Amish People: Who Are They?
Because the Amish are so different from most Americans today, many people wonder if the Amish people from a foreign country? The answer to that question is “Yes and no.” The ancestors of nearly all of the Amish in America were here before the American Revolution. So in one sense, the Amish people are more American than the vast majority of U. S. citizens. After all, how many of us have ancestors who settled in America decades before the American Revolution?
However, in some aspects, the Amish people bear some resemblances to new immigrants from a foreign land. Except for a few American converts, almost all of the Amish are from Switzerland and the Palatinate region of southwest Germany. Although they have been in the United States for centuries, they still speak low German, referred to in the States as “Pennsylvania Dutch.” To be sure, virtually all Amish are bilingual and can speak fluent English. But their preferred tongue is Pennsylvania Dutch. This is the language in which they hold their church services and the language they speak among themselves.
In addition, the Amish people only marry among themselves. So instead of becoming part of the great Melting Pot of America, most Amish are still ethnic Swiss or German. Furthermore, some of the customs that make the Amish way of life unique are old customs their ancestors brought over with them from Switzerland and Germany.
Amish People: Their Origin
The Amish are direct descendants of the Swiss Brethren, a group of Christians who banded together in the early years of the Reformation. Because they rejected infant baptism and performed adult baptisms, their detractors called them “Anabaptists,” which means “re-baptizers.” Some of the early leaders of the Swiss Brethren or Anabaptists, such as Conrad Grebel and Felix Manz, had been close associates of Zwingli when he launched the Swiss Reformation.
However, when the Swiss Brethren rejected infant baptism and the whole concept of a state church, Zwingli turned against them and had them put to death. To escape death, the Swiss Brethren fled to remote mountainous regions of Switzerland. Even so, they were still hounded by the authorities and persecuted until modern times. Nevertheless, they were able to survive as a group.
The Swiss Brethren were only one branch of the Anabaptist movement, which quickly spread throughout most of northern Europe. The Swiss Brethren maintained contact with other Anabaptist groups – particularly the Anabaptists in the Netherlands. One of the leaders (but not the founder) of the Anabaptists in the Netherlands was Menno Simons. Because of his prominence in the movement, many outsiders called the Dutch Anabaptists (and eventually most of the other Anabaptists) Mennonists or Mennonites.
During the period of 1693 through 1698, the Swiss Brethren divided over several issues. One of the primary issues was the practice of shunning former members who had been excommunicated by the church. A sizeable group of the Swiss Brethren, led by Jakob Amman (also spelled Ammann), firmly believed that shunning was the practice mandated by Scripture. Because nobody was able to bring about a reconciliation, the two groups of Swiss Brethren permanently split. The supporters of Jakob Amman came to be known as the Amish – a name they still carry today.
During the 1500s, committed groups of Christians throughout Europe set Europe on fire with their quest to restore genuine apostolic Christianity. These remarkable Christians—called Anabaptists by their detractors—truly were one of the most remarkable movements in all of Christian history. Historians often refer to the Anabaptists as the “third wing of the Reformation”—the first two wings being the Lutheran and Reformed. Other historians refer to the Anabaptist movement as the “radical Reformation.” That’s because the Anabaptists believed that any restoration of primitive Christianity must involve a radical transformation of our lives.
The Anabaptists were severely persecuted by the Roman Catholics, Reformed church, and the Lutherans. In fact, within a few years, the majority of the original Anabaptist leaders had been arrested and put to death. The Anabaptists became a hunted group, moving from town to town and meeting secretly in barns and forests. Yet they were zealous evangelists and they spread rapidly. The secret of their strength was that most of them loved their Lord with all of their heart, mind, and soul.
Eventually, the Anabaptists splintered into three main groups: the Mennonites, the Amish, and the Hutterites. The division between the Amish and the Mennonites occurred during the period of 1693 through 1698. The division occurred in Switzerland over the issue of shunning persons who had been excommunicated from the church. A sizeable minority of the Anabaptists in Switzerland, led by Jakob Amman (also spelled Ammann), took a firm position on the side of shunning the excommunicated. Neither side was able to bring about a reconciliation, and the two groups permanently split. The supporters of Jakob Amman came to be known as the Amish.