/ The Amen / Kit Swartz

Say "The Amen"!

Historical Background The individual vocalization of “Amen!” was a matter of controversy in our congregation some years ago and resulted in the departure of both an offended party and the offending party.  (“Offending” and “offended” are descriptive, not pejorative.)  The offending party returned to our fellowship some years later and this matter became a very disruptive controversy once again among some members of our congregation.  The Pastor and Elders labored with the parties to be considerate and forbearing of each other but a deep alienation set in that required more deliberate action.  Most of the congregation was able to forebear the individual vocalizations and some supported and participated in them.  Some of these saints were less aware of the extent of the controversy thanks to the care of the parties to keep the matter between them and the Elders.  Some of those less aware of the controversy were offended by the Session’s more deliberate action but came to a better understanding and peace in time.

Each party in this case held to an element of truth.  The offender rightly insisted that the people of God must be engaged in and responsive to God in the elements of His worship.  The offended parties rightly insisted that individual vocalizations are disordered and thus prohibited.  Since all controversies of religion are to be settled by the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scriptures, we prayerfully sought the voice of the Spirit through the preaching of His word on this subject.  We found that there are biblical principles that regulate this matter and that our practice must also be informed by the light of nature and Christian prudence.  We are thankful that the Lord used this controversy to lead us to consider His word more carefully for biblical reformation of His worship among us.

Biblical Truth It is clearly evident in Scripture that the vocalized Amen is an ordinary element of public worship (1Cor.14:16; see 1Chr.16:36; Neh.8:6).  Paul’s use of the definite article in 1 Corinthians 14:16 indicates that “the Amen” was an accepted practice in the public worship of the church in Corinth. 

The simple fact that “Amen” is a transliteration of Hebrew into every language gives a sense of the significance and weight of the word and practice.  The word as used in Scripture and in the public worship of the church means “certainly true” in response to the words of another whether in proclamation, petition or promise (see Rev.3:14).  The vocalization of “Amen” is a response of affirmation and ownership to words spoken by another.  It is a responsive profession of faith and therefore requires understanding, persuasion, desire and commitment to what is said.  Or, in alliteration for memory, it requires cognizance, conviction, craving and commitment. 

The many instances of a double “Amen” give the sense of an oath and manifest the seriousness of saying the Amen (Num.5:22; Neh.8:6; Ps.41:13; 72:19; 89:52; 106:48; Rev.7:12).  The greatest “Amen” is Christ Himself affirming all the words of God by fulfilling them (2Cor.1:20; Rev.3:14; Lk.24:4).  It is better not to say the Amen than to say it and not know, understand, believe, desire and be committed to confess and obey what you affirm (see Eccl.5:5).  Corporate affirmation also involves mutual commitment to admonish one another in the things we affirm with the Amen (Neh.5:13).

The Scripture provides approved examples of the Amen in response to proclamation (Neh.8:6,1f) including prescriptions (Neh.5:13) and promises (Dt.27:15f; 2Cor.1:20; Rev.1:7; 22:20).  Since the Lord’s Supper is a visual proclamation and promise, the Amen is rightly applied in response as was done in the early church (Jerome).  Other approved examples include prayer (Mt.6:13 (see catechisms); 1Cor.14:16) and praise (1Chr.16:36).  Each of the first four books of the Psalter concludes with a doxology and a double “Amen” (Ps.41:13; 72:19; 89:52; 106:48).  It may be reasonable to see these conclusions as eligible to be distributed to the end of each preceding Psalm.  Historic hymn singing often follows this practice.  Psalm 106:48 provides a suitable formula for calling the congregation to say the Amen, “And let all the people say, ‘Amen’”.  Psalm 150 is a closing doxology to the fifth book and the whole Psalter but it does not have a concluding Amen.  Perhaps Christ Himself is that “Amen” (2Cor.1:20; Rev.3:14; see Lk.24:44).  New Testament doxologies often conclude with the Amen (1Tm.1:17; 6:16; Heb.13:21; Rev.7:12).  Blessings also ordinarily conclude with the Amen (Rom.15:33; 1Cor.16:24; Rev.22:21).

Three principles emerge from these approved examples that inform our practice of the Amen.  The first is that, in public worship, the people vocalized the Amen together as one (Neh.8:1f,6), not individually at various times.  Second, in public worship, the people vocalized the amen when cued by those who were leading them in the various ordinances of worship (Ps.106:48), not at their individual discretion.  It may be that Paul’s “Amens” cued the hearers to vocalize the Amen at those points in the reading of his letters (see Rom.1:25; 9:5; 11:36)   In public worship, the Amen is not a speaker’s affirmation of his own words but the people’s affirmation of a speaker’s words to the glory of God.  Third, in Scripture, the Amen usually occurs at the end of an ordinance of worship.  However, the references from Romans just listed indicate that doxology with the Amen can occur at any suitable time.  Therefore, there may be instances in the midst of an ordinance of worship where the speaker may call the congregation to say the Amen.  This would seem to be most relevant in the preaching. 

Church History Judaism practiced the Amen in synagogue worship, including the affirmation of each of the three elements of the Aaronic benediction (Num.6:24,25,26).  The Eastern Orthodox Church follows a similar practice, affirming each of the Persons of the Trinity in the baptismal formula (Mt.28:19).  As with many things, the synagogue practice became a part of worship in the apostolic and early church (1Cor.14:16).  The Amen is also practiced in Islam.

Justin Martyr (c.100-165 A.D.) testified to this practice in his day and Jerome (c.345-420 A.D.) said that the Amen closing the Lord’s Supper sounded like thunder.  It is a helpful image to think of the ordinances of worship to be like lightning and the Amen to be like thunder.  The light should be clear and bright, and the thunder should be thoughtful, whole-hearted and loud! 

Worship in the medieval church was characterized by frequent, routine and meaningless vocalization of the Amen.  The Reformation recognized that the Amen was warranted and ordered worship with an occasional, contextual (responsive) and meaningful use of this element.  In the contemporary church, we find conservative churches that suffer the unresponsive sound of silence and such immobile disengagement that the motion-detecting lights go out early in the sermon.  The biblical doctrine of the Amen stirs up these churches to be fully engaged in every ordinance of worship and, thereby, to be prepared to say the Amen with all their mind and heart.  On the other hand, we find progressive churches that suffer the indulgent chaos of individual vocalizations of the Amen from various people at various times according to their various inclinations.  The biblical doctrine of the Amen instructs these churches to say the Amen together as the body of Christ, submitting to the cue of those who lead them in the various ordinances of worship.  For those who claim an irresistible compulsion of the Spirit in their individual vocalizations, Paul instructs them that the Spirit empowers us with both zeal and self-discipline (1Cor.14:32,26f; 2Tm.1:7).

Conclusion: Say “the Amen”! The Amen is a biblically warranted element of public worship.  It is to be vocalized by the congregation together, in response to the things heard from another, at the direction of the one leading and to the praise of God.  Congregations would do well to vocalize the Amen together, as led and like thunder, at the end of prayer, preaching, sacrament and benediction.  It would be suitable to do this at the end of each Psalm (as is done with many hymns) except with those that include the Amen.

 May the Lord conform our practice to His revealed will and give us peace in submission to His Spirit who speaks to us in His word.   “And let all the people say, ‘Amen’”  Praise the Lord!” (Ps.106:48b).

Kit Swartz Teaching Elder Emeritus, RPC Oswego, NY   Ruling Elder, retired, RPC Fulton, NY

Useful Resources

Sermon A sermon outline and audio on this subject can be found at https://www.sermonaudio.com/sermoninfo.asp?SID=162014302494

Books Cyclopedia of Biblical Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature, by McClintock, John and Strong, James; Baker, 1981

-       “Amen”, Vol. I, p.194

-       “Response”, Vol. VIII, pp.1049,1050

-       “Responses”, Vol. VIII, p.1050

Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, Walter A. Elwell, ed.; Baker, 1984, “Amen”, p.39

New Bible Dictionary, J.D. Douglas, ed., Eerdmans, 1975, “Amen”, pp. 29,30

New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology (NICNTT), Colin Brown, ed., Zondervan, 1971; “Αμήν”, Vol.1, pp.97-99.

Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (TDNT), Gerhard Kittel, ed., Eerdmans, 1971; “Αμήν”, pp.335-338

Electronic Resources (Thanks to Elder John McGrath for finding these resources for me.)

Amen” at Wikipedia at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amen , accessed December 2019.

 “Amen.  A Word Common to Many Languages” by John Piper, published February 1, 1998 at https://www.desiringgod.org/messages/amen ; accessed December 2019.

 “Saying ‘Amen’ After Prayers in Worship” from various sources, Reformed Books Online, at https://reformedbooksonline.com/topics/topics-by-subject/worship/saying-amen-after-prayers-in-worship/ ; accessed December 2019.

 “Saying of the Amen, Clapping, and Hand-raising in Worship 1” by Sam Waldron, published February 16, 2015 on Covenant Baptist Theological Seminary web site at https://cbtseminary.org/amen-clapping-and-hand-raising-1