Question: "Who are the Amish, and what are their beliefs?"
Answer: The Amish are a group of people who follow the teachings of Jacob Ammann, a 17th-century citizen of Switzerland. It is a Protestant denomination, closely related to the Mennonites. The Amish, most of whom live in the United States, follow simple customs and refuse to take oaths, vote, or perform military service. They shun modern technology and conveniences. Transportation for the Amish is by horse and buggy. They do not have electricity or telephones in their homes. The men usually wear beards and pants with buttons instead of zippers. The women wear white head coverings and plain dresses, usually without buttons—they use straight pins to fasten the clothing.
The Amish believe that James 1:27 "...and to keep oneself unspotted from the world" means to stay away from things the "world" does—like driving autos, having a TV, going to movies, wearing make-up, and the enjoying the conveniences of electricity and phones. They often use generators to create power to run their equipment and use horses, instead of tractors, to do farm work. The bishop (leader) of an Amish community (district) sets up the rules of conduct allowed for his district. Some bishops are more lenient than others. The Amish have church services in their own homes, taking turns hosting on Sundays, and do not have church buildings. They usually only go to a formal school until age 15.
The Amish groups have problems, just like anyone else. Most of these church groups try to keep their problems concealed from the outside world. The youth are given the opportunity to taste of “the world” in their late teens to determine if they want to join the church. Many young Amish people get involved in drugs, alcohol, sex, and other vices during this time period while they are allowed to own a motor vehicle, but a large number then do give up the vehicle and join the church. Others determine they will not join the church and attempt to fit into the secular world.
Spiritually speaking, the Amish are very similar to the traditional Jews that keep the Old Testament Law. They have a long list of do's and don'ts. If they fail to keep the list, they are in trouble with the church and are in danger of being shunned. Shunning is a form of excommunication. If they partake of the "worldly" things, they are shunned by the church people.
The Amish believe that Jesus Christ was the Son of God, that He died for their sins, and that He is the way to salvation. However, many Amish also practice a works-based relationship with God. They view their good works as earning favor with God. If their good works outweigh the bad works, they feel God will allow them into heaven. The Amish are basically good, hard-working people, who have to make sure they stay on the right path, so they get final rewards in heaven when life is over. They say "Amish is a lifestyle,” not a religion. They choose to keep the simple life so they can focus more time on family and home, rather than the things that require advanced modern technology.
As a group, the Amish do not believe in the security of salvation. They believe a person can lose his/her salvation if he/she strays from the path, or falls from grace. They do not believe in infant baptism, but do "sprinkle" for adult baptism, rather than immerse in water.
Thankfully, some (or many) members of the Amish church do believe that Jesus paid the full price for their sins, and have truly received the grace so freely given by God. Sadly, others cling to the “works-based” philosophy, believing their salvation is based on their “right” actions. The Amish set a powerful example by literally trying to "keep themselves unspotted from the world" (James 1:27). At the same time, the Bible does not call us to completely separate ourselves from the world. We are called to go into all the world and preach the gospel (Matthew 28:19-20; Acts 1:8). We are not to withdraw and separate ourselves from those who most need to hear the gospel message.
There is much for which the Amish are to be commended. The powerful example of unconditional forgiveness the Amish showed after the 2006 Amish school shooting was a demonstration of the love and grace of God. The Amish are kind, respectful, hard-working, and God-loving people. At the same time, the legalism and works-based faith that is evident in some Amish communities is not to be followed.