Beiler, David (1786-1871)
David Beiler, born 9 September 1786, died 1 March 1871, was the son of Christian Beiler and Anna Fischer, and great-grandson of immigrant Jakob Beiler who came to Pennsylvania in 1737. He was a prominent bishop of the Old Order Amish in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, who lived near Bird-in-Hand. He was one of those leaders who tried to keep the Amish way as conservative and near to old tradition as possible. Thus he represented the genuine spirit of Amish life as it might have existed at the very start of this group (1693). Three writings are known from his pen: (1) Das Wahre Christentum, eine christliche Betrachtung nach den Lehren der Heiligen Schrift, written in 1857 when he was aged 71; (2) a letter to Bishop Joseph Schwartzendruber in Iowa, 3 July 1861, dealing with the administration of the ordinances, and (3) his Memoirs, written in 1862 (he was then 75), containing besides genealogical notes a comparison of the conditions of his church 60 years ago, and now.
The Wahre Christentum (no connection with J. Arndt’s book) was published posthumously by J. Baer in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, as a 300-page book, one of the few Amish books in existence. It contained Biblical expositions concerning the ordinances, non-resistance, etc., and also several sermons as the Amish service schedule for the year requires. A chapter on "the state of the soul after death" concluded the book. It revealed very well the character of Amish preaching: no emotion, no personal opinions, very little theological speculation, but a compilation of many Biblical texts. "If we have no basis in the Scriptures, then it is merely human opinion" (165). There prevailed certainty that God would not abandon people who faithfully kept His commandments.
The letter (Mennonite Quarterly Review, 1948, 97-98) repeated somewhat the same ideas concerning ordination, baptism, marriage, etc., emphasizing the strict "old orders" (exactly: regulations) with their simplicity and austerity. The Memoirs existed both as manuscript and as a small pamphlet (no date); it revealed Beiler’s character very strikingly. He was nostalgic for the good old days 60 years ago when people still used wooden plows and when the primitive forms of former Swiss life (in poverty and oppression) still prevailed, i.e., when the adjustment to American ways of life had not yet begun. Now, in 1862, the "church grows too cold in love." Beiler felt strong misgivings as to the future of his people and the temptation of secularization. He opposed Hochgelehrsamkeit (general education) and any ease of conduct of life. The document closed just at the moment when the first of the Allgemeine Dienerversammlungen (General Conferences) of the Amish ministers was held in Ohio, June 1862. Beiler was somewhat doubtful whether this really meant "the beginning of a reformation" of Amish life and faith. But the fact that 17 years after his death, in 1888, the Wahres Christentum was published, proved that his spirit and genius had found actual response.
Beiler was intensely interested in maintaining the older forms of dress, behavior, and worship. At the same time he was deeply distressed because he saw among the brotherhood some who thought it sufficient to manifest lowliness in their outward behavior and to observe the ordinances. In the controversy regarding baptism "in the water," i.e., in a flowing stream, he held to the older method of baptism in the house, but advised ministers under certain conditions to take the counsel of the church. He seemed always to have consulted the wishes of the congregation in matters of discipline and general policy. Tradition records that David Beiler and his brother Solomon, Mifflin County, Pennsylvania, an Amish bishop, seldom agreed on vital issues but that David Beiler and Bishop Abraham Pitsche, of Mifflin County, a staunch adherent to the Old Order, were good friends and collaborated in the work of the church.
Friedmann, Robert. Mennonite piety through the centuries: its genius and its literature. Goshen, IN: Mennonite Historical Society, 1949: 245-247.
Hege, Christian and Christian Neff. Mennonitisches Lexikon, 4 vols. Frankfurt & Weierhof: Hege; Karlsruhe; Schneider, 1913-1967: v. I, 157.
Mast, C. Z. Annals of the Conestoga Valley in Lancaster, Berks, and Chester Counties, Pennsylvania. Elverson, Pa. ; Churchtown, Pa. : The Authors, 1942: 236.
Umble, R.F. J. "Memoirs of an Amish Bishop." Mennonite Quarterly Review 22 (1948): 94-115.
Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, and Waterloo, Ontario, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 1, pp. 266-267. All rights reserved. For information on ordering the encyclopedia visit the Herald Press website.
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APA style: Friedmann, Robert. (1953). Beiler, David (1786-1871). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 25 May 2013, from http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/B44410.html.