Then all the people said ‘Amen’
It’s a most dispiriting feeling. You’ve come to the end of the service, having preached your heart out, and you’re pronouncing the benediction. As you near a conclusion, the pitch, volume and tempo of your voice rise, the adrenalin is pumping through every vessel, your body shaking, up to the final crescendo of a resounding ‘Amen’. It bursts forth from your lungs, and you wait with eager anticipation for the full-throated affirmation from the congregation. But it doesn’t come! One or two hearty members give it their best, to be sure – but most of the rest, looking down at their feet, utter a muffled, self-conscious, incoherent grunt and sit down, as if relieved that the service is over. Perhaps you are relieved too. Well, who’d be a pastor?
Of course I exaggerate in order to make my point. But what is this word ‘Amen’? Is it a formality, a mere punctuation mark, like the full stop at the end of a sentence? Why should the congregation repeat a word that has already been uttered by the one who is praying – surely the Lord has already heard him and my own additions won’t make any substantial difference?
The word ‘Amen’ is Hebrew in origin and it means ‘truly’, ‘so be it’ or perhaps more colloquially ‘Yes, I am in complete agreement with what has been said!’ King David’s psalm of thanksgiving climaxed with these words: ‘“Blessed be the LORD, the God of Israel, from everlasting to everlasting!” Then all the people said, “Amen!” and praised the LORD’ (1 Chr. 16:36). I want to offer five incentives, five spurs that should amplify the volume of the ‘Amens’ in every congregation represented by the readership of this magazine.
Warm assent of the congregation
The content of the worship service – reading, praying, singing and preaching – is centred on the word of God and the glorious gospel of salvation in Christ. These are themes that should make the heart of every Christian rejoice and sing. The truths that are being set before the congregation are not mere historical facts, but spiritual realities that resonate with our souls. They deal with such mighty themes as the forgiveness of sins, peace with God, everlasting life. We have been granted the incomparable privilege of entering into the presence of Almighty God, Creator of heaven and earth, by the blood of His only son Jesus Christ. These are wonders that have captivated our souls. We want to enthusiastically endorse the high and holy mysteries that have been communicated, and there is no better way to demonstrate this than with a hearty ‘Amen’! If we don’t want to endorse them then clearly something is wrong.
Active participation in congregational worship
It may be a bit of a cliché, but we live in a spectator society. We are used, almost certainly far too used, to sitting in our living rooms and watching what used to be called ‘the box’, but is now more commonly a large, flat screen. We watch a programme and then discuss it afterwards, at a safe and detached distance. We don’t know the actors or players personally, so what we say about them makes no real difference to them or to us. But we have no right to bring that kind of mentality with us to the worship of God. We need to realise that we are participants in worship, and not only when we are singing. Hearing God’s word is not something passive; whenever the Bible speaks about hearing it always implies that the heart, mind and will are actively engaged. We hear God’s word in order that our whole being might be conformed to Christ; being among the Lord’s people should be an exercise in which we are being personally challenged and changed. The enthusiastic utterance of an ‘Amen’ is conclusive proof that our whole being is unreservedly employed in the worship of God.
Audible unity of the body of Christ
Whether your congregation is large or small, a collective ‘Amen’, uttered with warmth and feeling, is a stirring and emphatic statement. In Deuteronomy 27, all the people of Israel were instructed to divide into two groups of six tribes each, six tribes on Mount Gerizim for the blessings and six on Mount Ebal for the curses. When the Levites pronounced the curses, all the people were to say ‘Amen’ together. Can you imagine how their voices would have echoed and resounded? Suppose unbelievers come into your church – let’s hope that from time to time they do! – what effect will such an ‘Amen’ have on them? Many unbelievers have experiences of ‘church’ that are extremely unsatisfactory; they will have encountered weak leadership, a loss of confidence in the Bible, congregations that are half-asleep. To such, the voices of believers raised in vigorous unison will be a powerful witness. Paul describes a situation such as this in 1 Corinthians 14:24-25, in which ‘an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you.’ Isn’t this what we long to see? Loud ‘Amens’ might be only one expression of this spiritual solidarity, but nevertheless they are a genuine expression.
International speech of the Christian church
Some words are recognised the world over: ‘coca-cola’, ‘taxi’, ‘goal’ are just a few examples. Believers in every country, speaking every tongue, know how to say ‘Amen’! Our transatlantic brethren might occasionally pronounce the initial vowel incorrectly, but the word is still at least vaguely recognisable. So you’re on holiday in a Bible-believing church in Uganda, South Korea or Sri Lanka, and you haven’t understood a word of the sermon or the prayer. But you have the testimony of the Holy Spirit in your heart that you are among true believers, and you can belt out your ‘Amen’ with as much gusto as the rest of the Lord’s people. As on the day of Pentecost, our brothers and sisters will testify: ‘We hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God’ (Acts 2:11). There is one church of Jesus Christ worldwide, and they can all say ‘Amen’ together.
Personal encouragement of the one who is leading
This point is deliberately last of all. But ‘remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God’ (Heb. 13:7). An affirmative ‘Amen’ will be an assurance to them that you, the congregation, are with them. Believe me, this will warm their hearts.
Finally, forget your reserve and your self-consciousness and join with all the saints in praising the Lord! So then, what will you say in response to all this?
Paul Yeulett is the minister of Shrewsbury Evangelical Church.