In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven. Matthew 5:16

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Amish Aren't All Amiss

Does it say in the Bible that we should wear old fashioned clothes? Are we instructed to toil for hours on our farms while refusing to use modern machinery? Does scripture demand us to refuse perfectly good technology? No. So what's the deal with the Amish? They would argue that the Bible doesn't doesn't say that explicitly but that the way they interpret the Bible does. "How so?" you may ask. 

The Amish actually have a pretty decent idea. You won't see me giving up my car, iPhone, Facebook, etc anytime soon (though I should mentioned that some of the more progressive Amish have been spotted using all of the above). However, their basic concepts are something we could all incorporate into our lives. In fact, I will argue that we all should incorporate their ideas. 

The Amish come from Switzerland and split from the Mennonites in the 17th century when they wished to regain the strict discipline that the Mennonites had (in the opinion of the Amish) grown away from. They are generally considered Anabaptist (not to be confused with Baptist). In America, they are concentrated in Lancaster County, PA and Ohio. They tend to speak a combination of English, German, and European dialects. Their conviction to their beliefs is truly remarkable. They never take up arms and reject all military involvement and war. They are strong believers in the separation of church and state... which is something many modern Evangelicals and politicians have come to disregard even though it's a founding principle of America. They are patriarchal but consider women of equal importance in society. There is no record of any Amish engaging in slave trade or ownership despite how commonplace slavery was in early America. They have become officially exempted from paying into and receiving Social Security and Medicare. They still use earth-friendly energy sources like wind energy (which is notable since America is now trying to go back to how the Amish have created/used energy all along). They all attend their own schools, and they all attend church twice a week. But the three most notable values in my opinion are their (1) view of salvation, (2) focus on their Christian community and (3) practice of rumspringa (don't get excited... it's not a Swiss Oktoberfest despite the word's appearance).

1. I have taken the following explanation from because it clearly explains the Amish view of salvation better than I could on my own. "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." 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. If a person is baptized into the Amish church and later leaves the church or is excommunicated, they have no hope of attaining Heaven. 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."

2. I guess I still haven't explained what's up with the "vintage" apparel and lack of electricity. It all has to do with community. Amish reject current technology for a period of time in order to ensure their lifestyle and community is not weakened by turning their focus to making their daily lives easy. I'll explain further. Let's look at the tractor. For a while after its invention, Amish did not use tractors. Instead they used the same implements they had used for centuries. They would not jump at the chance to own a new piece of machinery because it (1) is materialistic and (2) would immediately change their way of life and simply make him a "slave" to technology and progress. Instead the Amish choose to focus on a slower pace of advancement... which they can consciously choose to control. Today, most Amish use modern tractors, while some still choose to use tractors with steel tires instead of rubber ones. Generally, the church as a whole decides what technology is acceptable (and when) and different churches have different rules. Nowadays many Amish use phones, electricity, etc, because they have learned to use the technology. They do this while still keeping their focus the Lord and on earning their livelihood on individual hard work. How many times have we wasted money on something thinking it's going to make our lives better? Don't we know that any challenges we face can be overcome through help from the Lord and simply personally coping with the problem? Material things cannot fix our problems... too often we are deceived by our society and markets. The ultimate problem solver is God. Most strict Evangelicals are politically/fiscally conservative. Most do not support government social programs that allow "handouts" for individuals who do not earn their keep. We understand the concept of earning our livelihood, but we forget that the money we earn is meant to pay our bills... not solve our problems. We should turn our eyes to God for support... not our wallets. Don't worry about getting the new pair of designer jeans or a bigger TV (especially if you already have a decent sized one anyway). Instead, challenge yourself to buy what you need and focus the rest of your energy on working hard... on family, on God, on improving your relationships. Use your time to improve yourself instead of your material possessions. 

3. Rumspringa is a time in every Amish teen's life (at age 16) when they are sent away from their home to experience the non-Amish lifestyle. They use this time to see what living outside their community is like and to decide if they want to come back to their home, get baptized, and join the church or if they want to leave and become permanently excommunicated from their community. In my opinion, we don't need to kick out our 16 year old kids and tell 'em to go check out the big bad world and come home if they want. They grew up in the world that the Amish focusing on sheltering the children from. However, I really like the idea of bringing your children up in a strong Christian home and then allowing them a time to see what other viewpoints and lifestyles offer so they can decide on their own what they want for their future. If raised right, I think most children would see the benefits of a home rooted in Christian values, love and support for one another, and moral behavior. Freedom and bad behavior may seem appealing at first, but children who understand what is really important in life long term will see how the wide, frequently traveled road is shallow and without direction. The straight and narrow path leads to eternal life, fulfillment through the Lord, and a life modeled after His own.

If you want to learn more, I highly recommend "The Amish: A People of Preservation." It's on instant Netflix, and it's very comprehensive. Plus, it's less than an hour long. They have withstood the test of time, so it's worth seeing what they're all about. It's also available for $1.99 on Amazon.

I pray each of you can find a way to see the benefits of some of the Amish beliefs and practices. Find a way to incorporate noble values into your own life. It doesn't mean you have to start sewing your own wardrobe, but it might help you better organize your priorities. They sacrifice a great deal for their faith, and all of us should too.

Be not conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind that ye may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God. (Romans 12:2) 

May God Bless You All,
Emily Gray

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