By Dick Barrett
For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified. ─ 1 Corinthians 2:2 (NRSV)
On March 4 and 5, Ohio Conference hosted our Annual Conference Assembly at Zion Mennonite Church in Archbold. During the assembly delegates unanimously affirmed our new mission statement – The mission of Ohio Conference of Mennonite Church USA is to Gather, Equip and Send our congregations by the power of the Holy Spirit to live out God’s Greatest Commandments (Mark 12:29-31) and Jesus’ Greatest Commission (Matthew 28:18-20). The delegates also affirmed leaving in the preamble – We believe that Jesus Christ is at the center of who we are and all we do. What does it really mean to believe that Jesus Christ is at the center of who we are and all we do?
At the beginning of this Lenten season, I have found myself drawn to Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 2:2, “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified.” I also recently found myself troubled when I read an article in the Feb. 11, 2022, edition of Anabaptist World titled “There’s Just Something About That Name – Why it’s better to be ‘Jesus Centered’ than ‘Christ Centered.’” I think we run into serious problems as “Christians” when we try and separate Jesus the man from Jesus the Christ. I share these thoughts from personal experience. After growing up Roman Catholic, in my adult years I realized that the Catholic Church’s emphasis on Jesus the Christ diminished the fact that Jesus was also a human being who walked on earth with many of the same challenges and temptations that we humans have faced throughout history. Placing so much emphasis on Jesus the Christ diminishes our role as disciples of Jesus trying to live as Jesus lived, empowered by the Holy Spirit.
Now, having been a part of the Mennonite/Anabaptist church for the past 25 years, I have also realized that putting so much emphasis on Jesus the man diminishes the fact that Jesus was God among us, suffered and died on the cross for the salvation of the world, with the promised gift of a resurrected eternal life for all who believe in him. If we’re not careful, placing so much emphasis on Jesus the man leads to a failure to recognize our own sinfulness, our need for a Savior, and the need for the cross.
Sometimes we can focus so much on one side of a truth that we lose the truth altogether. It seems like everywhere I turn lately I hear, “We are all created in God’s image.” That is a very important truth that goes all the way back to the beginning, Genesis 1:27: “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” But on the other side of that biblical truth is that since the fall of Adam and Eve, all human beings created in God’s image have been marred by sin. In Romans 3:23-25a we read, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” And when Jesus asked the disciples, “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:15-16). It was upon Peter’s confession of Jesus as the Christ in which Jesus said he would build his church.
As we move forward as a conference in a year of review and living into our new mission statement, my prayer is that we keep Jesus Christ as the center of who we are and all we do.