Slain in the Amish Spirit

amish church traffic  small I am headed to Amish country today with a bunch of Orthodox men for a kind of old-fashioned guy's day out adventure -- various bonding rites planned, including something involving hot-rod tractors and lots of noise. However, I will keep my reporter's hat on and I'll let you know if I meet any Amish people who are speaking in tongues. OK? What? You didn't read that interesting Religion News Service piece this week?

It seems the Pentecostal wave that is washing over large parts of the world (think Africa and South America) has also reached ... Lancaster County? Here is a key chunk of Daniel Burke's piece about the Pentecostal healing ministry of Steve Lapp:

About 18 months ago the Old Order Amish church excommunicated Lapp, 37, and everyone associated with his healing ministry, including his wife and two of his brothers. The Amish bishops said Lapp was practicing "devil magic," he said, and ordered him to stop. He did, for a time.

But people kept knocking on his door, begging for help, and he kept reading the Bible passages in which Jesus' faithful are anointed with the gift of healing. ...

With his talk of supernatural healings and events, Lapp seems more at home -- at least theologically -- in Pentecostal churches than among the Amish. But he is just the most extreme example of an evangelical influence creeping into the Old Order Amish community, according to a number of observers. The trend may be most evident here in Lancaster County, which, with 25,000 members, is one of the world's largest Amish settlements.

Here's the heart of the story: What happens if Amish people start thinking like evangelicals?

What happens if they decide that they are supposed to reach out to other people with their Christian message? What does it mean to be "in the world, but not of the world" if you are Amish? What does evangelism and mission work look like?

The Amish have had to start banning Bible studies and independent prayer meetings. I mean, the Wind blows where it will. Or is this just another example of evangelical globalization?

Burke has captured the key theological tension:

This closer walk with the outside world and emphasis on individual experience challenges the traditional Amish understanding of faith, said Donald Kraybill, a professor at Lancaster's Elizabethtown College who has written widely on the Amish.

"People may say, 'The spirit led me to do this.' And that becomes a new challenge against tradition, heritage and the authority of church leaders," he said.

About 35 to 60 families, the equivalent of two church districts, have left or are considering leaving the Old Order, according to a number of estimates. And because bishops traditionally "clean house" of strident members ahead of twice-yearly communion services, as many as 12 more excommunications could be coming, said one Amish man familiar with the situation.

In Lancaster's tight Amish community, even the smallest ripples of discontent can swell into waves.

In one sense, this is new. In another, it has happened before, with more people going up what Burke describes as the "Anabaptist escalator," into more and more evangelical forms of the root Amish faith tradition. This is America, after all.

If you search Google News, you will find few, if any, links to this story. That is really sad, because this is a perfect example of why Religion News Service exists. More people need to see this kind of coverage.

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