DM: THE WEEKEND MAGAZINE

A SIMPLE PEOPLE…OVERVIEW…THE AMISH:

The Amish movement was founded in Europe by Jacob Amman (~1644 to ~1720 CE), from whom their name is derived. In many ways, it started as a reform group within the Mennonite movement — an attempt to restore some of the early practices of the Mennonites.

The beliefs and practices of the Amish were based on the writings of the founder of the Mennonite faith, Menno Simons (1496-1561), and on the 1632 Mennonite Dordrecht Confession of Faith. The Amish who split from Mennonites generally lived in Switzerland and in the southern Rhine river region. During the late 17th century, they separated because of what they perceived as a lack of discipline among the Mennonites.  Some Amish migrated to the United States, starting in the early 18th century. They initially settled in Pennsylvania. Other waves of immigrants became established in  New York, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Missouri Ohio, and other states.

The faith group has attempted to preserve the elements of late 17th century European rural culture. They try to avoid many of the features of modern society, by developing practices and behaviors which isolate themselves from American culture.


Two Amish children look out from their horse and buggy Aug. 7, 2002 in Lancaster County, Pa. The Amish, who have their roots in the Mennonite community, are a religious group made up of people who live in settlements in 22 states and Ontario, Canada. The oldest group of Old Order Amish, about 16-18,000 people, lives in Lancaster County, Pa. The Amish stress humility, family and community, and separation from the modern world
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James Hoorman writes about the current status of the Amish movement:

 

"In America, the Amish hold major doctrines in common, but as the years went by, their practices differed. Today, there are a number of different groups of Amish with the majority affiliated with four orders: Swartzengruber, Old Order, Andy Weaver, and New Order Amish. Old Order Amish are the most common. All the groups operate independently from each other with variations in how they practice their religion and religion dictates how they conduct their daily lives. The Swartzengruber Amish are the most conservative followed by the Old Order Amish. The Andy Weaver are more progressive and the New Order Amish are the most progressive." 2

Membership in the Old Order Amish Mennonite Church and other Amish denominations is not freely available. They may total about 180,000 adults spread across 22 states, including about 45,000 in Ohio and smaller numbers in Illinois, Indiana, Pennsylvania, New York, etc. About 1,500 live in south-western Ontario, in Canada. Almost all members are born into and raised in the faith. Converts from outside of the Amish communities are rare. Some Amish groups have a very restricted gene pool and are experiencing several inherited disorders.


Amish boy John Stoltzfus pushes a wheelbarrow Oct. 22, 2003 in Wakefield, Pa. Amish children start work on the farm early, often milling about the barn almost as soon as they can walk.

THE RELIGION:


Amish beliefs which are shared by Evangelicals:

The Amish are a very conservative Christian faith group, with an Anabaptist tradition. Many of their beliefs are identical to those of many Fundamentalist and other Evangelical churches, including:


bullet Adult baptism is done after one makes a commitment to the church.
bullet Belief in the Trinity, the virgin birth, incarnation, sinless life, crucifixion, resurrection ascension, and atonement of Jesus Christ.
bullet One lives on after death, either eternal rewarded in Heaven or punished in Hell.
bullet Salvation is a gift from God, through unmerited grace.
bullet The Bible’s authors were inspired by God. Their writings are inerrant. The Bible is generally to be interpreted literally.
bullet Satan exists as a living entity.
bullet Etc.

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Livestock graze on an Amish farm in Ohio.



Amish beliefs that are not shared by most Evangelicals:

bullet Salvation: Essentially all conservative Protestants, including Amish, look upon salvation as an unmerited gift from God. However, Evangelical Christians have traditionally looked upon the salvation experience as an intense emotional event which happens suddenly, as a convert repents of their sin and accepts Jesus as Lord and Savior. The new Christian’s subsequent ethical behavior and daily routine are of secondary importance to the experience of being saved. The Amish have always looked upon salvation as being experienced in everyday living. Salvation is "…realized as one’s life was transformed day by day into the image of Christ." 1
bullet Knowledge of one’s salvation: For Evangelicals and other conservative Protestants, salvation is an unmistakable experience which happens when one trusts Jesus. Amish are different. They don’t believe that anyone is guaranteed salvation as a result of a conversion experience, baptism, joining the church, etc. "…they would consider it arrogant or prideful to claim certainty of salvation." 2 The Amish believe that God carefully weighs the individual’s total lifetime record of obedience to the church and then decides whether the person’s eternal destiny will be the reward of Heaven or the punishment in Hell. If a person is baptized into the Amish church and later leaves the church or is excommunicated, they have no hope of attaining Heaven. As a result, an Amish believer lives their life and dies not knowing if they are saved and will attain Heaven. This lack of certainty has made the Amish church susceptible to raiding from other Christian evangelists at various times in its history. 2
bullet The state: The Amish are enthusiastic supporters of the principle of separation of church and state.
bullet Authority: They believe that their church has received the authority from God to interpret his will. "Submission to church is submission to God." 2
bullet Rituals: Evangelicals look upon their two ordinances — communion and believers’ baptism — as rites that are primarily between an individual and God. To the Amish, "The church itself, as a body of believers, shared in communion as a sign of their unity with Christ and with one another. Baptism in the Amish church symbolized a commitment to both god and fellow believers." 1
bullet The world: They believe in remaining quite separate from the rest of the world, physically and socially. Part of this may be caused by the belief that association with others — often referred to as "The English" — may be polluting. Part may be because of the intense persecution experienced by their ancestors as a result of  government oppression. Amish homes do not draw power from the electrical grid. They feel that that would excessively connect them to the world.
bullet Nonresistance: They reject involvement with the military or warfare. They believe that Amish must never resort to violence or to take up arms in war. However, they do not generally view themselves as pacifists, because this would involve them in political action to promote peace. Their rejection of violence does not extend to the disciplining of their children. The Faith Mission Home in Virginia housed mentally retarded children and adults. They used physical punishment to control the children. It took "…the form of slapping the hand several times or spanking the buttocks a maximum of four strokes with the hand or a ‘simple light paddle." 3 Bruises on a young woman led to the state Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation obtaining an injunction which prohibited the use of force by staff in the Home. The case caused Professor Alvin Esau to comment: "There is of course great irony on this issue, as groups such as the Amish and Hutterites use physical punishment, sometimes excessively, while supposedly believing in nonviolence in human relationships." 4
bullet Local control: They believe that each congregation — called a "district" — is to remain autonomous. There is no centralized Amish organization to enforce beliefs and behaviors.
bullet Evangelization: Most believe that it is not their role to go out into the larger community and attempt to seek converts among The English. However, some Amish groups have recently become active in evangelization.
bullet Customs: The Ordnung is an oral tradition of rules which regulates how the Amish way of life should be conducted. Specific details of the Ordnung differ among various church districts. The rules are generally reviewed biannually and occasionally revised as needed.
bullet Sex roles: In common with many conservative Christian faith groups, their family life has a patriarchal structure. Although the roles of women are considered equally important to those of men, they are very unequal in terms of authority. Unmarried women remain under the authority of their father. Wives are submissive to their husbands. Only males are eligible to be become Church officials.
bullet Oaths: Their faith forbids the swearing of oaths in courts; they make affirmations of truth instead. 5


An Amish farmer uses horses to collect cornstalks from the field in Pulaski, Pa.

   
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