Who are the Amish?
The Amish, a unique and closely-knit community, have captured the curiosity of people worldwide. Known for their simple lifestyle, distinctive dress, and strong adherence to traditional values, the Amish stand apart in our modern, fast-paced world.
In this article, we'll look into who the Amish are, their history, beliefs, and way of life.
The Amish are a religious group that traces its roots back to the early 16th-century Reformation in Europe.
The Reformation started in the 16th century as a reaction to problems in the Catholic Church. Martin Luther, a German monk, played a major role. In 1517, he posted his 95 Theses, criticizing the Church's practices, especially the sale of indulgences. He believed in justification by grace through faith.
As Luther's ideas spread, they sparked a wave of religious dissent and reform throughout Europe. Other reformers, such as John Calvin in Switzerland and Ulrich Zwingli in Zurich, also contributed to the Reformation by promoting different theological views.
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History and Origins of the Anabaptists
The Anabaptists emerged during this time. They felt the Protestant changes didn't go far enough, believing that only adults who chose to follow Christ should be baptized. This is why they were called "Anabaptists", which means "rebaptizers." This belief in adult baptism was a radical departure from the prevailing infant baptism practices of the time.
Anabaptists were persecuted by both the Catholic Church and the Protestant authorities for their unconventional beliefs. (A copy of the Martyr's Mirror is found in many Amish and Mennonite homes.)
Despite the persecution, they continued to grow and spread their ideas throughout Europe. It eventually led to the establishment of various Anabaptist communities, including the Mennonites, Hutterites, and the Amish. Over time, they became distinct communities with their own traditions and beliefs.
Origin of Mennonites
The Anabaptist movement attracted leaders, like Menno Simons, who started following them after reading and studying the Bible.
Menno Simons was a Catholic priest who realized he agreed more with the Anabaptists than the Catholic Church. He embraced the Anabaptist belief of baptizing only believers and became the leader of what we know today as Mennonites (The name "Mennonites" comes from Menno Simons - their Dutch leader). They were known as some of the more conservative Anabaptists.
Origins of the Amish
The Amish church started in Switzerland in 1693 when some Mennonite Anabaptists split due to differences. They thought the church becoming too worldly and lenient with discipline.
This group wanted to return to a more conservative interpretation of the Bible and reject the rapid changes sweeping through the church and society. So, they left, led by Jakob Amman, and created their own group.
The ones who followed Amman became known as Amish.
Amish communities sprung up in places like Switzerland, Alsace, Germany, Russia, and Holland. But in the 1700s and 1800s, many of them moved to North America.
As time passed, the Amish in Europe gradually disappeared as they merged with Mennonite communities.
Amish Migrate to America
Amish people started coming to America in the early 1700s in search of farmland and religious freedom.
They first settled in southeastern Pennsylvania, with one of the original settlements becoming well-known as Amish country in Lancaster County (my birthplace).
With many of them having large families, their communities grew very rapidly. Today, they have expanded into almost every part of the country and even into Canada and South America.
The Amish population is now nearing 400,000 people.
Beliefs and Faith
Central to the Amish way of life is their unwavering faith in God. Their religion is very important to them, and they try to follow the teachings of Jesus as they interpret them. Although many times, traditions seem to take priority over the Word of God.
They believe in adult baptism, nonresistance, and plain living. They reject modern technology and conveniences, striving for simplicity and humility. This includes using horse-drawn buggies, wearing plain clothing, and working the land without the aid of modern machinery.
The Amish have a lot of traditions and strict rules that they must adhere to. The bishop and preachers in each church make the rules, and to be a member of the church, you must obey them.
If an individual becomes rebellious and doesn’t follow the rules, the preachers will visit that person and try to reconcile him. But if the individual is not repentant, they will be excommunicated and shunned.
The Amish live a very conservative and simple lifestyle with a lot of focus on being humble. In their mind, being fancy equals pride.
Community and Family
The Amish place a high value on community and family. They live in close-knit settlements, often referred to as "church districts." These communities work together to support one another.
Family is considered sacred, and Amish households tend to be large. They maintain a strong emphasis on passing down their traditions and faith from one generation to the next.
Education and Language
Amish children receive education within their own community. Schooling typically extends only to the eighth grade, after which children focus on learning essential life skills and contributing to their family's livelihood.
The primary language spoken is Pennsylvania Dutch, a dialect of German/Dutch/Swiss with English words incorporated. Children are taught English in school, but they use it only when interacting with the English world.
The Amish are determined to keep their PA Dutch/German language alive.
Are the Amish All the Same?
To the outside world, the Amish may all appear to look the same. But when you’re part of that circle, it feels like there are huge differences.
Some Amish have indoor plumbing, some don’t. A few groups use electricity, tractors, etc. They range from very strict to more modern and everything in between.
There are many differences in their rules, with also a few differences in religious beliefs. Each church group has its own rules (Ordnung), which they must agree on.
I grew up in a church group that was called "New Order Amish". My parents were members of the Old Order Amish church. However, they were not happy with some things there. So they broke away, along with a number of other families, and started a new group.
So while they hold to a lot of the same traditions, there are also many and varied differences in Amish groups. Sometimes I still get surprised when I hear x-Amish individuals sharing their stories.
The Amish Are Not All the Same
As stated, the Amish are not all the same. We can’t put them all in the same box, because there are many differences.
There are Old Order Amish, New Order, Swartzentruber, Nebraskan, Swiss, and numerous other small groups that I'm not very familiar with. And things vary quite a bit in different communities.
And then there are the Old Order Mennonites who also drive horses and buggies. They are similar in many ways, but also very different in standards and dress.
However, no matter what type of Amish they are, there are some things they all have in common. They use horses and buggies for their transportation, and they believe it’s important to live a simple life and keep the traditions. They have their own way of interpreting the Bible (God's Word) and desire to obey every command as long as it doesn't interfere with their traditions.
Some people may argue and say that some Amish drive cars. However, I take the stand that no members of the Amish church drive cars (some non-members do). The Beachy Amish/Mennonites drive cars. But they are not considered to be Amish. Even though Amish is still in their name, they are conservative Mennonites. In my opinion, they are no longer Amish if they drive cars.
The Lifestyle of the Early American Pilgrims
If you really want to know what the Amish live like, just look at the 1800s lifestyle. (Like the days of Laura Ingalls.)
Everyone lived more like the Amish years ago. They weren't as different in outward things from everyone else back then. I feel like they have just been so dedicated to keeping the traditions, that they stayed stuck in the 1800s.
Their lifestyle is different from most of the world, and this looks attractive to some onlookers. But speaking from experience, it's not an easy life. It may be a little more slow-paced than our modern world, but they don't escape the stress of providing for their family in this modern day.
And honestly, it's a religion. And religion always brings bondage. We can only be free if we have a relationship with Jesus Christ. And sadly, a lot of them don't.
There are many great people in Amish communities. They have strong convictions about what is right and what is wrong. They are typically honest people, with good work ethics, and are always ready to lend a hand and help each other.
But as with any group of people or religion, there's good and bad.
I grew up in Amish country, PA, and I appreciate my Amish Heritage. I am thankful for all that my parents taught me, but I would never go back to being Amish.
Conclusion on "Who Are the Amish?"
The Amish, with their strong faith, commitment to simplicity, and tight-knit communities, stands as a remarkable example of a group dedicated to preserving their traditional values in the face of an ever-changing world.
Their history, beliefs, and unique way of life continue to fascinate and inspire people from all walks of life, reminding us of the value of faith, family, and the enduring power of tradition in a fast-paced modern society.