Amish spiritual issues


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The Amish believe in Jesus Christ as Savior and would be a part of the protestant stream of theology. They emerged from the Anabaptists who began in the early 1500's. The Anabaptists, meaning re-baptizers, broke from the Catholic Church over infant baptism among other things. They believed that a person should be baptized only after an adult confession of faith.

They differ, however, in lifestyle issues since they believe that much of what is seen in Christendom has been impacted by the world. This is part of what led to the split with the Mennonites in the 1600's. Things were going too much the way of the world and their Anabaptist brethren were not holding on to the tenets of the faith tightly enough, letting the influence of the world change their practices. The practice of their faith as seen in both external and internal ways is as important as what they believe.

If you were to ask many Amishmen why they believed what they do about their faith practice they would answer "This is the way it has always been." The more conservative the group the less likely they are to stray from the way things have always been done. This creates a constant tension in the community because the world around them is always changing.

As mentioned in other articles, they avoid having church houses and stick with having church in their homes or barns. In some communities they may even meet in a utility building or shed on the property. Getting ready to host church requires lots of cleaning up and rearranging for the host family. They usually invite other church women or relatives to join them in cleaning the house and moving out extra furniture for added space. They prepare a simple meal for everyone to enjoy after the service. Others help to contribute food so that the burden doesn't fall on just one family.

The men prepare for church by cleaning out the barn and getting ready to tend to the horses that will pull the buggies and bring the most distant families to church. The bench wagon is brought to the house some time during the week. The benches need to be set up on Saturday evening in preparation for the service the next morning.

Were you able to attend an Amish worship service (and some individuals may invite you in some groups) you would see that they families begin to arrive around 8 am for the 9 am service. Families who are closest neighbors will be seen walking to church in family groups. If you see a field full of buggies on a Sunday morning, that is probably the home where church is being held. In some of the groups, church is only held every other week. In some of the more evangelical groups, they will meet on the opposite Sundays for Sunday School. Sunday School is not found in the Old Order groups. Many families will visit a neighboring district or a district where other family members attend on their off weeks for church.

A song leader will begin to lead singing when it is time for the service to start. Men and women sit separately. The young folks (teenagers) usually sit together while the children always sit with either their father or mother. While the group is singing the ministers are meeting and praying together and getting a sense of the direction the service should head.

The singing resembles more of a slow chanting lilt than what would be experienced in a typical church. The leader will line out a verse and the congregation will follow somewhat delayed. They sing from a hymnal called the Augbund which has been around for hundreds of years. Many of the songs are about the persecution that was faced by their early relatives and church members when Anabaptism was just beginning. Everything is sung in unison.

The ministers who consist of the bishop, several ministers and a deacon are all chosen by the lot. That again is a practice that has been around hundreds of years. It is rooted in that fact that it allows the Holy Spirit to guide the process and it isn't a popularity contest as to who gets elected as a minister. When a minister is needed they are to come from the congregation. The church nominates persons for the lot. The candidates are then to pray and seek God about whether they are to remain in the lot. If they give their assent, a part of the service one Sunday is set aside to have the candidates gather. The other ministers place a slip of paper in one of the hymn books. The hymn books are mixed up and then each candidate picks one randomly. Then the books are opened one at a time until the slip of paper appears. That candidate has been chosen for the open position for minister. They are immediately ordained and become a part of the preaching team that ministers to the congregation each service.

A similar process is used to choose a bishop from among the ministers when one is needed. Deacons are also chosen by similar lot process.

Each church district has a bishop. He and his ministers direct the spiritual life and direction of their district. Occasionally, an issue arises when they need outside counsel. They will call in bishops from other districts to help them process through an issue. Often other bishops and ministers visit from other districts just for fellowship purposes. They are typically expected to preach during the service either in response to the main minister that day or in addition to.

Communion is usually held twice a year. Before each communion service a preparation meeting is held, usually the Sunday service before communion will be held. This gives the community an opportunity to confess any way they have strayed from the faith, to right any conflicts or wrongs that have been committed against someone else and to give opportunity for persons in the body to express concern for a direction or issue that has come up since last communion. This is guided by the Ordung or Book of Order. The goal is to have unity in the body before they proceed with communion.

In some cases persons who have strayed from the faith as asked to publicly confess at a worship service. They are to articulate the way they have strayed and receive forgiveness from the congregation. In extreme cases when a person refuses to adhere to the ways of the church they are excommunicated. This begins the process of miting or shunning (also called the ban). The level of conservatism in the group determines how strict this is practiced. In extreme cases the person excommunicated who is unrepentant, will not be allowed to eat with their family at the same table or fellowship in many settings. One of the issues that prompts this response is if a person who has been baptized into the church, then leaves the Amish to join another group or to stop going to church at all. In some cases the more conservative won't even do business with someone who has left another group of the Amish.

Young people who join the church and profess to want to continue in the Amish lifestyle will go through a period of instruction. During that time if they have had a car they must get rid of it. If they are wearing English clothes, they must put them away and return to wearing the traditional garb. When they are baptized it is during a regular service. The method is by pouring. A pitcher of water is used. During that service they make a vow to stay true to the Amish lifestyle as an act of obedience to Christ.

After the ministers have preached and the other matters of the faith community dealt with, a few more songs will be sung and then the service is dismissed-about 2 ½ to 3 hours later. Then it is time to eat. The afternoon is spent fellowshipping or napping. Many times a singing is held in the evenings when more traditional hymns may be added to the list. Young people also have evening meetings where they sing as well.

One of the most distinct differences in an Amish community and their Christian counterparts in other parts of the world comes in their practice of their faith. As you may know it translates into the type of homes they build, the appliances and furnishings they have, the transportation they use, the conveniences they shun, their dress, their investments it is truly a lifestyle distinct enough to set them clearly apart from the rest of the world.