their preferences.

      Of dancing as a social amusement, it seems to me that very much which has been said lacks relevancy, and therefore, convincing force. Adversely to the practice we are, for instance, cited back to the customs and opinions of the ancients - the Greeks, the Romans - and we are told that with them the practice was seldom or never indulged in, except by persons of abandoned character, and was usually connected with the grossest immoralities. Now, I do not care to examine the strict accuracy of this statement. It is, I presume, an overdrawn picture; but taking it just as we find it in various treatises on the subject of dancing, it does seem to me still to be an argument bearing very, remotely upon the subject before us. The wild and indecent gesticulation of courtizans in a heathen assembly surely it must be admitted, is wholly a different thing in act, in association, in purpose, in result, from that which is now known as dancing in cultivated circles, and in Christian lands. The same word may be used to describe acts wholly different in themselves, and in their moral relations and effects. As a matter of fact, we indeed know the word dance to be thus general in its import.

      2. Equally unsatisfactory is the argument which is attempted to be drawn in favor of modern dancing, from the practice of the pious Hebrews on great religious occasions. We are told, for instance, that on the memorable occasion of the safe passage of the people of Israel through the divided sea, when their enemies, attempting

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to follow in the same miraculously formed path, were overwhelmed, while the chosen people were delivered; then when God's hand was so wonderfully stretched out for deliverance, "Miriam, the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took a timbrel in her hands, and all the women went out after her with timbrels and with dances. And Miriam answered them, Sing ye to the Lord, ior he has triumphed gloriously: the horse and his rider hath he thrown into the sea." The heart of the people was deeply thrilled with a sense of God's presence, his faithfulness, his power to save. Almost visably had he gone before them, and been their rear ward through the divided deep; and now still trembling, rejoicing, trusting, these holy and patriotic women, with measured step, conforming to the throbbings of their grateful hearts, and in accordance with the religious customs of their people, went forth to give visable expression to their religious gratitude and joy.

      In like manner, also, on the auspicious occasion of the bringing up the ark of the Lord from the house of Obed Edem, "David danced before the Lord with all his might, so David and all the house of Israel brought up the ark of the Lord with shouting and with the sound of the trumpet." But surely these and such like acts recorded of pious Hebrews, have little in common with the modern practice of social dancing. In these recorded instances there was no commingling of the sexes, no worldly mirth, no nocturnal exposure, either of health or morals, and no ban upon the fullest expression of religious sentiment or joy. The whole spirit and animus of these acts; nay, the acts themselves, were essentially different from aught that is now practiced as social dancing, for purposes of amusement. To argue, therefore, from those ancient religious customs to the pleasure scenes of modern society, if seriously attempted, can scarcely have any other effect than to show the extremity to which the defenders of the modern practice feel themselves to be driven.

      But some one will say, Are we not distinctly taught in the word of God, that "there is a time to dance?" And this passage is sometimes brought forward as if it were proof on the subject we are considering. And what is more and more to be regretted is, that the irrelevant quotation of this passage of Scripture is made to assume some appearance of argument by the labored and learned

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refutation which gxx>d men have sometimes bestowed upon it

      "A time to dance, verily!" and by the same authority, and almost in the same breath, we are taught, "There is a time for every purpose under heaven." If the simple fact that there is a time to dance, gives sanction to the modern practice of social dancing, and that by church members, and in circumstances where, by tacit agreement, there is a truce to all religious expression; then, according to the same reasoning, the fact that "there is a time for every purpose under heaven," gives equal sanction to every purpose conceived or executed by men. The absurdity of the conclusion shows the fallacy of the attempted argument. The truth is, those persons greatly misapprehend the scope of Scripture teaching; they dishonor the wisdom of God in his word; who, instead of accepting distinctly tanght principles for the government of their conduct in the various intercourse of society, go to the sacred volume expecting to find there specific directions for every possible case. A revelation after such ideal would have been impossible. "The world itself could not contain the books that should be written" to meet the demands of such a revelation. The principles of the divine government and of human duty are few; their application infinite. Scripture has, indeed, its positive institiites; but these are few, clearly defined and well illustrated, and have reference to special purposes and ends. In the great field of social intercourse, principles, and not specific legislation, must guide us. So, also, of moral duly - our relation to God and man. When, for instance, we find it written as the first great command of the Decalogue, "Thou shalt have no other Gods before me," we find here a principle enunciated, which excludes all possible forms of idolatry from the fetichism of the most barbarous nations, to the adroit covetuousness of a highly civilized and commercial age.

      When, again, it is enjoined by our Savior, "All things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them," under this Divine legislation all the numberless forms of practical benevolence that meet us in the every day walks of life, become as truly obligatory as if enjoined in each specific case, upon us in person, and that by a voice from heaven. Now apply this principle to

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the case before as. In the regulation, of life the question of social amusements is an important one. The law of Scripture is not that of interdict, but of regulation, according to clearly enunciated gospel principles, and not by specific rules and directions in particular cases. Jesus was no morose enthusiast. He never frowned upon innocent amusement genial and sweet of temper himself, he loved to see happiness around him; but he ever set forward this great divine claim, "first the kingdom of heaven!" Thus, also, Paul constantly urged upon ail Christians, "ye are not your own - ye are bought with a price - therefore glorify God with your boly and your spirit which are Gods." Now in accordance with these principles all questions of social ethics must be determined. By these our amusements must be tested, as we would claim to be Christians. And here, just here it is, in our judgment, that all the defences of social dancing as it is now practiced among as, break down, "It is not wrong," say they, "for Christians to dance; it is an innocent amusement." But they draw their arguments not from the great principles of the Christian life and relationship as laid down by Christ and the apostles, but from a vain and worldly philosophy, which in spirit, at least, is evermore antagonistic to the gospel. They see no harm, it is insisted, nor will we in this, question their averment. Yet we may and do earnestly inquire, are their eyes turned toward the light which shines from the sacred word, or toward those false lights which they and such as they who are "lovers ol pleasure more than lovers of God," have kindled?

      Let me call your attention to a few facts in evidence:

      1st. It is a law of Christ's kingdom that Christians are to be separate from the world. The child of grace is, by the very act of becoming such, a new creature, old things are passed away and behold all things have become new. His tastes, his associations, his aims, his chief delights, are new. This is not accidental - a thing that may occur in some cases - nor is it an artificial restraint imposed. It is a law of the new nature in Christ. The heart being changed, there must of necessity be a change in the objects of its pursuit and gratification. Thus it is recorded of Moses, that when he was borne to full age he refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter, choosing rather

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to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season.

      We might put the question thus: Is dancing, with its concomitants, an amusement congenial to a soul in which dwells richly the love and the grace of God? Does such a soul crave such delights? Is it congruous to suppose that Moses, renouncing the pleasures of sin, should have been found delighting in the pleasures of the dance? Or that Paul, dead to the world and crucified with Christ, shoxild have been the patron of such pleasures? And is not the feeling of repugnance which the very mention of such a supposition brings up, itself a testimony against it as essentially unchristian? If not Moses and Paul, why Christians now? For think what is implied in the act - I mean the act as a whole. Not the company, not the music, not the steps to the music, but the social pleasure dance as a whole. From such scenes Christ is excluded. Who ever heard of a dancing party beginning or closing with prayer; except it may be in some rare exceptional case where God has appeared by means unlocked for, to change the whole scene from mirth and sin to calling on his name? While the social dance maintains its true and normal character, religion is excluded, God is excluded, Christ is excluded. The distinctive experience of the Christian life is impossible. It is evermore the aim of the great enemy of righteousness to narrow the separating line between Christians and those who call not upon the name of the Lord. This is one of his most plausible and successful methods, for here the separating line becomes so narrow and faint that the Christian dancer can seldom tell on which side of that line he in fact is.

      2d. Another great and all embracing law of the Christian life is that it exists under the condition of progress - increase of the knowledge of God and the grace of Christ. This is but saying, in other words, that Christianity in its spirit and aim, harmonizes with the ways and works of God in every department. Progress is the great law of the universe; so the Christian is not to remain always a babe, but to grow up in to Christ in all things, who is the head. He is to be filled with the knowledge of God, to be rooted and grounded in love, and to go on unto perfection. If he has some knowledge, some grace, some strength, some holiness to-day, to-morrow he is to strive to have more. To

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this principle all his aims in life, pursuits, practices, and allowed pleasures must be made to conform. The Christian must say to himself, "Can I do this and glorify Christ by becoming more like him?"

      Now bring the practice of dancing by church members to this test. Is it as a matter of fact found favorable to the cultivation of piety? Are the devotees of this pleasure active also as the servants of Christ in the Sabbath School, in the prayer meeting, and wherever service or sacrifice is required? Are they the ones whose lives bear witness to the transforming power of grace, and of whom men take knowledge that they have been with Jesus? To put these inquiries is to answer them. There can be but one verdict. We need not here pause to look into the philosophy of this thing. The sad fact is patent enough, that when a church member yields to the pleasures of the dance, we look for religious decline, death of Christian experience, spiritual blight, and we are seldom disappointed. Many a young person decoyed by the enticing words, "What's the harm - others do so?" has found occasion in bitterness to confess: "There I laid down my armor; there I yielded myself to the yoke of sinful bondage, and can not throw it off." This, and not a sentiment of superstition, is why the church of Christ, with such wonderful unanimity, has pronounced against the practice of dancing. It implies and promotes spiritual decay. It seems in conflict with the great law of progress in the things of God and salvation. It draws away the heart from Christian fellowship, the Bible, and the assemblies of God's people. The first love of the Christian is left at the threshold, and the love of worldly delight usurps its place. The fruits of the spirit do not grow and mature in such an atmosphere, nor can the light of the new life shine there. Now with facts like these before us, we need not look for an explicit prohibition, saying: "Thou shalt not dance." Enough that the practice of social dancing is shown by its effects to be in conflict with that great law of the kingdom which requires progress, growth in knowledge, grace, and holiness. Because we believe, looking at the fruits and the facts, the practice of social dancing does this - is peculiarly in conflict with the law of spiritual growth and progress; therefore, by the mercies of God, the grace of Christ, the honor of his cause, and the consolations of the spirit, do we

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tenderly exhort our young brothers and sisters to abstain from this alluring pleasure of the world, and be separate therefrom. These two great and all prevailing principles of the gospel - separation from the world, and growth in Christian grace - would we especially impress upon any who may be tempted to indulge in the pleasures of the dance. There, in the midst of such pleasure scenes you can not bear witness for Christ, nor have you any just right to expect his presence or his blessing to be with you. Dare you go - will you go where Christ can not go with you - where your going grieves his holy spirit, and the hearts of many of his people; and where, as all experience attests, the very atmosphere of the place is surcharged with spiritual stupor and death.

[From Miami Baptist Association Minutes 1865, pp. 15-22. Document from the Miami Baptist Association Office, Cincinnati. Transcribed and formatted by Jim Duvall.]

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