Who are the Amish Historically?
The Old Order Amish are the most conservative segment of what is known as the Mennonite Church. They are direct descendants of the Anabaptist’s, a group of which emerged from the Reformation of Switzerland as early as 1525. The Anabaptist’s felt that Zwingli, Luther and other reformers compromised in their stand, and did not go all the way in bringing the church back to a scriptural foundation. The Anabaptist’s differed especially with the popular reformers in that they rejected infant baptism, and insisted that the church was to be a voluntary brotherhood of adult believers. They were the first to teach separation of church and state, an idea otherwise unheard of in those days. For three centuries after their origin, the Anabaptist’s were persecuted relentlessly by both Protestant and Catholic authorities. The word Amish comes from Jacob Ammann, the name of an influential leader of the late 1600’s and 1700’s.
Who are the Amish Today?
Driven by persecution from their homes in Switzerland, Germany and Alsace-Lorain, hundreds of Amish immigrated to North America during a period of 150 years, beginning soon after 1720. Today there are Amish Congregations in at least nineteen states and Canada. Also a few have moved to Central and South America. There are no real accurate figures but the Amish number roughly 20,000 to 25,000 baptized members (baptism occurring at about 15-18 years old) in about 300 church districts. The three largest settlements of Amish (listed in order of size) are in North Central Ohio (Tuscarawas, Holmes and Wayne Counties,) Eastern Pennsylvania and Northern Indiana.
Who are the Amish Religiously?
The Amish believe in a close-knit brotherhood of believers where there is love and mutual concern for all members. They do not have a literal community of goods, but help each other voluntarily as the need arises. They feel the church is responsible to care for its own poor, aged in infirm (Timothy 5:4,8) and accordingly do not approve of government subsidies, welfare, food stamps, unemployment compensation, etc. (I Thessalonians 4:11-12)
The Amish believe that the Christian should not take part in any violence, either in war or self-defense. Taking the words of Jesus seriously, “Whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also,” they have traditionally chosen to suffer loss or injury rather than to protect themselves by physical force. (Matthew 5:32-38, John 18:36, Romans 12:19-21)
The Amish feel strongly that the Scriptures teach a distinct separation between the church and the world. They believe that it is impossible for a church to maintain its beliefs and values if its members associate freely with people who hold different values, or none at all. In view of this, they have not always unquestioningly accepted all the cultural changes that have been introduced as progress. Therefore, they are still driving horses and buggies, not because they think the automobile is wicked itself, but because they believe the trend of life the automobile brings with it is breaking down the family unit and basic structure of the community. They dress as they do because they do not care to be changing all the time to styles designed to achieve more glamour and less modesty.
Authority of Scriptures
The Amish hold the Bible as the final guide in a changing world. Its teachings are accepted in simple faith. Many practices that seem quaint or old-fashioned to outsiders are based on Bible principles:
- Amish women wear a covering on their heads in obedience to the Bible where it says, “every woman that prayeth or prophesith with her head uncovered dishonoreth her head.” (I Corinthians 11:5)
- Women do not cut their hair. “It is a shame for woman to be shorn or shaven.” (I Corinthians 11:6)
- No jewelry is worn. (I Timothy 2:9-10, I Peter 3:3-4)
- Taking an oath under circumstances is believed to be contrary to Scriptures. “But above all things, by brethren swear not.” (James 5:12, Matthew 5:33-34)
- Amish will not go to court to defend themselves, even when sued unjustly. “Now therefore there is utterly a fault among you because ye go to law one with another. Why do ye not rather take wrong? Why do ye not rather suffer yourselves to be defrauded?” (I Corinthians 6:7)
- Membership in world companies or secret societies is objected to on the basis of such verses as II Corinthians 6:14-15.
- Basic doctrines of salvation as held by the Amish church include the belief that man is sinful (Romans 3:23) needs to repent and be baptized (Acts 2:38) accepting by grace the atonement of Christ on the cross (Eph. 2:8-9, Romans 5:8) They teach that redemption goes hand in hand with discipleship and self-denial. (Luke 9:23, Matthew 10:38)