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.
1.) The Impossibility of Earning Our Salvation: We acknowledge that we, like all people, are guilty sinners in the eyes of God. We have repeatedly sinned in thought, word and deed, and we have disobeyed His holy commandments all of our lives. The Bible says that we are “by nature children of wrath” (Eph. 2:3) are “slaves to sin” (John 8:34, Rom. 6:20) and that “our righteousness is like filthy rags” (Isa. 64:6). Jesus said, “No one is good but God alone” (Mark 10:18). Even our hope of “being good enough” to make heaven is evidence of our sinful pride. We therefore stand rightly condemned and deserving of God’s wrath. There is no hope of our attaining heaven and eternal life by our own merit or efforts. If we are to be saved, it can only be by God’s mercy.
2.) The Exaltation of the Humble: We believe that God’s mercy is abundant towards those who humble themselves like the sinner in Jesus’ story of the Pharisee and the tax-collector. The tax-collector sincerely acknowledged his sinfulness and humbly asked for God’s mercy, whereas the Pharisee proudly compared himself to others, even listing things he did that he believed earned God’s approval. Jesus said that the contrite tax collector left the temple that day “justified,” or “right in the eyes of God,” whereas the proud Pharisee did not, because, as Jesus promised, “Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 18:14). So we, like the tax-collector, have humbled ourselves before God, acknowledging our sinfulness and the foolish pride of hoping we could be good enough in the eyes of a holy God to earn or deserve eternal life.
3.) The Opening of Our Spiritual Eyes: Having abandoned our self-righteousness and acknowledged our sinfulness, God has kept His promise to exalt those who humble themselves. Although we are entirely undeserving, He has opened our eyes (the “Aha!” in “Ahamish”) to His gracious means of forgiveness and salvation, namely, the sacrificial death of His beloved Son on the cross. We now see what was previously hidden from our understanding, and we have come to sincerely believe the most well-known verse in the Bible, which says that “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 3:16).
4.) Salvation by Grace Through Faith: We now truly believe in Jesus in our hearts, and not just in our heads as we did when we once joined the church. We sincerely and whole-heartedly believe He is the divine Son of God. We believe that He died for our sins. We believe that He was resurrected. We believe that He ascended to heaven and is now seated at the right hand of His Father. We believe that He will return one day. We believe that He will judge every person, and that we will all stand before Him to give an account.
We believe that Jesus is Lord and Master, and that we should obey His commandments and teach others who believe in Him to obey His commandments (Matt. 5:19). We believe His well-known promise that “whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” As long as we continue to believe in Him, we are sure we will not perish, but will inherit eternal life. This agrees with the teaching of the apostle Paul, who wrote that we are “saved by grace through faith” and “not as a result of works” (Eph. 2:8-9). We have stopped hoping to be good enough for heaven, knowing that is impossible and prideful.
5.) The Forgiveness of Our Sin: The opening of our eyes, however, and the birth of genuine faith in our hearts has proven to be only the introduction to God’s grace that has been so abundantly poured out upon us. Through the death of Christ, the penalty for our sins has been paid in full, and we have been forgiven of all our past sins. We have been cleansed (Eph. 5:26; Heb. 9:13-14).
Jesus died for all our future sins as well, and He has become our “advocate before the Father” (1 John 2:1). If and when we sin in the future, we know that “if we confess our sins, He is faithful to forgive us and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). It is not our confession or any penance (such as being temporarily shunned or excommunicated) that earns us forgiveness when we sin. Rather, it is God’s mercy, extended to us through Jesus’ sacrificial death for our sins.
6.) Our Spiritual Rebirth: When we believed in Jesus, we experienced the spiritual rebirth that Jesus told Nicodemus is necessary to see and enter God’s kingdom (John 3:1-22). Although we cannot fully explain it, we have been born again by the power of God’s Holy Spirit. Being born again has proven not to just be something that has supposedly occurred to us when we joined the church and were baptized but that didn’t actually change us. It has proven to be an actual, undeniable, life-changing experience.
People who are born again know that their lives have changed. They look at their lives as divided into two sections: before they were born again and after they were born again. It is a radical transformation. Born again people are “new creations in Christ” (2 Cor. 5:17).
7.) Our Indwelling by the Holy Spirit: Born again people are not only transformed by the Holy Spirit, but are also indwelt by the Holy Spirit (John 14:17; Rom. 8:9-11; 1 Cor.6:19). They can say with the apostle Paul, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me”—by His indwelling Holy Spirit (Gal. 2:20). Just like Paul, the persons we once were have died, and we are now new persons. Baptism is a symbol of that, which is why in the New Testament new believers were baptized. They were immersed completely under the water, symbolizing the death and burial of the old person, and then they were lifted out from under the water, symbolizing their resurrection as a new person who was washed clean! That is what has happened to us. And that is why we are filled with love, joy and peace. The Holy Spirit is working in us, and He is growing His fruit through us (Gal. 5:22-23).
8.) Our Sonship and Adoption into God’s Family: But there is still more that God’s amazing grace has done in our lives. Being spiritually reborn, we have been made actual children of God. The apostle John wrote: “Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God” (1 John 5:1) and, “See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are” (1 John 3:1). The Father of Jesus has also become our Heavenly Father (John 20:17)! Paul wrote, “Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!'” (Gal. 4:6). Now we have a genuine relationship with God as His own children. We love and trust Him as our Father.
9.) God’s Love Shed Abroad in Our Hearts: We not only love the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, but we also love one another. When the Holy Spirit came to live inside of us, He brought God’s love with Him, because God is love (1 John 4:7-8). Paul wrote, “The love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Rom. 5:5). The love that God poured out in our hearts is not just a love for those who have been born again among our fellow Amish, but for all people all over the world who have been born again, of which there are hundreds of millions. That love is another proof to us that we have been truly born again. John wrote, “We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren” (1 John 3:14).
10.) The Assurance of Our Salvation: God’s merciful and gracious work in our lives fills us with assurance of our relationship and standing with Him. We are no longer afraid of death. We have learned that being assured of salvation is the normal Christian experience, and it was the universal experience of all our born-again Anabaptist ancestors as well as the early Christians. 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).
11.) Our Motivation to Obey All That Christ Commanded: Because of all these amazing blessings in our lives, our greatest desire is to please our Lord Jesus Christ. We strive to obey Him, not to earn our place in heaven, but for at least five other reasons: (1) Because we love Him. Jesus said, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” (John 14:15). (2) Because we believe in Him, and the Bible teaches faith without works is dead (Jas. 2:14). (3) Because He has put His Holy Spirit in us who leads us in paths of righteousness. Paul wrote, “For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God” (Rom. 8:14). (4) Because Jesus has delivered us from our former slavery to sin (Rom 6:5-7). And (5) because we are full of gratitude for what Jesus has done for us. We can never repay Him, but we can show Him our thankfulness through our obedience.
Once we were born again, we discovered that, although we can still commit sin, we cannot enjoy it. When we are tempted to sin, we inwardly resist it. If we yield to temptation, we feel remorse that motivates us to confess it. If we don’t confess it, our loving Heavenly Father disciplines us so that we might “share in His holiness” (Heb. 12:10). He has promised to complete the good work that He has begun in us (Phil. 1:6). Like any good Father, He is devoted to His children’s progress and maturity. He’s preparing us for His future kingdom!
12.) Jesus’ Church, His Body: As we prepare for that future kingdom, we realize that we are part of His earthly kingdom right now. That kingdom consists of everyone who truly believes in the Lord Jesus Christ. We recognize that, although there are many doctrinal differences among those who believe in Jesus, there is “one body and one Spirit…one hope of our calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all” (Eph. 4:4-6). We therefore strive to be humble, gentle, patient and tolerant toward “one another in love” and be “diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:2-3). In Christ, “there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female.” Rather, we “are all one in Christ” (Gal. 3:28).
We also recognize that Christ has one body that consists of many members that do not all have the same function (Rom. 12:4-8; 1 Cor. 12:12-26). God has graced us in different ways for different kinds of service. We are thankful for all the members of the body of Christ and their specific functions. All the members are dependent on each other and should work together in love, respect and harmony. There should be “no division in the body.” All the members should “have the same care for one another…and if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it” (1 Cor. 12:25-26).
13.) Our Divinely-Given Ordnung: Jesus commanded His disciples in Matthew 28:19-20 to teach their disciples to obey all that He commanded them, what Paul referred to as “the law of Christ” (1 Cor. 9:21; Gal. 6:2). Therefore, although we respect any and all convictions held by our Amish families and friends, our focus is not upon rules that are not part of Christ’s Law. Rather, our focus is upon obeying Christ’s commandments and making disciples who, like us, are striving to obey all of His commandments. Jesus is our Lord!
For this reason, we resist any temptation to participate in debates about any rules that are not found in the New Testament. Our only concern for our Amish families and friends is if they have been born again by God’s Spirit (as being born again is necessary to see and enter God’s kingdom) and if they are obeying the commandments Christ has given to us all. To whatever degree we may follow any rules of any Amish Ordnung, it is not due to any belief that God requires us to follow such rules, but due to our deep love and respect for our Amish family and friends. We strive to imitate the example of the apostle Paul who did not want to erect an obstacle to the gospel before his fellow Jews, and so he kept all the requirements of the Law of Moses when he was with them—although he himself knew that he was not “under the Law of Moses,” but only “under the law of Christ” (1 Cor. 9:20-23). Therefore, at least until we are excommunicated for our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, we will continue to abide by the rules of our community’s Ordnung that do not contradict Christ’s Law, that we might not give anyone reason not to listen to the good news of the gospel of salvation by grace through faith. Like Paul, we “become all things to all men, so that we may by all means save some” (1 Cor. 9:22).
Our faith is in Christ for our salvation, not in keeping manmade rules. We hope and pray that the day comes when all Amish people will place their faith solely in Christ, and they will consequently experience the same spiritual rebirth we have, resulting in a new desire to obey only Christ’s commandments.
14.) Our Response to Persecution: We are not surprised when we are persecuted for our faith in Christ, knowing that Jesus promised all His followers that they will suffer persecution, and also knowing that our Anabaptist forefathers were all persecuted because they, too, were born again, unlike the religious but spiritually dead people who persecuted them. We would be much more concerned if we were not persecuted at least to some degree, since Jesus said, “Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for their fathers used to treat the false prophets in the same way” (Luke 6:26). Like the first Christians, we consider ourselves blessed when we are counted worthy to suffer for Christ’s sake (Acts 5:41), because we remember how Jesus suffered for us, and He promised us that He will reward us for our sufferings for His sake (Matt. 5:11-12). The New Testament promises, “All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim. 3:12).
For this reason, we will always endeavor to “turn the other cheek,” “bless those who curse us,” “pray for those who persecute us” and “love our enemies” (Matt. 5:39, 43; Luke 6:27-28). If and when we are shunned or excommunicated by Amish family or friends who do not understand our spiritual rebirth, we will respond with love. We will not ignore those who ignore us. We will not shun those who shun us. We will not speak ill of those who speak ill of us. Rather, we will greet them, serve them and love them, in hopes that they will be shamed for how they are treating us, and that their eyes will be opened to the gospel so that they might escape the spiritual darkness that motivates them to persecute those who follow Jesus. We will also sincerely pray for their salvation, that they might be born again and enjoy all of the temporal and eternal benefits that belong to the children of God.
15.) Our Gatherings: Jesus said where two or three are gathered in His name, He would be in their midst (Matt. 18:20). When we gather with other believers, we look to Jesus to speak to us, guide us, and instruct us by His Word found in the Bible and by His Holy Spirit in our midst.
Jesus is the Head of the church (Col.1:18), which is His body, and He is the One who gives spiritual gifts and ministry gifts to the church (1 Cor. 12:4-11, 27-31; Eph. 4:7-12). The New Testament instructs us to “desire earnestly spiritual gifts” (1 Cor. 14:1), of which nine are listed in 1 Corinthians 12:8-10. They are distributed, not as we will, but as God wills (1 Cor. 12:11). As God blesses us with revelation and manifestations of His power, our love for Him grows, and He is glorified. His gifts are given to build up His church, just as Paul wrote, “When you assemble, each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification” (1 Cor. 14:26).
In keeping with biblical tradition, our gatherings are most often held in homes. Our gatherings are not closed, but open to all—believers, seekers and unbelievers—as we have nothing to hide and much to share! Like the first Christians, we love to “break bread from house to house and enjoy our meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart” (Acts 2:46).
16.) Various Bible Translations: We are thankful for the many different translations of the Bible, including the German version translated by Martin Luther that made the Bible readable and understandable for the first time in history to common German people during the Protestant Reformation. Because German is not our “heart-language,” however, we are also thankful for English and Pennsylvania Dutch translations. As we strive to know God’s will for our lives, we are glad that we can compare many different Bible translations, all of which have been translated by scholars who have studied the ancient languages of Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek. We believe that if more Amish people would read the New Testament in one of their everyday languages, more Amish people would come to believe the gospel of grace and be born again by God’s Holy Spirit, recovering the spiritual heritage of their ancestors.
17.) Our Obligation to Non-Amish People: The New Testament teaches that God loves the entire world, and because of it, He gave His only Son (John 3:16). It also teaches that Jesus “is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world” (1 John 2:2). So it is no surprise that Jesus commanded His apostles to “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation” (Mark 16:15), and He also told them to “make disciples of all the nations (or more literally ‘all ethnic groups’),” teaching their disciples to obey all He commanded them (Matt. 28:19-20). It is therefore the responsibility of all of Christ’s disciples to strive to make disciples of all people, and not only Amish people.
Because of that, born-again Amish people face a similar dilemma as the apostle Paul, who was burdened to proclaim the gospel to Jews—who were under the Law of Moses—and to Gentiles, who were not. Not wanting to hinder his effectiveness in reaching either group, Paul kept the Mosaic Law’s requirements when he was with Jews but did not when he was with Gentiles (see 1 Cor. 9:19-23). Paul believed that he, as a Jewish believer in Christ, was not obligated before God to obey the Mosaic Law, but to only obey the law of Christ.
Similarly, since we have been born again, we realize that God does not require us to keep any of the manmade traditions of the Ordnung, but only to obey the Law of Christ. To the degree that we follow the manmade rules and traditions, it is only because of our deep love and respect for our Amish family and friends. We don’t want to offend them or hinder them from listening to the good news of the gospel of grace.
However, we also recognize that by following the Ordnung, we might hinder non-Amish unbelievers from listening to the good news that God wants us to share with them. We don’t want to mislead them into thinking they must keep the manmade traditions of our Ordnung in order to be accepted by God, because that simply is not true. Therefore, when we endeavor to influence non-Amish people who are not yet followers of Christ, we may temporarily abandon all adherence to the manmade rules of the Ordnung lest we hinder the gospel from being sown in their hearts. The same love that motivates us to keep the manmade rules of the Ordnung when we are with Amish people motivates us to abandon the manmade rules of the Ordnung when we are with non-Amish unbelievers. Like God, we desire “all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:4).
18.) Our Weakness and God’s Strength: Our desire is to see the gospel of the grace of Jesus Christ clearly communicated to every one of the 350,000 Amish people living in North America as quickly as possible, knowing that only those who are born again can see or enter God’s kingdom. We recognize that our task is beyond our human ability, especially when we think of the 300-year-old fortress walls of tradition that stand between us and those 350,000 precious people for whom Jesus died. We will only succeed if we have God’s supernatural help, and we rejoice knowing that “God’s power is perfected in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9). We are weak in ourselves, but we are strong in God. Jesus told us that “all things are possible with God” (Mark 10:27), and “all things are possible to him who believes” (Matt. 9:23).
As we do what we can to expand Jesus’ kingdom inside and outside Amish culture, we trust for God to do what we cannot do. We seek His wisdom. We pray along with the original Christians, “Grant that Your bond-servants may speak Your word with all confidence, while You extend Your hand to heal, and signs and wonders take place through the name of Your holy servant Jesus” (Acts 4:29-30). God is able to open closed hearts and minds by His power, and we continually ask and expect Him to use His power through us to that end. May He be glorified in and through us!