What is the the Amish Religion?

Using the term "Amish Religion" has been disputed time and again. Are the Amish religious practices actually a religion or they simply another branch of the christian religion? Amish, who are most decidedly Christian, differ somewhat from other Christian groups like the Catholics, Baptists and Methodists.

Amish religion is rooted in the Protestant Reformation and is branched off from a group which believed that:

  • Christian practices should be based more in Scripture
  • Baptism should occur only after a person is able to recognize sin
  • There should be more separation between church and state
They petitioned the local church and civil authorities for change. When their appeals were rebuffed, they baptized each other in a secret meeting and the Anabaptist movement was born. Anabaptist means “re-baptize".

Menno Simons

Menno Simons is an important figure in the forming of the Amish church. He was a Catholic priest ordained in about 1515 and made a chaplain of his father’s village.

In the mid 1520s, Simons began to question some of the Catholic doctrine. This led him to delve into the scriptures, something he had not previously done. He decided that infant baptism was not in the bible.

He came in contact with Anabaptist Swiss Brethren who were preaching and practicing adult baptism. At first Simons thought that they were misled fanatics. But he was attracted by their belief that the answers to the question of salvation were found in the Scriptures.

When in 1535, his brother Pieter was among a group killed for their beliefs, Menno Simons cast off his Catholic affiliation and joined the Swiss Brethren Anabaptists.

Menno Simons quickly rose to become a leader in the Swiss Brethren church. He advocated non-violence and focused on separation from this world.

Within a decade of Menno’s baptism into the Anabaptist church, his followers were being identified as Mennonites. Amish religion is steeped in Mennonite tradition.

Jakob Ammann

Jakob Ammann, the namesake of the Amish religion, was born in 1644 in Bern Switzerland. He was a member of the Reformed Church through his 20s. He became a known Anabaptist sometime around the age of 35.

The Anabaptists held communion once a year. Ammann believed that communion should be held twice a year. He also felt that the Mennonites were not following traditional Anabaptist doctrine concerning separation from the world. He also favored foot washing.

Punishment for non-conformity, in Ammann’s eyes, was too lenient. Shunning practices were not strict enough. He sought a return to more conservative Anabaptist doctrine.

The Split

The Amish religion approached its birth when in 1693 Ammann called for a meeting of all the leaders of the churches in the region to argue his issues. Hans Reist was the senior leader in the region. He had decided long before this time that he would not practice shunning. Reist decided not to attend the meeting.

Ammann called for another meeting to give Reist a chance to agree or disprove Ammann’s views on the issue. Again Reist refused to participate. In the heated argument at the meeting, about half of the leaders sided with Ammann. The rest came down on the Reist side.

An incensed Ammann then excommunicated Reist and all the other leaders who held his views. Reist and his followers continued to be known as Mennonites. Ammann followers were soon referred to as Amish and the Amish church was born.

As news of the split spread to other Mennonite communities, both sides were debated. More conservative members began to follow the Amish ways. The Amish church grew.

Attempted Reconciliation

After several years of turmoil in the local congregations, some leaders of the Amish church thought that they might have been a little hasty. They sought reconciliation with the Mennonites. Some, including Jakob Ammann even excommunicated themselves as an act of humility.

The response from the Mennonites was lukewarm at best. In the end, neither side would concede on the shunning issue. The Amish became separated from the Mennonites.


The Amish have their own view of salvation. Most Evangelical Christian tradition points to a moment of salvation when one accepts the Christ's sacrifice on the cross as payment for sin. At that point, one is saved and is assured eternal salvation.

The Amish look upon salvation as a process of living one's life in a proper manner. Salvation comes from living a life that is transformed day by day into the image of Christ.

While knowledge of one's salvation if the cornerstone of most evangelical traditions, Amish religion is different. The Amish don't believe that anyone is guaranteed salvation as a result of a conversion experience, baptism, or joining a church. Claiming such certainty would be arrogant or prideful.

Amish religion says that God carefully weighs one's lifetime obedience to God's will and, in due time, God will reward the faithful. Thus the Amish Religion promises only the hope of salvation. This lack of assurance has been the reason for many of the defections from the Amish religion.

The Amish believe that the Bible is the authoritative Word of God and the New Testament is the fulfillment of the Old Testament. They believe that God has created and sustains all things.

Return from Amish Religion to Amish Culture

Return to Home Page