The Amish (also called Amanites or Ammanites) is a religious movement that was formed as the most conservative branch of the Mennonites (a branch of Anabaptism).
It later became an independent protestant religious denomination.
Simple living, plain dress and the refusal to use many modern technologies/ conveniences are the main features of the Amish way of life. Accepting a literal and strict interpretation of the Bible is the essence of the theology. Many necessary rules concerning baptism, marriages, the household etc. have been established for the followers of this doctrine.
The Amish group derived from the Anabaptist movement or the Swiss Brethren which emerged in the 16th century as a part of the Radical Reformation. The Swiss Brethren were instigated by Felix Manz and Conrad Grebel, who seceded from the Reformer Huldrych Zwingli who preached the truth of the Scripture and a simplified church service.
The Amish church came into existence after a split between the Swiss and Alsace Anabaptists in 1693. Jacob Amman (or Amish the Mennonite) became a leader of one of the groups, and his surname gave the title to the entire movement. Jacob Amman believed in the necessity of keeping the strict church discipline and of following the doctrine of Menno Simmons (the founder of the Mennonites) and the Dordrecht confession of faith. Amman also insisted on an “exclusion” practice. This is the complete rejection by the community of people who have renounced the religion until the moment of their repentance and return.
After the split, the two branches of Anabaptism kept growing—the Amish Mennonites and the Swiss Conference of the Mennonites. Additionally, the latter further became the founders of the Swiss Mennonite Conference. Despite the split, the doctrines of these two denominations are quite similar in many ways. Many Amish who left their communities have been able to easily join other conservative Mennonite groups.
In the 18th century, the Amish people were persecuted by various European governments. In 1712 after Alsace joined France, King Louis XIV expelled all Amish from France where many had settled. About 300 Amish relocated to America during such displacements, and after the Napoleonic Wars their migration across the ocean intensified. About three thousand followers of Jacob Amman settled in Pennsylvania, Indiana, Iowa, and other states of the USA and additionally in Ontario, Canada.
Religious controversies and disputes continued between various Amish communities, and during the great congress of the Amis which took place in 1865, they finally split into two groups: Amish Mennonite and Old Order Amish. Later the Amish Mennonites joined the Mennonite church or other Mennonite-related conservative groups.
The meaning of the doctrine and characteristics of the Amish culture
The Amish religion is based on a specific, strict and literal interpretation of the Bible. Its followers believe in the Second Coming of Jesus Christ and His Millennium Reign (Chiliasm). Their fundamental principles of faith can be seen in The Dordrecht Confession of Faith, published in 1632.
The Amish are united in their congregations, i.e. local religious organizations that have from 20 to 40 neighboring families. Congregations are led by the bishops or “full ministers” and a few priests and deacons who are elected by all the members of the community for a life-long term, and do not have any special privileges.
Most of the Old Order Amish do not build churches, and their services take place in their private houses on every second Sunday of the month. The service lasts for four hours and includes singing sacred songs and reading sermons. Private prayer is also practiced and those who have sinned, confess before the entire community.
To join the Amish church one needs to pass the ceremony of credobaptism, that is the believer’s baptism. One needs to be 16 or 25 years old. The baptism of infants is not allowed since this act imposes serious obligations on an individual before both God and the community.
Conscious baptism is one of the main conditions to be able to marry within the faith. The Amish may only marry another who professes the same faith. The families are inevitably large and lead a traditional rural and very conservative lifestyle. Family relationships are extremely important for the Amish with minimal contact with the outer society. Elderly and sick members of the community are cared for by the other members without resorting to social welfare services.
Also, the Amish are known for:
Members of the community who break the rules are considered to be those who do not deserve repentance, and they are excluded from the church. Avoidance is practiced by them, that is, limiting any interaction with the “lost ones”. The reasoning behind this is to instruct waverers to the path of truth and to encourage them to return.
Amish education includes eight school classes. Children are expected, from an early age, to work in the home, on the family farm, or on the community land. They are strictly raised by parents or close relatives in religious traditions, until their adolescence. Then they are allowed to observe the outside world and to compare it to their usual life and hence to make a conscious choice—to stay in the community or leave it. This practice is called Rumspringa.
In 1961 the USA government cancelled the necessity for the Amish to pay taxes since they do not use social insurance and security services. In 1965 this rule was enshrined in legislation.
Amish subgroups (affiliations)
As a result of migration from Europe to America, the Amish split into several subgroups which are often called affiliations. These differ from one another in the way of life and Bible interpretation.
The entrances to their homes are not paved with stones or gravel – unlike the roads in classic Amish settlements. The roofs on their houses and outbuildings are covered with tin. There are also other differences in clothes, horse carriages etc.
Most Amish followers reside in the USA and Canada. There are no Amish in Russia, but there are some Mennonites. The Amish have no missions and rarely accept newcomers. A closed lifestyle and closely related marriages, together with an increased birth rate and low infant mortality rate has led to the development of rare genetic diseases among this religious group.
Religion inspired isolation from the outer world and modern technologies can clear the mind of “garbage” but also gives rise to other, more serious problems with world attitudes and physical health.