Tom: The topic for today’s and next week’s program is the Amish and their religious beliefs. Our guest for this two-part series is Joe Keim, who grew up Amish and now is a leader in MAP, which is Mission to Amish People. Joe, welcome to Search the Scriptures 24/7.
Joe: Thank you, Tom. Thank you for the opportunity to join you.
Tom: Joe, I’m guessing – and I think I’m pretty much right here – that most of our listeners are aware of the Amish, but very few know much about them and their beliefs. So I have little doubt that they’ll find our interview quite interesting as well as an encouragement to pray for the salvation of the Amish and for the missionaries who minister to them.
But, Joe, let’s start with your background among the Amish, and you can take that to how the Lord touched your heart, how you got saved.
Joe: Well, I was born into a family that was considered “old order Amish.” We were part of other old order Amish, but we almost separated ourselves from them in that we were even more “old order” than most.
Tom: Very strict, huh?
Joe: Yeah, very strict community. My grandfather was the one that founded the community, and by the time I came along, there were about 200 families that had joined my grandpa, and so it was a rather large community. There were 14 of us children. I was the oldest, and so I was just going through life, went to school for eight years, worked in my dad’s machine shop – my dad also had a farm, so we spent some time on the farm as well as learning the trades of his machine shop, and horseshoeing and other things. That’s the thing about the Amish. It seems like most of them have their own business, and it’s usually family operated, so we kind of worked together as a family unit. And it wasn’t until I got a little bit older – I think I was probably around 15 years old – when a man in my community had left the community for a little bit and visited some friends in Missouri and got saved. And when he came back, he couldn’t stop talking about this newfound faith that he had run into and accepted. And I remember him running up and down the country roads in a buggy and a white horse, and he would just stop in at different driveways. And he did so at our place, and he shared what God was doing in his life. He was studying the Bible. And of course, it didn’t take very long before the leadership in the church started saying, “You have to watch Paul. He’s got a new belief.” And that was the first time I was introduced to salvation by grace through faith.
Tom: So, tell our listeners about the Amish way of salvation. What did you think that you had to do in order to get to heaven – before Paul came along, anyway?
Joe: I often tell people that the gospel according to most Amish people has six major elements, and I’d like to go through those elements.
Joe: Before I do, though, I was always taught that we were to do the best we could. Some of us might reach the 80 percent mark or even 90, if we were really good. But where God’s grace came in is He’d fill in where we couldn’t quite measure up.
So most of it was on us. And if we did well enough and if we stuck in there long enough, or all the way to death, then God would accept us into heaven. My dad always said, “If I understand the grace of God correctly, if I die and stand in front of God, he’ll put me on His balancing scale, and if the good outweighs the bad, I’m okay.” He said, “If the bad is just a little bit heavier than the good, God’s grace will step in and push the scale down and let you in.” And that’s how we believed. It was mostly what we could do for God rather than what God could do for us.
But now I’d like to cover some of those elements, and like I said before, there’s six of them. The first one that comes to mind is Parental Obedience. We were considered to be under the authority of our parents for as long as we lived. Even if Mom and Dad passed away, we were still under their authority – under what they believed and taught us. They consider this to be the Number One commandment for all Amish people. And they referred to the Scriptures Ephesians 6, where it says, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.” And then it says, “Honor thy father and mother, which is the first commandment. “ And they kind of put a period right there, and they said, “Now, if you really want to be right with God, you have to follow the first commandment.” They considered that to be the most important, because it clearly says, “It is the first commandment.”
And for years, I believed that. You couldn’t be right with God and not be right with your parents. The two went hand in hand. So, if you did that right, and you did it all the way unto death, then there was a good chance that you would be good enough to get into heaven.
That was one element.
And then, the second one (if you have any questions, let me know…I’ll)…
Tom: Oh, sure, I’ll jump right in. Don’t worry about that, Joe! (Laughing) But, no, I’m fascinated by this, so just keep rolling. This is good.
Joe: So, sometimes people ask me, “Well, what did they think about people outside of the Amish?”
Well, the answer was, “As long as they obey the first commandment, they should be good. They may just be coming up a different side of the mountain. But the first commandment is to obey your parents and to do the best that you know, and if you do it well, God is pleased.”
Tom: Joe, would you finish that scripture, just for some of our listeners who are thinking, Well, wait a minute! How can they say that’s the first commandment? So, take that period out and finish that line in the scripture. Go ahead.
Joe: Yeah, it goes on – and this has to be included, because there’s really no period there. It goes right into verse 3, but it says, “that it may be well with thee and thou mayest live long on the earth.” So, it was the first commandment of ten commandments that had a promise attached to it. That’s simply all it’s saying.
Joe: It’s the first commandment of ten, but it’s not the first commandment, because, as we know, the big commandment is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and mind, and as it goes.
Tom: Strength, right.
Joe: But then we come to the second element, and this one is probably just about as big, or follows right behind the first one, and it’s Baptism. Now, baptism was something that took place at the age of 17. Not before, not after. But at age 17 you began the process that lasted about six months of becoming a member of the old order of Amish church. At the end of that training period, or process, then you would be baptized. And so, I went through that, and at the end of six months, we all gathered together – it was probably almost as big of a day as your wedding day, because all of your family and friends and everybody had come together in one place. It took place in the upstairs of a barn, and that day, I was told again – they referred to Scripture – in Acts:22:16, it says, “Now why tarriest thou? Arise and be baptized and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord.”
On that day, I was taught, right before we got baptized, that as that water is poured on my head in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, it would wash all my sin away. Now, you have to understand. At 17 years old, I trusted everything my parents and the ministers taught me, and so, I believed that I felt better when I got up. I got up, and I thought in my mind, If I could just die right now! All my sins are washed away. But later, I realized that all that happened that day was…I got wet. I was still in my sins.
Joe: But again, baptism was the big element that made you right with God.
Tom: Just to interject this, as I’m tracking with you here, Joe, as you know, I grew up Roman Catholic, and the parallels here are just…they just jump right out at you.
But keep going. Go ahead.
Joe: Yeah, and as you know, when we are baptized, we’re baptized into the church. It was almost like a confirmation or something like that.
Tom: But it’s interesting also, water was poured over your head. You weren’t dunked. I find that interesting because they would take some things very literally, but not other things.
Joe: Yeah, that was always a question I had, I guess maybe more so after I got saved and realized and understood that baptism itself means to be completely put under. But the argument there was that when you’re in the desert – and I guess this happened to some of their forefathers – they didn’t have any water to pour on themselves, so they poured sand on their heads and considered themselves baptized that way.
Tom: Yeah, you see, when men start breaking in and making things up…you know, even in Roman Catholicism, just because I’m thinking about it, there’s baptism – that’s the door. That opens you to salvation, okay? Nobody gets to heaven without baptism, according to…you say, “the old Amish.” Well, we have the pre-Vatican II Roman Catholicism, where the rules were pretty strict and so on.
But my point is that baptism opens the door. It’s the only way you can get to heaven. But, as you said, somebody’s in the desert. What can they do? Well, the Catholic Church also has the Baptism of Desire. So men make that up. So if there’s no water around, it’s the Baptism of Desire, and they even go beyond that to the Baptism of Blood, where a non-Catholic might save a Catholic person physically and they can “get in,” because they call that the Baptism of Blood. But my point being that when men start making stuff up, well, they try and cover everything, but they can’t. Anyway, go ahead, Joe.
Joe: I’d like to just add, too, because this is such a big element that fits into the package of salvation, I had a cousin that drowned at the age of 16, and I remember thinking, questioning, did Leander go to heaven? And it was so much on my mind that I went to the ministers, and I said, “Now, here’s Leander. He’s 16 years old. He’s one year before he turns 17 and is baptized. Do we have any assurance that he is in heaven right now?”
And I remember that older man minister looking at me and saying, “Well, the church teaches that you’re unaccountable for your sins until you are baptized into the church. Therefore, we believe that Leander is in heaven.”
Joe: So, until you were baptized, you were under only your parents’ authority. After you’re baptized, you’re placed also under the church’s authority.
But then we get to the third element. I was born in the hospital, which wasn’t all that common in our community. But imagine, for a moment, that I’m in the hospital, and my grandparents would come up to visit and see me and my parents. And at our hospital, there was a big window that you could look through and see all the little babies that were born on that day, and imagine – this wasn’t necessarily the case, but this is how we thought – Grandma and Grandpa come up, and they look at the lineup of babies, and they’re going down the lineup, and all of a sudden they come to little Joe. And they say, “Wow! He could have been one of those other babies, but he was born into an Amish family. And as soon as we get him out of here, we’re going to put Amish clothes on him, we’re going to teach him the Amish dialect, and he’s going to go to the Amish school and learn all of the things that Amish people teach. And when he’s old enough to get baptized, he’s going to be baptized into the Amish church, get married to an Amish lady, and have his own Amish family. If he dies with Amish clothes on, again, we believe that he can be at peace and right with God.”
And so, church membership was so huge. And it was also right before we were baptized, we made a vow. We made a vow that we would never turn our back on the church, meaning the Amish church that we were baptized into. And, of course, when somebody does leave, they immediately hold that against you, because you made that vow, and therefore, they can turn you over to Satan and shun you.
Tom: Yeah, now, Joe, that brings up an interesting point, and prior to me getting in touch with you, I looked at a number of videos dealing with Amish beliefs and so on, and one of the things that I’ve heard – and I’d like you to straighten me out on this – is that prior to 16, are they allowed to make a choice (or prior to 17) in terms of whether they’re going to go with the world or stay with the Amish community? And the reason I’m asking that is because that kind of throws a chink here against shunning. So how does that work?
Joe: Well, shunning doesn’t take place until after you’ve been baptized and joined the church.
Joe: If you leave before that, then they don’t shun you. But I’d also like to add that about 20 years ago there was a documentary made on the Amish, and it was…I believe the title of it was Rumspringa, or at least that word became a word that even people today use quite a bit. And most outsiders believe that during Rumspringa time, which is before they get baptized, they can go do what you just said: explore the world and live anyway you want and come back and settle down. But I always say that’s like a parent telling his child that you can go experience drugs, and hopefully you get enough, and hopefully you settle down and come back. I don’t know of any parents that would do that. It happens, and it happens quite a bit, but it’s not necessarily accepted.
Tom: Okay. I understand that now.
Joe: The fourth element is Be Not Conformed to This World. Now, again, we referred to Scripture because as the Amish would say in Romans:12:2, “Be not conformed to this world.” In 2 Corinthians 6, these were scriptures that were often preached, and it says, “Wherefore come out from among them and be separate.” Well, for us, that meant don’t get too close to English people, or outsiders, because we are not to be conformed to them. And the world, to an Amish person, meant cars, electricity, TV, radio, internet, clothing styles and fashion, and we were not to be like that. And it wasn’t until later on in life that I began to really study that out, and I realized that the biblical separation is that we are not to commit adultery, murder, lying, cheating, lust, drunkenness, and you could be Amish, as one guy said the other day, “I could wear my Amish hat, but that did not keep the lustful thoughts out of my mind. I could wear suspenders and plain clothes, but that didn’t help me any with the heart condition that I had.”
Again, the world was…the more separate you could be from the world, the better. Some people would hardly drive in a car because they thought that was getting too close to the world.
And then, of course, number 5: You Have Jesus Christ. Now, Jesus was “thrown in” there. He was part of the package. And they would quote James:2:14: “Though a man say he hath faith and hath not works, can faith save him?’’ A couple of verse down: “Even so, faith, if it hath not works is dead, being alone.”
And we really focused on the outward appearance. It meant everything to be Amish. They compared themselves with one another. They compared themselves with other communities, and there was always this thought that as long as I’m plainer, as long as I live a more simple lifestyle, the better I am. And it was very much centered around works.
Tom: Yeah, and it also kind of reeks of self-righteousness, doesn’t it?
Joe: Mm-hmm. There’s another thing I’d like to point out. Our Bibles (and we can talk about this a little bit more later on), but our Bibles were all in German. We knew three languages, but German was the least understood language of the three, and that’s what all of our spiritual books were written in, like the Songbook, the Hymnbook, and the Bible. And for some reason, Matthew 5, where we read about the Sermon on the Mount, the word “blessed,” where it says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit…blessed are they that mourn…,” that word “blessed” was translated into – the German word was selig, and selig meant “saved.” So if you read those same verses and use the word “saved” as Martin Luther translated it, it would read, “Saved are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Saved are they that mourn....”
And they looked at the Sermon on the Mount like we might look at John:3:16, so if you want to be saved, you would want to follow the Sermon on the Mount.
Tom: Again, “works salvation.”
Joe: Yeah. Very much so. The last element, number 6, is Submission to the Ordinance Letter. The Ordinance Letter was a list of things that we were forbidden to do, and it covered everything from education, lifestyle, family, leadership in the church, even to the point of how leadership was to be chosen. And this Ordinance Letter, obviously, was the foundation. I believe that if you pulled this Letter, handwritten Ordinance Letter – in my community, there were 22 pages – if you pulled that out from under the church, the church would collapse. If you left it in there, and pulled the Bible out from under the church, it would continue to go on, because it is built on this Ordinance Letter. Anyone who breaks these laws, or rules, that are written down is publicly and openly disciplined before the membership in church. And, as one part, I believe, in Matthew, it talks about “whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, whatever is loosed on earth is loosed in heaven.” So in a sense, when we made a rule in the church, and it was written down on paper, it became not only written on earth but written in heaven, and that could never be revoked.
Tom: Now, Joe, you mentioned that (we’ve got about 2 ½ minutes), but this Book of Ordinances – well, the word is verordnung in German, but you also mentioned that there were three languages. The first language, as I understand, was Pennsylvania Dutch, which is a language, right?
Joe: Well, it’s not really a language simply because it’s not a written language like we would know English and German to be. So it’s a mother tongue, it’s a spoken dialect, but not necessarily written.
Tom: Yeah, sort of a parallel would be Yiddish, which is kind of part Hebrew and German. A little different… But the reason I bring that up is because then English would be something – when you said you had eight years of school, so first through eighth grade, right?
Tom: And it would end there. But you would learn English in school, but German – even though the Bible, and that’s what you had, you had one in your home – that wasn’t, as you pointed out, the Bible could go away as long as you had the ordinances, the book of ordinances. That’s what you needed to follow and go by.
Joe: Yes. Very much so.
Tom: Folks, I hope you’re more than intrigued by the conversation I’m having with Joe Keim, who I mentioned grew up Amish and now is a missionary to the Amish through MAP, Missionaries to the Amish People. And I find it fascinating for me personally, because I grew up, as I told Joe, in Apple Creek, Ohio, and that was a community with many, many Amish, many Mennonites, and so on, and this is a…I won’t say it’s a “lost” people group – they are lost, if they go by what they’re taught, on the one hand. On the other hand, as people who Christ died for, that’s the issue here. We’re giving you some insights into it. But the emphasis, why we’re doing this (and we’ll talk about this more next week), but the reason we’re doing this is for the salvation of many souls.
The numbers I’ve heard, Joe, are a quarter of a million. Does that sound right?
Joe: Yeah, there’s actually a 308,000 population right now in the United States, Canada, and just new families moving over to South America in the last year.
Tom: So the common issue here, as I pointed out – Roman Catholicism. Joe, there are other things that you mentioned that are parallel with Islam. Allah has a scale of your good works and your evil, so, this is again works salvation.
My guest has been Joe Keim, part one of our series, and we’re going to pick up with this next week. So, Joe, thanks for being with us.
Joe: You’re welcome. Thank you for having me.