What do Amish believe on evolution? Do they wear jewelry? Why do they practice footwashing?
When I was last in Holmes County, I picked up a neat little book by Lester Beachy, called Our Amish Values: Who We Are and What We Believe.
Beachy has been a tour guide in the Holmes County Amish community, “something I have enjoyed very much”, as he tells in in the introduction.
This means he’s met a lot of curious people (“curious” meaning inquisitive, not odd…though maybe he’s met those too 🙂 ) .
Beachy has been happy to help outsiders understand his people’s way of life:
Usually they have many questions. Unfortunately, there is a lot of incorrect information in some books that have been written about us. That is one reason for this book. I have covered a broad field and hope I have done justice in representing the Amish.
I look at this as an opportunity to be a witness for Jesus Christ. Many tourists want to know why we choose to live this way. I can freely share our beliefs and values with them.
This book has an A-Z format, with each letter attached to a topic of importance to the Amish – “A” is for Anabaptists, “B” for Buggy, “C” for Church, and so on.
Beachy concisely explains (on a single page) why each subject matters to his people. The accompanying photos, mostly by Doyle Yoder, are excellent. He also includes Amish baptismal and marriage vows at the book’s end.
To give you a flavor for Our Amish Values, I thought I’d share five of the values that caught my eye. I’ve added some of my own comments in places (which I hope will be clear).
Five Amish Values from Our Amish Values: Who We Are and What We Believe
1. T – Tradition
Beachy describes the value of tradition, and how it supports identity. Some have tried to completely discard tradition, but that has usually failed: “just as they threw tradition to the wind, so that same wind blew them to points hither and yon.”
Still, he sees danger in blindly following tradition: “Some traditions that crept in among us such as bed courtship were definitely not good. Thankfully, such traditions can be changed.”
This would be relevant as far as his community’s plainer Amish (Swartzentruber churches) goes. This comment reveals that Lester Beachy is a member of a “higher” church in Holmes County.
Important traditions he notes include dress, the slow hymns sung in church, and helping one another in hard times. “The list could go on and on.”
2. J – Jewelry
Dress as noted above is an important tradition for the Amish. And jewelry is strictly not a part of the Amish wardrobe. Beachy cites both Peter and Paul on the topic, both of whom testify that women should not adorn themselves in gold.
He recalls a group singing trip to New York City. A young woman they encountered observed “how pure and beautiful” the (unadorned) Amish women appeared.
One question Beachy gets is: how do they know who is married? In church services, the married and unmarried sit apart from one another.
The only exception to this that I am aware of are the cases of Amish women who might wear a copper ring or bracelet for its supposed anti-arthritic properties. But in that case, the ring is not for adornment but for health reasons.
3. E – Evolution
Amish do not believe in evolution, as Beachy plainly states in the opening to this section. They see the hand of God in every piece of Creation: “We believe that each individual is divinely planned and created, and that God has a plan for each one of us.”
Furthermore, evolution is false and harmful: “We believe evolution comes from the evil one – Satan – and that those who believe and teach it have been led astray.”
In contrast, Amish find comfort in the clarity of a literal reading of Scripture:
To us it is simply a matter of faith, of taking God at His Word. If we discard this solid foundational truth, we have no foundation upon which to stand. How anyone could really believe that everything just happened by chance and that man evolved over millions of years is totally beyond our comprehension. Taking God at His Word gives direction and hope to one’s life.
4. F – Footwashing
Amish keep the Biblical practice of footwashing. Beachy relates the story in John 13 of Jesus watching his disciples’ feet: “Having Jesus, their Lord and Master, wash their feet was a lesson in humility and servanthood.”
How does footwashing look in the Amish church?
Twice a year in our communion services, we commemorate the suffering and death of Jesus by partaking of the sacred emblems of bread and wine. And then at the end of this special day we wash each other’s feet.
Brother with brother and sister with sister, we take a basin of water and a towel and stoop down to wash each other’s feet. We are all on one level, young and old, rich and poor, feeble and strong. We are all on the same plane; no one is better than the other.
Beachy notes that this practice is following “a direct command from Jesus Himself.” You can read more on the Amish belief and practice of footwashing here.
5. K – Keeping
Keeping – as in keeping and maintaining an Amish way of life and values. This if of concern, especially with “modern technology pressing in on us from all and sides and threatening our plain lifestyle.”
Our Amish Values was published in 2013. Smartphones are even more ubiquitous now.
Lester Beachy acknowledges that they do make changes. Permitting mechanical milkers is one relatively innocuous alteration to the Ordnung fabric that has allowed many Amish to remain on the farm (contrast this with communities like Allen County, Indiana which adopted this change “too late”).
How does change occur?
When we do make a major change in church ordnung, we will vote over it. For the change to be made, we need 100% unanimity. We believe there is a lot of strength in a unified decision.
Keeping a “plain way” is about future impact:
When thinking of our children and the following generations to come, if the Lord tarries, it is well worth the effort it takes to keep our plain lifestyle. We do not base our salvation on our way of life. Instead, we choose this lifestyle because we are God’s children. We trust it will be possible to keep our plain way until Christ comes.
For that matter, Amish people seem to think about future generations more than just about any other people I’ve encountered.
Get Our Amish Values
If you happen to be in Holmes County, I picked up my copy of Our Amish Values at the Amish & Mennonite Heritage Center.
You can order from them directly by emailing director[at]amheritagecenter[dot]com. Or, the mailing address is:
5798 County Road 77
Millersburg, OH 44654
Finally, you can call in if you’d like to pay by credit card: 330-893-3192. The cost is $12.99 +$3.00 shipping. There are also online sources.
While we’re at it, why not a giveaway?
Leave a comment on this post, and I’ll draw one random winner next week and send you a copy (US address).
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