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.


  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.

  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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