Part Two: Religion and Education
Though some non-Amish question the Amish belief in Christianity, any discussion with the Lambright family in Mora proves those doubts false.
Menno Lambright said, “We depend on the blood of Jesus Christ for our salvation,” just like other Christian groups. “To a large extent, we believe the Bible teaches the principle of nonconformity to the world, which most churches don’t, I guess you might say.”
So the Amish use those biblical principles to set out how they should live their lives. Menno said, “For example, the Bible calls it sin to live with lusts, so will we have more temptation with lusts if we dress immodestly, or less temptation with lusts if we dress immodestly? So it’s a group decision: how are we going to apply it?”
Matthew Lambright added that group application is preferred in Amish communities “because if everybody makes their own decisions to define modesty, it ends up moving out in the direction of what general society is. Whereas group application helps preserve modesty…”
“And forms stability,” Menno added. “People learn to become devoted to brotherhood…”
Christine Lambright added, “I was thinking of the word ‘committed.’”
“If we take the values of the outside world,” Menno said, “we find that they range all over. But we have specific values we want to stick to.”
“We could be called Anabaptists, more than Protestant,” Matthew said. “The Protestant view of the church is basically that just by looking at people you can’t see which people belong to a church and which don’t, or what is in their hearts. We can’t look out and say ‘He has fallen,’ and we’re not called to judge like that. We can’t see the heart of that person. We can’t see where that person is coming from, and we can’t see where that person is going. The church is basically invisible, and everybody who believes in Jesus and is part of the church is going to be saved. The Anabaptist view of the church is of a body of believers who have been called out from the fallen society and are distinctly identified and are currently in voluntary submission to the authority of Jesus. It’s more about a body that has come together and is submissive to the dominion of Jesus. This doesn’t mean the Protestant view has no truth in it.”
The Amish and Mennonites are Anabaptist descendants. Matthew added, “The main thing about stepping out from the fallen society is in the moral values.”
Menno added, “One of the higher goals of our community is the moral side of life.”
A major difference in the Amish religion is the use of music. Not that they don’t practice it, because they in fact use it perhaps more than more non-Amish churches. But they don’t use any musical instruments.
“That’s the main difference,” Menno said. “We all sing together, everybody participating in the hymn singing, at a slower tune, that is not so beatie and something that’s very distant from a rock-and-roll type. Another difference is that in our church we teach a reverent approach to the music, so we don’t use musical instruments. We just sing the songs. We realize that some musical instruments were used in the Old Testament. However, under the new covenant in today’s world, we feel that we can probably adore the Lord just as much without instruments. With instruments, there is the danger of catching the emotion, where sometimes we think too much of the musical instrument rather than listening to the words. So, we believe instruments can distract us from the meaning of the words.”
Regarding communion, Amish in general do not believe in transubstantiation, that the bread and wine are the actual body and blood of Jesus. They view communion as a memorial to the death of Christ.
Matthew said anybody can come visit the Amish church.
Problems in the community are usually solved with the help of a minister. “They start getting resolved,” Menno said, “by the chosen minister, who would first need to sit down and talk with us, look over the problem, and sometimes even get counselors in from other communities– “How do you think we should do this?’”
Matthew said at that point a suggestion is made to the rest of the church. “And if the rest of the church is comfortable with that decision, it goes into effect there at that point. They are the bishop and elders that oversee everything, but we call them the ministers.”
Menno said recently they attended a non-Amish church baptism. “We were very touched by a little girl getting up and giving a heart-rending testimony on what it is like seeing her mother and her dad divorce, especially since the Amish have no divorce. She had to leave the home she had grown up in. So we think our way is worth all the effort to do things that don’t almost make sense to the wider world if we can prevent things like that, to keep families together, and the whole world, should know that.”
Baptism in the Amish church differs from many other Christian religions, where babies are baptized shortly after birth, while with the Amish baptism occurs generally in the teens. “Well,” Menno said, “It’s not a certain age. It’s based upon confession of faith. Usually it’s after they’ve gone through school, sometime after that, usually 14 or 15, when they graduate from school. At 16 or 17 they might get baptized.”
For those Amish who step too far out of bounds, they can be shunned, or excommunicated, which is for the purpose of bringing the outside influences back into the community–avoiding outside influences.
“If they go off into the outer world,” Menno said, “In order to get back into the good graces of the community, they merely need to come back. There’s plenty of grace available.”
The Bible says excommunication should be performed if a person starts sinning, Matthew said. “That’s what the New Testament says. To come back they would need to repent of that basically.”
In the Bible, Menno said, “Paul says Damas, a fellow worker, left him and fell in love with the world, and followed the world. That would be an example where an excommunication should probably take place. Or as Paul said, if somebody fell into fornication, or other actual sins like that.”
Amish and Education
“We have private parochial schooling within the community,” Menno said, “which all the students attend, running down the path to a country school.” Thirty-four attend, one of the daughters said.
The teacher is usually a single man or woman nearing their twenties, or in their early twenties, Menno said. “Occasionally, married people will teach also. The school board finds the teacher, and the teacher gets paid.”
Subjects include math, reading, vocabulary, spelling, English, German, penmanship, some history, geography and health. “You would have to look through the books to see what they are like.”
All of school is English except for maybe German classes, Menno said. “Children pick up words before school, but most children learn most of their English in school. Church is mostly German, except we have an evening singing service and half the service we sing German songs, half the service English songs,” Menno said.
After graduating from their school at about age 14, students do not attend high school or college, because, Menno said, “For our goals in life, what would be the purpose? What we learn we learn amongst ourselves, and that is our higher education, and what we need to know.”
Matthew added that they don’t need to attend college to learn how to run a welder or lay blocks or be a farmer or something like that. “If we want to be a welder or a mechanic we go to a mechanic shop in the community and learn from the mechanic there.”
Their son, Samuel, went to Indiana and wanted to learn leatherwork, so he spent a couple of weeks with a leatherworker to learn the trade, a type of apprenticeship for a short while until the basics are learned.
Menno added, “It’s kind of a matter of our children growing into these works rather than being told what to do.”
Christine said, “Most communities have welders and furniture shops, construction and roofing, and a lot of information is just kind of automatically taught, or learned by people as they grow up.”
The reluctance for education outside their world, Menno said, “Involves more details. It takes money, and pushes our living standard up, which demands a higher income. And unless we have our own college in our community, that education will take the youth away from the community, with more exposure to the outside world to things that would be hindersome. In a way we do have our own college here, learning from each other.”
Matthew said “We can’t get a degree from ourselves to work for a professional career, however. For example, I haven’t heard of any Amish veterinarians. If I wanted to become a veterinarian, I could take a mail course through some college, but there’s not a lot of people who will do that, but I’ve thought about it already.”
He added that some Amish have spent time with doctors and schooling to learn some basics. “They can’t do surgery or set bones or things like that, but they can take blood samples, or check your body chemistry, and stuff like that.”
In the end run, Menno said their precepts are based “partially on the fact that there’s a difference between knowledge and wisdom. The wisdom we are pursuing is the wisdom from God, and not the knowledge of the world. So it can be deceitful when that starts getting mixed together.”
This is part two of a three-part series by Bill Vossler on an Amish community and their lifestyle. Part three will appear in the March edition and will cover “Family & Brotherhood”