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The Amish were a split from the Mennonites

The Protestant reformation and emergence of the free churches:

During the Protestant Reformation in 16th century Europe, John Calvin, Martin Luther and Ulrich Zwingli broke from the Roman Catholic Church to form separate Christian faith groups. They promoted the concepts of:

In what has been called "the radical reformation", some additional religious reformers took these beliefs to a logical conclusion; they preached that the believers should form "free churches" -- quite different from the highly organized state churches which were typical at the time. They separated themselves from all secular activities, including the state, and formed independent, informal, religious groups. These were much like the Christian congregations in very early Christianity.

A small group of Swiss Christians, led by Conrad Grebel and Fexix Manz formed a study group intending to recommend changes to the state Protestant church. Their reforms were rejected both by Zwingli, the church head, and by the Zurich City Council. In 1525 CE, they formed the first Swiss Brethren congregation in Switzerland. They baptized each other into membership in their "believers church" -- a crime for which some were banished; others were executed by drowning or burning at the stake. At the time, the Swiss state church was no more tolerant of what they regarded as heresy as was the Roman Catholic Church. Religious toleration developed later in Europe. A key belief of the Brethren was that only adults should be baptized. The normal practice at the time was to baptize newborns and infants. The name "Anabaptist," which meant re-baptizer, was first used as a nickname to describe this and similar groups. The name stuck.

The Anabaptists promoted the concept of church as a self-governing , loose association of adults, not including children. Worship services held in homes rather than at in a church building.

The Anabaptist leaders met in secret during 1527 in Schleitheim on the Swiss-German border. They developed what was originally called a declaration of "Brotherly Union" and is now referred to as the "Schleitheim Articles."  It consists of seven articles:

    "Believers baptism" was only performed during adulthood, after repentance and a confession of faith. They practiced antipedobaptism -- opposition to the baptism of infants. They believe that a child does not have the knowledge of good and evil. Thus, they cannot sin and would not benefit from baptism. Members who slipped and fell into error were to be warned twice in private. If they persisted, the would be warned publicly in front of the congregation and banned from the group. Only fellow believers who were baptized as adults were allowed to attend the Lord's Supper. They pledged to separate themselves from the evil in the world. They were pacifists and pledged to reject violence. The leaders in the church, called shepherds, were to be of good character, competent to preach to the congregation. They advocated church-state separation. They generally withdrew from the world, which they regarded as a corrupting influence. They would not hold public office or engage in civic affairs. Members were not to give oaths. Their word is to be sufficient.

These principles remain the basic guidelines used by the Swiss Brethren and Amish to this day.

Some radical Anabaptists who expected an imminent end of the world attempted to create a theocracy in Münster, Germany by force in 1534. Many governments viewed all Anabaptists as a potentially serious danger to the social order. The groups suffered extreme persecution. Many of their leaders were rounded up and executed. Programs of genocide were organized by various governments, by Protestant groups under Luther and Calvin, and by the Roman Catholic church. Some city-states employed "Anabaptist hunters" who were paid by the head to locate and arrest believers. 

Anabaptists grew in number, in spite of the persecution. They became a loosely-organized "lay-oriented, non-liturgical, non-creedal, Bible-oriented church."

The Mennonites:

The Mennonites are named after Menno Simons (~1496-1561 CE), a Dutch Anabaptist leader who had left the Roman Catholic priesthood in 1536. He felt that the Catholic church had lost touch with the Gospel message by concentrating on "...legends, histories, fables, holy days, images, holy water, tapes, palms, confessionals, pilgrimages, masses, matins and vespers...purgatory, vigils and offerings."  He emerged as a leader of the Anabaptist movement in Holland, and was able to unify the various diverse groups. Like most Anabaptist groups, Simons taught "rebaptism, pacifism, religious toleration, separation of church and state, opposition to capital punishment, opposition to holding office, and opposition to taking oaths." Finally, in 1577, the country instituted a policy of religious tolerance, and the Anabaptists there were given the freedom to practice their religion without oppression.

In 1632, Simon's followers met at Dordrecht in the Netherlands to formally set down their beliefs in a document called the Dordrecht Confession of Faith. It recorded their beliefs in the Trinity, the incarnation and atonement of Christ, the primacy of the Bible, salvation, adult baptism, etc. The Lord's supper and foot washing were observed as ordinances; they were regarded as symbolic acts, not as church sacraments. Foot washing was based on the Bible passages in which "Jesus did not only institute and command the same, but did also Himself wash the feet of the apostles..."

Enforcing discipline:

Other Christian faith groups at the time imprisoned, executed, or committed genocide against non-conformists. The Mennonites rejected these approaches, using non-violent means -- banning and shunning -- to enforce discipline. Banning involves excommunication: severing the relationship between the member and the group. Shunning, called "Meidung" in German, was less severe. It had three purposes: to encourage the sinner to repent; "to protect the rest of the community from possible contagion, and to maintain the community's reputation."  Shunning requires that church members temporarily sever all communication with the sinner, including eating together, until they recant. This practice was based on Paul's writings in:

Shunning has generated great difficulties within families, particularly where one spouse is to be shunned by the other spouse and the rest of the family.

The Amish:

The Amish began as a small group of reform-minded Mennonites along the southern Rhine River and in Switzerland. They split from the main movement in 1693. The name of their group comes from their founder: Jacob Amman (~1664 -1720).  He was an obscure reformer about whom little is known. He felt that the Mennonites had drifted away from their original beliefs and practices. He wanted them to return to a stricter observance of the writings of Simons and on the 1632 Mennonite Dordrecht Confession.

The split with the Mennonites was mainly over:

After a few years as a separate organization, Amman and his supporters attempted to reconcile with the main Mennonite movement. This was unsuccessful. Since then, the two groups have been separate. However, they generally retain close ties and often cooperate on joint projects.

Starting in the early 18th century, many of the Amish migrated to the U.S. Most of the members who remained in Europe rejoined the Mennonites. Few Amish congregations existed by 1900. In 1937, the last Amish congregation -- in Ixheim, Germany -- merged with their local Mennonite group and became the Zweibrücken Mennonite Church. The Amish no longer existed in Europe as a organized group.

The Amish and Mennonites have retained similar beliefs to this day. They differ mainly in some practices.

The Amish from around 1700 until today.

Migration from Europe:

In 1681, William Penn, an English Quaker, received ownership of the land that would eventually become the state of Pennsylvania. He decided to try a "holy experiment:" to establish a colony that would allow religious toleration. This was a relatively novel concept at the time. Amish, Quakers, Mennonites, Moravians, Schwenkfelders and others in Europe responded to the opportunity by moving to the area.

The Amish movement was founded in Europe during 1693. High taxes, high rents, inflation, wars and rumors of wars, the military draft, and religious persecution encouraged believers to leave Europe. "In many places, both Catholics and Protestants -- if they were minority members of their home territories -- often felt unwelcome."  Accurate records of the first emigrations to the New World were not kept. The first Amish immigrants for whom records are available -- the Detweiler and Sieber families settled in Berks County, PA in 1736. The bulk of the this first wave of immigration had ceased by 1770.

The Amish initially settled in three areas of Pennsylvania:

Back in Europe, some Amish families moved to the Hesse region of Germany, Bavaria, Poland and Russia. None of the settlements were ultimately successful, as there is no organized Amish presence in Europe at this time. The last Amish congregation was in Ixheim, Germany. In 1937, it merged with their local Mennonite group.

Surviving external conflicts during the 18th century:

During the first century of Amish settlement in the American colonies, believers survived a number of external conflicts:

Author Steven Nolt estimates that about 500 Amish had migrated to Pennsylvania during the 18th century. Most had large families. However, the attrition rate was so high that by the year 1800, there were fewer than 1,000 Amish in America.

Surviving internal conflicts during the 19th century:

A second wave of immigration from Europe lasted from 1817 to 1860. About 3,000 Amish relocated to the U.S. They were motivated to leave by religious oppression in Europe, financial problems, crop failures, continuing wars, the military draft, and high taxes. Most settled in  Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Missouri, New York, Ohio, and Ontario in Canada. A few went to Pennsylvania.

Immigrants from Europe during the 19th century tended to be more progressive than those who were already established in the U.S. Some newcomers had partly abandoned traditions of Amish life. Deviations included wearing buttons on their coats; owning a piano, dishes with decorations, decorated carriages, and fancy furniture; dressing their children in fancy clothes. Perhaps even more serious, many were more flexible on matters of doctrine and belief.

The church remained united for the first half of the 19th century, in spite of growing friction between liberals and conservatives. In 1849, a conservative congregation in Mifflin County, PA, broke with most of the rest of the Amish church for reasons which are not clear.

A series of Diener-Versammlungens -- national meetings for Amish leaders were held in various settlements in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Ohio, and Pennsylvania between 1862 and 1878. The intent was to strengthen church life and commitment. They were attended by a few dozen leaders and up to 1,500 lay persons. These meetings settled some important doctrines:

Unfortunately, in spite of initial optimism that the meetings would bring harmony, the end result was to emphasize the differences between the liberal and conservative factions within the Amish church. Thus, the meetings actually increased internal tensions. When separation came, it was not a single dramatic event. Rather, it was spread over decades as individual families and congregations gradually sorted themselves out into the traditionalist and change-minded camps. The latter wanted change but could not reach a consensus on the details. By 1880, there were four Amish groups: one conservative and four liberal:

Developments in the 20th century:

Current membership:

The main Amish churches currently are, the Old Order Amish, New Order Amish, and Beachy Amish. Other Amish groups exist, like the Sleeping Preacher Amish, and a few independent congregations. However, they are relatively small in numbers.

In 1991:

Probably the current total adult membership of all Amish groups would be on the order of 180,000 spread across 22 states. The largest concentration, with about 45,000 members is in Ohio. There are smaller numbers in Illinois, Indiana, Pennsylvania, New York, etc. About 1,500 live in south-eastern Ontario, Canada.

Almost all current members are born and raised in Amish families. Converts from "The English" ( non-Amish) culture are believed to constitute fewer than 10% of the total membership.

Amish Beliefs

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:

1. Adult baptism is done after one makes a commitment to the church.

2. Belief in the Trinity, the virgin birth, incarnation, sinless life, crucifixion, resurrection ascension, and atonement of Jesus Christ.

3. One lives on after death, either eternal rewarded in Heaven or punished in Hell.

Salvation is by grace from God.

3. The Bible's authors were inspired by God. Their writings are inerrant. The Bible is generally to be interpreted literally.

4. Satan exists as a living entity.

Amish beliefs that are not shared by most Evangelicals:

1. 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."

2. 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." 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. 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.

3. The state: The Amish are enthusiastic supporters of the principle of separation of church and state.

4. Authority: They believe that their church has received the authority from God to interpret his will. "Submission to church is submission to God."

5. 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."

6. 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.

7. 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." 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."

8. 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.

9. 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.

10.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.

11. 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.

12. Oaths: Their faith forbids the swearing of oaths in courts; they make affirmations of
 truth instead.


Practices of the Old Order Amish:

Practices shared by most of the Old Order Amish, the largest Amish group, are listed below. Some smaller Amish groups have adopted practices which are either more progressive or more restrictive.

1.Language: Members usually speak a German dialect called Pennsylvania Dutch (Deutsch). High German is used during worship. They learn English at school.

2. Education: Schools are one-room buildings run by the Amish. Formal education beyond Grade 8 is discouraged, although many youth are given further instruction in their homes after graduation.

3. Appearance: Men follow the laws of the Hebrew Scriptures with regards to beards. They do not grow mustaches, because of the long association of mustaches with the military.

4. Clothing: Men usually dress in a plain, dark colored suit. Women usually wear a plain colored dress with long sleeves, bonnet and apron. Women wear a white prayer covering if married; black if single. Brides' gowns are often blue or purple.

5. Modern conveniences: Vehicles: With very few exceptions, Old Order Amish congregations do not allow the owning or use of automobiles or farm tractors. However, they will ride in cars when needed.
Electrical devices: They do not use electricity, or have radios, TV sets, personal computers, computer games, etc.

Telephones: In-home telephones are not normally allowed. Some families have a phone remote from the house.

 6. Government programs: They do not collect Social Security/Canada Pension Plan benefits, unemployment insurance or welfare. They maintain mutual aid funds for members who need help with medical costs, dental bills, etc.

7. Photography: They do not take photographs or allow themselves to be photographed. To do so would be evidence of vanity and pride. Also, it might violate the prohibition in Exodus 20:4, the second of the Ten Commandments: "Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of anything that...is in the earth..."

8. Marriage: Marriages outside the faith are not allowed. Couples who plan to marry are "published" in late October. They are married in one of their homes during November or early December.

9. Days of Celebration: They celebrate the traditional Christian holy days. They also observe a Fast Day on October 11.

10. Religious services: These are held biweekly on alternate Sundays. One the "in-between" Sundays, members often attend another congregation's service, or visit friends or family. Services consist of singing, two prayers, Bible reading, a short opening sermon, and a main sermon. Each baptized male then offers a comment on the biblical correctness of the sermons.

11. Communion services: These are held twice yearly, in the spring and fall. Before the service, a council meeting is held in which the attendees resolve any disagreements that they have with each other. They also discuss matters regarding proper lifestyle and conduct.

12. Meeting places: Services are usually held in the homes of members. As a rule, they do not build meeting houses or churches. One source speculates that this practice may have been done "...out of frugality, perhaps out of necessity, or perhaps to emphasize that people (and not the building were really the church..."

13. Funerals: These are conducted in the home without a eulogy, flower decorations, or other display. The casket is plain, without adornment. At death, a woman is usually buried in her bridal dress. A simple tombstone is erected after burial.

14. Rumspringa: Some Amish groups practice a tradition called rumspringa ("running around"). Teens aged 16 and older are allowed some freedom in behavior. It is a interval of a few years while they remain living at home, yet are somewhat released from the intense supervision of their parents. Since they have not yet been baptized, they have not committed to follow the extremely strict behavioral restrictions and community rules imposed by the religion. They may date, go out with their friends, visit the outside world, go to parties, drink alcoholic beverages, wear jeans, etc. The intent of rumspringa is to make certain that youth are giving their informed consent if they decide to be baptized. About 80% to 90% decide to remain Amish.

15. Slavery: In the early years of the movement, there are no records of any Amish family owning slaves, even though this was a common practice among "The English" (non-Amish) in Pennsylvania until the late 18th century. However, some families did purchase redemptioners. These were skilled European immigrants who had no money with which to pay for their trip to the New World. They promised to work for a family for a defined number of years in exchange for the cost of their passage.


Conflicts and problems:

1. Behavioral rules: Since arriving in North America, there have occasionally been disputes within the Amish community. Some members wanted to:

Construct churches and hold meetings there rather than in homes. Educate their children beyond the elementary grades. Allow their clothes to include buttons or pockets. Vote or become involved in public life.

2. Theological disputes: There have also been disagreements in beliefs and religious practices:

"Stream" baptism: Baptisms had traditionally been held in individual homes. In the mid-19th century, some Amish wanted to follow the tradition of Jesus who was baptized in the Jordan river. They had candidates kneel in a river while the bishop poured water over their head. After much debate, the church decided to accept both methods as valid. Stream baptism was phased out around 1910.

Universalism: The concept that all persons would be eventually "saved," Nobody would spend eternity being tortured in Hell.

Hell: Whether it exists as a place where people are eternally punished.


3. Education: The Amish's insistence on terminating formal schooling after the 8th grade conflicted with many state's laws which require children to remain in school until their mid-teens. Some Amish avoided this problem by migrating from Pennsylvania to other states, like Missouri, which had more relaxed laws. A ruling by the US Supreme Court in 1972 (Wisconsin v. Yoder) recognized their right to limit education of their children.

4. Accidents: Highway accidents between motor vehicles and Amish black horse and buggies are a concern to many. Horse-drawn vehicles generally travel between five and eight miles an hour. Some Amish are reluctant to mount a slow-moving-vehicle sign on the back of their buggies. In some states, they line the back of their buggies with reflective tape as an alternative to a sign.

5. Polio: There was an outbreak of polio in 1979 among Amish in Pennsylvania, Iowa, Wisconsin Missouri and Canada. The North American population of Amish was essentially unvaccinated against polio at the time. The spread of the disease was halted by an emergency vaccination campaign. This was the last significant outbreak of the disease in the U.S.

6. Genetic diseases: Some Amish groups have a limited gene pool. For example, the Amish in Lancaster County, PA, are descendents of about 200 Swiss citizens who emigrated in the mid 1700s. Because they do not marry outsiders and because few outsiders have joined the order, the "community has been essentially a closed genetic population for more than 12 generations. Thus, intermarriage has brought to the fore certain genetic mutations that were present in the initial genetic pool (as they are in any population), making the Amish host to several inherited disorders." These include dwarfism, mental retardation and a large group of metabolic disorders. One in 200 have glutaric aciduria type I; they are born healthy, but can experience permanent neurological damage when a mild illness strikes.