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This isn’t so much a criticism as it is an observation.    Have you ever noticed that, when you pray with another person or with a small group of people, everyone typically concludes the offering of petitions and the giving of thanks by verbalizing their affirmation and assent in saying, “Amen!”  Whether kneeling beside someone’s hospital bed, praying with family and friends before a meal, praying in an elders’ meeting, with the ministry staff or in a small group Bible study, everyone seems to have their hearts so in tune and in touch that they feel completely comfortable in audibly offering their conviction that, “Father, this is my prayer, also!  So be it, according to Your will and Your power!  Amen!”  And yet, when those same people are gathered with a significant number of others in the context of a worship assembly, the “Amen” offered by the one publicly leading in prayer is answered by the sound of silence or the faint chirping of a lone cricket.

Amen is the transliteration of a Greek word which is the transliteration of a Hebrew word, all of which essentially mean the same thing.  At the beginning of a statement it means, “surely, of a truth, truly.”  Jesus used the word in a formulaic fashion to introduce many of His teachings:  “Amen (verily, truly, most assuredly), I say to you….”  At the end of a statement, it is an expression of one’s identification with and affirmation of something which had been spoken or read.  “So it is!  So be it!  May it be fulfilled!”  The custom of worshippers offering their “Amen” at the end of a doxology, benediction, or the reading of Scripture is significantly evidenced in the Old Testament, and the practice ultimately passed naturally from the synagogue to the church in the first century.

Paul fully anticipated that Christians in Corinth would voice their “Amen” at the conclusion of the giving of thanks in the assembly (I Cor. 14:16).  That’s why it was essential that one not pray in an uninterpretted tongue; you can’t offer your “Amen” to something that you can’t comprehend.  The practice was still common a hundred years later.  Justin, writing in the mid-second century, notes in his description of Christian worship that when prayers and thanksgivings were offered, “the people assent, saying Amen.”

We serve “the God of Amen” (Is. 65:16).  Our Savior is “the Amen” (Rev. 3:14).  All of the Father’s promises are “Yes” in Jesus Christ, and through Him we speak our “Amen” to the glory of God (II Cor. 1:18-20).

Why do so many Christians refrain from voicing their “Amen” when prayer is offered in our assemblies?  Is it because of an audience mentality and a performance atmosphere in which we sit and observe someone else praying rather than feeling that this is our collective communication with the Father, that this is my prayer?  Sometimes, worship leaders attempt to prime and prompt our response by saying, “And the church said….”  To be honest, this has always struck me as a bit contrived (dare I say, “cheesy”) and reminds me of a parent trying to elicit a “please” or a “thank you” from a reluctant child who ought to know when and how to use those terms.  “Now, what do we say?  Use your words!”  Or, in order to draw a response from the congregation, we use “Amen” as an interrogative which often means no more than, “Am I right, or am I right?” 


Sorry, but “Amen” really isn’t a question!  It’s a declaration!  It’s an affirmation!

In Acts 4:31, Luke describes early disciples praying in Jerusalem and “the place where they had gathered together was shaken.”  Wouldn’t it be great if the collective voice of 12, 120, or 1,200 worshippers thundered their “Amen” together in prayer and shook the pews? 

I really don’t understand why we don’t; I just wish we did.  So, I guess I need to retract my opening statement.  This probably does qualify as a criticism.

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May 2010