Do Amish Believe They’re The Only True Christians?

I recently sat down with my friend Ben Riehl for a couple of extended conversations on a wide range of topics (more to come). Ben is Old Order Amish, living in Lancaster County. You might remember Ben from previous posts on Amish auctions and how he chooses a horse.

So in this clip, a YouTube viewer asked: “Do you know if the Amish believe they are the only true Christians?”

Image: Cindy Cornett Seigle

In reply to the question, Ben says “absolutely, most certainly not,” adding that “Amish people don’t believe that at all nowadays, in any type of practical or official terms.” However, there is a bit more to the story.

Ben explains that “at one time, it actually was official church policy – or an idea way, way, way back. It was one of Jakob Ammann’s ideas – that the Amish are the true church.” Jakob Ammann was the conservative Swiss Anabaptist leader from whom we get the name “Amish”.

Ben places this in the context of the times. “In Europe, in the 1600s, 1700s, everybody believed they were the ‘true church’. the Catholics believed it, the Protestants believed it. Everybody believed it about themselves. But here in pluralistic America, no, not at all.”

What about other churches?

I think you’ll enjoy the rest of his comments on this topic as well. I ask him a follow-up about other Christian denominations. Ben references Acts, as well as the apostle Paul, and the church being a body of many members. “That’s pretty much the way I look at other churches – is they have a particular strength that is good for the rest of humanity.” Ben gives the example of Pentecostalists, making a comparison with the more “marginal” Amish churches.

Image: Don Burke

I also like what Ben has to say about people’s paths in life. “I am where I am because of things that were beyond my control. The good Lord put me here. This is the path that he ordained for me. Somebody else’s path is rather different. But that doesn’t mean that mine is better, and it certainly doesn’t mean that it’s worse. It’s just the way it is.”

There’s more where that came from in the video. I hope you find this of interest. Runtime 5:53.

Follow-up Question I wish I’d asked

Now, I have to admit that looking at this now, there is one follow-up question I wish I had asked Ben – on the (possibly) contradictory claims of some former Amish people. You have probably heard this before. It’s usually something along the lines of them being told that if they leave the Amish church, they will go to hell.

Assuming those claims are true (and I have no reason to doubt them), how does that square with Ben’s response? I have a couple of ideas here, but I’ll leave it for another time. Or better, maybe we will get a chance to ask this in a future conversation with Ben.

Update: Patreon is live!

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    21 Comments

    1. Andrew

      What are they?

      A closed community with rigid rules and serious consequences for breaking the Ordung. Are they a Christian faith, or a backwards man made controlling cult?

      1. Erik Wesner

        Hardly a good faith question

        When it’s obvious you’ve already decided for yourself

        1. Andrew

          Definition

          The word Cult has a definition. The Amish fit into that category. How many other faiths do you know that tell you how to dress, how to style your hair, if you can shave? Church is mandatory, indoctrination is obvious, and the seclusion of children is understood. Why the rules of no television, no internet, no education past the eighth grade? These aren’t people that want their members to make intelligent choices, they want control of way too many aspects of their life to be just a religion.
          My question was descriptive so people understood what a cult is. There is absolutely no doubt that the Amish are just that. Their lack of freedom and the mind control from a very young age and their closed community is plenty proof of that. The continued pressure from the community and church rules are further proof. You don’t simply just leave like you do a mainstream church, there are consequences to you and your family.

          1. Erik Wesner

            Former Amish or just had some bad experiences with them? Which community?

            1. Andrew

              Observation.

              My experiences with the Amish are ongoing. These are just my thoughts from decades of observation. I look at them as individuals, and as a group. Some I like, some I don’t. We for the most part, get along fine. That doesn’t stop me from making honest assessment as to their lifestyle. The hardest thing to tell someone that lives in a cult, is that they have been brainwashed. It’s really almost impossible to break from the psychological affects of such an upbringing. In fact, when you see people that do break from the Amish, they generally keep the basic terms of Christianity, as they cannot tell that the two are highly related to their past situation.
              So when we do engage in conversations about religion, science, human history or anything else of a worldly nature, I most always bring in the fact that most beliefs are purely cultural. Giving the example that had they by chance been born into another religion altogether, they would just as convince of the merits of that religion as they are of the one they were indoctrinated with. Believe it or not, they are very aware that this is cultural, because they live it!

          2. Christine

            Hypocrisy

            We have a system of government where nearly every aspect of citizens’ life is regulated by obnoxious laws that nobody voted on, State governments have ticketed and fined children for running lemonade stands. You can not clean a creek in your own yard even if it’s flooding your property and house because the Government tells you no .. it’s Administrative Law, None of us voted for or has any ability to vote against any of these laws.. they strip citizens of his business, his job or his freedoms. And you think the Amish are in a cult because they dress simple and go to church and don’t cut their hair

            1. Andrew

              They are a cult

              From the indoctrination process, to the power structure, almost every aspect of their world fits the definition of a cult. In both the spirit of the term, and the way they live. Ask any member that figured it out and left, if they felt controlled, pressured and manipulated. Of course they did, because the founder left to set up a society that wanted control of their future, and to distance themselves from modernizing.
              Religion allows people to change, to leave without consequence, to be who they want to be. Whether it’s to not wear a hat, wear blue jeans with a belt, to attend another church and/or to change religions altogether. They have that freedom. Too many rules within the Amish to be just a simple religion. Not enough room for individuality. If you leave the Amish, you can be shunned and not even welcome in your own parents home. Control is their power, and the Amish want plenty of that. This is not just a conservative religion, it’s a mind and body controlling cult that seeks to limit its members from birth to death.

          3. Mike Locus

            Cult

            How about the French? Are they a cult?

    2. Ann the Least

      Leaving the Amish

      I think the idea that leaving the community is a mortal sin would apply after baptism where the person leaving is breaking vows which he or she took after much study and consideration. In the world vows mean nothing but to Christians they are binding.

    3. Adam Van

      Denominations

      Would like to hear more about what he thinks about that as well as your question about hell. Thanks for all you do.

      1. Erik Wesner

        Thanks Adam I plan to go more into this topic with Ben in some future discussions. Appreciate your interest!

    4. Gary

      I think Andrews question is an important one because openness and acceptance does not it seem to me to square with shunning before and after baptism as with the most conversation groups seems to be the norm.
      Even after baptism an open minded accepting person would grant a change of mind not complete shunning.
      How can a person be both open and closed at the same time?
      Gary

      1. Erik Wesner

        Thanks for your thoughts on this Gary. Unfortunately the comment you reference wasn’t actually a question, but a statement that contained a question mark 🙂 But I will try to include this as a topic to revisit in a future conversation with Ben, it’s an important one.

    5. Walter Boomsma

      Keyword

      The keyword in the question you wish you’d asked is “former.” At least on social media, many former Amish seem to have an axe to grind. I’ve seen, for example, a claim that the Amish practice witchcraft. In what must be a strange irony, there are also more than a few individuals who feel compelled to evangelize the Amish who, they are sure, are going to hell because of their beliefs. As a society, we’re not particularly adept at practicing tolerance–one thing the Amish seem to do well. To quote Ben, “Sometimes it’s just the way it is.”

    6. Hans Overturf

      Patreon

      Dear Eric,
      Good to hear you are signing up with Patreon. I am happy to pay for the great content and fabulous news about the Amish you are giving us!

      Hans

      1. Erik Wesner

        Thank you Hans it’s much appreciated! More on that to come. The site and YT channel aren’t going anywhere, but I hope to offer some extra value for those who want it 🙂

    7. Peggy

      Indiana Amish

      I am very fortunate to live in an area that has a large Amish presents. From bulk shopping, great restaurants, and wonderful hand made furniture. The food and meat I can buy out shines what the chains offer.

    8. Sara

      Living with less

      I admire the Amish and their struck rules. The Amish have their rules that they follow and the peace they must have from living without decision fatigue. Personally I have adopted some Amish “ways”for myself and my family we have benefited tremendously. With living with less and not participating in the chaos of modern society The Amish have me craving more inner peace even if that means being counterculture. My opinion is The Amish are great role models to society on slowing down and being present.
      Truly enjoyed the photography.

      1. Mike Locus

        In the world but not "of" the world

        Sara,
        I totally agree and any Amish person will tell you that, “no… they are not perfect”. However, what they have in spades is “being in the world but not “of” the world”. There always seems to be a labyrinth of strings attached to each modern technology we adopt and incorporate into our lives! It is sickling and does this modern way of living actually work? Is it sustainable? Is it even Godly?

    9. Debra Ethan

      Follow-up

      I was just wondering if you know how Gloria Yoder & her kids are doing.

    10. Mike Locus

      Hell bound if Amish Leave?

      There is lots said Biblically about things like honoring one’s parents, brothers and sisters etc… In fact, one who doesn’t stand by his brother is: “worse than an unbeliever”. In our ‘English” churches, perhaps these principles are not taken seriously(??).