From the Peace Barn: Amish or Ahamish?

The Amish Papers - Chapter 5

Image of amish men - Amish or Ahamish?

In May of 2022, this article, my fifth, was published in The Amish Voice. I came up with the term “Ahamish” to describe born-again Amish people. I imagined that when their eyes had been opened to true salvation and faith in the Lord Jesus that they cried out “Aha!” So, that put all Amish people into one of two categories, either Amish or Ahamish. This article was one more attempt to provoke Amish people to ask themselves if they were born again.

By this time in 2022, the secret Bible study in Johnsonburg had grown and multiplied, and after just a few months, two-dozen Johnsonburg adults had been born again. Eventually word reached the senior bishop who set in motion the excommunication of them all. So they formed their own Sunday morning gathering while continuing the weekday Bible studies.

Although my wife and I stopped attending any of the gatherings so as not to hinder Levi and Jonas from rising to their full leadership potential, our youngest daughter and her husband became very involved in one of the Bible studies, and they kept encouraging the new believers to not only persevere, but to reach out in ministry, which they enthusiastically did. We started referring to the entire thing as “the Johnsonburg Awakening.” By May of 2022, it was in full swing!

After the publication of my article in January’s Amish Voice (“From the Peace Barn: Amish and Born Again”), I received phone calls from readers in North Carolina, Indiana, Virginia and Wyoming. I enjoyed every conversation. Some were with Amish folks and some were with Ahamish folks. I’ll explain the difference later, but I first want to continue from my previous article explaining a few more reasons I admire the Amish people whom I know.

My wife and I live in the heart of Pennsylvania’s third-largest Amish community in a remodeled 1890 barn that became our home about a year ago. Most all of the remodeling work was done by skilled local Amish craftsman who have all become our friends.

I should tell you that our Amish community is one of the more conservative ones. Many things are forbidden that are permitted in other Amish communities, such as personal phones (community pay phones are permitted). Nevertheless, as seems to be the case in every Amish group, our Amish neighbors are hard-working, honest and considerate. For example, I noticed several years ago—when we first began remodeling our old barn—that whenever I walked into a room where my Amish carpenters were working, they would immediately switch from speaking Pennsylvania Dutch to English so that I could understand their ongoing conversation. I never had to worry that they were secretly talking negatively about me in a language I don’t understand!

I also admire Amish families I’ve met. They often have lots of children, and those children are well-behaved. From a young age they are involved in family chores. The elderly are respected, and infirm parents are cared for in the homes of their adult children. These are all good things.

There are other admirable Amish traits I could list, but I will save them for a future article. Although I’m sure Amish families and communities face many of the normal struggles of human relationships, they seem to maintain a decent degree of harmony. If everyone in the world were Amish, no doubt our planet would be a much better place.

Among those who phoned me in response to my previous article in The Amish Voice were (1) current Amish, (2) Amish who are considering becoming Mennonite, and (3) former Amish who are striving to serve God. All had a different story to tell.

One who was formerly Amish told me that he didn’t want to ever leave the Amish, but he was excommunicated because he became interested in learning more about the Bible, so he participated in Bible study and was subsequently born again (something Jesus said one must experience in order to enter the kingdom of heaven).

One who is considering becoming Mennonite has been having trouble with his local ministers because of his perception of their unequal application of their Ordnung among church members. His adult children left long ago and joined a Mennonite church.

One who is still Amish is greatly burdened for his Amish neighbors and community because he has been born again and is concerned that most of them are not.

All three of the people I’ve just described are among the “Ahamish.” That term, of course, is one I invented. So, who are the Ahamish?

You are probably familiar with the expression, “Aha!” When someone suddenly discovers something they hadn’t previously realized, they often say, “Aha!” Ahamish people are Amish folks who have done just that.  They’ve discovered something they previously didn’t realize.

In every case, Ahamish people previously didn’t realize their need to be born again. They knew they had been born into Amish culture and were expected to conform in every detail. They knew about the Bible and they were familiar with many of its stories. They had been baptized as teenagers when they made their vows. They attended church gatherings every other week all their lives.

In every case, however, they ultimately came to a realization that they were life-long sinners who deserved punishment, and that there was no hope of them earning salvation and eternal life. They discovered that God loved them so much that He gave His only Son to die for their sins on the cross. They came to believe Jesus’ promise that, “whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). And when they truly believed in Him, not just said they believed in Him as they did when they made their vows to the church, but truly believed that He is God’s Son and the Lord, they repented of their sins and experienced a spiritual rebirth that transformed their lives.

What changed? They immediately experienced a joy and peace they had never known before. They knew all their sins had been forgiven and that God’s Holy Spirit had come to live inside them to empower them to live pure and holy lives. They knew they were children of God and that He had become their spiritual father. They knew they had eternal life. And they wanted others to enjoy the same wonderful blessings, so they started telling their Amish family members and friends about what had happened to them, because born-again people cannot keep quiet about the miracle they’ve experienced. And that is when some started getting into trouble. Some were eventually excommunicated.

Please understand that a person can be Amish but not be born again. However, please also understand that one can be Amish and also be born again if their particular Amish community allows it.

Beyond that, according to the Dordrecht Confession (to which all Amish groups subscribe), one is actually not truly Amish unless one is born again. Here’s the sixth article of the Dordrecht Confession:

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 [membership], 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.

The Confession’s sixth article mentions both “being born again” and “regeneration.” Regeneration is another word for being born again. Yet one of the Ahamish folks who phoned me explained that many of the Amish people whom he knows become very troubled when he tells them about being born again. I asked him why they would be troubled about something that is clearly mentioned as a necessity by Jesus in John 3:1-8, by the apostle Peter in 1 Peter 1:3, and in Article 6 of the Dordrecht Confession. He said that they are tragically ignorant of those facts. I could not help but wonder why.

Another way of describing the difference between being Amish and Ahamish is that one can be Amish simply by an outward conformity to Amish culture. Being Ahamish, however, is not external, but internal. An Ahamish person may appear, on the outside, to be just like every other Amish person, but on the inside, he or she has become “a new creature in Christ” (2 Cor. 5:17).

Everyone needs an internal change of the heart to be accepted by God. Remember, God said, “Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Sam. 16:7). God also said, “I, the Lord, search the heart” (Jer. 17:10). What does God see when He looks at and searches a heart that has not been born again? He said through Jeremiah, “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jer. 17:9).

When God asked “who can understand it?” regarding people’s “deceitful” and “desperately sick” hearts, He obviously wasn’t questioning His own understanding. He knows every heart, which is why He declared that human hearts are deceitful and desperately sick. Those who don’t know that are those who are deceived by their desperately sick hearts.

And although I wrote in both my last article and this one about the many good qualities I’ve observed in Amish communities, I write now with tears in my eyes that I’ve also seen another side—but only to a small degree that God has seen it. I’m talking about some Amish hearts. When Amish people persecute, shun, and excommunicate other Amish people because they’ve been born again, they show that their hearts are deceived and desperately sick. They show that they are not born again. They are acting just like the Catholics and Protestants hundreds of years ago who hated the original Anabaptists because all of them were born again! What a tragedy that the formerly persecuted Anabaptists have now, in some cases, become the persecutors!

Yet through His great mercy offered through the sacrificial death of His spotless Son, God offers to anyone a new, pure heart, a heart that wants to obey Him:

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances. (Ezek. 36:26-27).

The apostle Paul was one who certainly received a new heart from God, and Ahamish people can all identify with him. Paul was initially a very religious Jew who persecuted the early Christians, all of whom were of Jewish origin, just like him. He persecuted his own people because he thought he was right and they were wrong. But then God opened his eyes to his own deceitful and sick heart. He then realized it was the exact opposite of what he had thought! The people he thought were wrong were actually right, and he, who previously thought he was right, was actually wrong! Those whom he was persecuting were righteous, and he was unrighteous!

After Paul’s conversion, religious Jews starting persecuting him. He tried to help them see that true Jews (just like true Amish people) are those who, like him, had been born again:

For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh. But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God (Rom. 2:28-29).

For the most part, the Jews in Paul’s day were outwardly religious and outwardly circumcised. The apostle John wrote about them, “They loved the praise of men more than the praise of God” (John 12:42). That is, they lived their daily lives for the approval of their fellow Jews, just as so many Amish people are so focused on maintaining the approval of other Amish people.

Notice, however, that Paul believed that “true Jews” have “circumcised hearts,” a phrase that refers to being born again by the work of the Holy Spirit and the subsequent inward transformation. True Jews, as Paul wrote, are not seeking the praise of people, but the praise of God. And it is no different for true Amish people. And that is why true Amish people—the Ahamish people as I’ve been calling them—are willing to forsake the approval of other Amish people if necessary. What matters to them is the approval of God, and they strive to keep His laws rather than manmade rules that can’t be found anywhere in the Bible.

You can take a pig, scrub it clean, tie a pretty bow around its neck, and sprinkle it with perfume. But it will still be a pig! And that is the picture of the religious person—whether Jewish, Catholic, Protestant, or Amish—who has not been born again. Externally, they look good. But internally, they have the same old nature.

All religious people who have not been born again—if they will be honest in their hearts—know that they stand condemned before the God who searches and knows everyone’s heart, because they know their inward thoughts that they hide from everyone else. They also know—if they are honest with their hearts—that they are putting on a show for all the other religious people in their group whose approval they seek. Again, this is true of all religious people, whether they are Jewish, Protestant, Catholic or Amish. If they aren’t aware of what I’ve just described, it is one more proof of what God said through Jeremiah about how deceitful and desperately sick human hearts are. Pride is often what blinds them.

But don’t think that I am pointing a finger because I don’t have personal experience of that very thing myself. I was once a religious church-attender who had fooled myself that I was a pretty good person. When I was confirmed in my church as a teenager, I even confessed publicly that I believed in Jesus Christ. Looking back now, however, I realized that I was just saying words as I attempted to please my parents and the other people at my church. I didn’t really believe in Jesus, and the reason I’m sure of it now is because He was not my Lord. I was striving to please others, not Him.

One day, however, God opened my eyes, and I finally saw myself as God saw me—as a proud, self-deceived hypocrite with a desperately wicked heart. What a glorious day that was! I realized I had nothing good in myself to offer God. And so I feebly responded to His call to repent of my sins and truly believe in Jesus. When I did, my life was dramatically changed. I had no idea at the time that I had been born again because I had never heard that phrase or read it in the Bible. But I knew I was a different person.

Like all people who are born again, I now look at my life in two sections: before I was born again and after I was born again. I started reading the Bible and I slowly learned what had happened to me. I eventually realized that I had been born again and that God’s Holy Spirit was living in me. And I started telling other people, because I could not keep quiet. As the apostle Paul wrote, “But having the same spirit of faith, according to what is written, ‘I believe, therefor I spoke,” we also believe, therefore we also speak” (2 Cor. 4:13). That is one test of an authentic new birth. Born-again people are concerned about other people who are not born again, because being born again is a requirement for heaven according to Jesus. If you are not concerned about other people being born again, that is a sure sign you are not born again yourself.

What about you? Have you been born again? Are you religious or righteous? Do you truly believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, as evidenced by your desire to please Him, even if you must forfeit the approval of others? Are you a cleaned-up pig or a “new creation in Christ”? Are you Amish or Ahamish?

The good news is that you can be born again today. You could start by praying for God to help you see your heart as He sees it. Once He does, you will be ready to cast yourself onto the Lord Jesus Christ completely for forgiveness, salvation and a new life. The Lord is full of mercy! He will not turn you away!