suspect that not a lot of our readers are very familiar with Amish bishops.
I happen to know a few of them quite well through my field research in Northeast
Iowa. Over the last ten years that I have done anthropological research
in Amish farming communities and studied Amish religious history, I’ve gained
a lot of respect for the way they interpret the Scriptures. They are
quite literal in their interpretations and could even be considered fundamentalists.
Bishops don’t go to seminary. They are chosen from their neighbors
by drawing straws. But despite their isolation from scholarly processes,
I don’t think they are heretics.
The Amish acknowledge that they “pick and choose” what they think is most
important, just like the rest of us appear to them to do. They take
some texts more seriously that the rest of us sometimes take more lightly.
As I read the lessons for today, I thought of them. How many of us
try to worship the same way our ancestors did? And how many of us try
daily to bear our share of hardship for the Gospel as a testimony to our
Lord without shame? How many of us try to live a life that allows others
to recognize religious truth? Most of us just work on what is
in our hearts and try not to wear our religion on our sleeves for fear we
will be found out as imposters of authentic discipleship.
The Amish are not afraid to distinguish themselves from the world as people
who are sincere in their faith. That does not mean that they try to
pass themselves off as less sinful than their Catholic, Lutheran, Methodist,
Reformed, and Presbyterian neighbors. But they do take very seriously
the depth of their roots in the word of God. As their ancestors demonstrated
in the 16th century, they don’t quickly fall away when “tribulation or persecution
comes because of the word.” And even if they are not being persecuted
by political systems, they make sure they nourish the roots of their faith
in community life by avoiding “worldly anxiety, the lure or riches, and the
craving for other things that intrude and choke the word” and anything else
that restricts them from bearing the fruit of the Spirit. They keep
their lives simple and they are not ashamed to work hard for what they need
and to share it with others. They seek to cultivate the spirit of love
and self-control. They live the way they live, not just as a sacrifice,
but because their faith produces many blessings from the fruit it bears.
The Amish dress distinctively and live in communities apart from “the world”
and its temptations and anxieties so that they can not only more clearly
hear the word of God, but sustain a way of life where it can be accepted
and bear fruit. The Amish are not concerned that their model of faith
rarely converts anyone from the outside to join them. Nor do they condemn
the rest of us for the way we live. But they do look at us and see
all our riches and stresses and only a few of them see our lives as more
desirable than theirs. I’ve studied them long enough now to no longer
wonder why they live the way they do. In fact, I am learning to read
the Bible through their eyes more and more and wonder why the rest of us
don’t perceive the religious truths they have ears to hear.