The Man in the Straw Hat

The Amish: a fascinating and unique group of people who draw curious stares from passers by, and bring tour-groups of inquisitive ‘city folks’ to places like Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and Homes County, Ohio.  Even inside the over-arching term “Amish” there are many different sub-groups, branches, and break-offs. Different groups have different practices and rules varying significantly by location, district, and bishops. While both bearing the name, a group of Amish from Lancaster County might look, dress, and act considerably different from a group located in Indiana or Ohio. Their dress, while similar might vary as well as the type of prayer cap for the woman or the color and style of the horse-drawn buggies. Despite these more subtle differences, the origins of the group are the same.

In this blog I choose to begin exploring the origins of the Old Order Amish. While Anabaptism refers to many different groups the Amish and the Mennonites are the two most basic and distinct. They cannot be thought of as one group, but are two distinct off-shoots of the original Anabaptists, and their practices and lifestyle vary widely. However, it is not uncommon for people who have left the Amish practice and lifestyle to join a Mennonite denomination. Mennonite groups are often more assimilated into mainstream society and less rigid in their lifestyle practices.

Initially both Mennonites and Amish had the same origin, but in 1693, roughly 150 years after the birth of Anabaptism, there was a distinct split led by a man named Joseph Amman. This split was largely due to differences in doctrine. Amman himself grew concerned with the amount of assimilation that many of the Anabaptists were allowing to prevail inside the church. He believed that the church should remain completely separate from the world. However, he advocated the adherence to many strict extra-biblical lifestyle distinctions.

In the book An Introduction to Mennonite History, Cornelius J. Dyck says of Amman that “He was much in favor of nonconformity to social customs, stressing the importance of an untrimmed beard and plainest clothing and headgear.” (p. 181) Practices such as this are not commanded in Scripture, but Amman saw them as necessary to maintain. He also strongly believed that church discipline was becoming far too lenient, and (Testing Faith and Tradition, p. 30) advocated the practice of “banning” or “shunning” individuals in the church who are not completely aligned with specific doctrine, practice, or lifestyle rules. We will explore the practice of shunning more deeply in an upcoming blog.

This dogmatic approach was not met favorably by many groups resulting in two separate factions which have grown in distinction over the years. The title of “Amish” came from Amman’s name and has continued in usage throughout the several hundred years since the split. This split initially occurred among the groups in Switzerland and the Alsace region of France and spread into other areas as well. (Testing Faith and Tradition, p. 31) In 1720 many of the Amish from these regions emigrated to Pennsylvania where today we find one of the largest Amish populations in the world. There has been continued movement throughout the US and today we see other areas with a heavy Amish population which include Ohio and Indiana.

The Amish are a unique group and their practices, traditions, and beliefs are fascinating to study. Many lifestyle and cultural parallels can be made between the Amish and the Ultra-Orthodox Jew. We will be exploring more specific practices, beliefs, and details of the Amish in the next few blogs! Stay tuned for more facinating info!

William Thomas Cain/Getty Images

Resources

Dyck, Cornelius J. An Introduction to Mennonite History. MennoMedia, 2012. Print.

Baecher, Claude, John Allen. Lapp, and C. Arnold Snyder. Testing faith: Global Mennonite History Series: Europe. Intercourse, PA: Good, 2006. Print

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