Coming as immigrants into the American colonies along with other aliens in the 17th century were groups of German-speaking people known as Mennonites. In general, these Mennonites were a sect organized in Zurich, Switzerland in 1525. They had split from the Roman Catholic Church and they were a branch of the Anabaptists. It is the Anabaptist who is most commonly known for the erroneous doctrine that certain things are in themselves sinful. The name Mennonites is derived from that of Menno Simons, a Catholic priest who became the leader of the Anabaptist movement in northern Germany.
Near the end of the 17th century members of this sect settled in America in Germantown, Pennsylvania, because of the promise of religious liberty. They were fatigued with the persecution in Europe and the promise of a measure of peace in the new land induced them to move. They settled in Pennsylvania and spread westward through the forests and fertile farm country setting up commune-type communities as they went.
Today there are more than 17 branches of Mennonite groups in America and there are more than 200,000 members in these groups. The watchword of all these Mennonite groups is commonly known as “separation from the world.” By this the Mennonite means physical separation from the world.
The Mennonite groups are characteristically the same with slight variances. Some of the characteristics are: 1. Opposition to all ecclesiastical control. 2. Autonomy of the churches. 3. Freedom of conscience. 4. Separation of Church and State. 5. Practical piety. 6. Devoid of dogma, but a world and life view manifested in domestic and economic virtues.
Some of the Mennonite groups who settled in this country are more commonly known as Amish folk. They derive this name from Jacob Ammann, a Swiss Mennonite leader. The most conservative of this sect call themselves the Old Order Amish. The Old Order Amish congregations are necessarily small because they do not build large meeting houses. They worship in dwelling houses and barn. They are of the opinion that one place cannot surpass another in sanctity. There must in the New Testament dispensation be no other house of God than His true spiritual house, the Church. “Various usages permitted under the old covenant such as resistance by force, the taking of human life, the swearing of oaths, and divorce, were abolished by Christ, who fulfilled the whole law.” (The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge).
These Amish may be said to live in a voluntary semi-communism. Their clothing and houses are kept exceedingly plain and unassuming. Reader’s Digest in one of its recent articles refers to these individualists in a society which predominantly conforms as the “Plain People.” The point of reference in this article is the “revolt” of these Amish folk who object to the enforcement of a federal regulation with which they for conscience sake cannot comply. They are opposed to all insurance and will not comply with federal stipulations laid down by the Social Security Commission which collects the premiums from all employees of business establishments with more than three employees and now from self-supporting farmers. Because of a recent amendment to the Social Security code premiums can be collected from self-supporting farmers to be applied to the “Old Age, Survivors and Disability Insurance” managed by the Federal Government. To such insurance the Amish folk object.
Valentine Byler is the tall, quiet Amish farmer who has been selected by the Internal Revenue Service agents as the trial case in this present “revolt.” Someday soon the horses and buggies of these Amish folk will be hitched to the parking meters in downtown Philadelphia and the case of Valentine Byler versus the United States of America will open.
Many schemes have been used to force the payment of $214.43 in back payment to the Social Security Commission, but none of these was such a flagrant violation of man’s rights as the confiscation of Byler’s horses in spring plowing time. These horses were sold and after all expenses were paid Byler was sent a refund of $37.89.
Because the Amish do not want their interdependence on each other to shift to an outside source as this would result in the eventual breakup of their order, they have begun proceedings to maintain rights which they consider to be vital to their religious beliefs. Going to court has always been taboo in Amish circles but it was finally agreed that “it is not shameful to go into a court of law; it is only shameful to go for a shameful purpose.” (Reader’s Digest, November, 1962) Attorney Shepherd Kole has been engaged to argue the case against the United States of America. If the case is lost in court the Amish must depend on bills currently being held in congressional committee. If they lose in Congress, then what? The Amish buggies may have to retreat to some other land.
Even though we are tempted to smile at the seeming insignificance of this ripple on the current of world events it is worth a few moments of our time and worth some consideration. These “plain people” are in a certain sense to be envied. They certainly have retained outwardly a principle that the church formerly practiced more than is practiced today. The principle, that when one member suffers all the members suffer, is at least outwardly practiced by these Amish folk. In the past the task of the care for the poor and the aged did not fall upon the shoulders of the welfare state but was the decided responsibility of the church. In this way the church was blessed and evidenced the work of salvation which had been wrought in them through the operation of the Spirit of grace. Again I say that even though we differ radically with the Amish as they attempt to flee things we can still appreciate their attempts to maintain the social order and the religious principles they have established as this right is guaranteed to them by the Bill of Rights in the Constitution of this land. We must be reminded, however, that no group can establish a little heaven here on earth. The nature of man precludes all such possibility. Even the most holy has only a small beginning of the new obedience.
Making a value judgment is always difficult but the Calvinistic world and life view has never advocated world flight. We are in this world even though we are not of it. We seek a better country. Yet the position of one who is truly Reformed and is Biblically orientated is that the question in point is one of those adiophora or indifferent things. Participation or nonparticipation, when that is possible, is a choice left to the individual Christian because participation does not directly involve a denial of one’s faith in the Christ of the Scriptures. Making one’s calling and election sure (cf. II Peter 1:10) is not dependent on one’s choice to pay or not to pay for “Old Age, Survivors and Disability Insurance.” Putting one’s trust and hope in the mammon of sin does involve such a denial of the Christ of the Scriptures.