Amens and Hallelujahs: Egging on the Preacher in Light of Scripture

A new fea­ture here at King­dom Geek is the Just Ask! form, with which you can ask me any ques­tions you want about the sub­jects about which I blog. The ques­tions are always anony­mous, so you nev­er have to be embar­rassed about ask­ing some­thing — you won’t appear dumb because you won’t appear at all. Cool, huh?

With­in an hour or so of post­ing the form, I had already received the first question:

There’s a long set­up but there’s a ques­tion here.

I’m glad you put this up here because I have a ques­tion that’s been burn­ing for years and have had no one to ask it to.

You’re not black and I don’t know if you attend a “black” church but maybe you’d take a crack at this question.

I’ve nev­er attend­ed a “black” church but based on tv and movies (I know, the medi­um of truth) there seems to be a lot of com­mo­tion going on. “Amen” and “Hal­lelu­jah” being called out in the mid­dle, etc. From what I under­stand, there’s a num­ber of “white” church­es with a lot of com­mo­tion also going on.

How do you think they inter­pret Matthew 6:5–7 to rec­on­cile their service?

5 And when ye pray, ye shall not be as the hyp­ocrites: for they love to stand and pray in the syn­a­gogues and in the cor­ners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Ver­i­ly I say unto you, They have received their reward.

6 But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thine inner cham­ber, and hav­ing shut thy door, pray to thy Father who is in secret, and thy Father who seeth in secret shall rec­om­pense thee.

7 And in pray­ing use not vain rep­e­ti­tions, as the Gen­tiles do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speak­ing. (Amer­i­can Stan­dard Version)

For the “Gen­tiles” I think you might look to the inci­dent of Eli­jah and Mt. Caramel in Kings I to deter­mine what Jesus (might) be refer­ring to.

26 And they [the prophets of Baal] took the bul­lock which was giv­en them, and they dressed it, and called on the name of Baal from morn­ing even until noon, say­ing, O Baal, hear us. But there was no voice, nor any that answered. And they leaped about the altar which was made.

27 And it came to pass at noon, that Eli­jah mocked them, and said, Cry aloud; for he is a god: either he is mus­ing, or he is gone aside, or he is on a jour­ney, or per­ad­ven­ture he sleep­eth and must be awaked. (Kings I 18:26–27, Amer­i­can Stan­dard Version)

These “Gen­tile” called and called and called — “vain rep­e­ti­tions.” How are those church­es in accord with Jesus’ instructions?

The asker is cor­rect — I am not black, nor do I attend a “black church.” I’ve only been to a pre­dom­i­nate­ly black church once, and that was with a friend over a decade ago; suf­fice it to say, I do not remem­ber the church expe­ri­ence much at all.

How­ev­er, the bulk of my church expe­ri­ence comes from a inde­pen­dent, fun­da­men­tal Bap­tist church which in cer­tain ways was anti­thet­i­cal to the “black church­es” seen on television.

What the church­es have in com­mon, though, is the ten­den­cy to make a per­former out of the preach­er. They hoot & holler, whoop & applaud. They “Amen!”, “Preach it!”, and “Hal­lelu­jah!” when­ev­er the preach­er men­tions pros­per­i­ty vers­es or attacks the sins of which they do not find them­selves guilty.

The anony­mous asker of the ques­tion is right to ques­tion all of this. Are we to give audi­to­ry talk-back to preach­ers in our church­es in the same way one might egg on or heck­le a comedian?

I doubt we are; I say “doubt” because I cer­tain­ly can­not pro­duce a Scrip­ture which explic­it­ly says, in effect, “Shut up, and let the man preach.”

Rather, I’ve done a lit­tle infer­ring to come to my conclusion:

  • First, in all the times that Jesus or the apos­tles spoke to crowds, the Scrip­tures do not record the lis­ten­ers respond­ing with cheers, “Hal­lelu­jahs,” or the like dur­ing the mes­sages. Cer­tain­ly, after­ward ques­tions were asked, objec­tions raised. The preach­er was allowed to preach with­out inter­rup­tion. I believe we ought to fol­low that example.

  • Next, I ref­er­ence the close of 1 Corinthi­ans 14 which states, “But all things should be done decent­ly and in order.” This is a con­clud­ing verse to a pas­sage of Scrip­ture almost entire­ly about speak­ing with­in the church­es, and Paul’s con­clu­sion is that things ought to be done εὐσχημόνως (decent­ly) and in τάξις (order) — the events of church have a dis­tinct order. Things were not over­lap­ping. So again, let the preach­er preach.

  • While still in 1 Corinthi­ans 14, I can’t help but notice God’s pref­er­ence that those in the church take turns speak­ing: “…each in turn…” (v. 27) and “…one by one…” (v. 31). A preach­er should not have to speak over a hootin’ and hol­lerin’ crowd for those who are hard of hear­ing to lis­ten and to under­stand. A preach­er should not have to raise his voice to out-scream those belt­ing out the “Amens” and “Hal­lelu­jahs.” A preach­er should be able to speak and be heard, “For God is not a God of con­fu­sion but of peace” (v. 33).

I’ve been guilty in the past of shout­ing “Amens” at preach­ers, yet I hon­est­ly can­not defend the prac­tice from the Scrip­tures. That may not be a big deal to you, espe­cial­ly if you’ve bought into the post­mod­ern lie that the Bible can be set aside to adapt the Gospel to a cul­ture that knows no absolutes. I still believe that the Bible defines how we are to wor­ship; I put con­fi­dence in the Scrip­tures — con­fi­dence Jesus Him­self encour­aged, assured, and demand­ed on numer­ous occa­sions — and I would rather bend myself to fit its words rather than expect­ing the rec­i­p­ro­cal to occur.

For the sake of argu­ment, let’s assume some­one brings up one of the Old Tes­ta­ment instances of the Scrip­tures say­ing, in effect, “And God’s peo­ple said, ‘Amen.’ ” Take Psalm 106, for exam­ple; it ends, “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, from ever­last­ing to ever­last­ing! And let all the peo­ple say, “Amen!” Praise the Lord!” (v. 48). Oth­er Psalms con­tain sim­i­lar “Amen” state­ments at the end; do not those encour­age the shout­ing of “Amen!” dur­ing sermons?

I do not believe that the psalmic or oth­er Old Tes­ta­ment exam­ples of God’s peo­ple say­ing “Amen” apply to shout­ing “Amen” dur­ing sermons:

Deuteron­o­my 27 con­tains more instances of “And all the peo­ple shall say, ‘Amen’ ” then I care to count; notice, though, that these dec­la­ra­tions are part of the read­ing of the Mosa­ic Law, the Jews affirm­ing with “amens” the curs­es against sin­ners for diverse sins.

The text does not say that the peo­ple respond­ed audi­bly — they could have affirmed it in their hearts for all we know — nor does it state that they shout­ed affir­ma­tions at ran­dom while Moses was speak­ing. Any amening was done at des­ig­nat­ed points after com­plete thoughts.

Like­wise, the Psalms encour­age believ­ers to affirm the bless­ings and prais­es giv­en to God. There again, though, these affir­ma­tions are called for at the ends of Psalms. The peo­ple weren’t called to inter­rupt the psalmist, read­er, or preach­er while the Psalm was being sang or read.

I’m left to con­clude that if you are going to shout “Amen” dur­ing a ser­mon, wait until it is request­ed. They cer­tain­ly do not seem to be spo­radic occur­rences from what I can read in the Scrip­tures, and I believe this is part & par­cel with allow­ing our church meet­ings to be decent­ly and in order.

Curi­ous­ly, though, my anony­mous asker points out a spe­cif­ic verse — Matthew 6:5–7 — regard­ing prayer. I very much dis­like the idea of pub­lic prayer; Jesus said to pray in pri­vate. I’ve yet to see a church encour­age peo­ple to pray pri­vate­ly with­out at the same time com­plete­ly ignor­ing the pas­sage by hav­ing open­ing prayers, prayers for the offer­ing, prayers for the mes­sage, invi­ta­tion­al prayers, altar call prayers, and clos­ing prayers. So much for that “pri­vate” aspect, eh?

Pray in pri­vate, trust­ing that Jesus knew what He was talk­ing about. He did. I promise.

How do church­es rec­on­cile them­selves to what the Bible says about pub­lic prayer? I’m sure some have some pret­ty cre­ative solu­tions — not quite as cre­ative as the solu­tions pro­posed for rec­on­cil­ing homo­sex­u­al­i­ty with Chris­tian­i­ty, but close — and they’ll all have this in com­mon: The author­i­ty of God’s Word is removed. Where­as Jesus placed absolute trust in the Scrip­tures, mod­ern church­es are low­er­ing the Scrip­tures to the lev­el of mere sug­ges­tions or are in some case shelv­ing the book alto­geth­er in hopes of achiev­ing some invent­ed “inclu­sive” atti­tude that they hope against hope that Jesus taught (though hav­ing shelved the Bible, how are they to know what Jesus taught? cer­tain­ly would­n’t want to quote what He said or else they’d be faced with some heavy words regard­ing the Scriptures…).

That’s my piece regard­ing the issue. My $0.02. To the anony­mous ques­tion asker, thanks for the ques­tion, and you and any­one else read­ing this are invit­ed to post fol­low-ups in the com­ments below.

Look­ing to get your ques­tions answered? Just ask!

5 thoughts on “Amens and Hallelujahs: Egging on the Preacher in Light of Scripture”

  1. Good stuff! I have a cou­ple of points.

    a.) Yah, I thought it was inter­est­ing that the verse quot­ed was about prayer.
    b.) I think decent­ly and in order can include exhor­ta­tion, I don’t think scrip­ture speaks to the “Amen”-ing specif­i­cal­ly. And btw, I’ve been known to Amen when the preach­er speaks truth, weath­er or not I have been or am guilty of any spe­cif­ic sin — I’m always guilty unless looked at though the cleans­ing blood of my Savior.
    c.) In the NT the dis­ci­ples gath­ered togeth­er for prayer (the upper room) and the ear­ly believ­ers gath­ered for prayer (and the build­ing was rocked). Both pub­lic (or at least com­mu­ni­ty) prayer, dif­fer­ent circumstances.

    Lest we get to lost in the lit­er­al dur­ing our inter­pre­ta­tion of the scrip­tures re: pray­ing in pri­vate, look at the pur­pose — peo­ple weren’t sup­posed to be mak­ing prayers (a) for show, or (b) where a prayer could be heard that allowed oth­ers to ful­fill that need rather than the Lord. There’s no admo­ni­tion against prayer over food (Jesus did that ;-) or pub­lic procla­ma­tions of thanksgiving.

    Shalom!

  2. I know I’m late in this con­ver­sa­tion but I ran across it and want­ed to add that I agree with every­one that what’s in the heart is the most impor­tant thing. Also, the amen’s and praise the Lord’s spo­ken in pub­lic may not have been done in the first church but they did­n’t meet in build­ings either. I think the Lord gives us a great bit of room for var­i­ous types of wor­ship. The key is not exact­ly how it is done but if it is tru­ly wor­ship. It encour­ages me as a preach­er to get an amen every now and then…especially since it means “so be it” and the lis­ten­er heard and agreed with what was said. I believe there are appro­pri­ate times to do this and it should be done in great mod­er­a­tion so as not to dis­turb or take away from the ser­mon. Obvi­ous­ly, no one should sam amen unless they real­ly did hear and real­ly do agree with the Bib­li­cal truth preached.
    Say­ing “praise the Lord” can be a form of wor­ship when the preach­er presents a Bib­li­cal truth like “Jesus died for your sins, aren’t you thankful?”
    I per­son­al­ly think it is ok if that form of agree­ment and wor­ship is accept­ed in the church it is used in. Not so if it is not the cus­tom of the church.
    So prob­a­bly it is tra­di­tion for some church­es but not all tra­di­tion is bad if done to glo­ri­fy God and not a tra­di­tion to replace God or take away from God.
    Great ques­tion and great post.
    Thanks,
    Mark

  3. I under­stand where you’re com­ing from; sev­er­al years ago, I would have agreed with you whole­heart­ed­ly. Today, though, I dis­agree with the believe that God gives us “a great bit of room” regard­ing how we wor­ship, but only because today I’m increas­ing­ly believ­ing that the reg­u­la­tive prin­ci­ple is a valid, bib­li­cal prin­ci­ple: that valid wor­ship is only wor­ship that is pre­scribed by the Scriptures.

  4. 5 And when ye pray, ye shall not be as the hyp­ocrites: for they love to stand and pray in the syn­a­gogues and in the cor­ners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Ver­i­ly I say unto you, They have received their reward.

    6 But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thine inner cham­ber, and hav­ing shut thy door, pray to thy Father who is in secret, and thy Father who seeth in secret shall rec­om­pense thee.

    There is a dif­fer­ence between group prayer and pub­lic prayer.

    If a church is pray­ing togeth­er as a group OUTSIDE of pub­lic view, then I don’t think they’re vio­lat­ing this teach­ing at all. It’s the equiv­a­lent of say­ing grace (out loud) at the din­ner table with your fam­i­ly. I think Jesus’s empha­sis here was on mak­ing sure that you weren’t pray­ing in pub­lic to show off your reli­gios­i­ty and that the focus was on God. If you can show me a sin­gle piece of scrip­ture that more or less says, “You can’t EVER pray out loud together–EVER,” then maybe I’ll buy what you’re try­ing to say.

    As far as the “amens” in the mid­dle of a ser­mon go–preachers do some­times encour­age them with a, “Can I get an amen?” after a real­ly dra­mat­ic bout of preach­ing. Also, there’s a HUGE dif­fer­ence between quick­ly affirm­ing a preacher’s words and heck­ling him.

    7 And in pray­ing use not vain rep­e­ti­tions, as the Gen­tiles do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.

    I’m pret­ty sure Jesus is talk­ing about keep­ing your prayers sim­ple. That is, don’t try to show off to God by using fan­cy words or doing it in tongues. If you read the vers­es that fol­low, Jesus demon­strates how to pray by keep­ing it short, sweet, and to the point.

    So if you ask me, there isn’t much about how church­es pray and wor­ship that need rec­on­cil­ing with those par­tic­u­lar vers­es. Now, if they were in the mid­dle of a field doing a group prayer over a loud­speak­er, that would be a whole dif­fer­ent story.

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Rick Beckman