It might seem like I have spent a long time getting to the point of the question, Who are the Amish? But it is impossible to explain who the Amish are and where they came from without having at least a cursory look at the history. So for the last several days, I have explained the origins of the reformation, the spread of Anabaptism and the growth of the Mennonites. Today, I am going to get right to the heart of the answer – looking at the life of
Jakob Ammann, after whom the Amish are named.Jakob Amman was born in 1644, in the Canton of Bern, Switzerland. He was the third of six children, born to Michael and Anna Amman. Michael’s father, Michael himself, and later Jakob, were tailors. Michael became Anabaptist, though just when is not known. One of his daughters and two of his sons also became Anabaptist, including Jakob. Jakob is known to have been a sponsor (god-parent) at a state baptism in 1671, but by 1680 he is referred to in correspondence as an Anabaptist. His conversion therefore was between 1671 and 1680. He became a leader/minister in the Anabaptist church sometime between 1693. By 1693, he and his family (including his father) had moved to Alsace, where his father died and is buried. Jakob continued to live there until 1712, when he was forced to leave by an edict of Louis XIV, expelling all Anabaptists from the region.
He was known to be a stern disciplinarian and uncompromising on what he believed to be the truth. He expected those who called themselves Christians and Anabaptists to conform to the teachings of the New Testament, being baptised upon confession of faith, regardless of the cost, just as the originators of Anabaptism had done not so very long before. Separation form ‘the world’ was an important teaching of his, believing that those who followed Christ would live differently from their non-believing neighbours. He rejected any traditions, however longstanding, if they did not conform to the Word of God. He wrote:“If a miser does not turn from his fornication, and a drunkard from his drunkenness, or other immoralities, they are thereby separated from the Kingdom of God, and if he does not improve himself through a pious, penitent life, such a person is no Christian and will not inherit the Kingdom of God.”
“In practical matters, he stood opposed to long hair on men, shaved beards, and clothing that manifested pride. Liars were to be excommunicated. Ammann, unlike most Amish married men of today, however, had a moustache, which is largely forbidden today in the faith” [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jakob_Ammann ]In 1690, a conference was called in Alsace by the Swiss Brethren leaders. At that conference, they formally adopted the Dordrecht Confession of faith, which had been written by the Dutch Anabaptist (Mennonite) leaders. Up until this point, the Swiss Brethren had followed the Schleithaim Confession, written by Michael Sattler. The Schleitheim confession had seven points; the Dordrecht Confession had eighteen. In particular there were two points that had not been part of the previous confession and it is these two points which led to a schism between different sections of the Anabaptist movement. These two points were foot-washing at the communion service and social avoidance (the ban, or shunning). Foot-washing had not been practised as an ordinance previously and shunning had been confined to not allowing a member to take communion. The adopting of the new confession included not eating with a shunned member, rather than just excommunication – ie not being allowed to take communion.
In 1693, Jakob Ammann wrote a letter to the leaders of the Anabaptist church asking for some clarification on three matters:
- How the shunning should operate;
- Whether liars should be under the ban;
- Were ‘good-hearted’ people saved? This last referred to those who were Anabaptist sympathisers and who helped persecuted Anabaptists, but who, for fear of persecution against themselves, would not take the step of re-baptism themselves. Ammann believed they were not following the Scriptures and therefore they could not be classed as true believers.
Thus began the Amish movement. Sadly, their beginnings were not something to be applauded. Unable to reconcile their differences and Ammann being uncompromising on his views, led to a split in the church that is still evident today. Mennonites and Amish share a common Anabaptist heritage. Since the division in 1693 however, they have remained distinctive communities. When they arrived in America in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, they remained separate even though they often settled in similar areas.While there are still Mennonites in Europe, sadly there are no Amish. The last Amish church closed its doors in Europe in 1937. However, there are groups known as ‘Amish-Mennonites’, or @Beachy Amish’ and there is one such group in Eire, established in about 1992.
Attempts at reconciliation
Within a few years, several attempts were made at reconciliation. In February of 1700, Jakob Ammann and several of his co-ministers removed the bann from the Swiss ministers and excommunicated themselves in recognition that they had acted too rashly and had “grievously erred.”:p.107 They did not feel that they were in error concerning the issues they had brought up, but rather that they had not given sufficient time for the Reist side to consider the issues before excommunicating them. Also, they felt that they should not have excommunicated the Swiss ministers on the spot, but should have consulted with the whole congregation before proceeding. However, while Hans Reist and some of the Swiss ministers appear to have accepted the repentance of Ammann and his co-workers, they held firm to their position of not accepting social shunning. Some of the other issues had been accepted by the Swiss ministers, but the main body of Amish and the Reist side were never able to reconcile on the issue of social shunning.:p.74-81 
Today in North America, the Amish and Mennonites (the Reist side became known as Mennonites after the schism; in a paradox, it was the Amish side that was pushing for the introduction of Dutch Mennonite ideas, but those opposing the ideas eventually became known as Mennonites) live side by side in many communities and work together peacefully in publishing, businesses, and charitable aid projects. However, official sharing of ministry and communion is rare among the most conservative groups of Old Order Amish and Mennonites. In more moderate groups, there remains little to no effect from the schism, with the exception of names of churches.