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One Suspender vs. Two Suspenders

I once went to Goshen, Indiana to speak at Goshen College and the Associated Mennonite Seminaries. Most of the students at these schools were Mennonites, some with strong Amish backgrounds.

To illustrate the chronic divisiveness of Pentecostalism in the 1930’s, I told the story of a split between the Pentecostal Holiness Church and the Fire-Baptized Pentecostal Holiness Church on the “neck-tie issue.” I soon learned that my example was singularly unimpressive.

One student pointed out that the Amish had also divided over the neck-tie issue. Even more impressive was an Amish division between one suspender and two suspender groups. One suspender, argued one group, was clearly a practical and moral necessity, but a second suspender could only be explained by frivolous pride.  I soon came to learn that the Amish were divided into “car Amish” and “horse and buggy Amish;” the car Amish were divided into “black car” and “colored car”; the black car Amish into “black bumper” and “chrome bumper;” and so on and so on.

Surely there are several lessons to be learned from all of this. Clearly, we all should reread the New Testament teaching on freedom of private conscience, as expressed in Romans 14. We can never expect to agree on every subject, nor does the New Testament intend to speak on every specific issue. We must also understand the difference between a necessary unity in things we do in common (in a local church) and the diversity of individual conscience. If we do not learn these lessons, we can only follow the Amish.

On the other hand, I perceive some positive lessons in the Amish experience. One has to admire the solid courage and determination of a man who says, “Here I take my stand.” Too few people in this world are willing to stand for their convictions, and it was refreshing to watch the somber, bearded figures dressed in black silently proclaiming to the world a transcendent faith in God.

I also looked upon the simple clarity of such an approach to life with a bit of envy. Many people would feel pity for the young Amish children playing in the school yard in their coarse and sober clothing. But, in truth, their lives were blessed with a distinctiveness that made life’s choices quite clear-cut. They were one thing, and the world was another; they could choose to follow either path, but they were not likely to confuse the two.

Of course, I do not believe that the Christian can practice such escapism; he must live in the world.  But that burden makes it very difficult to keep clear in our minds and lives the distinctions between spiritual and worldly life. Our children are likely to think they can have both, or to be fatally tempted by the delicious taste of the world.  I wish it were as simple as an Amish farmhouse… I wonder if I could give it all up.

-  Ed Harrell