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Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Are the Amish a Cult?

Way back in July 2007, I wrote the following:
Some articles I'm tossing around in my head right now include:
Are the Amish a Cult?
What is a Mixed Language?
Is Linguistic Taxonomy Eurocentric?

I've been asked to publish the first, so here goes.

First of all, let's define our terms:

1) Amish - any one of a number of Christian denominations with the following characteristics:
a) Rooted in the Anabaptist movement and specifically that led by Jacob Amman.
b) Clergy are appointed from among the married men of each congregation, without any prerequisites of vocational training or calling, for the duration of good behavior.
c) Church membership is entered by effusion by the bishop upon agreement with and submission to the denomination's beliefs and standards, after attaining the age of accountability (usually 16 years old).
d) Denominational rules not only set lines of fellowship between congregations, but serve to unify the various members with similar lifestyles, uniforms, and possessions.
e) Church discipline consists of shunning and excommunication, imposed by the bishop.
f) Continued membership is dependent on following the rules of the denomination, which are agreed upon among the bishops and imposed on the various congregations.
g) Even where it is otherwise legal, marriage to a first cousin--or a non-member--is prohibited.

Now, when people say "Amish," they almost always mean "Old-Order Amish." So lets define our terms a bit more narrowly:

2) Old-Order Amish denominations are those that limit the use by their members of modern technology, usually by prohibiting them from having a public utility connected to their residence, and by limiting the kinds of technology they are allowed to own, requiring a certain uniformity in those modern inventions that are permitted. Furthermore, due to the restrictions on Sunday travel, congregations are delineated geographically, with a married male bishop serving each district.

3) Usually when people say "Amish," they further mean what are also referred to as "Fancy Amish" (by outsiders) or "High-Living Amish" (by the Amish themselves). These are Amish congregations that allow their members to mix freely with outsiders for work, school, and shopping purposes. They allow their members to pay Social Security taxes, ride in cars, watch movies, submit insurance claims, have telephone numbers, and advertise their businesses in secular publications. They observe Daylight Savings Time, subscribe to the newspaper, and often hire outsiders to teach their children--even sending them off on the bus to public school every morning. They can own tractors, as long as they are not used to pull farm equipment or passenger vehicles. They can have electricity, as long as it's not hooked up to the grid or their residences. They can have indoor plumbing, as long as it's not hooked up to a municipal sewage system. They can use pneumatic tires and bucket seats on a vehicle, as long as it's neither self-propelled nor enclosed. They can even own computers and manage websites, but only for strictly commercial purposes.

Okay, now that we've defined whom we're talking about, we can briefly list some Amish groups that are now excluded from this discussion.

-Beachy Amish
-New-Order Amish
-Reformed Amish

So, on to our question: Are the Amish a Cult?

Well, clearly the Amish do share certain cultish characteristics. For example, they believe that they are The Only True Church, and that to leave the church is to forfeit salvation. This is clearly a mark of a cult. Also, they shun anyone who leaves the Church--another typical characteristic of a cult. But these alone are not in and of themselves proof that the Amish are a cult.

Let's look at Biblical Discernment Ministries' Marks of a cult and see how the Amish measure up:

1. Extrabiblical Authority: Not officially. Many Amish use extracononical books, like the 6th and 7th Books of Moses, but these are part of their folk religion, not part of their Christianity.

2. Works Salvation/Legalism: Apparently. Amish believe that there is no salvation outside the Church. This boils down to claiming that if you don't follow their rules, you can't be saved.

3. No Assurance of Salvation: Absolutely. This is an oft-stated Amish doctrine.

4. Guru-Type Leader/Modern Prophet: Not usually, but some have arisen from time to time. And Amish seem as susceptible as anyone to following them; more so if they appear from within the Amish (Acts 20:29).

5. Vacillating, Ambiguous Doctrines/Spiritual Deception: Absolutely not. Seekers know pretty much exactly what they are getting into.

6. Exclusivity from/Denunciation of Other Groups (leaving the group is, in the minds of the cult member, tantamount to leaving God): Yes; see above.

7. Claims of Special Discoveries/Additional Revelation: This is essentially the same as #1, but we should note here that unlike Protestants, the Amish use the Apocrypha as Scripture. The Book of Tobit is part of their marriage liturgy.

8. Defective Christology: No.

9. Defective "Nature of Man": No.

10. Out-Of-Context Scripture Use as Proof-Texts/Segmented Biblical Attention: Not so much.

11. Erroneous Doctrines Concerning Life After Death and Retribution: No.

12. Entangling Organization Structure: Absolutely not. The various denominations are completely separate.

13. Financial Exploitation: Absolutely not. There's no central fund.

14. Pseudomystical/Spiritistic/Occultic Influence: Yes. Occultism is not a part of official Amish doctrine, but pow-wowing is an intrinsic part of their culture that is never preached against and often excused.

So, how do they rate on a scale of 1 to 13? Four. I would have to say that the Amish are not a cult, but do share a few characteristics with classic cults. The strongest correlation is in the great difficulty that it is for Amish to become converted and start following the Bible. They will, in most congregations, be shunned for it and cut off from their own family members--even their spouses and children. In that sense only, Amish are extremely similar to a classic cult.

April 7, 2014
Well, blogspot doesn't appear to be letting me post comments, which makes it hard to  join the conversation below. But I will address the anonymous comments of 7/30/2012 and 4/05/2014.
Here goes:
Q: "Where did you get your information from?"
 A: A combination of the MennoHof museum, newspaper reports, emails from Anabaptist organization, and personal knowledge of Amish and ex-Amish people. I'm very familiar with the Beachy Amish and realize that they are very different from Old Order Amish Mennonites.
Q: "NO Amish would ever allow a member to watch movies."
 A: Sorry, I have it on the word of Howard Schmucker, who told me as he was watching an R-rated movie about Amish that his OOAM church was okay with it. And of course the wild Amish youth watch worse stuff than that.
Q: "The Amish are nothing more than a church of Lutheranism mixed with fashion."
 A: This is a genetic fallacy. The Amish have nothing in common with Lutheranism, other than both being a splitoff from the German Catholic Church of the 16th century. The Amish do retain some of their Catholic heritage, such as following the Julian calendar for Christmas, Easter, and Ascension Day. But they don't share any Lutheran distinctives. Luther was a bitter enemy of the early Anabaptists.
Q: "Only Christ can save. No Amish principle or way of living can. And because they still wrap themselves in laws, they are not saved. It is that simple."
 A: No, not quite that simple. Some Amish are saved through Christ, but keep the law out of respect for their countrymen--just as the Apostle Paul did.


  1. Indirectly, this was addressed by the US Supreme Court in _State of Wisconsin v. Yoder_ (1972). While the case itself was about education, the finding was that Amish sects are not cults, and in fact are differentiated from cults in the language of the majority opinion. You need to read more than the wikipedia entry to get that information; the full USSC entry is available online, though. Not that the Supreme Court's opinion always reflects reality, but the arguments (and points of differentiation I mentioned) are pretty interesting and relevant to your discourse here.

  2. I have a friend who left the Old Order Amish. He believes(and these are his words) that the culture itself isn't a cult, but the religion is. Same as Catholicism or Judaism.
    Hey, that's funny the world culture has the word "cult" in it. he he

  3. Wisconsin v. Yoder is a fascinating case study. Amish don't sue, so it had to be brought by an outside sympathizer. The results of the decision were far-ranging, delivering a crippling blow to the power of the state school and forever freeing families from the tyranny of compulsory education laws. With this decision, legal homeschooling was once again possible.

  4. T0 the White Man:
    I'm a product of the Amish my Amish parents were killed when I was 4 years old. I then lived with an Amish Bishop in Arthur, IL for the next ten years. I have never seen anyone give as accurate a description of there system as you have. I have only one thing to add, most of them will tell you, you can not know if you are saved until after you die (then it will be for ever to late). This was something I struggled with until I was 32 years old even though I was baptized and joined a Mennonite church in Kokomo IN, and gone to one of there high schools Bethany High School Goshen IN. It wasn't until a person in Decatur, IL showed me the (simple Gospel of By Grace Alone through Faith Alone) and I understood and accepted Jesus Christ as My Personal Savior October 1971, and guess what I have been saved ever since and that Jesus’ Salvation will last until I see my Savior Face to Face!!!
    By the way that bishop had tried to entice me to stay Amish when I was 7 years old, by telling me that if I stayed Amish, did what he wanted and changed my last name to his, (some day all of his land and money , would be mine)! I immediately thought of the same statement made to Jesus by Satan if only he would bow down and worship him. The Bible tells us in Galatians 1: 6,7,8,9 I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: 7 Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ. 8 But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. A lot of my relatives are still Amish they are an honest hard working people and I love everyone of them, some know the Grace of God and the Gospel Paul spoke of but many don’t believe you can know and that church membership is there protection no different than the Pharisees in Jesus time on the earth, very religious thinking they were always correct, as in Luke 6: 6 And it came to pass also on another Sabbath, that he entered into the synagogue and taught: and there was a man whose right hand was withered. 7 And the scribes and Pharisees watched him, whether he would heal on the Sabbath day; that they might find an accusation against him. 8 But he knew their thoughts, and said to the man which had the withered hand, Rise up, and stand forth in the midst. And he arose and stood forth. 9 Then said Jesus unto them, I will ask you one thing; Is it lawful on the Sabbath days to do good, or to do evil? to save life, or to destroy it? 10 And looking round about upon them all, he said unto the man, Stretch forth thy hand. And he did so: and his hand was restored whole as the other. 11 And they were filled with madness; and communed one with another what they might do to Jesus. I have seen that same madness being commanded by some of the elders to stop telling there people about my Gospel! (I ask without malice is it a cult)
    Paul said let them that preach another Gospel be accursed I’m afraid that has to apply to the Old Order Amish in most cases. Again I’m not saying all Amish are lost, but I’m saying if they or any others teach any other Gospel than (Grace alone through Faith alone) they are in danger of Hell Fire! I would that you would pray for there Salvation and witness to them if you have a chance.
    If you want to contact me about anything I have said incorrectly or if you would like to know more about the Gospel of Grace through Faith, you may feel free to contact me.
    Andy Miller

  5. It is amazing that in this modern times we are still talking about the stupidity that our ancestors beleive. Like Gods, spirits, demos, ect. How absurd and irrational.
    Amish look more like a modern combination of a cult with Al-Qaeda.

  6. Observe the spelling, grammar and syntax used by your typical East Coast liberal, dependent on our tax dollars for his livelihood; a proud product of the public school.

  7. Cult. No doubt about it. They either excommunicate, shun or brain wash the members who leave to bring them back and also to send a warning to the rest of the amish church members that if you leave your same as a lost soul or there probably isnt much hope anyway for you anymore. But it probably will never be publicly labeled a cult for 1 reason. MONEY.
    Follow the trail of money and you shall find out what i mean. Cult trait that they have, you cant be sure of your salvation.
    But why would they do that? Well it didnt use to be this way before the 1940s in Holmes Conty Ohio. So what happened? Members started leaving in large numbers after some members started having prayer meetings and a revival started amongst the holmes county amish. The bishops became alarmed and had a conference and decided there has to be something done so bingo, the shunning and excommunicating started. Cult. I wish someone would survey all the amish ohio indiana and pa and ask them if they would be afraid to leave the amish or not sure if they could get to Heaven if they leave. The results would be shocking.

  8. I don't see what Money has to do with it. The whole Missionary Church movement in the 1800's started when Mennonites started getting assurance of salvation, so this is an old problem.

  9. This is all a bunch of mess. Where did you get your information from? This is like saying all black people do this or all jews to that. There are MANY different church districts of Amish and branches of Amish they all do things differently and many do not eben fellowship with each other. NO Amish would ever allow a member to watch movies. I am Beachy Amish. We have electricity and phone. We can even have compputers with filters but NEVER tv or movies. And yes we ALL pay taxes

  10. The keyword is "denomination". But there is a fine line between that and a cult. Because the word cult implies a false version of Truth. In other words, a group of people who worship an idea or thing, believing it represents all Truth. Even though in truth it doesn't.

    The Amish believe their way of life, segregated from society, is based on all Truth. Even though it doesn't really. Because they are just another denomination of Christianity. But they break many laws by following them. Many of the old laws were destroyed when Christ died and rose. No more baptisms. No more dress codes. Nothing more could you consciously do to have salvation. Only by walking in spirit of Christ could you be saved. But Christ did not segregate himself from anyone. He ate with sinners and the poor. He washed the feet of anyone. He showed that churches were WRONG about Truth. The Amish are nothing more than a church of Lutheranism mixed with fashion. The outer shell is covered in common moral principles that make them seem legitimate. And because society has lost so many fundamental principles, it makes the Amish seem more appealing. But they are still so far off the Christ beaten path that it would be a mistake to join their cult.

    You might learn something. But it will not be about Christ. Because the Amish church has the Bible locked down. Millions have left the Amish after reading the Bible and finding out the church was teaching them diluted lies. Only Christ can save. No Amish principle or way of living can. And because they still wrap themselves in laws, they are not saved. It is that simple.


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