For many Amish, salvation is believed to be obtained not only through faith in Jesus, but also through a life-long process of obedience to parents, church authority, community standards, and one's "baptism covenant."1 As one Amish leader put it, "Salvation is a gradual project."2 It should be noted that there are also Amish who believe in salvation by grace alone through faith alone and who view a humble and obedient life as the righteous fruit of regeneration. For many others, however, such a life is a necessary part of attaining salvation.
The Amish utilize the Dordrecht Confession of Faith, a Dutch Mennonite composition from 1632. It states in Article 6 that:
"We believe and confess, that, since the imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth, and, therefore, prone to all unrighteousness, sin, and wickedness, the first lesson of the precious New Testament of the Son of God is repentance and reformation of life, and that, therefore, those who have ears to hear, and hearts to understand, must bring forth genuine fruits of repentance, reform their lives, believe the Gospel, eschew evil and do good, desist from unrighteousness, forsake sin, put off the old man with his deeds, and put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness: for, neither baptism, supper, church, nor any other outward ceremony, can without faith, regeneration, change or renewing of life, avail anything to please God or to obtain of Him any consolation or promise of salvation; but we must go to God with an upright heart, and in perfect faith, and believe in Jesus Christ, as the Scripture says, and testifies of Him; through which faith we obtain forgiveness of sins, are sanctified, justified, and made children of God, yea, partake of His mind, nature, and image, as being born again of God from above, through incorruptible seed."
It's not hard to see that there is room for two interpretations here. This can be read in a manner that emphasizes faith and regeneration and sees repentance and the total reformation of life as the necessary result that will always come from this. In other words, everyone who truly believes in Christ and is made new will be saved. This paragraph could, however, also be read to say that, in addition to faith and regeneration, one must also repent and reform their own life as a separate and additional requirement to attain eternal life. Read in this way, one places this "reformation of life" something one must do above and beyond God's grace and thus adds works to salvation. Read in the former way, this statement is true. Every saved person will repent of their sins and their life will be transformed. Read in the latter way, this adds a necessity of works to earn our salvation and creates a different gospel that contradicts the scriptures:
"For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them," (Ephesians 2:8-10).
Note that Salvation is by grace alone through faith alone entirely apart from our works, but that good works will follow because God remakes us. Our life is indeed reformed, but that is because of regeneration, it is not a way to attain regeneration. When Jesus was asked what must be done to work for the bread of eternal life, He answered:
"This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent," (John 6:29).
Jesus also said:
"I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die," (John 11:25-26).
In the same gospel, it is also explained:
"As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God," (John 3:14-18).
The comparison being made here is to the account in Numbers 21:1-9, where God judged Israel for their sin through a plague of poisonous snakes, but then had Moses make a bronze serpent and said that if anyone just looked up at the serpent they would be healed and live. John records that, in the same way, when the Son of Man is "lifted up" on the cross, anyone who believes on Him will be saved from sin and death.
Yet John also reports that Jesus says:
"If you love me, you will keep my commandments," (John 14:15).
"He who has my commandments and keeps them is the one who loves me," (John 14:21).
John later echoes this in his own letters:
"For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome," (1 John 5:3).
"And this is love, that we walk according to His commandments," (2 John 1:6).
So we are saved through faith in Christ alone, yet that faith will produce in us an obedience born out of love. The grace of God through faith alone is the basis of our salvation. Good works are the fruit of that grace. If we get this wrong and claim that works are required to obtain God's grace or in addition to God's grace for us to be saved, we are in fact denying grace.
"But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace," (Romans 11:6).
Finally, we must note that even when we speak of good works, we are speaking of the commands of God, the statutes laid out in scripture. We are not speaking of human traditions that have been added to this. Everyone has traditions, and there is nothing innately wrong with traditions themselves, but the moment we elevate our traditions to the place of God's commands, much less say that our traditions must be kept in order to be saved, we have turned our traditions into a false gospel and false religion. For our Amish friends and neighbors who are part of congregations that believe this way, they are in a false religion and in desperate need of the gospel, and we must care enough about them to bring it to them.