Want to see the latest statistics on the world of “megachurches” (How I despise that term!)? Check out this “infographic” with information gathered up to the year 2010 on some of the largest churches (membership over 2,000). Very interesting and revealing material. For all the talk about these modern churches going back to apostolic church bliss times, it would seem there is precious little in common with the church of Paul’s time. Do these stats really reveal the church as she began in Acts? You look, and you judge.
November is upon us, and that means time to introduce a new issue of Tabletalk, Ligonier Ministries profitable Reformed devotional magazine. This month’s issue is devoted to the theme “Defining Our Terms”, which is about the importance of knowing key biblical and theological terms. Editor Burk Parsons has this to say in his article introducing the theme “In Defense of Words”:
Many of the current problems in the church are due to our lack of knowledge of Scripture itself, and this is not just a problem in the pew but in the pulpit as well. The problem is not that we don’t read the Bible, the problem is that we don’t study the Bible. In fact, the Bible itself does not call us merely to read it in order to get through it as quickly as possible in a perfunctory manner — on the contrary, the Bible tells us to devour it one jot and tittle at a time, to study it as unashamed workmen, to rightly divide it, to search it, to meditate on it, to delight in it, to let it dwell within our hearts richly, and to hide it in our hearts that we might not sin against the Lord. We rightly affirm the complete, word-for-word inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture, yet we often fail to study it word for word, thought for thought, phrase for phrase, and thus fail to grasp the very basic meanings of the eternally weighty and glorious words that God Himself has graciously revealed to us. More to the point, while there are many important theological discussions and disputes within the church, some result from a simple lack of historical, ecclesial, and theological understanding of terms.
By the grace of God, if the rising generations are to hear the gospel and mature as disciples of Jesus Christ who make other disciples, they must have parents and preachers who know the meanings of the words of the gospel and the words of the Word of God. In our post-everything culture, we desperately need to recover a robust knowledge of the meanings of biblical and theological words so that we might rightly employ and apply them as we live coram deo, by the grace of God and for the glory of God, knowing as much as we can possibly know about the glorious meanings of grace and glory.
In the above-linked article, R.C.Sproul begins a series of articles in the issue on some key biblical and theological terms with an article on the simple word “Amen”. Probably not a word we would single out as a key biblical and theological word, yet Sproul chose this one carefully and deliberately. It is key to our understanding of the Word of God itself and of the other terms we find in the Bible. I will let Sproul explain:
The term amen was used in the corporate worship of ancient Israel in two distinct ways. It served first as a response to praise given to God and second as a response to prayer. Those same usages of the term are still in vogue among Christians. The term itself is rooted in a Semitic word that means “truth,” and the utterance of “amen” is an acknowledgment that the word that has been heard, whether a word of praise, a word of prayer, or a sermonic exhortation, is valid, that is, sure and binding. Even in antiquity, the word amen was used in order to express a pledge to fulfill the terms of a vow. So, this little word is one that is centered on the idea of the truth of God.
The truth of God is such a remarkable element of Christian faith that it cannot be overlooked. There are those who think that truth is negotiable or, even worse, divisive, and it therefore should not be a matter of passionate concern among believers. But if we are not concerned about truth, then we have no reason to have Bibles in our homes. The Bible is God’s Word, and God’s Word is true. It is not just true but is truth itself. This is the assessment made of it by the Lord Jesus Christ Himself (John 17:17).
Therefore, when we sing a hymn that reflects biblical truth and end it with the sung word amen, we are giving our approbation of the content of the praise in the hymn. When we have a choral “amen” at the end of the pastoral prayer, again we are emphasizing our agreement with the validity and surety of the content of the prayer itself.
Worship in biblical terms is a corporate matter. The corporate body is made up of individuals, and when an individual sounds the “amen,” the individual is connecting to the corporate expression of worship and praise. However, we are told in the Scriptures that the truths of God are “yea” and “amen” (2 Cor. 1:20), which simply means that the Word of God is valid, it is certain, and it is binding. Therefore, the expression “amen” is not simply an acknowledgment of personal agreement with what has been stated; it is an expression of willingness to submit to the implications of that word, to indeed be bound by it, as if the Word of God would put ropes around us not to strangle or retard us but to hold us firmly in place.
He then goes on to explain Jesus’ use of this term in his ministry – His “verily, verily” statements, which literally are “amen, amen”. Yes, this little biblical term is significant. Let’s pay attention to it, and be serious about God’s truth and about our study of God’s Word revealing it to us.