The Truth About the Johnsonburg Awakening

The Amish Papers - Chapter 11

The truth about the johnsonburg Amish awakening

Because of all the good things that were happening within the growing group of Amish-background believers in Johnsonburg, and because I knew that news travels quickly among Amish people across the country due to all the family connections, I decided to attempt to tell the true story of the Johnsonburg Awakening to every Amish person in North America. So I wrote the letter that follows, raised tens of thousands of dollars from friends to print and mail 63,000 copies, borrowed a mailing list of 32,000 mostly-Amish and Amish-background households from Mission to Amish People, and mailed the letter in June of 2022.

Over the months that followed, I received over 200 responses, with about half being positive and half being negative. The positive replies were often from born-again Amish people. The negative replies usually were focused on some cherished Amish cultural practice or tradition that I mentioned in my letter, and I later regretted not “keeping the main thing the main thing.” That is, I wish I had only focused on the gospel, and not mentioned what naturally happens to Amish people once they are born again and “the light bulb comes on” regarding all their traditions.

In any case, many of those who responded positively requested, through a response card that we included with the letter, that we send them an English New Testament, or more information about being born again, or to be contacted by someone with an Amish background who had been born again and was serving the Lord. We fulfilled all their requests. One young Amish couple in Johnsonburg who received the letter were born again as a result, and they became part of the Johnsonburg Amish-Background Church.

Within a few months, we began working on compiling a more thorough and up-to-date mailing list of North American Amish households, with the plan of sending a follow-up letter that would include some of the positive responses that we received to the June letter. That follow-up letter is the next chapter in this book.

News often travels very fast among Amish folks! So you’ve perhaps already heard about the “Johnsonburg Awakening” in Pennsylvania. I’ve been blessed to have witnessed it from the day it began, which was January 31st of this year. That was the day I met Jonas ——–, an Amish minister who had been born again a few weeks earlier, and Levi ——–, an Amish bishop who had been born again a few years earlier.

Both of those Amish men, of course, had been baptized when they were teenagers, and according to what many Amish people believe, that is when they were supposed to have been born again. But by the time I met them, they both had come to realize that they had not actually been born again when they were baptized as teenagers. When they were baptized then, they said and did what they were expected to say and do, but they did not possess a genuine heart-faith in Jesus Christ. It wasn’t until years later that they truly believed in Jesus—as evidenced by their genuine repentance and subsequent heart-obedience to His commandments. That is when they were truly born again. When someone truly believes in Jesus, Jesus becomes their Lord, because that is who He is. Jesus is Lord! In fact, the Bible calls Him the King of kings and Lord of lords! If Jesus is not your Lord, you don’t actually believe in Him. You may think you do, but you don’t. As the apostle James wrote, faith without works is dead, useless, and cannot save anyone (see James 2:14-26). And as the apostle Paul wrote, “For to this end Christ died and lived again, that He might be Lord both of the dead and of the living” (Romans 14:9).

Again, when Jesus becomes someone’s Lord, that is when they actually believe in Him, and that is when they are born again. That is the spiritual “regeneration” and “new birth” that are both mentioned in the 1632 Dordrecht Confession, an experience that was the centerpiece of all the original Anabaptists’ faith. Your Anabaptist ancestors hundreds of years ago were all born again, just like Levi and Jonas. If they could speak to you from heaven, they would tell you that what I’m writing to you is the truth.

When someone is born again, it is a spiritual rebirth that is accomplished by the Holy Spirit, as Jesus said to Nicodemus (John 3:1-16). Born-again people are “new creations in Christ” as Paul wrote (2 Corinthians 5:17). When people are born again, they start their lives over.  That is why, in the New Testament, the apostles only baptized people who first confessed a genuine faith in Jesus (Acts 8:36-37). The baptisms of those believers represented their death and their resurrection. The apostles immersed them under water and then lifted them out of the water, which symbolized their death, burial, and resurrection, as well as their cleansing from sin (see Romans 6:3-4, Colossians 2:12). Being born again is like being raised from the dead! Anyone who has been truly born again knows what I’m talking about. Born-again people view their lives as divided into two sections: before they were born again, and after they were born again. It is that dramatic. Has that happened yet to you? If not, it can! It can happen today!

When I met Jonas and Levi and their wives, it was obvious to me that they were all born again. I was born again myself more than 45 years ago, and I’ve been in vocational ministry for more than 40 years as a pastor and an itinerant teacher. I’ve personally met thousands of people who have been born again, and all of them have told me of the changes—some very dramatic—that occurred in their lives when they truly believed in Jesus and made Him their Lord. Some were former drunkards, adulterers, liars, thieves, or homosexuals (just like in the Corinthian church; read it yourself in 1 Corinthians 6:9-11). All were sinners to some degree. But when they were born again, their lives were dramatically changed. All of them became better people. Being born again always improves people…most of them, very significantly! The only exception is when someone is raised in a godly Christian home. In their case, being born again is not so dramatic on the outside. But it certainly is dramatic on the inside!

And we should not be surprised that most born-again people are dramatically different from what they were before they were born again. The Bible also teaches that those who are born again are indwelt by the Holy Spirit. When someone truly believes in Jesus, the Holy Spirit, whom the Bible also refers to as God, comes to live on the inside of them (Acts 5:3-4 and 1 Corinthians 6:19). Think about that! God comes to live on the inside of those who truly believe in the Lord Jesus Christ! How could such a thing happen without it dramatically changing the lives of such people? Who would ever believe that God could come to live inside someone and it would not significantly affect that person and their behavior?

So that is what happened to bishop Levi ——–, his wife, minister Jonas ——–, and his wife. And just like the thousands of other born-again people whom I’ve met over the last four decades, those four felt so blessed, and they wanted all their family members and friends to enjoy the same blessing. So we talked on the evening of January 31st about what could be done to achieve that.

We agreed to start by having a weekly Tuesday evening Bible study that would alternate between Levi’s and Jonas’ houses. And Jonas and Levi decided that they would try to start additional evening Bible studies to which they would invite other Amish people, where they could tell them about being born again and becoming true believers and true followers of Jesus Christ.

Before long, there were a total of five weekly Bible studies, and those who attended were also being born again. Just like their Anabaptist forefathers who read a translation of the Bible that was written in the language they used every day (German), they started reading Bibles that were written in the language they use every day: English! They were often surprised at all they learned, and what they learned further changed their lives. Just as Jesus promised them, the Holy Spirit became their teacher, leading them into the truth (John 16:13).

When those who attended one of those Bible studies truly believed in the Lord Jesus Christ and were born again, they of course wanted their families and friends to also be born again. So they told them what had happened to them, and soon the Bible studies increased in size as others were born again. Within two months there were about two dozen adults attending the Bible studies, plus their children, and there were already six spiritual generations of Amish people who had believed and led others to genuine faith in Jesus and the new birth. By the time you read this, there will probably be even more Johnsonburg Amish people who are born again, and there will be even more spiritual generations. The Johnsonburg Awakening is now influencing other Amish communities even in other states.

As you might imagine, the devil did not like what was happening in the Johnsonburg community. Satan does not want anyone to be born again because he wants everyone to go to hell to suffer what they deserve for their sins. Make no mistake about it: Jesus said that unless people are born again, they will never see or enter the kingdom of God (John 3:3, 5). That means, unless you are born again, you will go to hell when you die. Again, read it for yourself in John 3:3 and 5. Your eternal destiny hinges on whether or not you are born again. Only born-again people will enter heaven.

Satan knows, of course, that Jesus has made a way for everyone to have their sins forgiven through His sacrificial death, and he knows that when people truly believe in Jesus, all of their sins are forgiven and they are born again. As long as they continue in faith, they will not perish, but will inherit eternal life, as Jesus promised (John 3:16). And so the devil does all he can to keep people from knowing and believing what Jesus said about the necessity of being born again. And the devil has worked very hard in the Johnsonburg community to slander all the newly-born-again people who attend the Johnsonburg Bible studies. He knew that, unless he stopped what was happening in Johnsonburg, it would spread to other Amish communities, and potentially thousands of people who are now on their way to hell would be born again, forgiven, and indwelt by the Holy Spirit who will empower them to live truly holy and pure lives.

I’m happy to tell you that the devil has not succeeded. Although bishop Levi, minister Jonas, and all the newly-born-again Johnsonburg Amish have been excommunicated from their community, the gospel has continued to spread, not only in Johnsonburg, but in other Amish communities across the nation. The word “gospel” means “good news.” That is what Jesus commanded His followers to proclaim to the whole world (Matthew 28:19-20 and Mark 16:15-16).

Tragically, all of those newly-born-again Amish people in Johnsonburg have been accused of “adopting a new faith.” The truth, however, is that they have not adopted a new faith at all. Rather, they have recovered the original faith of your forefathers (the 16th-century Anabaptists), the apostles, and Jesus. All of those people believed that being born again is essential, and they all believed that those who are not born again will never see or enter the kingdom of God, as Jesus promised (John 3:1-16). They all believed that being born again was not something that automatically happened at baptism, but is something that occurs when people truly believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and repent. They all believed that being born again is an inward transformation that results in external changes, including sacrificial love for fellow Christians and obedience to Christ’s commandments (1 John 2:3; 3:14).

If you doubt me, just read the New Testament in a language you understand, and also read the 1632 Dordrecht Confession in a language you understand. Thousands of Amish and formerly-Amish people across the country have done just that, and they have been born again and are now experiencing all the blessings that accompany being born again. They know their sins are forgiven (1 John 2:2). They know they have eternal life (1 John 5:13). They know they are God’s spiritual children and that He is their heavenly Father (1 John 3:1). They know they are not destined for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through Jesus Christ (1 Thessalonians 5:9). And they want their Amish family members and friends to experience the same blessing. So they never stop praying for them, and if they are given the chance, they try to tell them about being born again through faith in Jesus Christ.

The Current Situation

So what is the real reason that the newly-born-again Johnsonburg Amish have been excommunicated? It is because they believe what their Anabaptist forefathers gave their lives for, that is, for believing the gospel of Jesus Christ as it is repeatedly presented in the New Testament. And just as the unregenerate (non-born-again) Roman Catholics and Protestants once persecuted the early Anabaptists because those Anabaptists were truly born again, so now unregenerate (non-born-again) Amish people are persecuting Amish people who have been truly born again. And just like the early Anabaptists proved that they loved Christ above all others, so the newly-born-again Amish believers are willing to forsake their family members and friends if they must in order to follow Jesus Christ in whom they have believed (Matthew 10:37).

I do understand that none of the unregenerate Johnsonburg Amish desire in their hearts to excommunicate and shun their family members and friends who have recently been born again. They think, however, that they must do it, because they think it is what God expects them to do. They are not full of hatred like the Roman Catholics and Protestants of old who murdered the early Anabaptists. Rather, they are simply ignorant of what is plainly and repeatedly taught in the New Testament, and they have inherited old traditions that tragically stand against the gospel of Jesus Christ. Beyond that, they are afraid of what other Amish people will think of them, and so they are caving to the peer pressure so that they, too, won’t be excommunicated and shunned. But that is cowardice. (If you want to know what happens to cowards, read Revelation 21:8.)

Anyone who reads the New Testament in a language they understand will see clearly what all the newly born-again Amish people in Johnsonburg have seen. If you are uncertain, then read the New Testament for yourself. Trust no one, including me, regarding what God expects of you. Read the New Testament for yourself and pray that God will help you to understand the truth found there. He will!

Regarding the Rumors

Perhaps you’ve heard the rumor that bishop Levi and minister Jonas will no longer practice shunning. That is entirely untrue. They will continue to practice shunning as it is outlined in the New Testament, particularly as it is described in Matthew 18:15-17 and 1 Corinthians 5:1-12. Levi and Jonas will not, however, be practicing any shunning for reasons other than those found in the Bible. Once you are truly born again and the Holy Spirit is living in you, your primary desire is to obey God and His commandments. For that reason, when you have to choose between following God’s Word or following human traditions that conflict what God has revealed in the Bible, you follow the Bible, not the traditions.

Another rumor you may have heard is that an English man named David (that would be me) has introduced a different Bible that teaches it is OK to drive cars.

It is certainly true that in our weekly Bible studies, all of us have been using various English translations of the Bible. We have not been using the German translation of the Bible for the same reason we have not been using the Spanish, French, or Chinese translation of the Bible—because none of us can read Spanish, French, or Chinese. And none of us can read German (which is not true of all Amish people).

The Bible has been translated into hundreds of different languages, and for one simple reason, so that people who speak and read those languages can understand the Bible. That is why Martin Luther translated the Bible into German. He wanted the German people who didn’t understand Latin to be able to read a Bible in their own language.

I’m sure you know that the Bible was not originally written in German. Neither Moses, any of the Prophets, Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, Peter, John, James or Jude ever spoke or wrote in German. Rather, the Bible was originally written in the languages of the people who were alive when it was written, which included Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek. And that is why we use English translations of the Bible at our Bible studies. We want to understand the Bible so we can understand the gospel and obey Jesus. It is just that simple.

If you are concerned that we are not using the German Bible, you should not be. What makes anyone think that the German translation of the Bible is the only accurate translation among hundreds of translations that exist in hundreds of languages? The fact is, the groups of modern linguistic scholars who have translated many English versions of the Bible have many more ancient biblical manuscripts from which they can translate that were not available to translators like Martin Luther 500 hundred years ago. That is because so many ancient biblical manuscripts have been discovered since then. Modern translations are more accurate to the original texts than translations from several hundred years ago.

Regarding the rumor that the Bible we are using teaches it is OK to drive cars, there is no translation of the Bible, including the German translation, that teaches it is wrong to drive cars. The Bible was completed 1,800 years before cars were invented, so of course the Bible has nothing to say about cars.

Regarding driving cars, I suspect that all of the Johnsonburg Amish who have recently been born again will sooner or later be driving cars, for several reasons. First, because no version or translation of the Bible forbids driving cars, as I have already stated. The newly-born-again Johnsonburg Amish follow only the Bible and obey Jesus’ commandments, just as did all true Christians for the first 1,600 years of Christianity’s existence. No true Christians for the first 1,600 years of church history had any Ordnung other than Christ’s commandments.

Second, there is no moral principle that forbids driving cars. Every Amish person already knows that, because all of them pay others to drive them in cars. How could any Amish person honestly claim it is a sin to drive a car when all Amish people pay others to drive them in cars? If it is a sin to drive a car, then Amish people are paying others to sin on their behalf.

Imagine if I wanted to murder an enemy but I felt that murdering him would be a sin. If I paid someone else to murder my enemy, would I be guiltless? What would you think of me if I said to you, “I would never murder anyone!” when I had, in fact, just paid someone to murder my enemy?

By the same reasoning, every Amish person who has paid someone to drive him in a car is morally no different than an Amish person who has driven a car himself. Any Amish person who has paid to be driven in a car and has also condemned another Amish person for driving a car is being hypocritical.

The third reason I suspect that all of the Johnsonburg Amish who have recently been born again will eventually be driving cars is because they have been delivered from the bondage of the fear of others (which is what keeps Amish people from doing many other things that are not morally wrong) and they have replaced it with the fear of God. We read in John 12:42-43: “Many even of the rulers believed in Him [Jesus], but because of the Pharisees they were not confessing Him, for fear that they would be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the approval of men rather than the approval of God.”

The newly-born-again Amish people in Johnsonburg are not afraid of what others may think of them or what others may do to them. In fact, they count themselves blessed if they are persecuted for their faith, because Jesus promised His persecuted followers that they will enjoy great reward in heaven (Matthew 5:10-12). Because they know that there is nothing in the Bible that forbids driving a car, they can drive cars with a clean conscience.

Of course, driving cars or not driving cars has nothing to do with being born again or getting to heaven. Most Amish folks who realize that defend their policy regarding using taxis as a means to lessen temptation. OK, but I’ve owned a car for more than 40 years, and I only use my car for good! One good thing I do with my car is drive Amish people to where they want to go!

In any case, if you want to know how being born again changes people, ask people who have been born again! If you know Amish people who are born again, ask them! If you know any former Amish people who are born again, instead of shunning them, why not humbly discuss the Bible with them? In the Johnsonburg group, there are born-again young people who previously had a habit of getting drunk every weekend. But no longer. Yet they have been excommunicated and are being shunned! Should we prefer that they return to being drunkards, whom the Bible declares will not inherit God’s kingdom (1 Corinthians 6:9-10)? One of them is a bishop’s grandson!

But should not all Amish people honor their parents? Yes, of course they should! That is a commandment from the Bible. But Jesus requires His followers to love Him more than they love their parents (Matt. 10:37 and Luke 14:26). If followers of Jesus are forced to choose between honoring their parents or honoring God, they will choose God. When a man whom Jesus called to follow Him requested that he first bury his father (which would have been honoring his father), Jesus said, “Follow Me, and allow the dead to bury their own dead” (Matt. 8:22). Had that man honored his father in the way he desired, he would have sinned. Jesus expects us to honor our parents as long as honoring our parents doesn’t get in the way of obeying Him.

Jesus declared that He will build His church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it (Matthew 16:18). No one, especially the devil, can stop the gospel from spreading. Any who are standing against the recently born-again Amish people in Johnsonburg, or anywhere else, are fighting against God. Those among the Amish deacons, ministers and bishops who excommunicate those who are born again are even more accountable to God as leaders, because “to whom much is given, much is required” (Luke 12:48). They should be leading their flocks into genuine faith in Jesus Christ and the new birth. They, like Levi and Jonas, should be leading Bible studies to help their flocks learn and obey the commandments of Jesus. Jesus warned the Pharisees of His day, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you shut off the kingdom of heaven from people; for you do not enter in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in” (Matthew 23:13).

Those who excommunicate and shun people because they are born again reveal that they themselves are not born again. One of the signs of being born again is love for others who are born again (1 John 3:14-15). If you are shunning others because they are born again, you are shunning God’s people who have had their sins forgiven and in whom God’s Holy Spirit dwells! So, you are effectively shunning God! That is why, when Amish people are born again, one of the first things they do is ask for the forgiveness of those whom they have been shunning because they were born again.

If you can read German, wonderful. If you can’t, I strongly encourage you to read an English Translation of the New Testament. There are many English translations, such as the New American Standard Version, King James Version, New Living Version and so on. If anyone tells you that it is dangerous for you to read the Bible because it might lead you astray, you can be sure that is the devil speaking through that person. Only the devil would tell you not to read God’s Word. If you don’t have any access to an English New Testament, I would be happy to mail you one. You don’t need me, or anyone else, to discover the truth that is in the Bible. Jesus promised everyone, “Seek and you will find” (Matthew 7:7).

You are dearly loved by God! Jesus died for all your sins so that you could have eternal life! You can be born again today and become a “new creation” in Christ!

If you have a question, would like to receive additional information about being born again according to the Bible, or would like to be contacted by someone who was born Amish but who has been born again and is now a follower of Christ, please respond by mailing the enclosed card back to me. It will only cost you a postage stamp. You can also write to me at: P.O. Box 33, Smicksburg, PA 16256.

I hope to hear from you. In the meantime, I will not stop praying that you will read the New Testament for yourself that you might believe the truth that is only found there! If you have already been born again by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, spread the good news to those in your Amish community who are waiting to hear!

James 4:6: God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.

Ephesians 2:8: 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.

Hebrews 11:1: Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

Romans 6:23: For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

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.