News sometimes travels very fast among Amish folks! So perhaps you’ve already heard about the Johnsonburg Awakening. 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 everything 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, and He is mentioned as “Lord” hundreds of times in the New Testament. 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” (Rom. 14:9).
Greetings from beautiful Pennsylvania, a state that was named after William Penn, a Quaker Christian man who, in the 17th century, was instrumental in creating a safe place for persecuted European Christians, including Mennonites and Amish folks. For thousands of Anabaptists, Pennsylvania was an answer to their prayers. Today, Pennsylvania has the largest Amish population of all the states (81,500), leading even Ohio and Indiana. Anyone who lives in or near any Amish community knows what a blessing they are to local economies and everyone’s well-being. They have a reputation of being family-centered, hardworking, and honest. I count myself blessed to live within the boundaries of Pennsylvania’s third-largest Amish community, and within the vicinity of several others.
I wrote a letter in June that we sent to thousands of Amish households across North America. I’m happy to report that I received over 200 written replies, including many requests for English Bibles and more information about being born again, as well as many phone calls. I’d like to share some of the written replies with you later in this letter, as I think your will find them interesting. But first, I would like to apologize for a misunderstanding.
As I shared the story of the “Johnsonburg Amish Awakening,” I told how two-dozen Amish adults were born again—including a bishop named Levi and minister named Jonas—and how they were eventually excommunicated from their Amish community for “adopting a new faith.” For that reason, some who received my letter assumed that I believe a person cannot be Amish and also be born again. So please allow me to clear that up. I don’t believe that! (And I never said that in my letter.) There are many Amish people who have been born again and who follow an Amish lifestyle. I’ve received letters from some of them (and I’ll share a few with you). Most all of them know that believing in Jesus and obeying His commandments are what is most important.
The Recovery of Our Spiritual Heritage: Having come to realize that we have drifted from the spiritual heritage of our forefathers—many of whom paid with their lives for their sincere faith in the Lord Jesus Christ—we now strive to regain what has been lost by returning to the plain teachings of Jesus and the New Testament apostles whom He appointed. “Like newborn babies,” we “long for the pure milk of the word” (1 Pet. 2:2) that is undiluted and unpolluted by the traditions of men, so that “the word of Christ will richly dwell within us” (Col. 3:16).
Ours is not a “new belief” or “new teaching,” but rather an old belief and ancient teaching that was (1) held in common by all the early Christians, (2) plainly revealed in the New Testament, (3) affirmed in the Dordrecht Confession of 1632, and (4) believed by all the early Anabaptists from whom we are all descended.
Before I moved to Smicksburg, Pennsylvania, I always assumed that Amish communities across the nation were all the same. Like most “English” Americans, I thought that the people who drove horse-drawn buggies all followed a uniform way of life. Once I relocated, however, into the heart of Pennsylvania’s third-largest Amish community, and in proximity to several other Amish communities, I began to realize there were differences that make just about every Amish community unique in some way. I learned that there was something called the “Ordnung,” that governed every aspect of Amish life, and that every community’s Ordnung is different. So there are actually hundreds of different Ordnungs among the Amish. Some are more conservative and some are more liberal.
As an example, I learned that it is OK for Smicksburg Amish, among whom I live, to ride in cars and even pay English drivers to drive them, but they are not permitted to own or drive cars. The Johnsonburg Amish, however, just 30 minutes away, are permitted to own vehicles, but they are not allowed to drive them. So they also hire English drivers.
I’ve asked Amish folks what the moral difference is between sitting on the right side and left side of the front seat of a car, but so far, no one has been able to give me an answer. I’ve also wondered how paying someone to do what would be a sin for me to do is any different than committing that sin myself. If I paid someone to murder my enemy and then said, “I would never commit murder,” everyone would know I was only fooling myself.
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.
Unquestionably, Jakob Ammann and the original Amish Christians believed everything in the Dordrecht Confession. And of course, all Old Order Amish today subscribe to the Dordrecht Confession.
Before the apostle Paul was a Christian, he was a Jew known as Saul, from the city of Tarsus. Not only was Paul formerly a Jew, he was an extraordinary Jew, years later describing himself as “a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless” (Philippians 3:5-6).
You probably know, however, that as Saul was on the road to Damascus to arrest and imprison Christians, God knocked him to the ground with a blinding light. Obviously, God was not pleased with him, and Saul heard a voice from heaven ask him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” Up until that moment, Saul thought he was serving God, but he quickly realized that, by persecuting Christians, he was persecuting Jesus, the person whom all the Christians believed was God’s Son. Big mistake!
That began Saul’s spiritual journey, during which he learned many valuable lessons.
You may not realize it, but you could be just like Saul. You, too, may think you are on the right path, but God may be about to knock you to the ground, at least in a figurative sense, and set you on a very different course.
News travels very fast among Amish folks! So you’ve probably 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 Amish belief, 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 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! One day, He will rule the entire world. 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).
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.
If you are a regular reader of my monthly e-teachings, you know that I’ve been working for more than a year on writing consecutive chapters of a book that is tentatively titled, Sex is for Christians. I’ve been publishing those chapters each month as e-teachings. This month, however, I’ve taken a pause in that almost-finished writing project to pen the article below. The reason is because I’ve found myself in the middle of what seems to be a once-in-a-three-hundred-year opportunity to serve some steeped-in-tradition local Amish people who are being born again. My family and I have been helping them launch home Bible studies, something that is not only not done in Amish culture, but something that is actively discouraged and sometimes forbidden. Amish leaders have discovered that Amish people who start reading the Bible often leave the Amish. The reason they do, of course, is because they discover that salvation is not something that is earned by keeping hundreds of man-made rules, but by faith in Jesus Christ.
Although I’ve written the article below to help unsaved Amish people, many of the points could be helpful for Christians who know that, as James wrote, faith without works is dead and cannot save. Those folks sometimes struggle with wondering if they have sufficient works to validate their faith. Similarly, some folks who know that holiness is part of the salvation equation have questions about the assurance of their salvation. Others wonder about the legitimacy of the idea of sinless perfection. If you are in any of those categories, keep reading!
Although I’m writing to everyone who is hoping to be good enough to get into heaven, I’m thinking of two people in particular. They are an Amish couple in their 50s who have been taught all of their lives that you can’t know until you die if you will make it into heaven. The reason is because they’ve been told that heaven hinges on their holiness, and no one will know until they die if they were holy enough. Until then, they can only hope for the best.
Beyond that, the standard for holiness in Amish communities is not just the Ten Commandments or the Golden Rule. There are hundreds of other unwritten rules contained in what they refer to as the ordnung, or “order,” that legislate every detail of Amish life and culture. Every Amish adult is expected to affirm their agreement to their local ordnung twice annually. Unrepentant infractions are grounds for excommunication. As you might have guessed, because good Amish people can only hope they will be considered worthy for heaven, excommunicated Amish people have no hope at all. Rather, they are told that they will burn in hell. That fear is a big part of what has perpetuated Amish culture for hundreds of years.
In Amish thinking, anyone who says he is certain of attaining heaven is prideful. Only proud people, they say, would ever think they are good enough for heaven.
I’ve begun each of my two previous articles in The Amish Voice enumerating things I admire about the Amish—among whom I have many friends, particularly within the Pennsylvania communities of Smicksburg and Johnsonburg. The Smicksburg community is very conservative, whereas the Johnsonburg community has a more liberal ordnung. I love both groups, however, and there are so many good things to say about them both, as there are about all Amish groups.
When you compare any Amish community to the general non-Amish population, their moral virtue shines brightly. I am, of course, speaking in a generalization, because there are certainly plenty of virtuous people outside of Amish culture, and moral failings certainly surface in Amish communities at times. From my observation, however, Amish communities are generally comparable to an island in a cesspool, and I am very familiar with non-Amish culture. I am also probably more familiar with Amish culture than most non-Amish people.
Amish people generally have a good standard of ethics, and most non-Amish folks admire them for that. There is, for example, very little divorce among them. They are also generally modest, humble, and good neighbors. They resist greed. They won’t accept government handouts. They are hard-working, honest, family-focused, and care for the needs of each other. There are many more praiseworthy attributes I could add to this list, but I will save them for a future article. And this is not to say that I am ignorant of examples of moral compromise that do exist in Amish communities, compromise which every Amish adult is very aware. Still, I maintain that the average Amish person is more virtuous than the average non-Amish person.
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!