3/30/14

Do Amish Keep their Anabaptist Heritage?

Educator, former pastor, volunteer chaplain, devoted reader and learner, and new friend Jim Dorough commented to me one day about the Amish. “From what I’m seeing, they seem to have moved away from their Anabaptist roots.”

“You know, Jim, that’d make a terrific blog post. Not all have moved away but most of the orders no longer practice their original Anabaptist tenets.”

“Many world religions emerged out of disagreement to another religion, or oppression of a ruling religion. I’ve done some research on the Anabaptist Movement. It arose in resistance to the Roman Catholic Church that ruled both civil and religious life.”

“Yes, they suffered tremendous persecution and torture from both Catholics and some Protestants at that time. Since you’ve done some research, why don’t you pen a guest post for my blog?”

Well, dear Jim agreed. I respect his knowledge, experiences, and heart for truth. So please read this rare guest blog post. I hope you learn a thing or two from Jim Dorough of Ohio:

I grew up in western Oklahoma, in the midst of a strong, conservative Mennonite presence. Many of our church people came from that background, and spoke Dutch – or German – as their first language. 

Years after marriage, my wife and I moved to the Amish country of the Midwest – Ohio. My ears again heard the nearly forgotten voices of my childhood in the Amish of Berlin and Sugarcreek, OH. I heard those accents in Mount Vernon, Ohio, in my church. It has been my privilege to meet some former Amish men and their families, who attend our “English” church. 

I have observed the Amish presence in our community. Been intrigued with the unusual people in the flat-brimmed hats and bonnets, riding by in horse drawn buggies. Over the last few months, I have been reading Brenda’s blog, and becoming informed of the life and struggles of the Amish people. 

A few weeks ago I met one of the men who has come to personal, saving knowledge, of the Lord and has, since then, left the Amish life. His story created a curiosity about the real workings of this subculture, so visible yet unknown to outsiders like me. My findings have left me – to this point at least – with some unsettling, and increasingly uncomfortable impressions. 

Years ago I studied the Reformation era and discovered the Radical Reformers, who are the historical fathers of the Anabaptist movement. I was impressed at the utter dedication, in the face of almost complete opposition they experienced, and what personal price, they unflinchingly paid for their faith.    

Jakob Amman, the one from whom the Amish draw their name, and others like him, in the Swiss Anabaptists, were firebrands of evangelism, urging a personal salvation experience with Christ as Savior and a corresponding lifestyle that embraced separation from the filthiness and falseness of the “world.” 

They stood in the unanimous tradition of the Protestant Reformation in that they embraced the authority of scripture alone as the Christian’s sole rule of faith and practice. They believed in liberty of conscience in the practice of religion, and refused the right of any “authority” to demand they believe or practice anything they could not find in the Bible.

It is just here that the early Amish had trouble with the Roman Catholic Church. 

In their insistence that they alone were the source of Apostolic authority, the Roman Catholic Church officials repeatedly and increasingly added extra-biblical teachings to the essential beliefs of Christ’s Church. The RC Pope and bishops insisted – still do – that the “magisterium” of the Church was the final arbiter of doctrine and practice essential to the true Christian Faith. 

The Amish – as do Protestants – flatly rejected this assertion on at least two counts:

   1.     
It usurps the authority reserved only for the Word of God – the Bible - and
   2.     
It violates the biblical teaching of the priesthood of all believers. 
 
I freely admit that I could be wrong on a host of things regarding them, either their present doctrines or practices. However, I fear Jakob Amman might be greatly disturbed and displeased if he could see how the movement that bears his name has seemingly taken on characteristics of the Roman Catholic church he and the entire Reformation opposed. 

Repeated testimonies from those who have come out of the Amish church tell that when they asked questions from the Bible, they were told not to worry about it, and just to obey the authority of the Amish bishops and preachers, who cite the “Ordnung” – not Scripture – as the authority. 

It seems that freedom of religious conscience is not encouraged, and even repressed, and this repression is justified as a means of maintaining purity in the community, and ensuring the salvation of the “deviant.” 

This is the exact justification the Roman Church gave for excommunicating Jakob Amman, and subjecting 1000's who believed like him, to the Inquisition as “heretics."

As I see the beautiful faces of Amish children in their handmade clothes, the quiet and dignified adults driving in their horse-drawn buggies, and hear the Dutch-born accents and syntax of my childhood, I cannot help but wonder if these descendants of the Radical Reformers will ever know the true Freedom of Life in Christ. 

I feel sad that the hard-won victories of Jakob Amman and the Swiss Anabaptists may have been in vain for those who claim these godly saints as their progenitors.

I fear the Amish may have been enslaved, by their own hands, in the very thing their Reformation fathers fought so hard to escape.

Question: What can you add about Jakob Ammon, Anabaptism, or to Jim’s research? If you’ve a question for Jim, leave it below in the Comments and he’ll answer you.

(c)Copyright 2014, Brenda Nixon.

10 comments:

  1. Robert Bruce Fruehling, who had trouble posting, asked me to share his comments.
    "It would seem that the Amish have followed the same line as the Jews in that they have reinvented their religion to suit their tastes."

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    1. Thanks, Robert Bruce Fruehling, for your observation. All of us, individuals and/or groups, tend to "reinvent (our) religion to suit (our) tastes", unless we have an authority to keep us on the right mark. That is why it is so important for Christians that the infallible authority for our faith and practice be the Word of God alone, inspired by the Holy Spirit Himself, preserved by the Holy Spirit Himself and confirmed by the Holy Spirit Himself indwelling the believer. As the Holy Spirit does His work of convicting, convincing and reminding Christian disciples of what Jesus said, that we find the essential harmony that is the hallmark of Christ's Church (John 14:26, 16:8-15) Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, says that scripture - not Ordnung or Discipline or Manual or Catechism- "profitable for doctrine,for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work." (II Timothy 3:16-17)
      Much more could be, perhaps should be said here, but the space is short and the subject is huge. Jim Dorough

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  2. I don't really know where to start with comments. While I agree with Jim on the point he made about the Amish religion taking on attributes of the religion the fought so hard against, I do not share the admiration for Jakob Ammon. Tell Jim to look a bit deeper and he will find Jakob was strong on the shunning, which tells me he was into power. That is not encouraging everyone to have their own spiritual experience. Sarah

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    1. Sarah, you are right when you say that Jakob Ammon was strong on the practice of shunning, and that therein lies a great fault of his. But the fact that he was greatly flawed does not mean he was not great. We don't have to pretend that the outstanding people of our faith were perfect- they were not. None of them were perfect.
      Martin Luther, the Great Reformer, was, without doubt, great, but flawed. In his later life, he was notoriously, repugnantly, anti-Semitic. He was no friend of Anabaptists either. John Wesley, whom I claim as my theological father, was a great and godly man, but chose a wife unwisely and endured a miserable home life- hardly a model I wish to adopt for my marriage.
      My dad was in the ministry for many years, and he used to tell me, "Don't take anybody wholesale, except Jesus. He's the only perfect One."
      So I hope you won't misunderstand when I speak of Jakob Amman as a man used by God in a remarkable- even great way- he WAS remarkable and produced a great people, even though he was not perfect. That gives me hope that God can use me somehow, even with MY faults. Jim Dorough

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    2. Thanks Sarah & Jim for your stimulating, thought-provoking comments.

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  3. Many thanks for the amazing essay I really gained a lot of info. That I was searching for

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  4. Amman was not a radical reformer like the early Anabaptist leaders. I understand he separated himself and his group on almost little nitpicky things. By his time the glorious vision of the early Anabaptists of almost 200 years earlier was pretty much lost on him and his contemporaries. It now had come down to an almost nitpicking on doctrine and things like bann and shunning.

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    1. Hello, Lester. Thanks for your comment. You are entirely correct when you observe that Amman was not an original founder of the Swiss Anabaptist movement, which came fully into being around 1525, the time of what is known as the Protestant Reformation.
      What little is known of him tells us he may have been born in 1644 in Switzerland, was converted to the Anabaptist persuasion between March 12, 1671, when he is noted as the sponsor for a baptism in the state church, and 1680, when he is mentioned in a letter as being infected with Anabaptist sentiments. This indicates a conversion to Anabaptism sometime between 1671 and 1680. Sometime between his conversion and 1693 he was ordained to the ministry.
      By 1693, Ammann had moved from Switzerland to France, remaining there until October 1712 when all the Anabaptists in the area were expelled by an edict of Louis XIV. After this date, no more records concerning Jakob Ammann have been found. The only other reference to him is in an application for baptism in the Reformed church in Erlenbach, Switzerland, in 1730, by his daughter, who lists him as having died in a foreign land some time before.
      In 1693, Amman was at the center of a schism in the Swiss Anabaptist movement that resulted in about half of the churches (not an inconsiderable number) leaving. The split really centered on three issues:
      1) Shunning those who had been banned, referring to adopting the practice of the Dutch Mennonites, who not only refused to take Communion with those banned, but social avoidance, which included not eating ”secular” meals with those who had been shunned.
      2) Should liars be excommunicated? A particular person was not named, if in mind.
      3) Can people be saved who do not follow God’s Word? This last issue was referring to those who sympathized with the Anabaptists and even helped them materially in times of persecution, but who would not, perhaps out of fear for political and/or personal reprisals, take the step of rebaptism. Those siding with Amman felt that these “good-hearted” people should not be regarded as “saved” unless they took rebaptism and followed his teachings.
      Whether these items were “nit-picky,” in the light of the contemporary milieu, or not, I cannot say; that judgment must be conceded to the authority of those who know more about it than I.

      In the years that followed, there were several unsuccessful attempts made by Amman and his leaders to reconcile with their former fellow churchman. About 1700, several of them, including Amman, himself, banned themselves for the spirit in which they acted, excommunicating their opponents without consultation of the whole church. But they could not compromise enough to effect the desired result, and the split became permanent.

      A fascinating book about this subject is by Steven M. Nolt, A History of the Amish, rev. ed., published by Good Books, Intercourse, PA, in 2003. I recommend it, if you haven’t read it already.
      Thanks for reading.
      Jim Dorough

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  5. YOU WILL DIE IN YOUR SINS

    Many, who profess to be Christians, claim the Jesus is just one of many ways to heaven. If men would simply believe that the Bible is the only inerrant source for truth they could not reach that conclusion.

    John 8:24 "Therefore I said to you that you will die in your sins;for if you do not believe that I am He, you will die in your sins."(NKJV)

    If you do not believe that Jesus is the Christ you will die in your sins. No man-made creed book can change that fact. To reject Jesus as the Messiah is the clear path to dying without forgiveness from sins.

    John 4:25-26 The woman said to Him, "I know that Messiah is coming" (who is called Christ). When He comes, He will tell us all things." 26 Jesus said to her, "I who speak to you am He."(NKJV)

    It does not matter how many Bible commentators or self-proclaimed Bible scholars believe Jesus is one of many ways to heaven, Jesus is the only Messiah.

    John 14:6 Jesus said to him, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. (NKJV)

    One way Jesus.

    Acts 4:10-12.....name of Jesus Christ....12 "Nor is salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved."(NKJV)

    Pope Francis says atheists who do good works can go to heaven. Billy Graham proclaims that you do not even have to know the name of Jesus to be part of the body of Christ. Joel Osteen say he does not know if unbelievers will be lost or saved because he cannot judge. These professing Christians are not alone in their views. How sad is that?

    PEW FORUM OF RELIGION AND PUBLIC LIFE: 57% of the evangelical church believes there are many religions that lead to eternal life.

    IF YOU TRUST THE BIBLE AND THE BIBLE ALONE FOR THE TRUTH, YOU WILL BELIEVE THE WORDS OF JESUS. "IF YOU DO NOT BELIEVE THAT I AM HE YOU WILL DIE IN YOUR SINS."

    YOU ARE INVITED TO FOLLOW MY BLOG. http://steve-finnell.blogspot.com

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    1. Greetings, Steve Finnell.
      Reading your comment, it is plain that you care for the Word of God as the Christian’s guide for faith and practice, and you are rightly concerned that some might drift away from the Gospel of Salvation through Jesus only. In that, you join with the historic Church of Jesus and heart of the Reformation. Every true evangelical will say, “Amen,” on that score.
      Robert Bruce Fruehling’s comment (above) spoke to much the same issue, though different in tone and manner. I offer the same response to the content of your comment, and reproduce it (in large part) here:
      All of us, individuals and/or groups, tend to "reinvent (our) religion to suit (our) tastes", unless we have an authority to keep us on the right mark. That is why it is so important for Christians that the infallible authority for our faith and practice be the Word of God alone, inspired by the Holy Spirit Himself, preserved by the Holy Spirit Himself and confirmed by the Holy Spirit Himself indwelling the believer. As the Holy Spirit does His work of convicting, convincing and reminding Christian disciples of what Jesus said, that we find the essential harmony that is the hallmark of Christ's Church (John 14:26, 16:8-15) Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, says that scripture - not Ordnung or Discipline or Manual or Catechism- "is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work." (II Timothy 3:16-17)
      God bless you in these exciting days!
      Jim Dorough

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