Are You “Worldly” Like They Accuse You?

The Amish Papers - Chapter 18

It is fascinating, and at the same time tragic, to learn what many Amish people consider to be “worldly.” Obviously, just about any technological advancement over the past century falls into the “worldly” category in Amish thinking, even though they’ve accepted most technological advancements from the prior century. Amish folks teach their children that anything that isn’t found in Amish culture that is found in non-Amish culture is “worldly,” and those things should be avoided because Paul taught us “not to be conformed to this world” (Rom. 12:2). That, however, is contrary to what Paul meant, and it is ironic that, by biblical definition, most Amish folks are actually very worldly. This article, posted on Facebook on 12/7/22, explores that idea.

I’ll never forget reading an Amish mother’s letter to her adult daughter who had left the Amish and was now driving a car. Her mother told her that there was nothing more “worldly” than that. Strangely, her mother, like all Amish people, regularly rides in cars as a paying passenger. So, the “worldliness” of cars apparently only applies to owning or driving them, but not to renting or riding in them. One can sit for days in the right front seat without being worldly, but if one shifts three feet to the left and grabs the steering wheel, hell rejoices!

In the minds of many Amish folks, anything that lies outside of Amish thinking or culture is “worldly.” Of course, they find their scriptural support by twisting New Testament passages that warn believers about the world. When the New Testament authors warned against the world, however, they weren’t warning against what stood in contrast to relatively-recent Amish peculiarities and traditions, but against sinful practices of the unregenerate world, evil that God had been condemning from the beginning.

So what does actual “worldliness” look like? The apostle John wrote:

“Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever” (1 John 2:15-17, emphasis add).

John summarized the “world” as first being characterized by the “lust,” or better, the “desire of the flesh.” Paul helpfully elaborated on what he called “the deeds of the flesh” in Galatians 5:19-21:

Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

If Paul’s “deeds of the flesh” are the outcomes of those who yield to John’s “desires of the flesh,” then people who are characterized by Paul’s “deeds of the flesh” are worldly by biblical definition.

I don’t want to generalize, because there are Amish folks who are born again, godly people. Yet there are plenty of Amish people who, by John and Paul’s definition, are every bit as worldly as the world. Statistics show that almost half of all Anabaptists have been sexually abused by fellow church members. Porn use is also prevalent, and fornication before marriage with one’s fiancée/fiancé is common. All of those things certainly fit into Paul’s categories of “immorality” and “impurity.”

And although outsiders often think of Amish people as being peace-loving and inspiringly cooperative, the truth is, they are frequently fighting and dividing, so that there are literally hundreds of church divisions among just Old Order Amish. And all of that would seem to fit into Paul’s categories of “enmities, strife…disputes, dissensions,” and “factions.”

Moreover, the Amish have pockets of everything else Paul mentioned, including drunkenness and carousing.

Added all together, it’s completely worldly.

If John’s second phrase, “lust of the eyes,” is equivalent to greed as is often suggested, that is something that is curbed by social pressure in Amish circles (but not eradicated from Amish hearts), and the same could be said of the “boastful pride of life,” John’s third phrase. Pride would certainly seem to be a factor, however, in the hearts of Amish people who actually think they could merit a place in heaven, or who are convinced that only the Amish people will be there. A thin veneer of false humility can hide a heart bursting with pride.

Regardless, how tragic it is when Amish people redefine worldliness to exclude themselves from their definition. Imagine being proud that you live in a house that isn’t connected to the “worldly” electrical power grid, but that same house is where you’ve molested your daughter or sister. Then imagine condemning your ex-Amish daughter as being worldly because she now drives a car!

It is interesting that modern technology is often deemed to be “worldly” by modern Amish, but that 100-year-old technology is not, by either modern Amish or their ancestors. A horse-drawn buggy was at one time a disruptive technology, and one that could have called for a “fence law” that prevented some potential sin. Somehow it was allowed. The fact is, any technology can be used for good or evil. (I’m using a laptop for good as I’m writing this.)

Regarding automobiles, I understand that many Amish “draw the line” between owning/driving one and riding in one under the belief that it curbs sin. If you can’t just hop in your car anytime you want and drive to a bar, that might help you avoid getting drunk so often. Fair enough. But those of us who are born again, new creations in Christ don’t need fence laws to help us stay sober. We have the indwelling Holy Spirit to empower us. Plus, our desires have changed. Getting drunk no longer has any appeal.

The need for fence laws is a tacit admission that the Holy Spirit is absent, and the fence law becomes the cheap substitute that exchanges love for God for fear of man.

The solution to all this? Only the gospel of Jesus. So, “keep the main thing the main thing.” Don’t argue about non-essentials, traditions and customs. Just keep repeating the only important question to your still-Amish family members and friends, “Have you been born again through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ?”