Update. A few reader friends have pointed out that there are some works of Amish fiction which portray the Amish belief system as erroneous. So grateful for this!
As an author, I get the unique opportunity to hear of new releases sometimes even before the general public does. It's exciting. It's fun. And I've noticed a big trend among readers and authors.
Okay, so I've read a few Amish fiction novels and enjoyed them. I even watched The Shunning. (Did it irk anyone else that she dumped the bishop at the alter? I mean, know your own mind way before then. Please. Moving on....)
The genre is fascinating. The Amish are fascinating. They live in a manner very different from most of us and are often shrouded in something like mystery. Books about the Amish pique our interest, often because they involve words such as shunning, confession, Gott, denki, and rumspringa.
But, unlike most historical or true-to-life fiction, Amish belief systems are not necessarily portrayed in a negative light (as would be sacrificing to the Roman goddess Venus or practicing polygamy in Mormonism.) Instead, Amish belief systems are portrayed as good, clean, wholesome, and as just a different branch of Christianity.
Um, there is no super nice way to say this. That has the potential to be dangerous.
It's easy to get people to believe a half or partial truth. I am not in any danger of sacrificing a child to Molech. Why? Because it's horrific. And, in Christian books, it's portrayed as evil, ungodly, and anti-Christian. But what about the Amish belief (in some communities) that it is better to let your unborn child and/or mother die during delivery rather then seek outside help? What about their practices of "pain-pulling", "powpowing", and other superstitious ideas? Might we start questioning what we believe or get confused about doctrine? We can, if we're not careful. It can happen to any of us. Hear or read something long enough and you just might start to believe it.
Because so many books paint the Amish as just another branch of Christianity, major problems in their doctrines and ideology get swept under the rug.
Books can and do indoctrinate us. I am not saying that reading Amish novels are wrong. (I have read a few and enjoyed them.) But it is only wise to know what they believe and have our guard up, since most authors will not portray the Amish as anything but "Christian." Here are the top 10 things you should keep in mind while reading Amish fiction.
- 1. The Amish do not believe faith automatically guarantees salvation. They don't believe that anyone can know for sure that they are saved. Such assurance is considered arrogance. This belief is in direct conflict with Scripture, which states "These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God." - 1 John 5:13. They also reject eternal security.
- 2. The Amish do not believe in evangelizing. Not only do the Amish feel no obligation to evangelize, they rarely accept converts into their orders. Apparently, the Great Commission is unimportant to them. Ignoring the Lord's final command to us is rather serious.
- 3. The Amish live under oral tradition (called the Ordnung.) Oral tradition governs the lives of the Amish. It's a code of conduct that was created over the generations and varies from one community to the next. It's confusing in that the Ordnung is not considered the law of God, yet, when an Amish man or woman is baptized into the church, they must promise to never break the Ordnung. If they do, they will be excommunicated. The Amish themselves say that it is sometimes difficult to distinguish between the laws of God and the laws of their order. Does this sound familiar to the Jews? It should. And Jesus had a to say about adding to the Bible, establishing laws not found in His Word, and oppressing people with man-made rules.
- 4. The Amish believe in a works salvation. Heaven is a place for the saved (although no one can really know if he/she were saved until they get there). The saved happen to be those who both believe in Christ and follow the church's rules. The unsaved are those who reject Christ and live as they wish to. We know that the Bible says "by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God. Not of works, lest any man should boast." - Ephesians 2:8-9. It's confusing because the Amish profess to believe in salvation through grace, yet, they also teach that God weighs their obedience against their disobedience to see who enters heaven.
- 5. The Amish practice Rumspringa. Rumspringa is where an unbaptized young adult is allowed to leave the Amish community and experience being "English" for a while. The ideas is that it gives young people the chance to see whether they really want to be baptized Amish or whether they prefer the "world". Yes, Rumspringa is the backdrop for a lot of Amish books. But nowhere in the Bible do I see it said that a person ought to experience Jesus, then go out and freely sin before making a final choice. That's not how it works. You don't put on, take off, and put on Jesus. Further still, this is part of their works-based and anti-eternal security religion. If you chose not to come back, the chances of you seeing your family again are slim. Because, after all, how can you possibly be one of the ones who earn their way to heaven unless you are baptized into the Amish church? You are a stumbling block and a pollution. Aren't you glad that's not the way Jesus treated sinners?
- 6. The Amish believe in baptismal regeneration. Confusing, no? Let's get this straight. They believe salvation is by grace, but you cannot know for sure that you are saved, you have to keep the laws of the church, there is no salvation outside of the Amish church, and you have to be baptized. So whatever happened to "For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved?"
- 7. The Amish teach that modern living displeases God. Okay, yes, they have one thing right. They are grateful with little. That's something we can all work on. But, still, adding to God's Word is sin. Teaching that any modern amenities or conveniences displease God is clearly adding to God's Word (as well as contributing to their man-made works salvation system.) Not to mention, a lot of ideas really do border on foolishness. It's a sin worthy of shunning to drive a car - but not to be driven in a car. Confusing, no?
- 8. The Amish teach that the church has received the authority from God to interpret His will. In other words, submission to the church is submission to God. In order to be right with God, do what the bishop tells you to do - from how to plant your fields to how long your skirt should be. This has often led to abuse. Bishops have been known to violently threaten congregants who dare to question his authority. (It should be noted that this kind of circumstance is in the minority, yet, the thinking the provokes abuse is still there.) While pastors and ministerial leaders are an authority to be respected and honored, no one has the right to wield unquestionable power over entire congregations. We have the Holy Spirit within us and we are Believer-Priests. We are to be like the Bereans, searching the Scriptures out for ourselves - not submitting blindly to a bishop so we can go to heaven.
- 9. Some Amish practice powwowwing. While this seems to be a dying practice, some Amish still practice powowwing. Quoting a source on Old Order Amish health care, "it is used in physical and spiritual healing, particularly when dealing with minor ailments, skin diseases, and culturally-defined illnesses. Performed by various techniques, such as the use of magical words and charms, or the gift of "electric" in the hand treating ailments by rubbing and massaging." However, there is some controversy with this, as some consider it linked to witchcraft. A lot of it goes back to the prevailing Amish belief that God causes all things and that only substances He created (of the earth) may be used to help the pain or ailments He allowed. They believe that the body can and will heal itself. If it doesn't? Then it must be the will of God. This is why some Amish men refuse to take their laboring wives to the hospital when something goes wrong and, therefore, lose their wife and unborn child.
On a side note... You don't think people get be convinced to believe any of these ideas? Think again. I've met some who believe in quite a few of the points under #9, including refusing to go to the hospital during labor in the name of "trusting God's will."
- 10. The Amish have some great ideals and principles. The Amish practice a lot of great Biblical principles, such as respecting the elderly, working hard, humility, and more. While it's sad that many of these principles are enforced to work one's way to heaven, we can all definitely learn a lot from them. The ability to live off of what you have and be content is incredible.
Amish fiction can be a great way to learn about another time in history or even about the Amish today. However, keep in mind that they generally are not portrayed as the anything but a different denomination of Christianity - rather than being border-line cult. Not all Amish orders are the same, and I believe that some Amish have truly found salvation in Jesus Christ. However, the majority are laboring under a work-based salvation and have entrapped themselves in a set of man-made rules similar to the Jews in order to please God. None of this is written to be hateful or anti-Amish, but simply to remind us all that sound doctrine does matter.
I hope and pray for Amish revival under evangelism, as has happened in the past. It would be wonderful if the Lord would raise up a missionary or evangelist to them, wouldn't it?
What do you know about the Amish? Do you have a favorite Amish recipe? What is your favorite Amish book? Share in the comments!