This is the last of a series of three posts on the Amish. In this post, I will examine some of the theological problems with the Amish form of Christianity, while also recognizing commendable aspects of the Amish.
First, let me recognize that there is some variation among different groups of Amish, and what is said of some may not be true of others. But many ex-Amish will affirm unequivocally that the Amish are not genuine Christians. That is, they will say that the Amish are Christian in name and outward form only, and not in reality. Although I do not have personal experience in an Amish church, I assume this is because salvation in the Amish church is equated with baptism and church membership, with no teaching about the need to be converted at a specific point in time. Surely there is a point in time when every genuine Christian went from not having a relationship with God to having a relationship with God, from being lost to being saved, from not having the Holy Spirit to having the Holy Spirit, from not having his sins forgiven to having his sins forgiven, and so forth. In churches where there is no teaching regarding the need for a conversion experience, in fact most people in those churches have never had a conversion experience, i.e., a time in which they have prayed to ask God to save them, confessing their sins and their faith in Christ. But one cannot be saved by works, even if those works are baptism and church membership. If, as it seems, the Amish indeed do hold to a form of salvation by works, this would be their largest and most consequential error.
The requirement to take oaths in order to be baptized and join the Amish church is certainly unbiblical. The only biblical requirement for baptism is that one has been saved (by confessing one’s faith in Jesus as the crucified and risen Son of God, and asking God to forgive one’s sins through the blood of Jesus). Likewise, the only biblical requirement for joining a local church is to be saved and baptized. The Amish practice of swearing oaths to join the Amish community evidently originated in Jakob Ammann’s belief that the Amish were the only group of true Christians, and that therefore one could not be saved without accepting the Amish form of Christianity; however, this belief could only be correct if salvation were by works, and salvation is not by works (cf. Eph 2:8-9). Admittedly, there are numerous other Christian churches and denominations that maintain unbiblical requirements for baptism, and that require subscription to a church covenant in order to become a member of the church, but the oaths required by the Amish are particularly burdensome, and the Amish practice of shunning is severe.
The Amish belief in pacifism is certainly unbiblical. The pacifism of the Amish and Mennonites was a natural reaction to the savage persecution they endured at the hands of their “Christian” neighbors—whether those neighbors were Reformed, Lutheran, or Catholic. Those persecutions engendered a very passionate opposition among Anabaptists to any and all forms of physical violence. But Exodus 22:1-4, for example, affirms that it is no sin for someone to kill a man who breaks into his house at night. Warfare was frequently commanded by God during the Old Testament era, and in the New Testament the right of the state to wield the sword is affirmed in Romans 13:4 (cf. Luke 22:36).
An extreme aspect to the Amish pacifism is their opposition to proselytizing. This aspect of Amish theology is certainly unbiblical, given all the New Testament exhortations to preach the gospel, and all the New Testament examples of the apostles and their coworkers proselytizing unbelievers. One can see by this Amish practice the extent to which they follow tradition over Scripture. One also wonders how a Christian who truly cares about the lost people around him could refuse to share the gospel with them.
The Amish also seem not to care enough about the spiritual condition of their children. They take a “hands-off” approach to their children in their teenage years, not restraining them from participating in sinful activities. On the positive side, this ensures that their decision to join the church, if they do make that decision, is made of their own free will. But loving parents discipline their children, even as teenagers, and continually exhort and admonish them to do what is right.
The Amish insistence on a radical separation between church and state is another sour aftertaste from the persecutions they endured at the hands of state-sponsored churches. But there is nothing in the Bible which prohibits a government from adopting Christianity as its official religion, nor is there anything in the Bible which prohibits a Christian from participation in government.
The Amish opposition to higher education is probably necessary to preserve their identity. Education gives people the ability to think independently, which inevitably results in individuals contesting certain ideas held by the community. It is true that there have been many instances of young people departing from the teachings of Scripture after encountering anti-Christian ideas in academia, but it is also true that a church without education is a church which lacks depth and maturity. Christians have always promoted education as a means of understanding the Bible more fully and accurately, among other things.
On the positive side, the Amish could be compared to the Rechabites who are described in Jeremiah 35. The Rechabites were the descendants of Jonadab the son of Rechab, who was prominent at the beginning of Jehu’s reign, in 841 B.C. (2 Kgs 10:15-16). The events of Jeremiah 35 occurred about 240 years later. Jonadab had made his sons and their descendants swear to live as a separated people according to strict rules: they could not drink alcoholic beverages, they could not own property or valuable possessions, and they had to maintain a nomadic lifestyle. More than 200 years after Jonadab’s death, his descendants were still living according to the rules that he had set for them (Jer 35:6-10). Rather than ridicule the Rechabites as “legalists” or “weirdos” for making and keeping these peculiar vows, the prophet Jeremiah commended them, and blessed them in the name of the Lord. While the situation of the Amish is not identical to that of the Rechabites, the idea of living as a separated people who follow unique rules is not necessarily bad or unbiblical.
Certainly one must respect the courage and determination of a people who refuse so steadfastly to conform to the dictums of modern society and culture. Their rejection of modernity entails enduring considerable ridicule, and also enduring the hard work of performing all their labor by hand, without modern conveniences. It is true that there is a dark side to modern technology, and the Amish have avoided this dark side by refusing to accept technology. There is a sense in which one feels more authentically human on a quiet farm surrounded by crops and animals than in the artificial world of a modern city, full of streets and skyscrapers. Also, in a world filled with violence one finds something refreshing in the peaceableness of the Amish, even if their extreme of pacifism is not right. The Amish are a group of people who have clearly defined beliefs and strong values, which they practice with remarkable consistency.
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Jo Lee said:
The amish may come across as more “Christian” than most, but that’s because of people’s ignorance of Scripture.They are works based; therefore not true Christians. They also snub God’s inventions which includes all mod cons (we get all our good ideas and inventions from him ) . And the devils playground isn’t outside the amish compounds, it is everywhere. You can’t hide from him. The proof is in the amish shooting some years back,.He will eventually come to you. You can’t avoid evil no matter how much you try shun it.Their dress code is ridiculous, you can be modest without dressing like someone from the old testament. I’m sorry but I am wary of the amish.And although I do admire their quiet simple life, I would not want to be one of them.
Thomas Ross said:
Dear Dr. Anderson,
Thank you for this critique of Amish theology and practice. I agreed with a great deal of it, although I do not think the NT allows for Christianity as a state religion. However, I must respectfully but strongly disagree with the statement that conversion is as follows:
a conversion experience, i.e., a time in which they have prayed to ask God to save them, confessing their sins and their faith in Christ
The NT nowhere says that conversion is through the instrumentality of prayer or confession, but repeatedly teaches justification by faith alone (e. g., Romans 4:5). I think you might well agree on this and just have not been as careful as, perhaps, we ought to be in this statement. I would be interested in your thoughts on the exegesis of Romans 10:9-14 here:
which, IMO, conclusively demonstrates that neither prayer nor confession are necessary instruments for the receipt of justification, although the lost may be praying or confessing at the time that they turn from their sin to Jesus Christ in faith.
Thank you very much.
Steven Anderson said:
Hi Thomas, I do indeed hold on the basis of Romans 10:10 and 1 John 1:9, along with the many verses which mention repentance alongside faith, that a prayer of confession is part of the Christian’s conversion experience. I understand the prayer as not a meritorious work which earns salvation, but rather as the natural and biblically-prescribed response of a convicted sinner to accept God’s offer of salvation. I know that there are many people who have prayed prayers and turned out to be false believers, but at the same time I have serious concerns about the spiritual condition of people who say they are Christians but cannot say at what point they became a Christian. So I myself do ask people who want to be saved to express their faith and repentance in a simple prayer to God. I like the old saying, “Salvation is by faith alone, but the faith which saves is never alone.” Thanks for your interest in this blog.
Thomas Ross said:
Dear Dr. Anderson,
Thank you very much for taking the time to reply.
I am 100% with you for conscious, personal conversion, for turning from one’s sins to Christ in repentant faith, and that genuine conversion results in a changed life (James 2).
Is prayer a necessary associate of repentance and faith, and are either Romans 10:10 or 1 John 1:9 speaking about the lost asking for salvation? There I must respectfully disagree. I think the lost could very well pray while entrusting themselves to Christ as Lord and Savior, but they do not need to pray and many (such as C. H. Spurgeon) were converted without every saying a sinner’s prayer.
It looks to me like throughout the Gospels and in the Book of Acts the Lord Jesus and the Apostles called men to repentance and faith, to conscious conversion, but never told them that if they repeated the “sinner’s prayer” they would be saved.
I believe that Dr. Paul Chitwood has demonstrated in his doctoral dissertation that requiring the lost to pray in order to be saved is quite new in evangelical evangelistic methodology (cf. his dissertation here: http://faithsaves.net/the-sinners-prayer/)
Steven Anderson said:
Yes, Thomas, I am convinced that the context of Romans 10:10 and 1 John 1:9 is one of the lost asking God to save them. I think the New Testament is careful to avoid mentioning the specific words of a sinner’s prayer as “this is what you need to say to be saved,” since people would naturally think it is saying those specific words that save, not genuine faith and repentance. Medieval kings would have tortured people to force them to say the “magic words,” and liturgical churches would repeat them in every service. But when I share the gospel, I do lead people in a prayer to be saved, and I do question the salvation of people who have never had a clear conversion experience. I think we will have to agree to disagree.
Thomas Ross said:
Dear Dr. Anderson,
I would also question the salvation of people who have never had a clear conversion experience–I am totally with you on that. I’ll leave it there.
Have a great day!
Michael WIllingham said:
Dear Dr Anderson, I was very fascinated and very agreeable to your dissertation on the Amish. I truly believe that in the whole context here is that Paul said that he did not call God’s people out of the world lest he prayed that God would remove them. The whole words of the New Testament called us to a personal life of growing in Grace and Knowledge of Christ. Any one group that creates what I call an Island of their own exclusivity already violated scripture. The effect than cascades in all of their principles that though very admirable in the end is a very dangerous works doctrine. This in turn creates a very male dominant society that creates a iron hand control. A people that arose from one’s man interpretation of one scripture is dangerous to the extreme. Though I am not vilifying them in form, I can say that when you have a people that is growing in numbers from what I learned in a website. This growth is by encouraging large families. And that the genetic pool is getting so thin. So what does that say?
Respecting traditions of hard work and maintaining skills that anyone could benefit from is very admirable. But living in a inclusive self on self club is like a corral that the gate never opens and the cattle die out by attrition. We can see today how this is. The Lord never once called us to any such practices. So the Great Commission is therefore disregarded. So like a lot of extreme congregations, the Bible has been carefully edited to suit their purpose.
John Novak said:
Well I would point out they allow the children to decide if they want to get baptized
And the belief that the children are covered by the parents baptism till they get baptized is unbiblical the idea that mennonites believe they are true Christians and no one else are they use a works plus faith and grace in Christ alone the shunning and a church that controls everything in your life