From the Peace Barn: The Oldest, Original Order

by David Servant

In 1880, George Washington Hazlett purchased 109 wooded acres—near Smicksburg, Pennsylvania—which he began clearing, with the hopes of one day operating a farm. In the process, he felled many old oaks, and he hand-hewed their trunks into long posts and beams for a future 50-foot square bank barn. Some of the hemlocks he harvested were sawn at a local mill into rough-cut planks for barn siding. By 1890, George had assembled everything he needed to build his barn, including quarried foundation stones, and with the help of friends, he erected a barn that still stands today, 130 years later.

women riding a buggy

In the 1940s and 50s, my great Uncle Clyde, George Hazlett’s grandson, built two rustic living quarters in either side of that barn, complete with a kitchen, living room, bedrooms, plumbing and gaslights in every room. Uncle Clyde spent most of his summers (as well as late springs and early summers) at “The Farm,” which I enjoyed visiting many times as a child. My siblings and I loved to hike the trails Uncle Clyde had cleared in his wooded acres, and swimming and fishing in the Little Mahoning Creek that bordered his property was always a special treat.

I would have never imagined it as a child, but my wife and I now reside at that barn, which we remodeled over the last few years into a lovely home that still features George Hazlett’s skill in the many exposed hand-hewn posts and beams. We’ve named it “The Peace Barn” because of the peaceful ambiance. The Peace Barn also highlights the skill of many local Amish carpenters and craftsman, who have done 95% of all the remodeling work, and who have become friends in the process.

It was in the early 1960s that a few Amish families moved from Ohio to the Smicksburg area, and today there are over 500 households that share about 20 surnames. Theirs is the 3rd largest Amish settlement in Pennsylvania and the 11th largest in the U.S.

We’ve come to know quite a few of our Amish neighbors, and we’re glad to be living among them. They are friendly, considerate, hardworking, honest for the most part, and sincere. As Christians, my wife and I share many of the same values held by our Amish neighbors that stem from their Anabaptist heritage. I’ve jokingly told a number of my Amish friends that my wife and I are half Amish, as we raised our children without a TV, never sent them to public schools but rather schooled them ourselves, have been involved in churches that met in homes rather than church buildings, prefer rural living, and try, with God’s help, to obey Jesus’ commandments. And on a few occasions, I’ve even told some of my Amish friends that I’m actually more Amish than they are, because I truly believe the 1632 Dordrecht Confession!

Concerning that last point, having studied the history, beliefs and practices of early Anabaptism when it began in the early 1500s, and having also read the 1632 Dordrecht Confession, I’m sorry to say that the large majority of my Amish friends do not enjoy the wonderful spiritual blessings of the original Anabaptists. More than anything else, the original Anabaptists believed the Bible, and they consequently rejected anything that was taught either by the Roman Catholic Church or the Protestant Reformers that couldn’t be found in the Word of God. They expressly rejected all human, religious tradition that contradicted the Bible’s teaching.

One of those church traditions that early Anabaptists rejected—practiced by both Catholics and Protestants—was infant baptism, as they saw what anyone who honestly reads the New Testament easily sees, that the New Testament church, led by the apostles whom Jesus chose, never baptized infants, but rather, adults only. And they did so only after such adults repented of their sins and believed in the Lord Jesus. It was the persecutors of the early Anabaptists who consequently labeled them “Re-baptizers,” because they baptized adults who had previously been baptized as infants in the Roman Catholic church.

Another church tradition that early Anabaptists rejected (as did all the Protestants) was the (primarily Catholic) idea that one could earn one’s way to heaven by one’s own works. They read in the Bible that “by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God” (Eph. 2:8). The early Anabaptists held to the biblical truth that “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23), so no one is good enough to be saved by their own merits. Grace from God is essential for salvation of sinners. And they believed that God extended His grace through His Son Jesus Christ, who died for their sins and made salvation available for all who would repent and become His followers.

Yet another church tradition that early Anabaptists rejected was the (primarily Protestant) idea that one could genuinely believe in Jesus but not strive to obey Him. They read in the Bible that “faith without works is dead” (James 2:20) and that faith without works cannot save anyone (see James 2:14).

The early Anabaptists also believed what anyone who honestly reads the New Testament easily sees, that anyone who repents of their sins and believes in Jesus experiences a spiritual rebirth that transforms him into a “born again” (1 Pet. 1:23) “new creature” (2 Cor. 5:17). They believed Jesus’ plain words, “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). They believed that a spiritual rebirth was essential for salvation. It was the starting place for a true relationship with God.

The early Anabaptists also believed that the good works that are done by believers stem not from pure human effort, but from the Holy Spirit, who literally indwells all those who have truly believed in Jesus. They read Paul’s words to the Galatian Christians about “the fruit of the Spirit” (see Gal. 5:22), and his words to the Ephesian Christians: “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10).

All of these plain, biblical truths are found in Article 6 of the Dordrecht Confession, the 1632 Mennonite doctrinal statement to which all the Amish subscribe. It reads:

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, 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. Genesis 8:21; Mark 1:15; Ezekiel 12:2; Colossians 3:9, 10; Ephesians 4:22, 24; Hebrews 10:22, 23; John 7:38 (italics added).

In contrast to what is believed by so many Amish today—the idea that a person cannot be certain of his salvation, and if one is certain, it is an indication of pride—the original Anabaptists universally believed that those who repent and believe in the Lord Jesus have their sins forgiven and become born-again children of God, as we just read from Article 6 of the Dordrecht Confession.

How could someone who is spiritually reborn, has his sins forgiven, and has become a child of God, rightly say, “I don’t know if I will be accepted by God to enter heaven, because I am not certain I am good enough?” Such a belief contradicts not only the Dordrecht Confession, but the entire message of the New Testament.

It is not prideful for people whom God has forgiven of their sins and made into His children to believe their sins are forgiven and they are God’s children. Rather, it is an expression of faith, rather than doubt, in what God has said.

The truth is, it is prideful to hope that one can be good enough to gain heaven, because God has declared that no one is good enough for that, which is why Jesus died for our sins. Although most Amish people are humble folks on the outside, the hidden pride of hoping to be good enough to gain heaven is one of the sins they need to repent of to be born again. (And although the Amish are generally more in line with God’s will than the English population, those who interact with them know they are far from perfect, and Amish people need to repent of their sins if they want to begin a genuine relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ, just the same as anyone else.

All these simple biblical truths are also affirmed in Articles 7 and 8 of the Dordrecht Confession:

Concerning baptism we confess that all penitent believers, who, through faith, regeneration, and the renewing of the Holy Ghost, are made one with God, and are written in heaven, must, upon such Scriptural confession of faith, and renewing of life, be baptized with water….

We believe in, and confess a visible church of God, namely, those who, as has been said before, truly repent and believe, and are rightly baptized; who are one with God in heaven, and rightly incorporated into the communion of the saints here on earth. These we confess to be the chosen generation, the royal priesthood, the holy nation, who are declared to be the bride and wife of Christ, yea, children and heirs of everlasting life, a tent, tabernacle, and habitation of God in the Spirit.

All of these truths in the Dordrecht Confession are straight from the New Testament. How could someone who is regenerated by the Holy Ghost, made one with God, has his name written in heaven, is chosen of God, has become a royal priest as well as the bride and wife of Christ ever rightly say, “I don’t know if I will make heaven, because I’m not sure I’m good enough?” What would you think of a child who said to his father, “I don’t know if I am your child, or if I have the right to live in this house with you”?

As I said earlier, this is the heart-breaking tragedy that I’ve witnessed among my Amish friends. And what a great tragedy it is, for them to miss out on the greatest blessing that was enjoyed not only by all their Anabaptist forefathers among the Swiss Brethren, but also Jakob Ammann (from whom the Amish derive their name), all the early Amish believers, and not to mention all the first Christians we read about in the book of Acts, plus all true believers around the world since then, which include myself, my family, and many of my friends. I’ve personally met thousands of born-again followers of Jesus all over the world in more than 40 nations to which I’ve traveled. There is nothing better on earth than being born again by God’s Holy Spirit. It can happen to you.

I’ve found that most of my Amish friends do not want to talk about these things. They are all afraid of being led astray, which would result in their excommunication and shunning for the rest of their lives. Their fear is even more tragic, as there is no reason why one can’t be born again and continue to live a traditional Amish lifestyle.

Through readers’ responses to some of my previous articles in the Amish Voice, I’ve been blessed to hear from a number of born-again Amish believers across the country who are enjoying the wonderful blessings of being indwelt by the Holy Spirit, and who know they are “new creatures” and children of God whose sins have been forgiven. And while they continue to live within traditional Amish culture, they’ve found new joy in the assurance of salvation and a relationship with the Lord they never dreamed of. Like all truly born-again believers in Jesus, they wish everyone was born again. They are the true “Old Order,” having now joined the “Original Order,” which is the oldest Order!

In future articles in the Amish Voice, I hope to introduce you to some born-again Amish Christians who are still living inside Amish culture. If you are one of them, I would love to talk with you or meet you in order to hear, and share, your story with readers who are not yet born again. Your story might help open eyes and hearts. If you are interested, you can contact me at P.O. Box 33, Smicksburg, PA 16256. Or call me at 412 722-3075. It’s time for spiritually-hungry Amish folks to recover their spiritual heritage, and become members of the Oldest, Original Order, the one found in the New Testament!