John Bradshaw - Conversation with Andy Weaver
He is from north central Ohio, a farmer and a lay pastor. And until relatively recently, he was a member of the Amish church. His name is Andy Weaver. I'm John Bradshaw, and this is our conversation.
John Bradshaw: Andy Weaver, thanks so much for joining me; a pleasure to have you here.
Andy Weaver: Thank you for inviting me. It's a pleasure to be here and an honor to be here.
John Bradshaw: Oh great, we're gonna have a good time here over these next few minutes. I wanna go back almost to the beginning. I see it a moment ago you were once a member of the Amish church. So tell me a little bit about where that all began. Your upbringing. I'm assuming you were born into an Amish family. Let's go back there.
Andy Weaver: Yeah, that's correct. I was born in a family of eight, very conservative Amish, Swartzentrubers Amish, for those that know what that means, very conservative.
John Bradshaw: What does that mean?
Andy Weaver: Well, you know, initially when the Amish started, it was just one group obviously, until about that was from 1700s to about 1910, one group broke away. The world was changing and they didn't want to embrace all the change that some of the mainstream Amish Church was embracing. And so they broke away and they just kind of, you look at them today, you think, especially you go into their community, you think you're living in the 1900, no 1800s.
John Bradshaw: Yeah, so what you're indicating here already is that even within the Amish, as a group, there are variations in how that plays out in the life. Can you explain some of that for me?
Andy Weaver: Yeah, very much so. So most Amish people are, well, no Amish groups allow driving cars. There may be a few exceptions through the last 5 or 10 years, but most Amish groups are allowed to ride in cars to go to work and things like that, which we were not. We were allowed to ride in cars, like to go to a doctor if there was an emergency or obviously we would ride in like transportation, like public transportation, buses and stuff, but we couldn't just hire a neighbor to go to Walmart or something. And so that's one of the things that makes it different. We were very primitive. Most Amish families have indoor plumbing to have some foremost showers or that kind of thing. We did not have that.
— So let me ask you what that was like as a kid growing up in these to use your words, sort of primitive circumstances, how did you relate to that?
— That was normal. You know, we had friends that were not Amish. You know, we would go to the house and kind of look around. We thought, wow, this is just a different world, but I never questioned it; that's the way worldly people lived and we thought the way we lived is the way God wanted us to live and so it was very normal for us.
— You might have just answered my question. Why is it that kids going to a modern home? Didn't say, wow, we want this? Why were you satisfied with your primitive lifestyle?
— I think it was partly, I think the community contributes to that. We were part of a community that we felt we had a sense of belonging. And so, yeah, we would go to town and we didn't even know how different we were. It didn't matter to us 'cause we had our own community and we were just born and raised and taught that the way we lived is the right way to live. And obviously, we didn't think that everybody is lost, that that doesn't live like us, but we believed if people were born and raised Amish, then that's the way they, we have to, to remain the rest of our life.
— Typically, what sort of reaction did you get as you think back on your younger life, what sort of reaction did you get from the people you mingled with and mixed up with when you went to town? You know, today people see Amish folks and their horses and or their buggies being pulled by horses. And it's, I don't mean to be disrespectful, but it's a curiosity.
— It's kind of fun to see because, wow, that's different. So what sort of reaction did you get?
— It was a mixed reaction. For some people, obviously in the community, you know, it was just normal to them, but some people despised us because they had a bad experience with a bad person in the Amish community because they're there. But for the most as part people really respected us.
— It would seem to me that for young people to grow up in this wider society, in a sub society, within that society with different values, transmitting those values to your kids has gotta be, well a challenge on some level. So talk to me then about the moral leadership within an Amish community. What I mean is you must have mothers and fathers who are very definite in what they believe and are very strong convictions. I mean this in a positive way.
— That's good.
— Talk about how Amish parents transmit those values to their children.
— Well, you know, there's a difference. Most Amish parents are very verbal. I mean they talk to their children, a lot about their beliefs and their values. And my parents did, they had a lot to say about the world and not to be part of the world. And, and a lot of it is just a jumble, like I said earlier, you're part of a community. You look up to your leaders and you believe everything they say, and it's easier because your young people are not introduced to the world as much, as far as today, like in, you know, in the secular world, the children get introduced to all kinds of things on social media and those things, the Amish don't have that. So if the parents can deprive them by, by from seeing it, just don't have as much of a pull than what with most people in the world would experience.
— So explain to me a little bit about what your upbringing was like. You were raised on a farm, I presume.
— Yes, I was raised on a dairy farm. Didn't go anywhere other than school and church just about. Get up early in the morning and milk the cows and have breakfast. And, of course, we had our prayers, our prayers were all scripted. So the same prayer every morning, except Sunday morning, we had a different prayer. My dad would always pray, you know, he would, we would kneel and he would read the prayer. So it was a definitely a routine. And you knew every morning when you got up, kind of what your routine was like was going to be a like, but yeah, you work, get up five o'clock in the morning and work until nine o'clock at night or so. So, no vacations. I remember, you'll like this. I remember one time I was traveling to New York, to upstate New York, not New York City, and for a wedding. And we met a person at the bus station and he was asking us a lot of questions about Amish. And he goes, "So what do Amish people do for recreation"? And I go, I didn't even know what he meant because we had no vacations. We didn't have any recreation. We just worked, worked, worked. And, of course, on the farm we have a lot of spare time. It's not like it was just sweating all day, yeah, we just stayed at home. It was a very innocent life. I was very shielded from a lot of the bad things in the world, clearly, but also was deprived from understanding what life was about. I was deprived from understanding what Christ was about in the Bible. Even though we read the Bible on Sundays, we would never read our Bibles during the week. If we did, it was a secret.
— Two questions to ask you, I think, and one is I wanna get to the idea of Amish religious beliefs, biblical beliefs. But first take me back to where this all began. Where did the Amish church, the Amish lifestyle, the Amish people originate?
— Yeah, that's a good question. I think it goes all the way back to the 16th century, more or less. with Menno Simons, he was kinda the reformer, the founder of the Mennonite church with the way it turned out. And they were very strong on church discipline. They had high standards and as time progressed, I think it was about a hundred years after his death, There was a lot of controversy in the church over church discipline. And so one group, they kind of split, one group went one way and the other group kept going. There was not too much distinction at first, until the world started changing as you can imagine, around the 20th century.
— And then things started really, the world started progressing and the Amish just, yeah, they said, we're not gonna embrace the change. And so today you look at Amish people and especially conservative Amish, such as Swartzentruber Amish. So you say where did the some of the ideas come from? Well, that's the way everybody lived back in the day They just never embraced the change.
— Yeah, so there are variations today among Amish people, some are more conservative, some are less conservative. Talk to me about that, explain that.
— Yeah. So obviously there was a main group. they are called Old Order Amish, even today and they're still a mainstream Amish and they kind of adapt to changes in the world and then all of different groups kind of split off there. You have new order Amish that broke away about or split off about 30 years ago. They have a lot more modern conveniences and they might even have tractors in the field and things like that. But for the most part, most splits and the Amish split a lot, they have lots of church splits, especially in the last 30 years. Just a lot of things that they just disagree upon with the world changing so fast. The young generation is adapting to it. And so usually more conservative people are splitting off. You know, I'll tell you something interesting in our church, we have people that were born Swartzentruber Amish and we had people that were born and raised Old Order Amish. And the Old Order Amish, they had to humble themself to come to worship with us because the difference was so big. They looked down on us because they're just a lot more in tune with the world and all that. Whereas the Swartzentruber Amish are a lot more primitive. The old or Amish could relate with you more than with me. That's how big the difference is. Even though they're in their horse and buggy, as far as everyday life, they could relate with you more than me.
— You said something interesting a minute ago, you said that the prayers are read, get together for prayer and read the prayer. My expectation is, in fact, I think my understanding is that most people who are vaguely familiar with Amish, at least know that they exist, would more than likely believe that the Amish live the way they live and believe what they believe because they're such biblical people and they're dedicated to the Bible. So I don't wanna ask this in a critical way, but explain to me the basis of an Amish person's religious faith, their Christian faith, What's that really built on? And not just their faith in terms of religion, but their day-to-day practices. What does that spring from? what's what does that go back to?
— That's a good question. And because of the great variation of the different Amish churches, it's not a one size fits all answer, but in my experience, you know, the people I grew up with, their basis is tradition. Obviously they read their Bibles, they believe their Bible. And they really like when their beliefs line up with the Bible and all that, but at the end of the day, they wouldn't bat an eye to tell you, to admit that, when tradition and scripture conflicts, they would go with tradition.
— So it's not as though everything is thus saith the Lord?
— This is what we believe because this is what our great, great grandfather did.
— No, well, it's what our great, great grandfather did, that's what they believe. So they have a lot of trust in their forefathers and they believe they were godly people. And especially when it comes to theology, whatever the conclusion was of their study, they will just adopt those and accept those. And they don't keep digging or searching for more.
— 'Cause, let's be honest, it's gotta be pretty easy for Amish people to justify their lifestyle in today's society.
— That's so true.
— Today's society is just this runaway train of permissiveness and sin and anything goes. I think most people will probably have a great amount of admiration for Amish people for sticking to their guns. But you've been on the very, very inside of that. And you've looked out and you've had someone explain to you what we don't look at that because it's wicked, and 99 times out of a hundred, that's a hundred percent true. So does it become from that point of view, relatively easy for an Amish grandpa to sit his grandkids down on his knee and say, "Here's why we stay away from that, boy".
— The world's world that does a pretty good job of explaining the young Amish people why the church and the community would stay away from that stuff.
— You are so correct. The world does a nice job, keeping the Amish people in the church, because in the eyes of an Amish person, every Amish person, they don't see any difference between in you and a drug addict because you dress the same as far as they're concerned. Because the Amish are very visual and so they look at the way people dress and they they're fruit inspectors, so to speak. And so, yeah, when the Amish people hear about all the drug addictions and all the bad things that happen in the world, in their mind that is more or less everybody. So they look at you and they say, well, you're part of that. You're part of that group. And so it doesn't really occur to them that, well, you might not Amish, but that doesn't mean that you embrace any of the values that some of the people that they look, they look upon and, you know, abhor that you don't share those values, that doesn't really cross their mind.
— Yeah. It's not a unique outlook. You'll find Muslims living in, let's say middle Eastern countries, And they'll see the female pop star wearing almost nothing and acting most inappropriate. And then they'll say, well, you are with her.
— Yes. Same society, same culture, same lifestyle. You're all the same.
— Yes. So society does a pretty easy job of all lumping us all in together, a pretty good job.
— They do.
— Yeah, so you were a member of the Amish church. You're not today.
— That's correct.
— Somewhere along the line, wheels started a turn, questions started to be asked in your mind. You said that the Genesis of that was questions you had about church discipline.
— That's correct.
— Why did those questions arise?
— Well, I think they arose because I always read the gospels a lot and I always had questions growing up. I look back, I know I was different. I kind of thought outside the box, which is not so true for Amish people. A lot of 'em just kind of think inside the box, especially by the time they become members of the church, about 18 years old, they just kind of surrender their individuality to the church and that's very true they do. They just, whatever the church wants, they just kinda surrender that because what's the alternative? They don't see a healthy alternative. And at the end of the day, they can look at their community and they can see strong families, strong marriages. Well, you wanna say strong marriage, at least there's no divorce and remarriage and that kind of thing. And so I was very content there, But as I said earlier, I read the book "Martyrs Mirror" And I discovered that our forefather's believed in you can be right without God, before you have everything right in your life, as long as you were genuinely looking to seeking to follow Christ. And so that really prompted me to get into my Bible and I started re reading my Bible in a whole new way. 'Cause I just used to read it just, it was pretty, what's the word? I'm gonna make up a word, I guess. It was preinterpreted. You're reading it was a preconceived idea.
— That's what I'm trying to say.
— Sure, lots and lots of people like that.
— Oh yes, and that's easy to do even, for all of us, but that's the way I always write my Bible. and I would read it and whatever it said, I would just say, well, this is what the bishop says it means and so on. I started rethinking for myself and that just took me down a road that I never saw coming. I had no idea that it would lead to actually being member of another church.
— Yeah, well, let's dig into a little bit of that; ask you one brief question. You read the Bible, your eyes were being opened, your heart was being touched. What'd you do next?
— Well, since nobody was bringing literature to me, I was buying literature. So I started buying literature by the boxful and just reading commentaries on, I was especially interested in the book of revelation 'cause it was scary, but I was impressed that there was something significant, something I need to know about the book of revelation, especially revelation 13. And so I was buying literature and some of it was quite good and some of it, I had a hard time settling with and I definitely got introduced to righteousness by faith, justification by faith, which is where it all start. And these people did a very nice job explaining that. And, of course, that led me to an experience with God, and the Bible was becoming a life to in me and God was becoming real. Not this far away guy. It was becoming more personal.
— Well, I know there's a lot more. We are just scratching the surface. I'm anxious to find out more and I know you are too. I'll be back in just a moment with more from Andy Weaver and our conversation.
John Bradshaw: Welcome back to conversations where my very special guest is Andy Weaver. Andy, a moment ago, you were talking about having been born into an Amish community, raised in an Amish family. You were a member of the Amish church, but as you read your Bible, your eyes were opened, your heart was opened to things that you'd never seen before. Well, somewhere along the line, things came to a head because we've said you were a member of the Amish church. You are not now. There was a change came about. What really precipitated that change? Because I'm imagining as Amish, you could read and read and read and grow in your understanding of the Bible and still remain happily Amish. What happened? Where was that tipping point?
Andy Weaver: Yeah, that's correct. And I had every intention, as I was growing and reading my Bible and the Bible became a life and I had every intention to stay there forever.
John Bradshaw: There was never any axe to grind, never any hard feelings, never any, I gotta get away from these people.
Andy Weaver: No, I was really studying our history because I felt like what our church needed more than anything was revival. And so I was studying history and as I mentioned earlier, I was reading the book "Martyr's Mirror," which was a Mennonite book put together by a Mennonite. And then somebody, a friend of mine brought me another book that contributed to that. It's called The Great Controversy, and I really enjoyed this book because it really helped me understand why there are so many different denominations where we came from. 'Cause I never learned any of these things in school. So I didn't know our history. I didn't know where we were from. I knew there was a dark ages, but I didn't know the years. And I knew there was a Martin Luther because we read the Martin Luther German Bible. That was our Bible, the Bible we used that translation. And so I knew about those things, but I'd never could put 'em together until I read the book, "Great Controversy". That's where I understood who Martin Luther was. And to my dismay, I discovered that Martin Luther was excommunicated.
— Yes, he was.
— Well, we would never read books that were written by excommunicated people. and we were using a Bible that was translated by a man that was excommunicated by the church. We thought once a person was excommunicated, regardless of the circumstances that he found himself in, or regardless of the reasons for excommunication, if the person was excommunicated by the church and they're damned, we believe that. And so I discovered who Martin Luther was and I was really intrigued and more than intrigued, that was inspired by Martin Luther. And, of course, John Wesley and those other people that were just had really a love for truth. And, of course, you know, as I read into a history, I started seeing why we do what we do. And some of the things that we believe why we believe them. And some of those things were biblical and some of 'em were tradition. and I started seeing where they came from, the origins of some of those values that we held. And, you know, eventually after a few years there was kind of a collusion. I think it first started in my head. And then, of course, as I started talking about it, eventually, the church was pretty unhappy with that. And it's not like my church had a big blow up or anything, but I had convictions that I could not put away. I couldn't put away. I had to acknowledge them. I really suppressed my convictions for a few years.
— Convictions about what?
— Theological convictions, we were not teaching righteousness by faith in our church. We did not know that we can get up in the morning and be happy and feel like we are forgiven. We did not know that we can have assurance of salvation today, despite our problems. We did not know that God wants to actually recreate us into his image in this world. We did not know anything about being born again and those kind of things. And so those were real, those were real concerns to me because we were baptizing people into the church and they had to agree to wear straw hats and their bonnets and all these things and I was okay with that. But they didn't know how to be right with God and I spoke to my bishop about that, and, of course, he was pretty worried about me 'cause he knew I was studying my Bible and I was having some conflict in my mind over some of the teachings that they were teaching versus what I was discovering. But most of the things that I was discovering were not a problem. I could still be Amish and believe those things, but it troubled me. It really troubled me to see what the young people were missing out on. And all, everybody, especially young people as they were becoming part of the church. And then, of course, I discovered things like, you know, what happens when you die? And you'll be amazed by this, I was taught correctly. We believe that when people die, they sleep in their sleepless graves until the resurrection. And I was really intrigued because I was actually in my study, I was influenced by literature that I was reading. I thought that maybe we were wrong. People were actually going straight to heaven or hell. But anyways, it didn't take me long to see that we had that right, it was biblical. But when it came to other things such as the Sabbath, we were staunch Sabbath keepers, really believed that the ten commandments were still binding. We had to memorized them in school and we were staunch Sabbath keepers. And I was just really troubled when I realized that we're not actually keeping the Sabbath.
— So what, what happens? You mentioned your bishop starting to get worried about you. I so wanna ask you that if Amish people don't have the joy of the Lord for forgiven sin and the assurance of salvation, I mean, I'll ask that question first. What do they have? If you can't get through today, knowing that Jesus is a present and should I die, I die in the assurance of his grace. What are those folks facing?
— Well, I want to make one thing clear, there's Amish people that have assurance of salvation, I believe.
— Not so much in the community that I grew up in though.
— Maybe it's a little like my background, the truth is there, but where we were, no one was finding it. No one was celebrating it.
— Yes. There were maybe some people who had had their arms around it, but the majority didn't, so okay, I kinda see what you mean
— That's very true.
— Take me back to the bishop. He's concerned because you're studying the Bible and I'm putting myself in his shoes. I'm okay, Andy's a good young fellow and he's growing in his love for God. But now you start coming with doctrinal differences. What sort of reaction did you meet with?
— Well, my Bishop was very worried. I mean, extremely concerned about it and I felt really bad for him. 'Cause I mean he was visibly distressed 'cause he didn't wanna lose me. I got along with everybody just fine. I had a good relationship with the bishop and everything but he seriously considered it 'cause he always taught- You know, most of the people that left our church, they could come back and they kind of, you know, a lot of 'em went off the deep end, they come back and say, "Look, it doesn't matter what you do as long as you have Jesus in your heart". And the Amish people abhor that kind of teaching, 'cause they're like your life doesn't line up with- If you love the Lord, why are you just living a crazy life?
— Which is correct.
— Yeah, and they're absolutely correct.
— And so, usually they will come back and they say, "Look, the law was done away with, we don't live under the law and that kind of thing and the bishop thought that's the way I was headed. Well, when he discovered that I was, that's not the way I was headed. He didn't know what to do with it because they would always, you have the scriptures lined up ready for those that say the law was done away with, but now I'm coming and says, "Yeah, look, part of the new covenant is the law written in the heart" and that doesn't nullify the law. It's still the 10 commandments, you're correct. They're still binding, and he was just distress. He didn't know what to do with it. And eventually, the easiest thing for him to do was just excommunicate me.
— And that's what happened.
— That's what happened. So you knew that if you carried on down this road, excommunication was an option? You knew that?
— Oh, Yeah. I knew that was the only...
— Now you'd been taught all your life that the excommunicated are damned.
— So reconcile that for me, that had to be a pretty solemn experience to go through.
— Yeah, it was. And it, it had to be a process. You know, God just took me a day at a time, step-by-step. And, of course, you know, eventually, especially reading the history of Martin Luther and the reformers, I realized that at the end of the day, unless the church works biblically, they have no authority. And so by the time we got to the excommunication part, I didn't bat an eye, I mean had no impact on me other than, I mean no spiritual impact on me. Obviously, it had a great impact on our family.
— Yeah, you mentioned earlier about shunning, some Amish, your order of Amish practice shunning.
— That's correct.
— What's it like to go through that? Practically, what happens?
— Yeah, so basically, today I can do, I'm a part of the community and tomorrow you wake up and it's all over. I can't go eat with them. Not even my parents, my brothers, my sisters. I can't do any business with them. I'm in the community, but I'm not of the community. It's all over. Like if they have any family reunions, I won't find about it, weddings. Funerals, they will tolerate me. I can still go to funerals. They will tolerate me there.
— But what if, as the prodigal son, you just turned up to that reunion. What would happen then?
— It's a mixed reactions. It's Like a funeral. Some people are very glad you come, others, they'll ignore you and...
— So, it seems like your option is to leave the community.
— Yeah, that what the 99% of the people do when they're excommunicated. And that's what we tried to do, but the Lord wouldn't open the doors. We had bought the property. And we knew what's crazy? We did not want to buy the property, our home and our farm, where we moved them. We wanted to rent it. And it was a lady that owned it; she was widowed She said, "Andy, let's just put it in your name, and you can start making payments in two years". And she wanted low payments and she said, "You can have the property". And so, of course, the deed was done legally, but nothing else was. It was just a handshake.
— So it became yours.
— Became ours
— On a handshake.
— Yeah. Presumably this is the honor system. I'm trusting you to pay for this.
— That's correct, and so we were stuck on the property and we're so glad now we were.
— But back then, you just wanna throw everything down and run on as fast and as long as you can, get away from it.
— Well, so many things I want to ask you. First, there's an observation. I'd like you to comment on this. Shunnings gotta be difficult to go through.
— It is.
— But it's gotta be difficult to do. I mean, you are my son, for example.
— That's correct.
— I raised you and now it's my duty to treat you as though you're dead. That's gonna be hard for the person doing the shunning.
— Oh, it's terribly hard on the parents.
— Has to be.
— Terribly hard, my parents, especially my mother, she tried to persuade her to persuade herself that I don't exist. Not because she didn't love me, but because she couldn't endure, she couldn't deal with shunning. And, of course, that didn't work. And so today we have a good relationship. I go to her house every couple times a year and, because I maintain my lifestyle, they still welcome me in and we have a nice time. And I'll just tell you, the Lord is really working.
— Yeah, that's fantastic.
— Yep. I just can't help but think if I was expected to shun my children, I mean, I can't imagine what they would've had to do for me to get to that place, but that would be awfully difficult for me. So I don't think there's any winners in that, is there?
— There's no winners, only the enemy.
— Yeah, so why didn't you decide when it was like, okay, people are gonna treat me like I'm dead. You mentioned that God kind of held you there, but why didn't you just decide let's walk away. I'll take my family. We're gonna go to wherever it might be. What kept you?
— That's a good question Because the one time we were talking about some of our theological differences with the church, my wife came up with a bright idea. She said, "Andy, couldn't we be Amish and embrace this truth that we're discovering"? And I thought, that's an idea. And so that's what I said, "Look, so we can embrace this. Even if they excommunicate, that doesn't mean I have to get rid of my horse and buggy and all the things that I love that were normal to me". And so that's what happened. We were excommunicated and we just lived our Amish lifestyle. And, of course, when you don't have the church telling you, you can't do this and you can't do that; you adapt and gradually make some changes and that kind of thing. But like I said earlier, we were kind of stuck with the property so we couldn't get off. And that was God's doing 'cause he didn't want us to leave.
— Yeah. And this led us to starting our own church plant and, and yeah, it was...
— Okay, we've transitioned from Andy to us. When you were going through this spiritual journey, you were married at the time?
— That's correct.
— Okay, now it's one thing for an individual human being to come to the realization that he or she is at odds with his or her church community, you had a wife that you had to explain it to. And I don't know what kind of dynamics that could possibly introduced. Were you fearful of what her reaction might be?
— Were you confident that she would just open up her heart and her arms or, walk me through some of that?
— Yeah, that's a good question 'cause my wife and I grew up in the same community. We have the same values, very, very compatible. And I always thought that I could talk her into doing anything. But when it came to that, I was surprised. 'Cause Amish ladies find a lot of security in their community and rightly so in some way. And so it took my wife a while, she was on board theologically. We would study the Bible together and it's not like she disagree with theology. It was just the emotional part that automatically, you know that you're gonna be dealing with the result of the shunning and everything. And there's only one way out the church and that's shunning, that's being excommunicated. And so it was a process. It took about three years. And one day my wife said, she said, "Andy, we have to put a stand," and so the rest of it is history. Know that after she told us that perhaps we could just maintain our Amish lifestyle and still follow the truth. I said, "well, that's a great idea because our lifestyle is not at variance with Bible truth".
— You had children at the time and they weren't all infants. The children who were old enough to understand their identity, to understand their church, understand their culture and presumably appreciate their culture. So now their parents are coming to them and saying, "We're rethinking this. We're gonna go in a slightly or maybe even radically different direction". How do you approach that subject with your children?
— All we could do is talk to 'em about it. And I had to explain to them and they never pulled away from it, but they had to process it. And I remember the night before we started keeping the Sabbath, my oldest daughter brought me a little note that she made and she says, dad, I'm so proud of you, that you are embracing what you believe. And I still have that today. That that's something very special to me.
— You treasure that forever.
— Yes, but a couple of the kids were in the Amish school at that time. And they had, you know, made all their friends. And so that the school was the hardest part for the children. And probably even the hardest part for us in some ways, because nobody wants to see their children struggling. And our children struggled. They lost all these friends. And I say they lost them, not entirely, but there's some truth to that. Obviously, they're not spending time together really these days, but they're still friendly towards one another.
— Yeah, big changes, it impacted you, your life, your lifestyle to some extent and your family, your family dynamics, your wider community. Okay, there are plenty questions left for me to ask. I'll run out of time, but today you're a lay pastor. We're gonna find out about that. You're very active in sharing your faith. You've mentioned righteousness by faith numerous times. We're gonna come back to that and ask you to elaborate. I'm glad you have joined us for this conversation with Andy Weaver. I'm John Bradshaw. We'll be back with more in just a moment.
John Bradshaw: Welcome back to conversations with my special guest, Andy Weaver. Andy, you opted to remain in a very much an Amish lifestyle. Why? why did you stay with the trappings of the Amish life? A lot of people would wonder, man, why didn't you just get outta there and become a modern, I dunno, city dweller or something? Why did you opt to stay with your Amish upbringing and culture?
Andy Weaver: You know, there's a saying that goes something like this: you can take a Amish man out of the Amish, but you can't take the Amish outta the man and that was true for me. I was Amish at heart and very comfortable with it. As far as culturally lifestyle, very comfortable with it. I enjoyed farming with horse and that kind of thing. And so when we left, when we were excommunicate, that was one of the things that we could do to make our change, our, yeah, the change, I guess you would call it, easier.
John Bradshaw: Sure.
Andy Weaver: We wouldn't have to change everything that we knew. We had some theological differences. And so we didn't focus on trying to find a car and that kind of thing. It just made our transition a lot easier.
John Bradshaw: And I think anyone would be willing to admit that if you look at the Amish lifestyle, there's an awful lot that just makes good sense.
Andy Weaver: That's true.
John Bradshaw: Particularly from a family point of view. Did everybody else feel that way? For example, you mentioned the bishop, there's been excommunication. What do people feel in your community when you made it clear, you were fundamentally not gonna change the kind of people, the kind of family that you were?
Andy Weaver: That's a good question 'cause the reactions were not all the same. Obviously, most of my family was very happy and still is happy that we embrace our heritage and you know, to our parents, it's a really an insult to them when we just turn our lives on everything that they taught us. And I didn't have to turn my life. I didn't have to turn away from everything they taught us. My lifestyle was not in conflict with the Amish way of life, for the most part. And so my family was very happy about that. The bishop, one of the bishops wasn't so happy about it. In fact, one bishop stopped at my house one day and he said, "Andy, I want a couple things from you". He said, "I want you to stop dressing Amish". "I don't want you to share your faith, what you believe with our people". And he said, "I don't want you to walk around and smile. Like you were not shunned or you were not condemned and I want you to move to West Coast". And I thought, wow, you just gave me some ideas. Anyway, so not everybody reacted the same way. He saw a threat in us maintain our lifestyle because he knew there was a lot of people in the church that were unhappy, that had theological questions and other questions and people that just questioned the authority to bishop and so he saw a threat there. 'Cause it would've been a less of a threat if I just left all of that. And then most people would look at that in the Amish Church; they would look at that and they say, "Well, what Andy Weaver believes is not an option," but now that I maintain the lifestyle, then that it could become a threat for them because it kind of opens up a new idea, and so I did get some pushback on that. And I wasn't trying to prove for anything; I was just doing what I was comfortable to do and making the changes that I felt that the Bible required of us. And I also want to honor my parents and respect my heritage, and I'm proud of my heritage.
— Yeah, sure, as you should be. So speaking of changes, there had to been some monumental because you were a farmer, you're still a farmer, but that was your profession. You've added some strings to your bow along the way. Now, you're a lay pastor, pastoring a congregation. How did that come about?
— That was something I was not looking for. So after we were shunned, excommunicated, from the church, it wasn't long, another family came around and they said, "Andy, we'd like to study". So we started studying and well, they became part of our little group. We were home churching and it wasn't long, another family came. And then, after few years there was a lot of interest. And so we built our own little church and we started having church and the congregation kept growing. And, of course, eventually you have to figure out who's gonna lead out when Sabbath comes around. and I found myself in a position that I was not looking for, but it's an honor, and so I'm a lay pastor at this time.
— Fantastic, so walk me through what your worship service looks like. Does it look terribly different to something that I would see on any given Sabbath or does it have a distinct and unique flavor?
— It has some distinctions, but it would be terribly if different from what you experience because our services are all in English because not all the people that attend our church were Amish and so our services are in English. We even have a former Amish man there that married an English woman. And when I say English, I should probably clarify. We look at all outsiders as English.
— No, no. I understand for the Amish, everybody outside is the English correct?
— Yes, that's correct.
— Yeah, your congregation now is a blend of people from different backgrounds.
— That's correct, and so we have to adapt our services. We had to adapt to as Amish people because there was certain things that we like, but know other cultures coming in, they're not so comfortable with that. And I'm okay with that. Jesus said that, "This gospel, the kingdom shall go into all the world" and you look at revelation 14. It says to every nation, kindred, tongue and people. And so we don't push back against anybody. Anybody that wants to come to church is welcome there.
— So you need to be very careful. You don't want to be perceived in your community as being a man with an agenda, but you certainly do wanna share your faith with those that are interested. So how do you, whether at home or when you're outta town someplace, what is sharing your faith like for you? It must be something you love to do.
— It's something I love to do, and is like you said, you don't want to be perceived as a sheep Stealer because I have eight children and I'm not interested in having somebody in the community that is looking for every chance they can to pull 'em away from the parents. I don't want that. and I don't want to be that person that will do that to others. However, I found something that I can't help, but sharing. And so obviously I make myself available. If somebody wants to talk spiritual things and obviously I'm available. I'm called to do that. And sometimes it's a thankless job, but it's something that the Lord has called me to do and we've had a lot of success and we don't preach down on the people that we came from. And we frown on people that come out that are bitter against those people because at the end of the day, we're all safe by grace through faith and Jesus died for everyone. So, God knows the hearts of everyone, but we found a truth that makes us happy and makes us glad And we are always looking to share that with others, around us.
— So tell me what excites you about the Bible. You've mentioned righteousness by faith. Let's talk about that. How do you understand that? What are the things about righteousness by faith that pump you up and give you joy?
— I think the thing that really pumped me up is for most people, and that was true for me, you go through lot life with a certain amount of guilt hanging over your head and that keeps us from growing. That keeps us from doing what we're trying to do, to bear fruit, to glorify God. And when I discovered that Jesus accept us though, just the way we are that made a world a difference to me. And now I can get up in the morning, and I know, I know that his mercies are new every morning. I it up in the morning and I know I got problems, but I know that Jesus is bigger than my problems. And I love the idea of Jesus working in my life each day. I look at my life as the school of Christ. Every once in a while, God gives me an assignment and to me it looks like a real trial, and sometimes we flunk it. Let's be fair and God says, "Okay, we gotta do this over". But I go look at life as a school now. God is trying to recreate me back into his image and I look back and I know he's made progress. Some days you wonder, you know, but I look back and so Christ and the gospel means everything to me. I mean, growing up, we were all about bearing fruit. Our church was very strong on, look, we will be judged by our works and that's what the Bible says. And so we were just trying to be as obedient to the church as possible and sin as little as possible and that kind of thing. And I never understood that coming to Christ, we bear fruit by default and that makes all the difference in the world.
— Explain that to me. That's a beautiful thought.
— Yeah, and so I always tell my children, "Look, you don't try to produce fruit. You take care of the tree, you nourish the tree and by default, the tree bears fruit". And I remember my one child, she wanted to be baptized. my one daughter and she says, "Dad, I just need a little more time," and I explained to her one day I say, "Look, Jesus accept you just the way you are and if you accept that and you accept the truth God has revealed to you, you're ready to be baptized". And she was so relieved, she said, "Dad, I thought I had to be perfect before I could be baptized". I said, "No, no that's not how it works," and so it really woke me up. We can talk about all the things that that God wants us to do and we can really come off as works oriented people, and that really helped me. But I believe that, well, we know the Bible says that we are justified by faith and God reaches us where we're at.
— I remember being in another country, conducting some meetings and it was time for the baptism. and they came to me and said, "Pastor, you have to talk to the lady. She's decided not to be baptized, one of the people. And so with the translator, asked her what a challenge was. And she explained that she was worried that she would sin again, after she was baptized. And so therefore, she shouldn't be baptized. I explained to her, "I'm not worried that you'll sin again". She looked at me. I said, "I guarantee you'll sin again. Not that you must".
Andy Weaver: Yes.
— But you will because you're not the complete product. You're not the finished product. This is why we are baptized because we need Jesus so desperately. I'm not minimizing sin in any way shape or form.
— That's correct. But righteousness by faith explains that we have faith in Christ. We receive his righteousness.
— That's correct.
— We grow and we grow in faith in Jesus. And you know, when we grab a hold of that, when the church grabs a hold of that, we reflect his image more fully.
— That's correct.
— Let me ask you this question, I wonder if other people are wondering this along with me. So you mentioned you came from an Amish background, very conservative, very unworldly. Then you mentioned other families came to you and said, we're interested in studying what you're studying. So now they set foot inside your church. They'll feel at home. Now, they may look at the church. I'm talking about denomination now and see rampant worldliness.
— That's correct. I think if you took the church that you and I both a part of and just looked at along the surface, you'd say, oh, very worldly and that's not a criticism. It's just we're worldly folks. We drive cars and we live in houses and we work hard and we earn money and we spend it and do this and we do that. And worldly, you know, again, that's not meant to be an insult or a judgment call, but we're hardly peculiar. I'm speaking generally. So somebody coming from a very committed, culturally conservative background into the church, if they look too far, they're gonna see values demonstrated, even promoted, which would be very different to what they were raised with. That's gotta be challenging.
— Yeah, that's our biggest obstacle as a mission, the biggest obstacle 'Cause in the Amish you had no converts, but we had a very high retention rate. We had like a 90 some percent retention rate, but no converts. So we didn't have to deal with that. But in the church of Christ, you have people coming out of Hollywood and we have people coming out of the Amish those are two, like huge contrast.
— I'm sure you know Clifford Goldstein.
— Yeah, sure.
— So I spoke a couple years ago at Annual Fall Council. I spoke a little bit, shared a little bit about our life. And then after I was done, Clifford Goldstein goes up. He's a secular Jew, comes from a secular Jewish background. And Clifford Goldstein said something that was so incredible. I'll never forget it. He said, "isn't it amazing that we have an Amish person and a secular Jew from Miami that are part of the same church?
— That's right.
— And then he goes on to say that it was very hard for him as a secular Jew to become part of a conservative church.
— The church was so straight laced.
— And I thought, cliff, a conservative church? You understand what I'm saying?
— Oh yeah, I sure did. Yeah, and so you got two different perspectives, based upon where you come from.
— Yeah, I has him to point out that Clifford has said in that very chair and we've had a very similar conversation
— is that right?
— That we're having now, yeah. And I do wanna point out that when you mentioned the church of Christ, we're not referencing the denomination, the Church of Christ, you were saying that in the general sense Christ's church. I just wanna clear up.
— Yes, that's right.
— any misunderstandings. So that is interesting, isn't it? I think what's really important is not to judge the people.
— That's correct.
— Not, even to judge the organization's, not to judge the leaders because leaders are all over the place. I mean that come from different backgrounds, different cultures, different value systems. But we come to the foot of the cross and we look up and the person that we see is Jesus.
— That's right, it's a personal relationship with Christ. We don't worship through denomination. This is a personal relationship with Christ and we need one another. So I love organized, I believe in organized church, but the end of the day, we have to understand that this is something personal that happens between us and Christ day-by-day. Yeah, tell me before we're done here, what the gospel means to you? How you understand the gospel? What does it mean in your life?
— So obviously, I shared a little bit of it earlier, but I think one thing that is transforming to me and I guess to answer what the gospel means to me is Paul says that our lives are hid in Christ. I believe that after we come to Christ. When God and the Father looked at my record, he sees Christ record, 'cause my life is hid in Christ. I received the righteousness of Christ. I received the life of Christ in my stead. And so now God is working in me to will and to do according to his good pleasure. But I have so elevation because my salvation does not depend on my path. My salvation depends on what Christ did. And so an absolutely transforming, by default we become changed, right. So that's what the gospel means to me. My life is hid in Christ is what I'm trying to say. The Bible speaks about Christ in you,
— The hope of glory,
— The hope of glory.
— That's correct. So when we come to faith in Jesus, he lives his life and us, as we receive the gift of salvation. It's not, well, if you pass this test, I'll give you the gift of salvation.
— That's correct.
— It's yours and now we grow in Jesus.
— That's correct. And if our eyes are fixed on him, we have to grow. We have to become more like him and by beholding paraphrases, we become changed.
— That's correct. And so there's grace in Jesus to make us what we can't make ourselves.
— That's great, it's a beautiful thing.
— You know, it's just one of those things that, especially coming from an Amish background that's really transforming.
— How how's the church going, going okay?
— Going well, yeah. We're growing and we have growing pains as you can imagine.
— But yeah, it's going well, despite it's pastor. Yeah, but you know, when God calls, what are you gonna do? It's humbling that God would use a person like me. Despite all my shortcomings and everything, so God is good.
— Always good.
— Always good.
— Hey, this has been fun. God has been working in your life, still working. I wish you the very best.
— Thank you, John. Our love to Naomi and your beautiful children and truly the best yet to come.
— Yeah, amen, praise the Lord.
— Thanks, so much.
— Thank you, for having me John.
— And thank you for joining us. It's been fun. He is Andy Weaver. I'm John Bradshaw and this has been our conversation.