The Amish Boy and the Cigarettes

Amish BoysB

I didn’t even notice him at first. I was standing in line with my Wawa coffee and peanut butter pretzels. It was about 8:30pm on a Sunday night and we had stopped on our way home from the beach to stretch our legs. Ahead of me in the line was the boy. He was about 18 or 19 years old. He wore black pants, suspenders, and a royal blue shirt. His blonde hair was cut in the typical bowl-cut style used by the Amish. Nothing unusual about him. As he got to the counter, I remember thinking that he had nothing in his hand to buy, which caused me to ponder, as it was highly unlikely that an Amish boy was going to buy gasoline. So I watched. I did not have to watch long. I heard him mumble something that the clerk apparently understood. The clerk reached for a pack of Camels and laid them on the counter. The boy, a little sheepishly, gave him the money and walked away. As I watched the whole thing unfold, I thought about the absolute incongruity of the whole situation. Here was a boy who is part of the Amish church. This church is famously known for its policy of keeping separate from the world–down to its horse-driven plows and their favorite mode of transportation, the horse and buggies (because engines are worldly). They only use gas lights (because electricity is worldly) and use no modern-day conveniences within their homes. And yet he was buying cigarettes.

Now, of course, you can’t live anywhere near an Amish community, without knowing their tradition of “rumm-shpringa”, where boys and girls sow their wild oats for a period of time in their late adolescence. This is often celebrated by drinking and dancing parties. And I guess cigarettes, as well. I confess I have never understood how such a tradition could have ever started and seeing it in action has given me no more insight.

But it did make me wonder. How many things do we Christians do that are so incongruous to what our Lord stands for? Over history Christians did not drink, go to the movies, gamble, swear, or dance. They wouldn’t dream of wearing immodest clothing, much less a bikini. Christians went to church on Sunday mornings. The world recognized this “portrait” of a Christian. That was part of how you could tell if someone was a Christian. Of course, not everyone who behaved in this traditional way was an actual true believer. There were many hypocrites. So much so, that,about 25 years ago, we decided to throw the baby out with the bathwater and decide that God only cares about the heart and we can do whatever we want (although I am not sure what it says about our heart if we desire to do so many of these worldly things…just sayin’). This is the latest thing, is it not? Rationalizing our gambling, our R-rated movies, our swearing, our school dances, and our bikinis. Actually the tide has turned so much that there isn’t much rationalizing going on anymore. Most of the things in that list are already accepted as okay for believers to do.

And how it must break God’s heart. Nowhere in God’s Word is there any indication that we should ever sacrifice our personal holiness to reach the world. In fact, I would say that the whole philosophy has back-fired and we aren’t reaching much of anyone.  The people who are reached are those who just want fire insurance. The opportunity to do what they want while “knowing” they will end up in the “good” place for eternity instead of the “bad” place. But salvation that doesn’t include personal holiness isn’t salvation at all.

Of course, there are some new Christians who struggle as they learn God’s Word. They struggle learning what is acceptable in God’s sight. But our Christian culture has gone so far down into a pit, that I truly find myself wondering what exactly would be the description by most Christians of “worldly”. If James tells us to remain unspotted from the world (James 1:27) can someone explain exactly what he means in light of our current “Christian” standards? If we are to be separate (2 Corinthians 6), how is this accomplished exactly? John 15:19 goes so far as to say we will be hated by the world, because the world loves its own.

Wow. This was not really the direction I was headed when I started writing about that poor, pathetic Amish boy.   The boy who has “permission” from his “Church” to do and behave in whatever way he wants for a short period of time. Seeing this tradition in action makes me realize how silly we Christians look in our worldly actions. Claiming to love a Holy God, and being anything but holy in our behavior. It is utterly incongruous and quite sobering, indeed.


14 thoughts on “The Amish Boy and the Cigarettes”

  1. I find it interesting that both camps on this issue aren’t reaching people. When you think about it, the ones who have this “personal holiness” are just as far from reaching people as those who are justifying these actions.

    it males me wonder if perhaps we all need to stop focusing on the “what” part of our lives are start focusing on the “who”. I heard someone once say that we need to stop trying to be relevant and start showing the relevance of the gospel.

    those who are “holy” miss out on opportunities because they are usually judgmental and are so concerned with their holiness that they don’t build relationships into people’s lives. Those who “aren’t” are usually bogged down with justifying their actions and a lot of times hiding them from the “holy” ones. Sometimes we as Christians get so caught up looking at eachother that we stop looking outside of our lives and churches and really miss some great opportunities to show people what hope, salvation, and the love of Christ really look like in a transformed life.

  2. Yep, Joe, you are right. As always, it is very, very much about balance. But just because fallible humans aren’t always handling the personal holiness correctly, doesn’t mean it still isn’t very important. And I do think that we think of those who are judgmental when this word comes up, but there are so many wonderful believers who focus on personal holiness and are not judgmental.

    Sometimes, just by taking a stand, they are judged as judgmental, even if they aren’t. Now that is some irony for you, isn’t it?? Tough things to think about. I just hope to make people think. Instead of keeping the status quo…

  3. Joe — as I was thinking more on your response, I felt compelled to just jot down a few more thoughts.

    1) Our fruit (and actions) are evidence of Who we serve and of what holds our hearts. So, by that account, our personal holiness is the evidence that we serve a Holy God.

    2) The Bible is so very clear that faith without works is dead (James 2:14) It would be rather narrow-minded to think that those works are only works of love and meeting the needs of the poor, when James himself goes on to mention remaining unspotted by the world. It is also clear that we shall be known by our fruits (Matthew 7:17-20). If we are filling our lives with filth, we cannot be claiming to be clean. That is not a logical conclusion.

    3) Also, we forget that Christianity is a life of self-denial. Instead we are to live to the Glory of God. So, while some may struggle with their movie choices, drinking, or some of the other items I mentioned above, still others struggle with pride, gluttony, and gossip. The key is recognizing it as SIN and repenting.

    3) And, most importantly, by far, is our human tendency to look at man and develop our philosophies and conclusions on the fallacies and foibles we see there. We have to keep our eyes on God and His Word alone. This is so very important. What does God’s Word say about holiness? About purity? About living a life that is pleasing to Him? We cannot afford to react to the hypocrites and judgmental souls around us when pondering this very important subject.

  4. Oh and one more thing- If a “holy” person is missing opportunities to witness, then I would say they are not truly holy. That would be a hypocrite. They cannot be classified in the same category as someone who is truly holy.

  5. 1) I agree that our fruit is evidence, but we skew what fruit really is. In high school, I had some a friend who had the most amazing, giving parents and they were completely lost. By all the “holy” standards they had fruit. I think there’s wisdom in evaluating our “fruit” and making sure that it’s not just reaching for holiness, but conforming ourselves to Christ. Those who avoid the unsaved can look holy on the outside, but really they’re “white-washed tombs”.

    2) Define filth. I know it seems like semantics, but one person’s filth may be different from another. I think sometimes, as Christians, we use James’s verse of remaining unspotted as evidence that we should avoid the spotted, but I think the verse makes it clear that we are to be in the mix while doing this, not observing from a distance.

    3) and if I may add, being transformed to that list (recognizing it as sin, repenting…) otherwise we just become catholic.

    4) agreed. We must also remember that there’s a good chance Jesus would not be accepted in most church’s today because he did things radically different that the Pharisees thought he should. We need to be careful what we outlaw based on our own view’s of holiness and not God’s.

    5) obviously… but generally that person doesn’t realize they are a hypocrite (they probably think everyone else is)

  6. I think our relationship to the world can best be expressed this way: We, as believers, are like a boat on the water. We need to be in the water to be effective, but if the water gets in the boat, we are not only ineffective, but rendered completely useless. I think that about sums it up :)

    Thanks for your thoughts and for taking the time to post a response!

  7. I agree with you that we need to strive to be holy and I think your boat analogy is apt. Where I think you stray is when you decide to define what is holy using tradition rather than the word.

    The Amish define ‘holy’ by there traditions, and you yours. Why not define it by scriptures? If we are not going to use scripture, then why not just become Amish because their opinion is just as valid as yours.

    Based on what you wrote, here is what one can surmise regarding your opinion on what is holy:

    1. going to movies is unholy: please provide a chapter and verse
    2. dancing is unholy: same as above, but you will need even more because they danced in scripture and there was no condemnation.
    3. gambling is unholy: same as above
    4. drinking is unholy: sounding like a broken record here, but please provide chapter and verse.
    5. swearing is unholy: I would tend to agree with you on this, but would still be curious what verses you are using. I know they are there, just curious if you know others that I am not currently aware of.

    Forgive me if I missed any, but you get my point. Once we start defining holiness by our standards, we are no different than the pharisees who Christ spent much of his ministry preaching against.

    From my perspective, I will let God define ‘spotted’ and ‘the world’. I find it much easier to live my life by God’s standards than men’s

  8. I think you misunderstood me…and perhaps I did not make myself clear. I do not think drinking is, in and of itself, sinful. I do know, however, that being a stumbling block to my weaker brother is wrong (Romans 14 and I Corinthians 8). I also know that drunkenness is sin (I Corinthians 5:11, I Corinthians 6:10). Common sense tells us that alcohol is a highly addictive substance. My question would be–why play around with regular use of it? Is this honestly what would be most pleasing to my Heavenly Father? Gambling is absolutely a stewardship issue (Matthew 25) that I know is full of controversy. Not touching that one. Dancing and movies are not wrong in and of themselves. However, I think you would even have to admit that the music played at most dances is full of lyrics that would be an affront to a Holy God. Many of the movies Hollywood spews forth are, as well. They are full of lewdness and fornication (2 Corinthians 12), violence (Proverbs 10:11), and bad language (Colossians 3:8). If God doesn’t want us to DO those things, why would it be okay to listen or watch those things? Again, a logical conclusion. Swearing would also be covered by Colossians 3:8. “Put now you yourselves are to put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth.”

    And that is my point–not that we should go back to a legalistic Christianity, full of do’s and dont’s. But that we would think before we act. That we would truly give great thought to what would please the Heavenly Father who gave His son for my sins. I fear that all too many Christians think first what would please themselves and then just rationalize it by saying “I am free in Christ”.

    Hope that is a more clear representation of what I was trying to say.

  9. By the way, I couldn’t agree with you more–if it can’t be backed up with God’s Holy Word, then it is just like the Amish…or the Muslim…or the Hindu traditions. Everything needs to be based on Scripture. The key is not twisting scripture to mean what we want it to mean, but trying to discern what God is truly saying in His Holy Word. There is an abundance of “scripture picking” going on right now…with great focus on the freedom verses and not so much focus on being hated by the world verses. As always, we need to stay very balanced in our Christian walk.

  10. I live in New Holland, Lancaster County. You do not understand the Amish. They are my Friends. They smoke, what does that have to do with Christianity? And, the Tobacco that they grow is their Cash Crop. They go to FL on vacation and the young girls who have not been baptized yet, wear bikinis to go swimming. There as many different kinds of Amish as there are other denominations. What Outsider’s Perception of them is by reading silly Female Fiction, like Beverly Lewis and all the others who profit just by putting “Amish Pictures on the book jackets” has nothing to do with who they are. And while we are at it, the TV Show, “Amish Mafia” is sheer fabrication and Baloney. The only real part is that the Producers of the show film here in Lancaster County. You can’t begin a BLOG with a False Premise and turn it into a religious scenario. It just isn’t honest. I am an Author and a Story Teller and I would NEVER write about the Amish for profit. You need to begin at Square One and re-think your Premise.

    1. Wow. Not sure where you are coming from, but I would like to clear up a few things you obviously do not know about me. 1) I also grew up in Amish country and even have a family member whose relatives are Amish. 2) I despise Amish fiction and 3) I do not waste my time watching any reality TV, much less a trashy show like Amish Mafia.

      Now, onto your points. I really didn’t quite understand what you were saying, honestly, so I will just clarify what I was trying to say. My premise is correct. If you google Amish you will find the words “separate” “strict” and “plain”. The Amish people have always been known as a group that remains separate from the world. This is common knowledge, so I am sure I am not telling you anything you don’t know. It is very incongruous and even hypocritical that the worldly things you mentioned yourself (smoking, wearing bikinis) would be done by anyone who won’t even have “worldly” electricity in their house. That was my premise and I stick by it.

      I am not quite sure why you felt the need to be so viperous. I am not out to get anyone. There are many lovely Amish people. I was not attacking them. I hope that in your heated response you did not miss my point. Christians who do the same thing — act like the world, while professing to love a holy God, look just as incongruous.

      1. Dear Leslie, Sorry that you need the word, “viperous.” GOOGLEing Amish is not the Best Place to define them. My Point was: that there is no ONE Way to state WHO the Amish are. When Amish women here clean houses of the “English”, they enjoy watching TV shows even though their Elders would prohibit having them in the home. Amish do have electricity in their homes depending on the Sect. The Amish are not all that different from us except that their dress and traditions are different. The Amish here buy Vans and purchase car Insurance and they hire “English” to drive them to State College, PA to go fishing. The Amish here buy Life Insurance and I know that from my Friend who sells it to them. When Tourists come to Lancaster County and visit the Amish Tourist Sites, they do not see the beautiful carpentry work that the men do and how beautiful the insides of their homes are. The Amish do not have phones in their homes, but they have Cell Phones.
        My Point was: developing a BLOG the way it opened and basing it on the Amish, as if they were one homogeneous group would not be my choice on addressing the Issue/practice of Holiness.

        1. Okay, forget google. How about the dictionary? From the Merriam-Webster Dictionary: Though similar in theology to Mennonites, Amish wear modest, old-fashioned clothing and generally reject modern technology, including automobiles and telephones.

          Of course, there are all different types, just like with any religious group. I was referring to their traditional beliefs as a whole. I am sorry if I offended you, but I still stand by my example and think it’s a pretty good one.

    2. How is it that a faith based society can tell someone that it is ok to do worldly things and that it is justified because they haven’t been baptized yet? Sin is sin! Plain and simply if you know that you would not do it in God’s church house then you know that it shouldn’t be done at all. They need to be reawakening in the Lord if they think that it is ok to teach them this. We all stumble and that is why we should not judge but we can bring it to their attention so they can pray and work on it to be closer to God. A lot of us fall victim to the world and need a reawakening to realize it is not right for us and our Lord would not be pleased with us.

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