<This is not about traditional mission work done by Old-Order Mennonite or Anabaptist groups. Neither is it about other Christian groups that seek to evangelize the Amish (perhaps considering them to be too legalistic, or nominal in their faith). Rather this uses some of my personal observations of some Amish work and what we might learn from them.>
One of the annoyances I (personally) have in evangelism is the lack of separation between sharing God’s message and sharing one’s denominational message. Not only do Christian witnesses connect these two but often:
-don’t see the two messages as being different. And…
-don’t see the inappropriateness of linking the two messages.
As I have noted in a previous post, I have had people share Christ’s message. But as soon as they realize that I am already a Christian, their message instantly changes to their own denomination’s message. The mild disappointment they exude upon learning that I am already a Christian switches to frustration and unhappiness that I have no interest in becoming their type of Christian. Because I did not respond, they feel like failures.
One might assume that the linking together of God’s message and one’s denominational message is normal… even necessary. Most Christian evangelistic methods target those who are a “different type of Christian”. For example “The Romans Road” and the “Bridge Illustration” targets people who were raised up in a “Christian” culture, already believe in Christ, value the Bible, and may even be active in a church. But they focus on Christians who are nominal (or perhaps) lacking in faith, or are in a Christian tradition that does not utilize the Sinner’s Prayer as a demonstration for conversion.
But can Christians point people to Christ without NECESSARILY pointing to their own church? I would like to give an example of one such group.
I was raised in Upstate New York very close to a large Amish (Old Order Mennonite) community. While Amish communities vary, this one is quite conservative. They do not use cars or tractors, and they do not use electricity. They wear blue or black clothes of a 19th century rural design. Their livelihood is farming or providing services for farming community. They seek to minimize dependency on the outside world.
The Amish are a fairly closed society, and one might assume that like many closed Christian societies in the world, they have no interest in sharing the Christian faith. I cannot speak for all Amish groups, and I can’t speak for all of the members of this particular community. However, some do share faith, particularly in written word.
One might assume that if one read such evangelistic literature, one might see long arguments why outsiders (sometimes labeled the “English”) should become Amish. Actually, that is not what this literature says. Often their writings explain who the Amish are, what is their history, and why they act different than others. However, when they give the gospel message, there is no call to become Amish.
The reasons for this is simple.
- Amish Christians realize that their sub-culture is extremely different from the culture around them.
- Amish Christians realize that it would be very difficult for people to gain the life skills and priorities shift to make the cultural leap.
- Amish Christians understand that there is a difference between God’s universal call and message to all peoples, and the basis for their own sub-culture and denomination.
Therefore, these Amish believers who shared their faith did not ask people to become Amish… but become faithful followers of Christ within their own cultural context.
The Amish example is difficult in practice, if a person comes to Christ through their ministry, it is hard for them to do discipleship. Another problem is that linking Christ and denomination is so rampant. Here in the Philippines, American, Australian, and Korean churches send missionaries here to reach out to (mostly nominal) Christians. What type of churches do they start? They make american, australian, and korean churches. And that is what the Philippines mostly has… poorly run american, australian, and korean style churches that mimic the home denominations. Very few churches make an honest attempt to contextualize to the culture. Most of the one’s who have culturally adapted end up with deeply flawed theology.
Why is this? Does contextualization necessarily produce heterodoxy? I don’t believe so. If the denominational message and God’s message is given mixed together, how does one know which is which? It is hard to tell. People accept the full message… producing uncontextualized churches. Others reject the denominational message but, confusing it with the God’s message, ends up rejecting much of God’s message… creating their own message instead.
I think we need to learn from the Amish here. By separating God’s message from their own denominational message, people are more open to accepting God’s message. Additionally, people are less likely to be confused about what God’s message is.
As Christians come into greater contact with people of other faith cultures,
-Buddhists -Hindus -Muslims -Secularists
-Neo-Pagans -Post-Christians -Atheists -New Agers
we need to remove the confusion between God’s message and our own. If we have trouble knowing the difference, so will they.