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"Amen" in Worship

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  ASK THE PASTOR BY DAN KIEHL, Senior Pastor, Oakwood Presbyterian Church

     Question: “Why do some people say ‘Amen!’ during a worship service? Is it a Biblical response?”

     Answer: There are three ways in which you will hear worshippers use the word “amen” in a worship service: as a conclusion to a hymn, as a response to public prayer, or as an affirmation of comments made by the preacher or worship leader. It can be heard in a wide variety of types of churches, from the scripted congregational responses after formal prayers in liturgical churches such as an Episcopal church, to the boisterous shouts of multiple worshippers in Baptist or Pentecostal services. It’s even been heard occasionally (and “decently and in order”) in Presbyterian services!

     There is a clear Biblical warrant and precedent for the practice. In Deuteronomy 27, God commands the Levites to pronounce curses upon various sins, and goes on to say, “Then all the people shall say, ‘Amen!’” after every curse. When King David brought the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem, he presented to the people a new psalm of thanksgiving. The people were deeply moved by the event and David’s psalm, and then “all the people said, ‘Amen’ and ‘Praise the Lord’.” David included the word within some of the psalms that he wrote. Psalm 72:18-19 says, “Praise be to the Lord God, the God of Israel, who alone does marvelous deeds…may the whole earth be filled with His glory. Amen and amen.” The fact that the practice was continued into New Testament worship is made clear from a comment that Paul makes in 1 Corinthians 14:16, “…how can one who finds himself among those who do not understand say ‘Amen’ to your thanksgiving, since he does not know what you are saying?” Throughout the history of God’s people it has been a unique and special confession and affirmation of the truth of God’s Word during worship.

     The word is not really translatable. It has been transliterated directly from Old Testament Hebrew into New Testament Greek, and then into English. From the way that it is used in Scripture, it appears to be an assent to and or affirmation of what has been proclaimed in prayer or preaching. Charles Simeon says that the word “denotes the full concurrence of the soul in all that has been uttered.” It is a means for the worshipper to more fully participate in the expressions of prayer, praise, and truth in a worship service.

     Saying “Amen” in response to truth in worship is a practice of both Old Covenant and New Covenant worship in Scripture. Unfortunately, like the practices of clapping and raising hands in worship (both of which are also given by command and example in Scripture), the practice of saying “Amen” has been discontinued in many churches. It has been the overreaction on the part of many to the showy false piety of some Christians, and the inappropriate expressions of others. But when the word “Amen” is used in a reverent and orderly way in response to prayers and sermons, it can be reassuring to your faith, encouraging to the preacher and the body of believers, and invigorating to the worship service.

Posted by Rev. Dan Kiehl with