Background Dynamics of the Amish Movement:
The Dutch Mennonites vis-à-vis the Swiss Brethren;
Pivotal Individuals within the Swiss Brethren Division of the 1690s; and
The Question of Reformed (Calvinist) Influence
by Leonard Gross
What I hope to do first in this essay is to describe in a nutshell, from one Old Order Amish minister's point of view, what it means to be Amish, both in spirit and in substance. I then hope, secondly, to trace, within the tides of history, the sources of the Amish faith and life. And thirdly, I would like to hint at some of the developments, from the 1690s or so, up to around 1720, where I attempt to weigh the significance of some of the major leaders who helped determine the outcomes of the great Swiss Brethren Division of the 1690s. (And indeed, it was the great Swiss Brethren -- and not only an Amish -- Division!)
Here is a quick overview of my findings: Certain Low Country Mennonite doctrines from the era of Menno Simons and Dirk Philips were picked up by certain Swiss Brethren Anabaptist groups, probably via the ongoing series of Anabaptist conferences held in the Strasbourg area. Certain of these doctrines slowly found acceptance especially among some Alsatian Swiss Brethren. These very doctrines were then formally promoted through the publication of Menno Simons' Fundamentbuch Foundation Book) in 1575, and of the Dordrecht Confession in 1664 (both publications issued in German translation). Some Swiss Brethren accepted these new doctrines; other Swiss Brethren rejected these new doctrines, believing them to clash with traditional Swiss Brethren views on the nature of the church, on the nature of congregational discipline, and on the nature of leadership and authority within the church.
I also would like to suggest that the original Amish impulse, as precipitated by Jakob Ammann himself, and others, before 1693, evolved and gelled by 1698, was set in its classical literary form in 1698 and 1720 by Uli Ammann, and resulted in continuity of the Amish idea and substance within Amish history from then on.
The Essence of the Amish Faith. I would like to begin with an interpretation of what it means to be Amish, brought together by the Old Order Amish minister, Eli E. Gingerich of Middlebury, Indiana. Several times in the year 1986 Gingerich and I had reflected on these questions, and by October 7 of that year he was ready with a four-point synthesis of what he believed lay at the center of the Amish idea. Here is his summary:
(1) First and foremost, is the inner renewal. At the heart of the Christian life is seeking and having peace with God through the atonement of Jesus Christ for our sins. It is the (spiritual) new birth (John 3:3), the most important of all: the renewing and change of the mind and spirit, in Christ, as the means of grasping and fulfilling the will of God (Rom. 12:1-2).
(2) Not only peace with God, but also peace with fellow believers. First of all, we find ourselves as humans at the crux of living as individuals under God, as well as blending together in relation to Christ and his church. Our way of life must be keyed to strengthening both of these relationships, the divine and the human (1 John 5:1).
(3) Simplicity, and mutual service. Thirdly, to fulfill this set of relationships, we need to uphold a simple life-style where we more or less depend on each other. And the more of this we can maintain, the better the community. And here, modern gadgetry and the so-called progress within general society can so often get in the way of both simplicity, and the art of relating, one to another. Furthermore, in this regard, we need to guard against being a stumbling block to anyone -- on the outside, as well as in the congregation -- but rather are to be an example of one who cares for and considers others (Phil. 2:1-18; Rom. 14:1-15:7).
(4) Separation from the world. Fourthly, the sum result of the above points brings with it, by definition, a separation from the world. But the spirit of inner renewal must of necessity precede the outer elements of separation, otherwise separation becomes merely an empty ritual.
Although in Eli Gingerich's view the above four points were the primary points, he then went on to add other elements that he felt were also of significance, in helping to strengthen the four basic ideas above:
We feel the importance of child training. Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it (Proverbs 22:6). Obedience and respect of authority must be taught at home. As time goes on, more and more need is felt for having our own Amish schools. The home, the church and the school should teach the same things. The primary goal for the Amish schools is humility and cooperation, whereas the goal for public schools is competition and pride of achievement.
Our walk and way of life should be in harmony with our faith and the Bible, and the outworking of that faith, rather than being tied only to Amish tradition. The scriptural approach under God is the most workable approach possible.
From a social standpoint, the traditional partaking of a simple meal together after the worship service, and the open fellowship following, we feel, has its merits in helping to maintain mutuality and a common faith.
Before we parted, I asked Gingerich, who had been reading the 1720 epistle of Uli Ammann, about the basic idea behind the Uli Ammann missive, that authority resides both within the congregation, and within the leadership, and the two must somehow be brought into resolution. He said that he resonated well with the Uli Ammann approach, which accords with 1 Peter 5, and believed it remains central to the Amish way, including: (1) the idea of the plural ministerial bench (the goal and ideal being a bishop, two ministers and a deacon within the congregation); (2) along with the synodal approach (ministers from several congregations meeting together to reflect on issues); and (3) where, however, the congregation itself is directly represented in the testing of any and all proposals.
Backtracking to a year earlier, the first time Gingerich and I talked about the question of what lies central within the Amish faith, I had taken him quite by surprise with the rather abrupt question: "What are the primary motifs, the central truths, that make up the Amish faith?"
Gingerich, a bit puzzled, proved himself equal to the challenge, began to smile and, after a long pause, said very slowly:
I think I know what you mean. Some might say, appropriate attire; and that would be beside the point. For how one dresses -- although separation is certainly important -- does not lie at the center of our Amish faith; to make dress central would be a legalism.
He paused, once again, before continuing, "At the center of faith," he said,
is of course the Bible; is the New Testament; is the spiritual new birth; better, is Jesus Christ himself: His Sermon on the Mount, his sacrifice on the cross for our sins, the resurrection. This is the very foundation -- the primary motif, to use your words -- of the whole of faith. But this is not what you mean.
Again, a long pause -- upon which this elderly Amish minister spoke the following words: deliberately, meticulously -- as if, while speaking, he were thinking through, word for word, each phrase of each sentence:
"Getting along with one another" is one way I might say it: At the center of our faith lies the desire and aim to live simply and in peace with one another. In our human weakness we do not always accomplish this, of course, yet this is our goal in life. Our prayers and sermons and hymns all undergird this, our need of relying on God for adequate spiritual strength to -- yes -- love one another; submit under each other, in the fear of the Lord; get along with one another. In Jesus' own words: "A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another" (John 13:34, 35).
Die Amischen, comes to this same conclusion: "The earmark that distinguishes the true Amish community continues to be -- to adapt a fitting word of Christ -- its embodiment of 'a love for one another'."
"Getting along with one another," as a primary Amish motif in the year 1994, at first sight, seems incongruous with Amish beginnings within those turbulent waters of three centuries ago. Yet there may well be more of an Amish connection from then to now than first meets the eye, suggesting that to come to the Amish essence we need to walk circumspectly through Amish history, including, to be sure, those antecedents that ultimately were to impinge upon the Swiss Brethren crisis of the 1690s, leading to a major schism, where both groups took courage, swallowed some pride, and stepped into their future in ways that still are being chronicled, and measured, and interpreted.
2) The Birth of the Amish Idea. We begin, in our quest of identifying issues around which the Swiss Brethren controversy developed, with one of the very few, contemporary interpretations available written by the Old Order Amish themselves. This too was written by Eli Gingerich in 1978. Gingerich, basing his interpretation upon original seventeenth-century documentation, provides us with an authentic benchmark of how at least one Old Order Amish minister and historian views his own Amish beginnings.
Gingerich establishes seven areas that he feels are at the center of the Swiss Brethren controversy that ended in schism. These are: 1) affirming the practice of foot washing; 2) holding communion twice a year; 3) acknowledging a physical ban and shunning; 4) holding to a stricter congregational discipline than that which a woman, who apparently had lied, had received; 5) the issue of whether or not the truehearted (die Treuherzigen were saved; 6) dress codes; and 7) codes for hair styles.
Gingerich goes on to say: "Neither [side] gave in, or wanted to give anything up. Each side was determined in its opinion. Neither side considered the possibility of having erred or failed. It appears they did not attempt to communicate, as a way to better understand one another. And a schism was the outcome. . . . The damage had been done; the two sides have never again come together."
Not all seven of these areas seem to have been part of the original dispute, according to three early sources which are summarized below. That Gingerich mentions these specific seven areas, however, is of the utmost significance for asking the question of what are the larger causative factors having led, ultimately, to a formal split. And although this leads us beyond the confines of this study, all seven factors ultimately need to be dealt with, in order to come to terms with the deeper rationale of the ongoing Amish story.
3) Background to the Schism. We now go to the decade of crisis itself, in order to identify those elements that lie at the heart of this study. This is foundational for establishing what might best be called "proto-Amish" literature -- that is, earlier literature which later influenced the developments leading to the birth of the Amish movement. Several sources lend themselves to this quest. We begin with some reflections of Nikolaus Wüthrich, who in 1807 interpreted the schism from the standpoint of the non-Amish Swiss Brethren. Then we note the reflections of others -- including Christian Plank (Blank), who had first been part of Jakob Ammann's inner circle, but who then left the Amish movement in favor of the group claiming to hold to the traditional position of the Swiss Brethren.
It all began with Menno. In the year 1807, Nikolaus Wüthrich from the Emmenthal, with pen in hand, began to reflect upon those events a century earlier that had led up to the Great Swiss Brethren Schism. Wüthrich concludes that he is
unable to interpret Mennonite shunning on the basis of Paul. And I believe many others, too, have been unable to do this -- including the martyrs of old. As much as I have researched the early Christians in the old histories, I have found nothing, either about foot washing, or about shunning. But Menno Simons, and thereafter, was the first that I found.
To make his point that it all began with Menno Simons, Wüthrich quotes from Gottfried Arnold's Unpartheiische Kirchen- und Ketzer-Historie as follows:
There arose, however, a great schism among the [Dutch] Mennonites. Sometime after 1555 Leenaert Bouwens established the ban, or the isolating of evil persons from the congregation, in the spiritual as well as in external realms: namely, that through the ban, parents, from their children; and spouses, from one another -- should each abstain from coming into contact with the other. But there was a quarrel at Emden with a woman, because she did not want to be isolated from her banned husband, in compliance with Bouwens' demands. In response, Menno at first counseled against this severity; later, he justified it, however. From all this a great deal of dissension arose, to the degree that the parties visibly split. This gave the enemies a great occasion to speak evilly of them, and many are calling them "the ones who ban severely".
Wüthrich also had at hand a copy of the 1575 German edition of Menno Simons, as well as a copy in German of Dirk Philips' Enchiridion. Later on in his missive he interprets, from his Swiss Brethren viewpoint, aspects of these volumes as follows:
Menno Simons also appended shunning to his book. Menno Simons also appended shunning to his book. I also deem it would have been better had the addition in Dirk Philips' book, in the lower index, not been made, which contains dubious things. And they still do not document with certainty why one is to believe that the command of separation and shunning is greater than the command of marriage, as is found on pages 780, 81, 82, 83, and elsewhere . . . .
Although Wüthrich concentrates on Menno Simons' views on shunning as a causative factor in the Swiss Brethren division, the similar views of Dirk Philips dare not be discounted in this regard, since his writings were in circulation at the time.
Near the end of his epistle, Wüthrich attempts to clinch the case, on the point in history when shunning entered the Swiss Brethren scene -- and here, Jakob Ammann is in effect acknowledged as being the spark igniting the schism:
What a great conflict it was that arose, where in 1693 in the Berner Oberland, Jakob Ammann wanted to introduce shunning to the Swiss Brethren, as is carefully documented in many epistles. But I do not know when foot washing came into being, after the time of Christ. Menno [Simons] and Jakob Ammann do not yet deal with it, as far as I can tell.
Wüthrich interpretation suggests, on the question of shunning, a rather direct line going from Menno Simons and Dirk Philips, on the one hand, to Jakob Ammann and Amish beginnings, on the other hand. Is there further evidence for this?
Christian Plank (Blank) also speaks to this issue, from the vantage point of circa 1712. In the 1690s Plank had been part of Jakob Ammann's inner circle, but he later switched to the traditional Swiss Brethren group. In his 1712 epistle, he reflects upon how the Amish movement originated. He underscores the view that the issue of shunning was the major issue, separating Ammann's group from the other Swiss Brethren. Plank also recalls the question of the Treuherzigen as a second issue in the dispute -- whether or not the Treuherzigen are saved. The Treuherzigen -- literally, the "truehearted," or "kindhearted" people, sometimes called "half-Anabaptists" -- were people who remained with the state church, formally, yet who sympathized with the Anabaptists, who often held in their hearts many of the Anabaptist tenets of faith, and who often came to the rescue during times of persecution by harboring and hiding the Anabaptists.
Uli Ammann, in his long epistle of 1698, also saw these two issues -- shunning, and the status of the Treuherzigen -- as being central in the dispute. But he also went on to add a third issue, revolving around a person accused of lying, who from Jakob Ammann's view had not been properly disciplined by the church. This third point, however, keys in directly to the larger concept of shunning, which means that in effect, there were but two main points of contention between the Ammann and the Reist groups. It is significant that both Plank and Wüthrich felt the need to note expressly that foot washing was not at issue in those early years as a theme precipitating the break. This is strong documentation as well, that the practice of foot washing had not been an integral part of the Swiss Brethren tradition.
Other internal evidence also documents the above-suggested historical line, going from Menno Simons to Jakob Ammann. Jakob Ammann himself, in his letter of 1693, begins on the note of shunning and goes immediately into the issue of the Treuherzigen.
Yet the task still remains of tracing, historically, those further developments and transformations which led up to the Swiss Brethren schism of 1693. In our explorations, however, we also need to go even further than this, by asking the question of why Menno Simons' Foundation Book, including the appendix on shunning, was translated into German and printed in the year 1575, in the first place -- with many reprintings thereafter? Which group was responsible for this publication, why did they do it, and why was the volume so popular? This story begins with the Strasbourg conferences.
The Strasbourg Conferences. The Amish, when they do history, are inclined to recalling the series of Strasbourg Anabaptist conferences which began in the 1550s. In fact, it is in part thanks to the historical awareness of the Amish that significant documentation on these early conferences survives. The conference of 1557 is of special import for our purposes, dealing as it did with issues, parallel to those of the 1690s: namely, issues concerning church discipline in general, and the nature of shunning in particular. But whereas in the 1690s it was the Swiss Brethren, Hans Reist and Jakob Guth, et al., who stood on the side of a more lenient use of the ban and shunning, in 1557 it had been the Swiss Brethren, Sylis and Lemke. And whereas Jakob Ammann symbolizes the position of a more rigorous shunning in the 1690s, Dirk Philips, Menno Simons and Leenaert Bouwens had been such proponents in 1557. The latter two had even called a meeting for the spring of 1557 on this very theme between the Dutch and the Swiss Anabaptists, which very few Swiss attended, and the attempt was largely unsuccessful. Two years later, Menno Simons and other Dutch bishops pronounced the ban upon the Swiss Brethren, in part, on the basis of their more lenient views on the ban.
Undoubtedly, the meshing of the two independent Swiss and Dutch Anabaptist cultures, as can be noted throughout the various Strasbourg conferences already from the 1550s, led to a growing number of Swiss Brethren who had fled into the Strasbourg (Alsatian) area to become interested in the new ideas of the Dutch Mennonites. Also, various individuals from outside the Swiss Brethren fold were joining the new Swiss Brethren congregations located in Alsace. Some of these people themselves may well have come out of the Melchiorite tradition which had begun in Strasbourg in the 1520s, of which Menno Simons himself was one of the offshoots. Such transformations within the Alsatian Swiss Brethren movement give a rationale for some members, probably within one of these Swiss Brethren congregations, to decide in 1575 to translate into German and publish Menno Simons' Foundation Book. Those responsible entitled the volume: Ein Fundament und Klare Anweisung von der seligmachenden Lehre unsers Herrn Jesu Christi. Whoever was responsible also chose to append Menno's treatise on shunning, entitled: Eine gr¸ndliche Unterweisung, oder Bericht von der Excommunication, Bann, Ausschliessung, oder Absonderung der Kirche Christi. It was of course the publishing of this very treatise on shunning that helped, ultimately, to precipitate the Great Swiss Brethren Schism a century later, in large part due to a direct clashing of two, disparate faith-cultures that came into juxtaposition, yet up to the time of the schism, had never found adequate correlation.
Wüthrich is therefore probably correct in his interpretation as noted above, that in a very real sense the issue of shunning within Anabaptism had actually begun with Menno, later, to be picked up by Jakob Ammann and his group. And most likely the roots of the debate on shunning extend back to 1557 and 1559, when some Swiss Brethren, probably in the Strasbourg environs, may well have taken seriously the implications of the ban which Menno and other Dutch leaders had placed upon the Swiss.
4) The Nature of Menno Simons' Influence. Exactly what might have impressed those Swiss, who slowly but surely were beginning to accept some of Menno's ideas and approaches to church polity, differences, ultimately significant enough to foment a crisis in 1693? Subconsciously, if not consciously, one significant Low Country influence was the spirit of authority which Menno exudes in most of his writings, including his treatise on shunning. Menno in his writings often speaks from his own sense of authority and view of the nature of leadership (a hierarchical and authoritarian bent missing in the congregationalism of the Swiss tradition within which leadership is subordinated).
To be fair to Menno, something of his authoritarian approach was probably needed, in the light of the tumultuous aftermath of the revolutionary and bloody Münster "Anabaptist kingdom." In a very real sense, Menno's approach to leadership was what the Anabaptist remnants in the aftermath of the Münster tragedy were calling for. A strong hand was indicated in the year 1536 to help restore order and balance among the misguided Anabaptist believers, now scattered far and wide throughout what is present-day Netherlands, Belgium, Northern Germany and Poland. Furthermore, such an authoritarian approach was often a natural element within a sixteenth-century mentality, compatible with a rural populace.
Menno Simons' Foundation Book, including its appendix on shunning, was of significance for the Amish, also over the centuries. It is noteworthy in this regard that the first minister and elder of the earliest Amish settlement in North America, Jacob Hertzler, thought enough of this 1575 volume to include it in his belongings that he brought along to Pennsylvania, in 1749.
Why have we spent so much time on Menno's 1575 German edition of the Foundation Book, and comparing its spirit and substance to that of the traditional Swiss Brethren in their early decades? The reason is, very simply, that it holds the key; it provides the clue, above all else, to precipitating the Great Swiss Brethren Schism. To the degree that literature may be held responsible for later events, Menno Simons' Foundation Book indeed serves as the primary causal factor, ultimately, of the break within the Swiss Brethren ranks, in 1693. Jakob Ammann, consciously or otherwise, took on Menno's ideas, but also his authoritarianism and individuality, in a manner that most Swiss Brethren could not fathom, emotionally or intellectually. And this is where Jakob Ammann got into trouble with most Swiss Brethren, including many who became Amish. Jakob Ammann, namely, betrays a very different spirit and substance from that of the traditional Swiss Brethren as regards the role of the congregation in churchly disputes. For example, Jakob notes at one point that the Swiss Brethren leader, Benedict Schneider, "also asserted that no one should be expelled except by unanimous counsel of the entire congregation, as though the keys [of the kingdom] were entrusted to all lay-members."The obvious interpretation here is that Jakob Ammann chose a hierarchical, authority-from-above approach, rather than a more pure congregational approach (of Gemeindetheologie) for working at church matters -- with the congregational approach being central to the Swiss Brethren tradition all the way back to 1525.
Jakob's "Warning Message" is also instructive on this point: "Together with ministers and bishops, I, Jakob Ammann, am sending this writing to everyone who is not already expelled by judgment and counsel, both men and women, ministers and lay members, to inform you that you shall appear before us . . . . But if you fail to appear, [in order to] answer at this appointed time, then you shall according to my instruction and creed, be expelled by us ministers, and especially by me, Jakob Ammann, as sectarians, and shall be shunned and avoided until the time of your repentance according to the Word of God. This paper shall be sent from one person to another to make it known to all [the brotherhood]." The upshot: The term bishop in its hierarchical sense applies more appropriately to Menno Simons, but also to Jakob Ammann than it does to the Swiss Brethren, or even -- and this is of the utmost significance -- to the actual Amish movement as described by Uli Ammann in 1720. For Menno and Jakob, authority extended well beyond the confines of a specific congregation; for the Swiss Brethren in general, and also for the Amish in general, an elder's authority was limited to one specific congregation. Where such authority has been extended -- as has happened at times -- it has not lasted long among most Amish, with a reverting back to the one elder, one congregation pattern.
Also of great significance is another fact which also dare not be overlooked in how the Swiss situation played itself out historically. For although Ammann had incorporated some major ideas of Menno's, Jakob Ammann's personality, so qualitatively different from that of Menno Simons, added to a mixture that spelled explosion.The matter stands, however, that the 1575 German edition of the Foundation Book, including the appended treatise on shunning, must have played an essential part in the later Swiss Brethren transformations within seventeenth century Switzerland, Alsace and South Germany.
5) Events After the Time of Menno. There were of course further developments after 1575. In 1632 the Dordrecht Confession came into being as a Dutch Mennonite confession, but which later was accepted by some Swiss Brethren, especially in Alsace, but also in South Germany -- probably to a lesser extent in Switzerland proper. This Confession undergirds the idea of shunning, much as Menno had formulated the practice, but also the practice of foot washing -- a Dutch practice, later picked up by the Amish. By 1660 certain Swiss Brethren congregations had formally accepted the Dordrecht Confession as their own confession.
In the year 1664, Tieleman Tielen van Sittert published a German translation of the Dordrecht Confession, which was then reprinted in 1686, and 1691. These printings most likely were needed to meet the demands of a number of Swiss Brethren. The publications, however, in turn promoted as well some Low Country Anabaptist ideas such as shunning and foot washing, combined with a non-Swiss Brethren approach to leadership and authority -- the word "bishop" appearing, for example, in the Dordrecht Confession.
Once again we see the veritable clash of two cultures, reconcilable in the areas of a peace emphasis, and the idea of separation of church and state; well-neigh irreconcilable, however, in the related areas of the nature of the church, and the nature of leadership and authority.
Such a conflict was inherent within the popular Sammelbnde of the time, a number of which have survived the centuries. One such volume, recently discovered, is a 1686 Sammelband, which has come down through the Amish tradition. It includes the Schleitheim Confession and Michael Sattler's Epistle to the congregation at Horb, both from the Swiss Brethren tradition, as well as the Dordrecht Confession, representing one of the Dutch Anabaptist traditions, namely that associated with Menno Simons: the Swiss tradition being congregational, complemented by a synodal element; the Dutch (Menno Simons) tradition being (more loosely) congregational, complemented by a hierarchical element.
In the year 1702, another volume was published, given the title Güldene Aepffel in Silbern Schalen (Golden Apples in Silver Bowls), the contents of which probably came largely from a Sammelband of one individual (possibly Jakob Guth) from the Palatinate. This publishing venture seems to have been an attempt to resolve the Swiss Brethren dispute by pointing backwards into the Anabaptist past in order to suggest the true nature of the movement within history. The volume consciously combined Swiss Brethren and Dutch Mennonite materials, being careful to keep them separate, on the one hand, yet daring to gently rework, from the standpoint of the Swiss Brethren, some problem passages as found within the Dordrecht Confession. The idea of shunning, for example, was left in, yet moderated with an added phrase, as regards those being shunned:
just as we are again obliged, according to the teachings of the apostles, to receive and accept those who show improvement and demonstrate repentance, whereby we forgive their mistakes and comfort them (2 Cor. 2:6-10),
which contrasts to the more rigorous approach to shunning espoused by Jakob Ammann.
6) The First Synthesis of What would Emerge as the True Amish Idea. By 1698, after the dust had settled, and again around 1720, another Amishman, Uli Ammann (his blood relationship to Jakob Ammann remains unknown) reinterpreted from that point in history those elements that had led up to the division in the first place. In 1698 Uli wrote a seasoned, well-thought-through defense of most of what Jakob Ammann had also stood for, yet devoid of the impetuousness associated with Jakob. Then in a major epistle written around 1720 Uli also attempted to reconcile what heretofore had been a genuine clash of cultures and ideas. In other words, he attempted to reconcile what up to that point had been irreconcilable. And to do this, he chose to moderate some of the more extreme views of Jakob Ammann (without naming him, however), incorporating, consciously or otherwise, the gentle persuasion of Golden Apples (again, without naming the volume). In so doing, he arrived at what was probably the first genuine synthesis of what would become the Amish idea -- a two-fold synthesis encompassing both his 1698 and his 1720 epistles. And it differed from the Jakob Ammann approach drastically in spirit; it also differed markedly from Jakob's approach both in substance and in structure. It came very close to reaccepting a traditional Swiss Brethren approach to congregational life. For it seems that many who had become Amish were still also tied into the Schleitheim approach, congregationally, and many elements of the Swiss tradition also remained intact, within the emerging Amish movement. Here is a synopsis of Uli Ammann's synthesis of the Amish idea, as found in his obviously irenic epistle of 1720.
Uli Ammann attempts to define the nature of a workable, two-way interplay between the congregation and its leadership, where unity is achieved through a set of checks and balances which functions on several levels at the same time, resulting in a dynamic of mutuality which includes every church member. Near the beginning of his epistle, Uli reflects -- in a manner, strikingly different from that of Jakob Ammann in spirit, but also in sum and substance -- as follows:
For the sake of peace and unity, and to ward off strife as much as possible, it has seemed good to us to let you know by means of the following letter what our understanding and opinion is in the following points, namely this: a minister . . . or elder . . . can keep himself clear of guilt, and of accusations of others, in no better way than by taking counsel in those matters of consequence that occur in the congregation. It is our opinion that he ought to do this whenever a matter causing contention or something else of importance arises in the congregation; he should first of all take counsel with his fellow ministers and then also with the congregation.
It is our understanding that an elder or confirmed minister does indeed have authority in the case of such incidents to give his view first and thus establish a model, based on his best understanding of the matter; and then he may present it to his fellow ministers and to the congregation for their consideration, and commit it to them for possible correction from the Word of God. He shall not assume that his view must be the valid one, or that no one has the right to find fault with it, and that even though ten or twenty brethren oppose it, the minister's word must be king -- as Hans Anken in Holland said.
It is not only the spirit of Uli Ammann which contrasts sharply with that of Jakob Ammann; there is a major contrast as well in the very idea itself of what it means to be Amish. For Uli Ammann, authority resides ultimately within the congregation as the gathered people of God, and not primarily in the bishop, or even within the ordained leaders. This is a full step away from the somewhat episcopal view of Jakob Ammann and Menno Simons, and a veritable return to the Schleitheim congregational dynamic. Uli Ammann of 1720, but also Eli E. Gingerich of the twentieth century, came full circle, in reaffirming the central motif within the early Swiss Brethren tradition, namely, that authority resides within the community of disciples, gathered in the name and Spirit of Christ. This by definition meant that the Amish rejected the hierarchical, authoritarian element within Menno Simons' view of the church.
Several new, Dutch Mennonite practices, however, remained within this new Amish synthesis: foot washing and shunning -- and probably an approach to leadership which differed in some ways from that of the other Swiss Brethren, with the Amish leaders retaining a bit more authority than that of the other Swiss Brethren -- an element of respect and workability for a continuing rural people which may still be seen to this day among the Old Order Amish.
7) In Retrospect. How do we interpret all this? We should note that the Pietist influence, although not accepted on any wide scale, was apparent in how some Swiss Brethren began accepting the Treuherzigen (the truehearted) (Jakob Guth certainly seemed open to acknowledging them as blessed from God). The Amish at first rejected the idea that the Treuherzigen might also be part of God's true church. Later, the Amish were inclined to say that they were not here to judge; God alone can fill this function.
Table shunning, on the other hand, as an idea stemming from Menno Simons and other Dutch Anabaptist bishops, was accepted by the Amish from the beginning.
Foot washing, as a Dutch idea, became a strong practice among the Amish, but not among the other Swiss Brethren.
Church discipline for the telling of falsehoods and lies was of course an Anabaptist matter in general.
Forms of leadership and authority, for the Amish, at first were patterned after Dutch models, but later, as noted above, swung back to more traditional Swiss Brethren patterns.
Turning to the leadership among the Swiss Brethren, it seems that a firm and reasoned leadership, wise enough to weather the storm, resided less in the figure of Hans Reist than heretofore assumed; Jakob Guth from the Palatinate certainly served a more visible, and a much more highly significant and central role in this respect.
Significant doctrinal differences which had indeed come to light in the 1690s between the Swiss Brethren living in Switzerland, and those living in Alsace, would furthermore suggest a slow but sure parting of ways before Jakob Ammann came along (the Swiss Brethren residing in Alsace, for example, accepting the Dordrecht Confession as their own confession in 1660); Ammann, however, served as a very visible and charismatic catalyst.
On the other hand, Uli Ammann is probably the most underrated and unsung hero of the Amish, all in all. For his was the steady and reasoned hand that influenced the movement in the 1690s, favoring a firm approach to orthopraxis which included shunning; at the same time, he also seems to be the one to grant an ongoing viability to an otherwise shaky movement which in the year 1700 was close to collapse. And as already noted, Uli was the one to select from the clashing maze of new ideas that identified the 1690s schism -- at the same time holding true to his basic Swiss views of the nature of the church -- in such a manner that his synthesis of 1698 and 1720 brought resolution and viability to what emerged historically as the Amish movement.
Further archival evidence adds considerable weight to the traditional view that Jakob Ammann was a native of Erlenbach in the Simme Valley south of Thun, canton of Bern, Switzerland.
The supposed Reformed (Calvinist) Church influence upon Jakob Ammann therefore apparently did not come directly from a Swiss Calvinist tradition, but rather from Menno Simons and Dirk Philips, who themselves drank from some of the same waters as did the Reformed, entering as both movements did a proto-orthodoxy era in the mid-1530s, with both emphasizing a doctrinal approach which contrasted markedly with the original Anabaptist impulse of the 1520s and early thirties. And it is this doctrinal approach which many Swiss Brethren continued to reject, including the Swiss Brethren leader, Nikolaus W¸thrich, in 1807.
Jakob Ammann's approach to judging the Treuherzigen (the Truehearted) was later rejected by the Amish, who to this day are not keen on judging others -- a process which most Old Order Amish, today, place solely in the hands of God.
More research is needed on determining which geographic areas actually became "Amish," and which remained traditional Swiss Brethren. Several scholars, such as Mami Okawara of Japan, are attempting to assess this factor: Did the Amish in general develop in areas of greater political tolerance, and did those Swiss Brethren who rejected the new doctrines in general locate in areas of greater continuing persecution? Answers to this question may well bring with them deeper understandings of the causes leading up to the Great Swiss Brethren Division.
The most central leaders in the controversy, given the longer historical perspective, were not Jakob Ammann and Hans Reist (who of course were major precipitators of the crisis), but rather Uli Ammann for the Amish, and Jakob Guth for the other Swiss Brethren. With this in mind, Hans Christoph Guth is correct in naming both Jakob and Uli Ammann as having given the name Amish to the movement which even today is still being called the Old Order Amish.
And finally, the Old Order Amish have maintained their Swiss Brethren congregationalism, rather than the more authoritarian Dutch Mennonite approach of Menno Simons and Dirk Philips -- although the Amish continue to maintain several doctrines originating with Menno and Dirk, including foot washing and shunning.
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Author: Leonard Gross
ORRAR would like to thank Mr. Leonard Gross for the use of the above article. Copyright : Leonard Gross