The latest edition of Raber’s Almanac contains additional spiritual material that I don’t recall seeing as much of in previous editions – including some Christian poems and stories.
One of them caught my eye. It is a story of an encounter between two Bishops, one liberal and one more traditional.
I thought this was a good story because it illustrates the tension which could exist between Amish churches with differing Ordnungs and worldviews.
There once were two Bishops that lived twenty miles apart. Their understanding was not quite the same in their religion (belief) for the one Bishop was more liberal (mehr weltlich freiheit) to the members of his church than the other. But still they lived in peace with each other, for each was seeking to care for his own flock. In the mean time, some of the members of the faithful Bishop became unwilling to hold their promised tradition (ordnung) and wandered away out of the vineyard for more world liberty. The faithful Bishop did seek in all diligence to bring back his members and build the fence of the vineyard according to the Word of God. Now came the Bishop that was more liberal minded and said to these members:
“Come with me, I’ll accept you as true members in my church, and you can have the world liberty as to what you have such a great desire.” So these members were accepted as members’ in the more liberal Bishop’s church. Soon after this the two Bishops met each other. The faithful Bishop said to the liberal Bishop; “You have stolen some of my sheep.” “How so?” asked the Bishop. The faithful Bishop reminded him; “If we would have been neighbors and a few of my sheep that were somewhat wild would wander through the fence and I would seek to mend the fence to keep them in. But you did make great holes in your part of the fence, so that these sheep could go through and you would accept these sheep as yours then you would have stolen my sheep. Isn’t that true?” “Yes,” answered the more liberal Bishop. “Likewise also,” said the faithful Bishop, “I had been seeking to keep my members in church as they were ours, I loved them dearly and you stole them.”
Over this the more liberal Bishop was frightened and told the faithful Bishop, “If you rule the matter as this, I’ll not have any more members from your church and you shall have the ones back that I have accepted.” Thank goodness, they came back again.
Amish of more progressive and conservative churches often live even much closer than twenty miles apart. Examples include Geauga County, Ohio, the “Big Valley” area of Pennsylvania, and Holmes County, Ohio. Differences in material standards can be great.
Amish in one church might have opinions about the ways other churches do things, while still respecting those differences.
For example, if a person is excommunicated from one Amish church, it’s generally not okay that another church accept that person as a member while he or she is still in the Bann of the home church community.
In this way Amish churches with different views of what it means to be Amish can more easily coexist while respecting differences.
The above is apparently a true story, which was shared in a letter and then later in a book. A footnote adds that This is not only for the Bishops, but for everyone who desires to be a true church member.
Sheep vs humans
The analogy is not a good one as a sheep can be owned and has no free will. God gives all humans free will. The problem is between the two bishops – one is not adhering to the true faith and leading others astray. Such was the case of Protestantism leading people away from the original true church established by Jesus when he told Peter to lead his church.
Personally, I love Amish problem-solving. It seems infinitely practical and rational with a noted lack of malice. In non-Amish society, I suspect the “liberal” Bishop would at least be standing at the fence encouraging the “faithful” sheep to break through or jump over the fence. Living peacefully and amicably together–even with differing points of view–should not be so difficult.
This might make a nice little story, but in real Amish life it is highly unlikely that the “stolen” sheep returned to their original church or that the Liberal Bishop was at all alarmed when he was confronted by the Conservative Bishop. Amish church members have the freedom to go from one church to another if they want to. It is not up to the Bishops to make that decision.
While it is true that differing churches often live in the same geographical ares, and have respect for their differences; it is also true that quite often there is friction and even animosity between churches because of differences in practice.
The “happy ending” of the return to the original church was the part that caused an eyebrow raise. Not sure that the conditions that caused them to want a different church would have suddenly changed or not mattered anymore.
I understood this as a story about excommmunicated members and other churches respecting those situations (“In the mean time, some of the members of the faithful Bishop became unwilling to hold their promised tradition (ordnung) and wandered away out of the vineyard for more world liberty.”), but as you say Amish do move to churches of higher or lower Ordnung if that is not the case. Thanks for making this point.
I’m not sure that I much like the tone of the story. The conservative bishop is labelled the Faithful One, while the liberal bishop is made out to be some type of deceitful heathen. I understand that even the most “progressive” Amish are more conservative than much of the general population, but this “anything conservative is good, but all things liberal are bad” is an insult to many people of good will, formally religious or not. There’s good to be found on both sides of the fence.
If they’re Jesus Christ’s sheep, what does it matter which congregation? They have every right and duty to choose for their selves. As Jesus said to the woman at the well, the goal is to worship the Father in sprit and truth (John 4:23-24). Of course in doing so it is crucial to learn how to understand and apply scriptures with the help of prayer and the Holy Spirit, and living worthy.