An Honest Look at the 1632 Dordrecht Confession of Faith

The Amish Papers - Chapter 1

A look at the 1632 Dordrecht Confession of Faith

I wrote this article in April of 2019 in order to give it to the three Amish carpenters who were remodeling our 1890 barn into our current residence. I thought it would help them see quite plainly how far the Amish faith had drifted from its roots, as revealed by the 1632 Dordrecht Confession, to which all Amish people subscribe.

I gave my article to the head carpenter, and I will never forget the day he called me after he began reading it. It was a very uncomfortable and confrontational conversation. He wanted to know what my intentions were, and he made it clear that if I was going to try to influence them regarding the Bible, they would not continue to work for me. It caught me off guard.

That was my first real dose of Amish resistance to truth. Their belief regarding the assurance of salvation directly contradicted what was repeatedly written in the doctrinal statement they all claimed to believe, and that was actually believed by all their born-again ancestors! But the facts didn’t matter. Tradition trumped truth.

That was the first foreshadowing of many other disappointments and frustrations we endured trying to bring light into the darkness that covers the Amish in Smicksburg. I tried giving my article to another Amish man who was helping with the electrical and plumbing in my remodel project, but he refused, telling me that he had been warned by the other Amish man I had given it to.

In September of 2019, this article was published by Mission to Amish People (MAP) in their bi-monthly publication, The Amish Voice under the title, “A Message for Today from the Past.” My wife, Becky, and I paid to subscribe all 550 Amish households in Smicksburg to The Amish Voice for several years in hopes some might be reached with the gospel. For this article, I used the pseudonym “David Miller,” and I included a P.O. Box to which anyone could reply. No one from Smicksburg did.

The Dordrecht Confession of Faith was composed by 17th-century Dutch Anabaptist leaders and adopted on April 21, 1632 at a Mennonite Conference held at Dordrecht, Holland. Twenty-eight years later, in 1660, It was formally adopted by Swiss Brethren ministers and elders in Ohnenheim, France.  Jakob Ammann, born in 1644, was a member of the Swiss Brethren, having converted from the state church sometime between 1671 and 1680.

The Amish movement began among the Swiss Brethren in 1693, thirty-three years after they had adopted the Dordrecht Confession. Jakob Ammann and others among the Swiss Brethren felt that their churches had drifted and were compromising what was written in the Dordrecht Confession, specifically regarding the severity of shunning, the practice of foot washing, and the idea that Anabaptist sympathizers (“the true-hearted”) should be considered to be saved people even though they would not submit to re-baptism and follow Christ. Thus was born the Amish schism from the Swiss Brethren.

There is little doubt that Jakob Ammann and the original Amish Christians believed everything in the Dordrecht Confession. And of course, all Old Order Amish today subscribe to it.

Below are Articles 2-8, including each article’s scripture references. I agree whole-heartedly with everything in all of these articles as they are entirely biblical. The complete Dordrecht Confession of Faith can be found in copies of The Martyrs’ Mirror, a classic book found in every Amish household.

I have underlined the many statements contained within in The Dordrecht Confession that stand in contrast to the contemporary Amish idea that all we can do is hope to get to heaven, and we can’t know if we were “good enough” until we stand before God. Those are ideas that Jakob Ammann and all original Amish believers would have whole-heartedly rejected.

Articles 2-8 of the Dordrecht Confession of Faith

II. Of the Fall of Man

We believe and confess, according to the holy Scriptures, that these our first parents, Adam and Eve, did not continue long in this glorious state in which they were created, but that they, seduced by the subtlety and deceit of the serpent, and the envy of the devil, transgressed the high commandment of God and became disobedient to their Creator; through which disobedience sin has come into the world, and death by sin, which has thus passed upon all men, for that all have sinned, and, hence, brought upon themselves the wrath of God, and condemnation; for which reason they were of God driven out of Paradise, or the pleasure garden, to till the earth, in sorrow to eat of it, and to eat their bread in the sweat of their face, till they should return to the earth, from which they were taken; and that they, therefore, through this one sin, became so ruined, separated, and estranged from God, that they, neither through themselves, nor through any of their descendants, nor through angels, nor men, nor any other creature in heaven or on earth, could be raised up, redeemed, or reconciled to God, but would have had to be eternally lost, had not God, in compassion for His creatures, made provision for it, and interposed with His love and mercy. Genesis 3:6; 4 Esdras 3:7; Romans 5:12, 18; Genesis 3:23; Psalms 49:8; Revelation 5:9; John 3:16

III. Of the Restoration of Man Through the Promise of the Coming Christ

Concerning the restoration of the first man and his posterity we confess and believe, that God, notwithstanding their fall, transgression, and sin, and their utter inability, was nevertheless not willing to cast them off entirely, or to let them be forever lost; but that He called them again to Him, comforted them, and showed them that with Him there was yet a means for their reconciliation, namely, the immaculate Lamb, the Son of God, who had been foreordained thereto before the foundation of the world, and was promised them while they were yet in Paradise, for consolation, redemption, and salvation, for themselves as well as for their posterity; yea, who through faith, had, from that time on, been given them as their own; for whom all the pious patriarchs, unto whom this promise was frequently renewed, longed and inquired, and to whom, through faith, they looked forward from afar, waiting for the fulfillment, that He by His coming, would redeem, liberate, and raise the fallen race of man from their sin, guilt; and unrighteousness. John 1:29; 1 Peter 1:19; Genesis 3:15; 1 John 3:8; 2:1; Hebrews 11:13, 39; Galatians 4:4.

IV. The Advent of Christ into This World, and the Reason of His Coming

We believe and confess further, that when the time of the promise, for which all the pious forefathers had so much longed and waited, had come and was fulfilled, this previously promised Messiah, Redeemer, and Savior, proceeded from God, was sent, and, according to the prediction of the prophets, and the testimony of the evangelists, came into the world, yea, into the flesh, was made manifest, and the Word, Himself became flesh and man; that He was conceived in the virgin Mary, who was espoused to a man named Joseph, of the house of David; and that she brought Him forth as her first-born son, at Bethlehem, wrapped Him in swaddling clothes, and laid Him in a manger. John 4:25; 16:28; 1 Timothy 3:16; John 1:14; Matthew 1:23; Luke 2:7.

We confess and believe also, that this is the same whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting, without beginning of days, or end of life; of whom it is testified that He Himself is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, the first and the last; that He is the same, and no other, who was foreordained, promised, sent, and came into the world; who is God’s only, first and own Son; who was before John the Baptist, before Abraham, before the world; yea, who was David’s Lord, and the God of the whole world, the first-born of every creature; who was brought into the world, and for whom a body was prepared, which He yielded up as a sacrifice and offering, for a sweet savor unto God, yea, for the consolation, redemption, and salvation of all mankind. John 3:16; Hebrews 1:6; Romans 8:32; John 1:30; Matthew 22:43; Colossians 1:15; Hebrews 10:5

But as to how and in what manner this precious body was prepared, and how the Word became flesh, and He Himself man, in regard to this we content ourselves with the statement pertaining to this matter which the worthy evangelists have left us in their accounts, according to which we confess with all the saints, that He is the Son of the living God, in whom alone consist all our hope, consolation, redemption, and salvation, which we neither may nor must seek in any other. Luke 1:31, 32; John 20:31; Matthew 16:16.

We furthermore believe and confess with the Scriptures, that, when He had finished His course, and accomplished the work for which He was sent and came into the world, He was, according to the providence of God, delivered into the hands of the unrighteous; suffered under the judge, Pontius Pilate; was crucified, dead, was buried, and on the third day, rose from the dead, and ascended to heaven; and that He sits on the right hand of God the Majesty on high, whence He will come again to judge the quick and the dead. Luke 22:53; Luke 23:1; Luke 24:6, 7, 51.

And that thus the Son of God died, and tasted death and shed His precious blood for all men; and that He thereby bruised the serpent’s head, destroyed the works of the devil, annulled the handwriting and obtained forgiveness of sins for all mankind; thus becoming the cause of eternal salvation for all those who, from Adam unto the end of the world, each in his time, believe in, and obey Him. Genesis 3:15; 1 John 3:8; Colossians 2:14; Romans 5:18.

V. The Law of Christ, i.e., the Holy Gospel or the New Testament

We also believe and confess that before His ascension He instituted His New Testament, and, since it was to be and remain an eternal Testament, that He confirmed and sealed the same with His precious blood, and gave and left it to His disciples, yea, charged them so highly with it, that neither angel nor man may alter it, nor add to it nor take away from it; and that He caused the same, as containing the whole counsel and will of His heavenly Father, as far as is necessary for salvation to be proclaimed in His name by His beloved apostles, messengers, and ministers — whom He called, chose, and sent into all the world for that purpose — among all peoples, nations, and tongues; and repentance and remission of sins to be preached and testified of; and that He accordingly has therein declared all men without distinction, who through faith, as obedient children, heed, follow, and practice what the same contains, to be His children and lawful heirs; thus excluding no one from the precious inheritance of eternal salvation, except the unbelieving and disobedient, the stiff-necked and obdurate, who despise it, and incur this through their own sins, thus making themselves unworthy of eternal life. Jeremiah 31:31; Hebrews 9:15-17; Matthew 26:28; Galatians 1:8; 1 Timothy 6:3; John 15:15; Matthew 28:19; Mark 16:15; Luke 24:47; Romans 8:17; Acts 13:46.

VI. Of Repentance and Reformation of Life

We believe and confess, that, since the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth, and, therefore, prone to all unrighteousness, sin, and wickedness, the first lesson of the precious New Testament of the Son of God is repentance and reformation of life, and that, therefore, those who have ears to hear, and hearts to understand, must bring forth genuine fruits of repentance, reform their lives, believe the Gospel, eschew evil and do good, desist from unrighteousness, forsake sin, put off the old man with his deeds, and put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness: for, neither baptism, supper, church, nor any other outward ceremony, can without faith, regeneration, change or renewing of life, avail anything to please God or to obtain of Him any consolation or promise of salvation; but we must go to God with an upright heart, and in perfect faith, and believe in Jesus Christ, as the Scripture says, and testifies of Him; through which faith we obtain forgiveness of sins, are sanctified, justified, and made children of God, yea, partake of His mind, nature, and image, as being born again of God from above, through incorruptible seed. Genesis 8:21; Mark 1:15; Ezekiel 12:2; Colossians 3:9, 10; Ephesians 4:22, 24; Hebrews 10:22, 23; John 7:38.

VII. Of Holy Baptism

Concerning baptism we confess that all penitent believers, who, through faith, regeneration, and the renewing of the Holy Ghost, are made one with God, and are written in heaven, must, upon such Scriptural confession of faith, and renewing of life, be baptized with water, in the most worthy name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, according to the command of Christ, and the teaching, example, and practice of the apostles, to the burying of their sins, and thus be incorporated into the communion of the saints; henceforth to learn to observe all things which the Son of God has taught, left, and commanded His disciples. Acts 2:38; Matthew 28:19, 20; Romans 6:4; Mark 16:16; Matthew 3:15; Acts 8:16; Acts 9:18; Acts 10:47; Acts 16:33; Colossians 2:11, 12.

VIII. Of the Church of Christ

We believe in, and confess a visible church of God, namely, those who, as has been said before, truly repent and believe, and are rightly baptized; who are one with God in heaven, and rightly incorporated into the communion of the saints here on earth. These we confess to be the chosen generation, the royal priesthood, the holy nation, who are declared to be the bride and wife of Christ, yea, children and heirs of everlasting life, a tent, tabernacle, and habitation of God in the Spirit, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, of which Jesus Christ Himself is declared to be the cornerstone (upon which His church is built). This church of the living God, which He has acquired, purchased, and redeemed with His own precious blood; with which, according to His promise, He will be and remain always, even unto the end of the world, for consolation and protection, yea, will dwell and walk among them, and preserve them, so that no floods or tempests, nay, not even the gates of hell, shall move or prevail against them-this church, we say, may be known by their Scriptural faith, doctrine, love, and godly conversation, as, also, by the fruitful observance, practice, and maintenance of the true ordinances of Christ, which He so highly enjoined upon His disciples. 1 Corinthians 12; 1 Peter 2:9; John 3:29; Revelation 19:7; Titus 3:6, 7; Ephesians 2:19-21; Matthew 16:18; 1 Peter 1:18, 19; Matthew 28:20; 2 Corinthians 6:16; Matthew 7:25.

And so, according to Anabaptist doctrine believed by Jakob Ammann and all the early Amish believers:

  1. One sin estranged Adam and Eve from God, and there was nothing that they, or their descendants, or any other person could do could reconcile them to God, a clear declaration that no works can save anyone.
  2. God provided a solitary means for man’s reconciliation and salvation: The Son of God, Jesus Christ.
  3. In Christ alone is salvation and “we neither may nor must seek salvation in any other.”
  4. Jesus “obtained forgiveness of sins for all mankind” and became “the cause of eternal salvation for all those who believe in, and obey His commandments.”
  5. God sent messengers to all the world to preach “repentance and remission of sins.” Those who repent have their sins remitted. God has declared that those who “through faith, as obedient children, heed, follow, and practice” His Word to be “His children and lawful heirs.” No one is excluded “from the precious inheritance of eternal salvation” other than those who are unbelieving and thus disobedient. They are “stiff-necked and obdurate” and “despise” God’s offer of forgiveness.”
  6. Neither baptism, taking the Lord’s Supper, attending church, or any outward ceremony can do anything to please God or obtain salvation apart from faith in Christ. One must believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, be regenerated (that is, “born again of God from above”) to be saved. Those who do believe in Jesus “obtain forgiveness of sins, are sanctified, justified, and made children God,” and they “partake of God’s mind, nature and image.”
  7. Through their faith, penitent believers are regenerated, renewed by the Holy Spirit, made “one with God,” and “written in heaven.” They become “the chosen generation, the royal priesthood, the holy nation, the bride of Christ, children and heirs of everlasting life” and “a temple of God in the Spirit.”

It is very easy to see that someone who has (1) truly repented and believed in Christ, (2) who believes that Jesus is the only source of salvation, (3) who has been forgiven of his sins, (4) who has been spiritually born again, (5) who has become God’s child and His heir, (6) who possesses eternal salvation, (7) who has been sanctified and justified, (8) who has partaken of God’s mind, nature and image, (9) who is one with God, (10) whose name is written in heaven, (11) who is part of the chosen generation, the royal priesthood, the holy nation, and the bride of Christ, and (12) who is a habitation of the Holy Spirit… that same person would not confess that he does not know if God will accept him into heaven when he dies because he is not sure that he has been good enough to earn his place there. Such a view is completely contrary to what Anabaptists and the Amish believed from their beginnings, as revealed in the Dordrecht Confession of Faith.

If Jakob Ammann and the original Amish were alive to day, they would be excommunicated and shunned by the Amish for believing that their names are written in heaven!

It is not prideful to claim that one is certain that one is going to heaven; rather, it is one of the many evidences of true repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Having assurance of salvation is the normal true Christian experience, as John wrote, “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:13). Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life” (John 5:24). If one believes Jesus’ words in John 5:24, could he possibly be only hoping that he will be saved in the end if he is good enough?

If one professes to believe in Jesus but is uncertain if he is going to heaven, it is an indication that he has not actually put his trust in Jesus, but rather he is putting his trust (actually, his hope) in his own feeble works, a grave error condemned throughout the New Testament, and especially in Paul’s letters to the Galatians and Romans.

Although it is not prideful to be confident in Jesus’ promises of salvation to those who believe, it is prideful to even hope that one is good enough to merit heaven, which is why Paul declared, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). If our works earn our salvation or even contribute to earning our salvation in some small way, we could boast. God is opposed to the proud but gives grace to the humble (James 4:6; Luke 18:10-14).

To attempt to merit eternal salvation could be the highest form of idolatry, because it sets up self as savior and usurps what only belongs to Christ. It is to point one’s finger at Jesus as He hangs dying on the cross and to say to Him: “What you are doing is not enough! I must add my own goodness!”

And this is why this subject is so important. The New Testament repeatedly warns that those who attempt to earn their way to heaven will, in the end, be disappointed, because they are attempting to do what is impossible. And they will tragically receive exactly what they deserve. People who try to earn their way to heaven go to hell, because they attempt to establish their own righteousness, which falls infinitely short of God’s standard of perfection, which is the entire reason that Jesus died for our sins and the reason salvation can be gained only by grace through faith.  As Paul wrote of the Jews of his day who were attempting to be saved by their own works:

Brethren, my heart’s desire and my prayer to God for them is for their salvation. For I testify about them that they have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge. For not knowing about God’s righteousness and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes (Romans 10:1-4).

Of course, true believers obey Christ for at least three reasons: First, because they believe in Him. Faith without works is dead and cannot save (James 2:14-26). Second, because they love Him. Jesus said that if we love Him, we will keep His commandments (John 14:15, 21). And third, because He lives in them (Galatians 2:20; Colossians 1:27). That is why Jesus said that His yoke is easy, and His burden is light (Matthew 11:28-30). His power in true believers makes it possible for them to obey Him. That is why the apostle John said that Jesus’ commandments are not burdensome (1 John 5:3).

But obeying Jesus because you believe in Him, love Him, and have Him living inside of you is entirely different than trying to be good enough to attain salvation. The former person is a Christian. The latter person is a “legalist.”

The original Amish (and Anabaptist) equation of salvation, as revealed in the Dordrecht Confession, is this:

Repentance + Faith in Jesus Christ = Immediate Forgiveness + Immediate Name Written in Heaven + Immediate Spiritual Rebirth + Immediate New Heart + Immediate Indwelling of the Holy Spirit + Immediate and Continually-Increasing Obedience to Christ

The modern Amish equation of salvation seems to be something like this:

Baptism + Amish Vows + Partial Obedience to Jesus + Submission to Parents, Church Authorities and Hundreds of Manmade Rules = Hopeful Eventual Salvation (Maybe)

I wrote “partial obedience” in that equation because some of Jesus’ commandments are completely ignored in most Amish circles, such as Jesus’ commandment to preach the gospel and make disciples of all the nations, which is the foremost way to love one’s non-believing neighbor as oneself and to love one’s enemies. Jesus commanded His disciples to make disciples, teaching their disciples to obey all that He had commanded them, which of course included His commandment to make disciples (Matthew 28:19-20). So all of Jesus’ disciples—generation after generation—are commanded to make disciples.

The modern Amish “gospel” is not a promise of salvation to everyone who believes, but a threat of hell if one does not follow hundreds of manmade rules and regulations, which makes it a “gospel of works.” Amish people today live their lives in fear of breaking the smallest requirement of the Ordnung, which could result in excommunication, shunning by their Amish community, and ultimately an eternity in hell. (Perhaps this is one reason that so many Amish move from their home communities to smaller Amish communities where there is less scrutiny by Amish neighbors and a more lenient Ordnung.)

The original Amish, like all the original Swiss Brethren and Mennonites, were evangelistic. They called their unbelieving neighbors to repentance and faith in Jesus, hoping that their neighbors would respond, be born again, and have their names written in heaven. Most, just like Jakob Ammann, were not born Anabaptist, but converted from the state Protestant or Catholic churches—after hearing someone preach the gospel. If the original Anabaptists had been like the modern Amish, Jakob Ammann would have never converted to Christ, because he would have never heard the gospel. (So, if the original Anabaptists had been like the modern Amish, there would be no Amish today.)

The “gospel of works” has been thoroughly condemned in the New Testament, particularly by the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Galatian Christians. They were being seduced into thinking that they were required to be circumcised and keep all of the 613 rules and regulations found in the Law of Moses in order to be saved. Paul solemnly warned them:

I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you, and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even though we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we have preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to that which you received, let him be accursed…. nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we may be justified by faith in Christ, and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law shall no flesh be justified (Galatians 1:6-9; 2:16).

Below are some of the scripture verses cited within the Dordrecht Confession that were used to support the doctrinal claims made in each of the articles. All would be worthwhile for any contemporary Amish person to ponder.

John 3:16 For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.

John 20:31 but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.

Col. 2:14 having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.

Gal. 1:8 But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed!

Matt. 28:19-20 “Go therefore and make disciples of call the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

Luke 24:47 and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem.

Rom. 8:17 and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him.

Heb. 10:22 let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.

John 7:38 “He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.'”

Acts 2:38 Peter said to them, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

1 Pet. 2:9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.

Titus 3:4-7 But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

Eph. 2:19-21 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord.

2 Cor. 6:16 Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said, “I will dwell in them and walk among them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.”