I, like many of you, have been going to church for decades. Yet there are still some things that go on weekly at church that might make you wonder, “Why do we do that?”
One example is the repeating of the word “amen” following a prayer. Why do we do that? Furthermore, why do some people love to use this word not only following a prayer, but also at other times as well?
In the middle of a sermon you might hear someone call out a hearty “amen”! It can even come at unusual or even inappropriate times. The preacher, for example, might be demonstrably proclaiming the reality of judgment and say, “If you don’t come to Jesus, you will go to HELL” and someone might call out with enthusiasm a loud “AMEN!”
That probably isn’t the best time to use the word. Is the person gleeful that unbelievers will go to hell? Is there joy over the wrath of God being visited upon someone?
In previous generations, many churches even had an “amen corner.” Those who populated this part of the church were to encourage the preacher and prompt him to great oratorical heights with a chorus of “amens.” Many preachers became very good at preaching on worldliness or sins that were not prevalent in the church but were designed to get a loud response from the “amen corner.”
The question is, why do we even say “amen”? Do we even know what we are saying? Has it become such a habit to say “amen” that it is nothing more than a ritual we use to end our prayers or to encourage our preachers?
In Jewish Synagogues in the biblical period, the worshippers would say “Amen” at the conclusion to a prayer or in response to words of praise. Jesus himself grew up in Nazareth and worshipped in the local Synagogue (Luke 4:14-30). By saying “amen” at the end of a public prayer, the congregation was affirming their agreement with what had been prayed and were declaring the public prayer was an expression of the desire of the entire congregation. I’m sure there were many times in Nazareth when Jesus was a young man that he attended Synagogue and would say “Amen” when the prayers were completed.
The early Christians took over the practice of saying “amen” from the worship in the Synagogues. The earliest description we have of worship comes from around 150 A.D. in Justin Martyr’s writings. In his Apology he described the church as “saying the Amen.”
But what does the word “amen” actually mean?
The Hebrew and Greek word translated “amen” are found hundreds of times in the Old and New Testaments. Depending on the context it can be translated in several ways. A few are: dependable, to strengthen, to confirm, faithful, certain, true, firm, faithful, established, to believe something or someone, truly, so be it, or may it be so.
When we say “Amen” at the end of our prays we are affirming our belief that what we have prayed is in line with God’s will and that God has heard us and has the power to answer our prayers. Thus we say, “Amen” or “may it be so.”
A good example of this usage is in Revelation 22:20-21. John records that Jesus says, “Yes, I am coming soon.” And to this promise John says, “Amen” or “May it be so.” Then John records that until Jesus comes his prayer is “The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s people”. To his prayer he says “Amen” or “May it be so.”
So, why do we do that? Why do we say Amen?
Because we believe God is faithful and true, strong and dependable, and He is “able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations forever and ever! AMEN.” (Ephesians 3:20-21).