By Dick Barrett
More than 10 years ago now Palmer Becker wrote a small book titled What is an Anabaptist Christian? The booklet was his attempt to highlight the distinctiveness of an “Anabaptist Christian,” and he did so by highlighting three core values: 1) Jesus is the center of our faith; 2) Community is the center of our lives; and 3) Reconciliation is the center of our work. His booklet and core values were widely accepted by many in our Mennonite/Anabaptist churches, so much so that many people when asked, “What is an Anabaptist Christian?” they will respond with those three themes, even if they can’t quote them exactly.
In Ohio Conference’s constitution we say that “Jesus is the of center of who we are and all we do.” But what does it mean when we say “Jesus is the center?” It seems like many people have different ideas of who Jesus was and is. We often seem to try and make Jesus into our own image or the image which we like. We need to take seriously the words of the writer of the Book of Hebrews, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).
As I write this, we find ourselves in a time like few of us have ever experienced: the coronavirus pandemic claiming many lives, economic uncertainty, sheltering in place, unable to meet as churches, etc. This challenging experience comes at a time after many of our churches in America have experienced great upheaval over the past 10 years — changes in attendance, diversity in theological doctrine, loss of cultural status, an emphasis on being missional, etc. I would make the claim that this upheaval, and the change that is coming about because of it, is not necessarily all bad. I hear people saying things like they “just can’t wait until things get back to normal” or “there’s going to be a new normal.” Maybe the normal that we had was not so good. Maybe normal is not good. While Jesus doesn’t change — he is the same yesterday and today and tomorrow — Jesus was anything but normal. The writer of Hebrews also tells us that Jesus is the “exact representation of God’s being” (Hebrews 1:3). The apostle Paul writes in his second letter to the early Christians at Corinth, “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:18).
Not only do we find ourselves in a unique time in the history of all our lives, we also find ourselves in a unique time in the history of all mankind — the time between Jesus’ first coming and his second coming. Though we were almost all secluded in our homes, we recently celebrated Easter and the remembrance of Jesus Christ rising on that first Easter morning some 2,000 years ago. In several weeks we will be celebrating Pentecost and the sending of God’s Holy Spirit upon the earliest believers to initiate the church age. For us today, those two events have come together — Jesus has risen, and the Holy Spirit is present among believers.
As image bearers of the triune God, what would it look like for us to live as if Jesus were present in each of us during this time? Yes, this is a challenging time, both in the world and in the life of the church, but what would happen if we saw it as an opportunity to be Jesus in new ways, in our families, our churches, our communities, our nation and the world? What are the things that we have had to lay down during this time that would be good not to pick back up because they are not Jesus-like or they distract us from Jesus being the center? What are the things that we have taken for granted for too long that are important to beholding the glory of the Lord — like worship, community, and ministering to the least of these?
What is an Anabaptist Christian? is available as a PDF from Mennonite Mission Network. To download a copy, go to https://www.mennonitemission.net/Downloads/DL.MissioDei18.E.pdf.