© 2012 Reynold R. Kremer
I have often been told that the Amish church is a church of forgiveness. If one searches Amish forgiveness online, one is inundated with sites that mention the Nickel Mines tragedy where so many innocent schoolgirls were brutally murdered by a crazed killer. The Amish community, and especially the families of the children, came together and offered their forgiveness to the family of the gunman. It was a moment that sent shock waves throughout the news media which could not imagine how forgiveness could be a part of the story. Such forgiveness is commendable, because that is what God would have us do.
Yet there seems to be a disconnect between that account and the forgiveness (or lack of it) that is practiced among fellow Amish. Take, for instance, the plight of a certain Amish husband and father. For past misunderstandings and transgressions, this northern Indiana Amish man has been in a partial ban for the past several years. The act of shunning brings with it serious consequences including condemnation of hellfire. It also severely strains any relations that person had with his church family as well as with his wife and children. For several years this man’s wife has had little to do with him, she has destroyed some of his personal belongings, and she has systematically turned his older children against him to the point that they call him names, refuse to help him, and feel free to talk back to him and even taunt him. Outwardly the partial shunning means this man is restricted from most church functions, especially participation in holy communion. Inwardly it means daily torment. The only hope this man had was to come before his congregation, kneel down, and ask forgiveness, that the ban might be lifted allowing him to once again share in the fellowship within his home and church. Yet as many times as he tried to do so, he was told that he still hadn’t done enough. His work and efforts still fell short of his wife’s and his bishop’s expectations. Amish forgiveness! Although offered freely to the outside world, it was nowhere to be found within this northern Indiana church district. How can this be justified?
In the 1500’s the Amish (Anabaptist) church was founded upon Scripture. The Dordrecht Confession states that their faith is anchored in Jesus Christ and his universal forgiveness. These people believe that the Savior shed his blood on the cross of Calvary to offer full and complete atonement for their sins. Today however, some within the Amish community would do well to discover what Scripture also has to say about true forgiveness among their own members.
St. Paul states in Colossians 3:13: “Even as Christ forgave you, so also ye do.” He repeats himself in Ephesians 4:32: “And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.” What is Paul telling us? He is clearly saying that Christ has forgiven us. But that’s not all. He is also pointing out that we should forgive others in the same way that God forgives us. Well, how does God forgive us? What does he do with our past sins and transgressions? If we are to mirror his forgiveness, we need to take a look at how God forgives.
Scripture is very clear about how God deals with our sins. We certainly know that he takes all of our sins away, but what does he do once he has taken them? What does the Bible say about how God disposes of our sins?
Isaiah 38:17: “”Thou hast cast all my sins behind thy back.”
Isaiah 43:25: “I will not remember thy sins.”
Jeremiah 31:34: “I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”
Hebrews 8:12: “I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and iniquities will I remember no more.”
The Bible tells us that God’s forgiveness is immediate, complete, and he chooses not to remember ANY of our past sins. He will never bring them up again. He will never trouble us with them, and he will never use them as weapons against us.
If that is how God forgives us, then that is also how we are to forgive our brothers and sisters. If someone seeks our forgiveness, we should offer it immediately and completely. We are not to make our brother or sister pay for a sin again and again until we feel they have somehow earned our forgiveness. That is not godly!
Read the Bible’s great faith chapter in Hebrews 11. Here we see passing before us a parade of some of the most prominent Bible heroes. There is Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Samuel, David, and Moses. Each of these men’s lives included sins; some terrible sins, to be sure. Yet in all of Hebrews 11 we do not see those sins mentioned. Why? God blotted out those sins! God chose not to remember them any more. Those sins were gone! And how far away does God place all those sins? “As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgression from us” (Psalm 103:12.)
Satan, on the other hand, also knows of our sins, since it is he who helped orchestrate them in the first place. Satan would love to have us remember our sins. He wants us to keep a list of each one of them. He loves to bring discord among God’s people and to place the burden of guilt on our hearts. That is why in Revelation 12:10 Satan is called the accuser for he “accused them before our God day and night.” He desperately wants us to feel the weight of our guilt before God because that takes our focus off the Lord Jesus and places it squarely upon ourselves. David wrote in Psalm 38:4: “My guilt has overwhelmed me like a burden too heavy to bear.” Yet when he placed his eyes on the grace of God, he also wrote: “You forgave the guilt of my sin.” (Psalm 32:5) When Satan brings the accusation of past sins before God’s throne, God responds: “Those sins are forgiven and I choose not to remember them any more.”
How can this Amish bishop justify his action of withholding forgiveness from a repentant Amish man? How can this bishop refuse to accept this man into the fold once again as a repentant sinner? How can the accusers of this Amish man (including his wife and children who have been in close contact with the bishop) constantly bring up list after list of past offenses he has committed? How can they tell him that he hasn’t yet done quite enough to deserve forgiveness?
Was this bishop given any special divine authority to decide when someone fully atoned for his or her sins? How can these men judge the heart of a person asking for forgiveness? Where in Scripture do they find the right to remember past sins and hold a brother accountable again and again for them? Didn’t Paul tell us in 1 Corinthians 13:5 that: “Love keeps no record of wrongs?” Sadly, this is not the first instance of this bishop forcing a member to repent of past sins again and again. This bishop has repeatedly brought pain and sorrow to those who have felt the unforgiving wrath of his power and judgment.
I am not Amish, yet I have respect for the Amish people. I have studied their society, culture and religion for many years and I frequently pray that they will seek the truth and rediscover the beauty of the Gospel message of Christ’s love for us and draw from that love to forgive and love one another. I often feel that many of the Amish (such as the bishop and many members of this northern Indiana district) have lost contact with that “one thing needful”. Ordnung rules and power of position have become their motivation, not the Gospel message. Satan has redirected their focus from the cross of Jesus Christ to their own work righteousness, their own lust for power and their own exercise of judgment.
Certainly the Law is necessary in the life of any believer. It provides guidelines for us to follow, it hems us in like a curb, and it reflects our sins like a mirror. Yet the Law should only be used to lead one to a deeper need for the loving sacrifice of God’s Son on Calvary. It is the Gospel that is to be the centerpiece of Christianity. Appreciation for Christ’s atoning sacrifice will motivate us to forgive and embrace our brothers and sisters in the faith immediately and completely upon their heartfelt confession, while remembering those sins no more.
This is how the Master put it: “If you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”
My fervent prayer is that this Amish church district will follow the Scripture in Ephesians 4:32: “Be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.”