How often do you say the word, “Amen” in a church service? Not as a response to a prayer or statement from another person, but as a filler word? It’s probably more often than you think. I do it more than what I would like to admit. The frequency has declined, but it still happens from time to time. Why does it matter?
It matters because the word, “Amen” is a Bible word rich in spiritual meaning. To use it loosely empties it of its potential power, and compromises its God-given purpose.
I would like to create some momentum amongst those of us who lead worship in eradicating the word “Amen” from any context in which it lacks meaning. How will we do this? Let me take you through five points inspired by the book, “participating in worship” by Craig Douglas Ericsson.¹
“Amen” comes from the Hebrew verb ‘mn. When we say “Amen” we are saying a Hebrew word that has been used for millennia. It means: surely, truth, most certainly, so be it, to be faithful, reliable, steadfast, established, firm.
2. Origin of usage
The word, “Amen” was used in synagogues and the Temple. Since then it has become common in both Christian and Muslim circles. It has been adopted as a transliteration by many languages.
3. Biblical usage
The Hebrew version of the word is found in 25 verses of the Old Testament. The Greek version of “Amen” is found in 104 verses of the New Testament, translated in a variety of ways (Amen, truly, very). It is most common in the Gospels, with Matthew (31), and John (50) containing by far the most.
“In Biblical usage, ‘Amen’ is a formula that is spoken by the congregation at the end of the liturgy (e.g. 1 Chronicles 16:36) or at the end of the doxology (e.g. Romans 1:25).” Erickson
In the New Testament “Amen” is used as an indicator that something important is about to be said. Jesus said “Amen, Amen” (translated as “Verily, verily,” or “truly, truly”) before some of his most important pronouncements.
4. Historical usage
Most commonly, “Amen” is used after someone has prayed, and the congregation signals its agreement with what has been said. Augustine wrote, “to say ‘Amen’ is to subscribe.”
Agreement: a congregation might say “Amen” spontaneously in agreement with a speaker. In saying “Amen” we, as the body of Christ, are giving collective spiritual agreement to the truth of what has been said. There is much power in this corporate assent. Jerome recorded that the Amen of his congregation was “like thunder shaking the empty temples of the idols”!
Unity: “Amen can express unanimity of belief. This is the predominant sense at the conclusion of the creeds.
Sealing: “Amen” is appropriate when someone is baptised or married. For example, “I am now able to baptise you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit for the forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit and you will be added to Christ’s church. AMEN”
5. Modern usage
In the congregations I serve, “Amen” is most commonly used in corporate settings in the following ways:
As a corporate response to someone leading a prayer
As a spontaneous personal response to something said in the church service, most often the sermon.
As a corporate response to a Bible reading. As in, “… and the church said – AMEN.”
As a seal on baptism (as above in point 4).
As a way for a speaker to get a response to his or her point. As in, “If you want to be confident of your salvation, you must make every effort. Amen?”
As a filler between songs, at the end of speaking slots. Too often the word is used to mask insecurity in the speaker or worship leader or fill a moment of silence.
Using the word, “Amen” in our times of corporate worship is thoroughly biblical and helpful. However, we might want to rethink the habits, traditions and customs we have adopted. Let us consider whether the way we use the word, “Amen” is serving a useful spiritual purpose.
Stop using the word, “Amen” as a filler in corporate worship. Instead, allow silence. Or say something more meaningful about what has justbeen said or sung, and what is about to be said or sung. The key to improving is to be better prepared and consider in advance what to say, for example, at the end of a song.
Continue using the word, “Amen” in all other corporate worship circumstances.
What are your thoughts on this topic? Do you think it’s worth trying to eradicate the use of the word, “Amen” as a filler? Am I being too fussy? What have you done to reduce the use of filler words?
Please leave a comment wherever you hear or see this or read this. I would love to know what you think. We learn best when we learn in community.
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Thank you so much for reading, listening and watching. I hope that the next time you gather with your friends to worship God, you will have a cracking time of corporate worship.
We can all say, “AMEN” to that!
God bless, Malcolm
¹ “Participating in Worship: history, theory, and practice”, Craig Douglas Erickson, Westminster/John Knox press, 1989, pp61-64
Have you ever seen two drivers coming at a junction from a different direction and each refusing to yield to the other? Perhaps you have been one of those drivers. I’m sure I have! Not a pretty sight. And no one gets anywhere.
Yielding does not have a good image in contemporary society. It is associated with helplessly surrendering one’s liberty, possessions and even one’s life. But is there a more positive way to view yielding, especially when it pertains to our relationship with God?
The concept of yielding in a healthy way is on my mind because I am studying Psalm 100. The purpose of this study is preparation for a special worship service I am planning for May 6. More on that as we approach the date.
Here is the Psalm in its entirety:
“A psalm. For giving grateful praise.
Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.
Worship the Lord with gladness; come before him with joyful songs.
Know that the Lord is God. It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name.
For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.”
(Psalms 100:0–5 NIV11)
It is not a long psalm, but it is powerful. It has been called the “Jubilate”, and is often quoted in church services. The famous old hymn, “All people that on earth do dwell” is based on this Psalm. Well worth praying through. The lyrics are below.
There is much to say about this Psalm. Future blog articles will expand on its themes. For today, we will focus on the overall tone of the Psalm. I am guided in this by some comments in the book, “The Psalms and the life of faith” by Walter Breuggemann. He makes the observation that both yielding and covenant are strong themes. Let’s have a look at those.
1. Nothing but yielding
The feel of the Psalm is one of surrender. As Brueggemann says, “In Psalm 100, the summons to praise are utterly yielding to God…There is nothing here but yielding.” p51
The whole earth is to make a joyful noise. We are to serve (worship), come to him, enter his gates, thank him, praise him, bless him.
The scope of the yielding is global. The extent of the yielding is total. The focus of the worship in this Psalm is God, not the worshipper.
Yet it is not a cringing, miserable yielding.
2. Covenant confidence
There is more to say about this Psalm than solely yielding. It is that, within the yielding, there is a relationship. A healthy relationship. The covenant relationship is in view. As is the character of God.
Brueggemann notes: “These invitations [to yield], however, are grounded in a sense of our position vis-à-vis God:…even in this supreme act of yielding, the language of hesed [steadfast love] and emet [faithfulness] is present because Israel knows no other way to sing or to pray.” p52
What is God like? He made us, calls us his own, and gives us what we need (V3). He is good (v5) and will love us for ever (v5). His faithfulness to us will never end (V5).
In this Psalm we see surrender and joy coexisting. A tremendous example from the old Testament are what we see in the relationship between Jesus and the father. We are able to yield to God and enjoy God. This Psalm shows us how.
Why not spend some time meditating on praising and worshipping God in a yielded way and the motivation for doing so.
What helps you to yield to God? What helps you to enjoy that yielding? Which characteristics of God help you to yield?
Please leave a comment here so that we can all learn from one another. We learn best, when we learn in community.
I hope you have a wonderful week of fulfilling quiet times.
God bless, Malcolm
“All people that on earth do dwell”
By: William Kethe, c. 1594; Thomas Ken, 1637–1711 Tune: Old 100th