Who Are the Amish?

The Amish
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The Amish are among the most unusual Christian denominations, seemingly frozen in the 19th century. They isolate themselves from the rest of society, rejecting electricity, automobiles, and modern clothing. Although the Amish share many beliefs with evangelical Christians, they also hold to some unique doctrines.

Who Are the Amish?

  • Full Name: Old Order Amish Mennonite Church
  • Also Known As: Old Order Amish; Amish Mennonites.
  • Known For: Conservative Christian group in the United States and Canada known for their simple, old-fashioned, agrarian way of life, plain dress, and pacifist stance.
  • Founder: Jakob Ammann
  • Founding: Amish roots go back to the sixteenth-century Swiss Anabaptists.
  • Headquarters: While no central governing body exists, the vast majority of Amish live in Pennsylvania (Lancaster County), Ohio (Holmes County), and northern Indiana.
  • Worldwide Membership: Approximately 700 Amish congregations exist in the United States and in Ontario, Canada. Membership has grown to more than 350,000 (2020).
  • Leadership: Individual congregations are autonomous, establishing their own rules and leadership.
  • Mission: To live humbly and remain unblemished by the world (Romans 12:2; James 1:27).

Founding of the Amish

The Amish are one of the Anabaptist denominations dating back to the sixteenth-century Swiss Anabaptists. They followed the teachings of Menno Simons, founder of the Mennonites, and the Mennonite Dordrecht Confession of Faith. In the late 17th century, a European movement split from the Mennonites under the leadership of Jakob Ammann, from whom the Amish derive their name. The Amish became a reform group, settling in Switzerland and the southern Rhine River region.

Mostly farmers and craftsmen, many of the Amish migrated to the American colonies in the early 18th century. Because of its religious tolerance, many settled in Pennsylvania, where the largest concentration of Old Order Amish is found today.

Geography and Congregational Make-Up

More than 660 Amish congregations are found in 20 states in the United States and in Ontario, Canada. Most are concentrated in Pennsylvania, Indiana, and Ohio. They have reconciled with Mennonite groups in Europe, where they were founded, and are no longer distinct there. No central governing body exists. Each district or congregation is autonomous, establishing its own rules and beliefs.

Amish Way of Life

Humility is the main motivation behind almost everything the Amish do. They believe the outside world has a morally contaminating effect. Therefore, Amish communities conform to a set of rules for living, known as the Ordnung. These rules are established by the leaders of each district and form the foundation of Amish life and culture.

The Amish wear dark, simple clothing so as not to attract undue attention and fulfill their overriding aim of humility. Women wear a white prayer covering on their heads if they are married, black if they are single. Married men wear beards, single men do not.

Community is central to the Amish way of life. Raising large families, working hard, farming the land, and socializing with neighbors are the main thrusts of community life. Modern entertainment and conveniences like electricity, television, radio, appliances, and computers are all rejected. Children receive a basic education, but higher education is believed to be a worldly endeavor.

The Amish are nonviolent conscientious objectors who refuse to serve in the military or police force, fight in wars, or sue in a court of law.

Amish Beliefs and Practices

The Amish deliberately separate themselves from the world and practice a strict lifestyle of humility. A famous Amish person is a true contradiction in terms.

The Amish share traditional Christian beliefs, such as the Trinity, inerrancy of the Bible, adult baptism (by sprinkling), the atoning death of Jesus Christ, and the existence of heaven and hell. However, the Amish think the doctrine of eternal security would be a sign of personal arrogance. Although they believe in salvation by grace, the Amish hold that God weighs their obedience to the church during their lifetime, then decides whether they merit heaven or hell.

The Amish people isolate themselves from "The English" (their term for non-Amish), believing the world has a morally polluting effect. Those who fail to keep the church's moral code are in danger of "shunning," a practice similar to ex-communication.

The Amish usually do not build churches or meeting houses. On alternating Sundays, they take turns meeting in one another's homes for worship. On other Sundays, they attend neighboring congregations or meet with friends and family. The service includes singing, prayers, a Bible reading, a short sermon and a main sermon. Women cannot hold positions of authority in the church.

Twice a year, in the spring and fall, the Amish practice communion. Funerals are held in the home, with no eulogies or flowers. A plain casket is used, and women are often buried in their purple or blue wedding dress. A simple marker is put on the grave.

Sources

  • Amish. The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (3rd ed. rev., p. 52).
  • “Amish Population Profile, 2020.” Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies, Elizabethtown College. http://groups.etown.edu/amishstudies/statistics/amish-population-profile-2020.
  • “Lancaster, PA Dutch Country: Attractions, Amish, Events (2018) | Lancaster County's Best!” LancasterPA.com.
  • Old Order Amish. Dictionary of Christianity in America.
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Zavada, Jack. "Who Are the Amish?" Learn Religions, Feb. 3, 2022, learnreligions.com/the-amish-denomination-699945. Zavada, Jack. (2022, February 3). Who Are the Amish? Retrieved from https://www.learnreligions.com/the-amish-denomination-699945 Zavada, Jack. "Who Are the Amish?" Learn Religions. https://www.learnreligions.com/the-amish-denomination-699945 (accessed October 1, 2022).

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