Subscribe now

Article

More in this category:

The Amish (4) – anachronism or Example

January 2014 | by Alan Stenfalt

Though the Amish have left the gospel preached by their Anabaptist forefathers (see the October 2013 ET), much of their lifestyle had its origins in biblical teaching and is, therefore, still a challenge to those who love the Lord and want to keep his commandments (John 14:15).

We noted some examples of this in November’s ET. In this final article we look at their dress code and also sound a warning.

Rules

In each congregation the ‘ordnung’ (rules for Amish living) lays down the style, colour and type of material to be used for each item of clothing. The width of the brims and bands on men’s hats and style of suspenders (braces) are all specified.

Belts and sweaters are forbidden. The length of women’s skirts, style of dress, type of fastenings and head-covering are laid down, as are hair styles. Men’s beards are to be untrimmed and with no moustache.

No gold (including wedding rings) or jewellery (including wrist watches) is to be worn. The Amish claim that their plain dress is modest and unrevealing and does not present a temptation to sin, that it demonstrates rejection of worldliness and discourages pride, envy and jealousy while emphasising unity.

But the Bible gives no specific instruction to believers concerning the style of clothing they should wear and so, here again, the Amish have descended into a legalism that infringes Christian liberty.

However, they are a challenge to evangelicals in that they do give attention to some biblical principles that are too readily ignored, for the New Testament does have things to say about clothing.

Modesty

If you love the Lord, you will keep his commandments (John 14:15) and will dress modestly, not majoring on fine, costly clothing, and parading gold and jewellery (1 Timothy 2:9; 1 Peter 3:3-4). Not only will you avoid ostentation, but also immodesty.

Fashions have changed enormously over the last 50 years and what would previously have been considered quite inappropriate is now readily accepted. Sadly, Christians have been too ready to move with the world.

I once heard a preacher say something to the effect that grace does not neutralise your hormones, and people can be aroused by what they see. He was perhaps putting it bluntly, but he did bring the issue into sharp focus.

With this in mind, before you decide what to wear, listen to the Head of the church: ‘You have heard that it was said to those of old, you shall not commit adultery. But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart’ (Matthew 5:27-28).

Then he said to the disciples, ‘It is impossible that no offenses should come, but woe to him (or her) through whom they do come’ (Luke 17:1).

Is your clothing designed to draw attention to some part of your body in such a way that it could be a source of temptation to a brother or sister? If you think it might and if you love the Lord and your brethren, wear something different.

This is not restricting your Christian liberty, nor deliberately setting out to look ‘old-fashioned’, but it is seeking to please the Saviour and give no occasion to the devil.

Difference

The Amish dress code immediately marks them out. We are not called upon to adopt a ‘religious’ uniform, but we should not be afraid of being seen to be different where modesty demands it.

Anyone who adopts a style of life, speech or dress that is governed by the Bible will often stand out in a fallen and rebellious world — and we should not be afraid of that. It is quite wrong to think that we need to show those outside the church that we are in every way like them. By the grace of God, we are essentially and radically different and we need not be afraid of that.

The Amish appear so totally different from the prevailing culture as to be an anachronism, yet people flock to see them, books are written about them, university professors study them and British TV makes films about them.

No doubt, most of this is little more than the interest that would be shown if the Wombles were really discovered living on Wimbledon Common, but the point is this — being different is not in itself a hindrance to influence.

In Channel 4’s Living with the Amish the British youngsters admitted their attraction to the Amish. Sadly, the Amish have no gospel for those who approach them. If they had, no doubt many would find them less attractive.

Our problem as evangelicals is that people see little in us to attract them to the Lord, in the first place. If the world sees that our religion leaves us the same as them, why would they bother to find out about it?

Godliness

Those early followers of ‘the Way’ had little to commend them. They had no power or influence in the world; no wealth or position, no temple, priesthood or imposing religious ceremony.

A large number of them were uneducated slaves, yet they caught the world’s attention and turned it upside down. Why? Because they had heard and believed the gospel and it had changed their lives.

They were made new, born again, and this showed in their daily walk. All the power of Rome was ranged against them and they suffered terrible persecution, yet people still came to them, to hear what it was that made them so different. It was the same with the Anabaptists. Godly living is a powerful evangelistic tool.

Let us not be afraid of being different. We are different. Let us be what we are. Western society has torn up the old boundaries and burnt all the signposts. The brave new world it expected to find has proved to be an empty, barren desert and people are looking for something different.

The ancient Greek/Roman world was tired, worn out and failing, and God graciously planted a new society within it. Initially it seemed small and weak, but like a city set on a hill it could not be hid and the gospel spread to the borders of the empire and beyond.

The wheel has gone full circle — gospel light has all but disappeared from Europe and it is now our turn to be ‘blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation to shine as lights in the world’ (Philippians 2:15).

Warning

The Amish have ended up following a system rather than the Saviour. They have held on to the letter of certain Anabaptist principles, but lost sight of the way of salvation rediscovered during the Reformation and preached by their Anabaptist fathers.

It is surprisingly easy to follow a system of religion and forget Christ. Menno Simons was preaching evangelical doctrine for a number of years before he came to trust in Christ. He had followed a doctrinal system.

Your system may be one of church government or a way of life, but if it is not followed out of love for the One who came from heaven’s glory to save you, all your efforts are but fuel for the fire, wood, hay and straw (1 Corinthians 1:13).

It is also easy to fall into legalism, to start making rules. For example, as soon as we are told to dress modestly, we want to draw up a set of rules stating what exactly is or is not modest. One thing leads to another and we can end up with the Pharisees, or the Amish. But the Christian is not under law; that is for children (Galatians 3:23-25).

Love

The only law that governs the Christian is the law of love. I am to love my brother, sister, neighbour, enemy — my concern is how to express that love. Above all, I am to love God with all my heart, soul, mind and strength (Mark 12:30).

Love for the Lord Jesus Christ is to be what motivates us. ‘If you love me, keep my commandments’ (John15:15). Dr D. M. Lloyd-Jones said ‘theoretical Christianity is useless’. You have to live it out and, when you do, people will begin to notice and ask you why you’re different.

As for the Amish, all is not lost. As the films made by the BBC showed, there are those among them who are coming to Christ for salvation and being brought to new life in him.

Some have realised that their original Amish baptism was meaningless and have been re-baptised, thus becoming new Anabaptists. Praise God! May there be many more, to the glory of our Saviour.

Alan Stenfalt