The Amish; Part 1

To thoroughly understand the origins of the Amish, we have to go back to 16th Century Europe. (I’ll try to simplify this argument for the sake of clarity). At that time, some in the church began the movement known as the Protestant Reformation, primarily a broad reaction to the theology and practices of the Roman Catholic Church. A key teaching in the Roman Catholic church was that baptism was necessary for salvation, and since it was necessary, it should be done as soon as possible. Thus, the practice of infant baptism arose during this time. In contrast, the group of “Reformers” affirmed that baptism should not occur until a believer was old enough to know and understand the tenets of salvation through Jesus Christ. This group became known as the “Anabaptists”, or “re-baptizers”.

Anabaptist were outspoken against many things they believed to be theologically incorrect, among them infant baptism, the taking of oaths, wedding rings, endorsement of any type of violence in society (including membership in the military or police force) and participation in civil government or even secular society.

An early leader in the Anabaptist movement was Menno Simons, a Catholic priest who struggled with his Catholic faith (interesting note: in 1526, Simmons began an exhaustive study of the Scripture to try and understand the Catholic doctrine of “transubstantiation”. He admitted that prior to this time, even as a priest, he had never really studied the Scripture). In 1536, Simons left the church and fully adopted the Anabaptist movement; his followers became known as Mennonites.


Menno Simons; (1496-1591)


In 1693 Jacob Amman led an effort to reform the Mennonite church. When his efforts at reform fell through, Jacob and his followers split from the other Mennonite congregations and became known as the Amish Mennonites (based upon his name, Amman).

Mennonites and Amish suffered terrible persecution in Europe through the 1500 & 1600’s, with many fleeing to the mountains of Switzerland and southern Germany. It was here that the strong farming tradition and home worship services began to form (as ways to avoid persecution from society).

The Amish name derives from the founder (Jacob Amman), similar to the way “Lutheran” derived from Martin Luther or “Wesleyan” comes from John Wesley.


Jacob Amman; (1656-1730)



Q: How did they get to the United States?

In 1682, James Duke of York , the future James II of England, handed over a large piece of his American holdings to William Penn. Penn believed strongly in religious freedom (due in large part to being persecuted for his Quaker beliefs) and insisted that his land (which would later become Pennsylvania and Delaware) be a haven for the religiously persecuted. As such, he promoted his new colony in the Americas heavily throughout the Mennonite and Amish communities, and the first Anabaptists came to Pennsylvania as early as the mid-1700’s. Tens of thousands of Mennonite and Amish families (some say in excess of 100,000+) came to the United States in the 1700 & 1800s, settling primarily in Pennsylvania, but also other states in and around the area.

2 comments:

Jules said...

Thanks for the trip down memory lane...I went to Immanuel High School in Reedley, a Mennonite-founded private high school. I haven't heard the name Menno in, oh, 28 years...yikes.

Bob Yoder said...

This man can not be Jakob Ammann. He's born in 1644 : is he 14 on this picture ? Please note that there are a lot of Jakob Ammann in history :)

Many blessings,
Bob.