Like many Americans, I have a fascination with the Amish.
I’m intrigued by their life, and I respect their resilience in maintaining their identity in the face of massive societal pressure. They have survived for centuries. If large-scale cultural collapse is on the horizon (and I think it probably is; see here), Evangelicals should take lessons from the Amish about swimming against the cultural counter-currents.
However, what do the Amish say about salvation?
I picked up A Pocket Guide to Amish Life by Mindy Starns Clark which provides an overview of Amish customs and beliefs. Clark says the Amish believe,
Salvation comes through grace by faith (p. 18).
That’s a good start, but it’s not decisive. Every Christian denomination would agree with that statement, and many would find a way to reconcile it with works-salvation. However, Clark adds:
The Amish are not a cult, they do not try to earn grace by their lifestyle, and they do believe in salvation (p. 19).
I’m glad the Amish don’t try to earn grace through their works (i.e., their lifestyle). If you take those two statements together, it seems like the Amish believe that salvation is by grace, through faith, apart from works. If that’s true, I’m glad. I was under the impression the Amish believed in works-salvation.
However, there’s a wrinkle in that claim. Clark adds that the Amish reject assurance of salvation:
Feeling that it would be prideful to claim an assurance of that salvation, however, most Amish districts prefer that their members maintain what they call a “living hope” or a “continued effort” on the topic, trusting the ultimate fate of their soul to God’s providence rather than claiming it with certainty (p. 19).
Later, Clark repeats the point:
Myth: The Amish think they are the only ones who are going to heaven.
Fact: Despite their strong faith and regulated lifestyle, most Amish do not claim an assurance of heaven even for themselves, much less for anyone else. Instead, they live in the Christian hope that they will go to heaven but believe it would be prideful or presumptuous to know for sure.
How can someone believe in salvation by grace apart from works and yet deny assurance?
Notice that Clark distinguishes between having assurance and having hope. That is exactly right. Being merely hopeful about your salvation is not the same as being assured of your salvation.
Isn’t it sad that the Amish are actively taught not to have assurance and to be merely hopeful about going to heaven when they die?
The Free Grace position holds that assurance is of the essence of saving faith. In other words, believing Jesus’ promise of everlasting life—as opposed to disbelieving or doubting it—logically entails being assured of your salvation. How?
Think of assurance in terms of a simple syllogism:
P1: Everyone who believes in Him will not perish but has eternal life.
P2: I believe in Jesus.
C: Therefore, I have everlasting life.
Jesus’ promise is conditional. If a person believes in Him, then something becomes true of the believer, i.e., he “has” everlasting life. So if you believe, what do you get? Everlasting life. You cannot believe that the promise is true without also believing that Jesus gives you everlasting life, because that is what the promise is about. Hence, assurance is of the essence of saving faith.
Any Amish person who reads John 3:16 and believes it will know that Jesus has given them everlasting life. So how can their leadership encourage people to doubt their salvation without teaching them to disbelieve Jesus’ promise?
Clark gives a hint when she says the leadership “prefer that their members maintain what they call…a ‘continued effort’ on the topic.”
What does it mean to have “continued effort”? Works? If so, the Amish are put in the impossible position of having to believe contradictory things, namely, 1) they cannot earn grace by their lifestyle, and yet 2) their salvation depends on “continued effort.”
So which is it? Is salvation by grace or by continued effort? It can’t be by both.
In John 3:16, Jesus did not promise that whoever puts in continued effort shall not perish but have everlasting life. That is changing the gospel.
While I appreciate the Amish leadership’s opposition to pride, they’re wrong to use that as an objection against having assurance. Pride is a problem—for works-salvation. One of Paul’s arguments against salvation by works is that it can lead to pride, i.e., “lest anyone should boast” (Eph 2:9). But Paul does not raise that as an issue in by-grace-through-faith salvation. Is it prideful to believe that Jesus keeps His promises? Is it prideful to think that Jesus does all the work of salvation and we simply believe in Him for that?
Since salvation by grace has nothing to do with your worthiness, cleverness, or goodness, and everything to do with His great mercy, love, and sacrificial death, there is no place for pride in yourself, as if salvation was your accomplishment. If pride is involved at all, it is in what the Lord Jesus Christ has done for the believer. As Paul says, “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord” (1 Cor 1:31b).
One last thought—and a hopeful one! If the Amish leadership must actively teach their people to lack assurance, doesn’t that imply that many of them naturally have it? I wonder how many Amish have read Jesus’ promises of salvation, believed Him, and therefore have everlasting life, only to be told to doubt their assurance later on?
The Amish are very good at resisting calls to compromise their way of life. I hope they’re just as good at resisting calls to compromise their assurance.