Thursday, June 23

Origins and Lessons: Amish, Mennonites and Quakers

During the early to mid-1500s, besides the Magisterial Reformation between Martin Luther, John Calvin and Uldrych Zwingli, another movement began known today as the "Radical Reformation." It is out of the Radical Reformation that the Amish, Mennonites, and the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) which we have today were formed. I grew up near a large Amish community in New York, and more often than not my mother and my grandmother would go to a Farmer's Market or visit the Amish herself and pick up vegetables, fruits, honey, baked goods, decorations and a hundred other wonderful such things. I remember being very young when I turned and asked my mother, "why do they dress different than we do? Why do they ride around in a horse and buggy and not in a car? What do you mean they do not use electricity, Mom? How do they live?" In my naivete, what I was essentially asking is - where did these humble groups come from? What is their story? Further, what life lessons can we learn from the Amish or the Quakers?

At the time of the Reformation, the Church was also dealing with the Turks - the Ottman Empire. But a group known as the Anabaptists arose. They believed that Catholics were “Turks in Spirit,” and that they were not true Christians. So they re-baptized people, because they also held that infant baptism - the standard form of baptism at that time - was not a valid form of baptism. In the early 1520s, there was enough animosity toward the Roman Church that anticlerical views, attacks on ecclesiastical practices and regulations, and attacks on clerics became quite common. For the Anabaptists, the call to preach the freedom of the Gospel and to preach the Word of God to the common person - were very important. Preaching was their primary emphasis. Anabaptist congregations also practiced "community of goods" - as seen in the early church (Acts 2:44; 4:32), something which various religious communities continue at varying levels today.

The origins and implications of Anabaptism challenged not only the lack of individual moral improvement, false doctrines, and antichristian ecclesiastical institutions, but the un-Christian social structures of sixteenth-century Europe. For an Anabaptist, only a commitment to Christ could be the basis of salvation. The movement is called “Anabaptist” (“repeated dippers”) because as aforementioned, they denied infant baptism, and upheld believer’s baptism. As a result, they held that Catholic baptism was not valid, and as the majority of Christians at that time were Catholic or Orthodox, you had to be re-baptized. This is very similar to the stance of the Donatists during the time of St. Augustine. They were also anti-clergy, held a Collectivist view, and held a literal interpretation of the Sermon on the Mount. They also attempted Theocracy - a government ruled by religion. After a rebellion, the Catholics and other Protestants suppressed them, and the movement became more pacifist, leading to the modern Amish, Mennonites, Brethren, Quakers and others.

Amish in Pennsylvania
The Swiss Brethren emerged in Zurich in 1523-1525 out of disputes with three individuals: Conrad Grebel, Felix Mantz and Zwingli. This concerned the tithe, images in churches, and the nature of baptism and its relationship to faith. The earliest Anabaptist argued by justification from faith alone (sola fide). They believed that there was no mandate in Scripture for infant baptism. They felt that the city council should dictate the pace of the Reform. The government began to be the voice of leadership in the church, as opposed to the clergy. The Zurich City Council - with Zwingli - performed an adult baptism, and repudiated infant baptism. They were critical of Luther, Zwingli and others for emphasizing faith alone at the expense of social behavior. How would one deal with social behavior? Luther claimed that a true born-again Christian would act well. "But what if they did not?" - the Anabaptists disagreed with Luther.

Recent scholarship has shown elements in common between Anabaptists and peasant rebellions. Many Anabaptists were sympathetic to the common person trying to overthrow social order, so as Anabaptism spread, it overlapped with the Peasant’s Revolt and beyond. Prior to the Reformation, society had its great chain of being. God was at the top and peasants were at the bottom. The ideas being put forth during the Reformation, however, were very, very radical. They were rooted in the concept that the Gospel was a leveling power which has a social consequence. Numerous people who became Anabaptists became participants in the Peasant’s War. If we look at Anabaptism today - the Amish, Mennonites, Quakers - we would call them the “peace churches.” This came after the early movement, which included some radically violent Anabaptists, but it would not last, as Anabaptist leaders reflected on their views of war. When the Peasant’s War ended in failure, they felt that if the world rejected truth, then truth must reject the world - so they became separatists, and broke up into small groups. The most important early Anabaptist groups were known as the Swiss Brethren, and a group known as the Hutterites - all of whom were severely persecuted, and viewed with suffering and martyrdom in years to come. They felt they would follow in their master’s faith and be persecuted.

The first challenges to the new Protestant orthodoxy came from Andreas Bodenstein von Karlstadt (1480–1541) and Thomas M¨untzer (before 1491–1525). A colleague of Luther at Wittenberg, Karlstadt, during Luther’s absence at the Wartburg, increased the pace of reform by putting Luther’s teachings into practice. He also moved beyond Luther theologically. During the Wittenberg Movement (December 1521–February 1522) Karlstadt celebrated the first evangelical Mass, moved the city council to reorganize Wittenberg as a "Christian City", and had images removed from churches. He was critical, however, of the dreams and visions claimed by three "prophets" who appeared in the city at that time. Karlstadt agreed that the Spirit was needed to embrace true faith, but the content of that faith was to be found in scriptures. Despite elements of Spiritualism in Karlstadt, biblicism more accurately defines him. Karlstadt abandoned all academic and clerical titles and had himself called ‘Brother Andrew’. He even sought for a time to support himself by farming - a practice later taken up by the Amish and Mennonite communities.

In Orlamunde, all images were removed, infant baptism suspended, and the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist was rejected as theologically sound. In 1524, Karlstadt went to take refuge with Luther, and actually wrote works on the Eucharist that led to the controversy between Luther and Zwingli. But he did not believe in violence - which made him differ from Muntzer. Munzter agreed on the Eucharist and baptism, but they were less important for him - he was focused more on the Spirit, and is by some considered more Spiritualist than Anabaptist. In response to the Spirit-filled radicalism of Thomas Müntzer, who claimed to receive revelation directly from the Holy Spirit apart from scripture, Luther replied that he would not listen to Müntzer even if "he had swallowed the Holy Ghost, feathers and all". Luther’s reaction against the radicals only became more adamant after (as he saw things) Anabaptism ignited social violence.

Initially sympathetic with the demands of the peasants, he turned against them once their political protest grew into the Peasants’ War in 1524–25. The long-term consequences of Luther’s vigorous rejection of the Radical Reformation were profound and lasting, giving later Protestantism an aversion to any hint of what he called Schwärmerei (English "enthusiasm"). The root of Schwärmerei, according to Luther and later Protestants, was the belief in any unmediated experience of the Holy Spirit. To protect against this seemingly ever-present danger, they insisted that the only valid vehicles of inspiration were the Bible and the sacraments authorized by it. Apocalyptism was also prominent among many Anabaptists, and some at that time placed a date on the Second Coming of Christ at 1533.

Another branch of Anabaptism - the Mennonites - was founded in the 1550s by Menno Simon, an educated Roman Catholic priest. His followers came from Switzerland, Germany, and Holland. He started a new order of worship and set forth a series of rules for the conduct of those who joined in the movement. The Hutterites were led by Jacob Hutter, a pastor who was martyred by the Holy Roman Empire in 1536. They were founded in 1528. They practice communal living and hold firm to adult baptism. They and Mennonites share similar roots. The Amish came later. The Amish began from a late 1600s schism in the Anabaptist church by followers of Jakob Amman, a Swiss minister who believed that adherents should “conform to the teaching of Christ and His apostles” and “forsake the world” in their daily lives. The word “Amish” derives from his name.

Now, there are many interesting and wonderful things about the Amish. For example, the Amish follow a partially written yet mostly unwritten code of The Amish have an unwritten code of conduct called the Ordnung, which emphasizes virtues such as simplicity, humility, and obedience. Unlike early Anabaptists, they are also very strict pacifists and oppose violence of any kind. Also, similar to how early Christians met in house churches, the Amish follow suit and meet in each other's house week-to-week, not an intentional worship space or religious building. There are also interesting customs such as making faceless dolls - faceless so they do not make images out of pride and vanity - they do not generally let their picture be taken for the same reason (and that of not making any "graven images"), they are in school up until 8th grade, and they do not play musical instruments as they feel it would create feelings of pride and superiority.

The Amish can also teach us several life lessons. As blog writer Tricia Goyer pointed out, the Amish teach us that "Life isn't trouble free... when a barn burns down, they don’t dwell on why it burned, they gather together to rebuild. And then they praise God: for the lumber, the nails, the caring community that skillfully puts it together, the animals that will inhabit it, and for a chance to start again." They also believe that we should have "just enough for today and not a penny more. The Amish believe in hard work and frugality, but they strive to prevent affluent living, keeping up with the Joneses, and social status. In fact, they don’t even value the indicators of success that we prize: income, education, luxuries, and symbols of prosperity." This lesson of living simply so that others may simply live (to paraphrase St. Elizabeth Ann Seton) is an invaluable one, especially in a culture that places so much into consumerism, materialism and individualism, this kind of simple-living mentality can help keep the common good in our perspective.

Goyer also points out that Amish are also willing to "draw a land in the sand. The Amish want to be good stewards of God’s resources—time, money, material goods. They know that convenience comes with a cost. They don’t want to be dependent on outside sources (such as electricity or gas!). Convenience means loss of something valuable. For example, fast food means less nutrition. More stuff means more maintenance. They’re willing to say no." This ability to be good stewards of their resources is one that Pope Francis continues to remind us, as in his encyclical Laudato Si' released last year. The Amish also teach us that "Nothing replaces face-to-face visits. Back in the day when telephones emerged on the scene, the Amish bishops made a deliberate decision to keep the telephone out of the house. They didn’t want to interrupt family life. But they drop everything for a face-to-face visit." Developing a ministry of presence or re-emphasizing the importance of face-to-face encounters with other people is extremely valuable and necessary in order to foster meaningful and healthy relationships.

Another movement of interest is Quakerism, which began in the 1650s in England under George Fox as a late part of the Radical Reformation. Recently, I visited the Arch Street Meeting House for the Religious Society of Friends (commonly known as Quakers) in Philadelphia. It is a historic site built in the early 1800s, designed with simplicity and plainness in mind. The Quakers' form of worship is through silence - and thus it is considered a form of contemplative Christianity - yet their worship also centers on the movement of the Spirit. There are technically no appointed ministers, no podiums, no altars, no religious imagery, and what have you. When attending an individual will speak as he or she feels led by the Spirit, so that they open the way for "The Light that lighteth every man." The picture to the right was taken at the wall leading to the Meeting House, and it reflects the Quaker belief that the light of God is in everyone, which missions Quakers to each individual with respect, dignity and compassion. It also demonstrates the belief that we are called to action - to improve our world and our society. Quakers are also known for their pacifism just as with the Amish - a hallmark not seen in the early Radical Reformation.

One Quaker, Samuel Nicholas, is buried somewhere on the grounds of the Arch Street Meeting House. Nicholas was a Quaker who left the movement because he did not agree with pacifism in the face of the Revolutionary War. So he became what is considered the first Commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps. Each year the Marines come and place a wreath on his memorial stone in his honor - and by the end of his life, Nicholas had mended his relationship with his community at the Arch Street Meeting House. Each person has the potential for healing, reconciliation and justice. On another note, consider the simplicity of Quakers. As one sign in the museum at the House says, "Simplicity and plainness is a cultural and spiritual practice of the Religious Society of Friends. Quakers are expected to think deeply about their actions. This includes how they dress, talk, and behave as well as how they build and decorate their homes." As a Franciscan, this strikes me because one of the vows that friars take is a vow of poverty, or put a different way, a vow to live as simply as possible.

There is much that we can learn from our past, as well as our present. The way in which the Amish and the Mennonites are often lauded for their good quality clothes, their excellent carpentry, their dedication to their way of life, their simplicity, their close communal bonds and their desire to be faithful are very inspiring. The way in which the Quakers leave behind various trappings in order to remain open to the fruitful potentiality of the Divine is moving. Each of our denominations, movements, theologies, philosophies and traditions has a past - the question today is, how will we continue what has begun? Keeping in mind what transpired during the Radical Reformation, what we do today and how we treat each other is also of the utmost importance - yet it is always helpful to know our roots so that we can learn to grow.

“The Radical Reformation” by R. Emmet McLaughlin.

Gonzalez, Justo L. The Story of Christianity: The Reformation to the Present Day. New York: HarperCollins, 2010. Volume II. 7-161. Print.

Ed. by Jim Fodor and Mike Higton. The Routledge Companion to the Practice of Christian Theology. "Experience in Theology" by Garret Green. 2015. Print.

"Amish: Out of Order". National Geographic Channel: April 10, 2012. Web.

Goyer, Tricia. "10 Things I've Learned from the Amish". NotQuiteAmish: 2012. Web.

No comments:

Post a Comment