No other foundation can anyone lay than is laid: Jesus Christ
Published in Gospel Herald (May 23, 1995)
Hans Denck, an influential early Anabaptist, wrote that the center of our faith in Jesus Christ. We cannot truly know Christ unless we follow him in our lives. And we cannot follow him unless we first know him. Those who think they belong to Christ must walk that way Christ walked.
“Anabaptists…were concerned with the question, ‘How should a Christian live?’ They did not agonize over and question their salvation,” writes Daniel Liechty in Early Anabaptist Spirituality (Paulist Press, 1994). “To become a ‘follower’ of Christ in daily life, exhibited in active love, was at the very heart of their understanding of spiritual salvation. It was for them the highest meaning of human existence.”
The Anabaptists’ basic theology generally corresponded with the understandings of orthodox Christianity. “They affirmed both the divinity and humanity of Jesus Christ and salvation through his atoning death on the cross,” Liechty writes.
However, the Anabaptists generally focused more on biblical categories than traditional creedal formulations. Because of this, Anabaptists emphasized “Jesus as the model and example for believers. While affirming his divinity, they also emphasized Jesus’ humanity, teaching, and actions. While teaching his atoning work on the cross, they also emphasized Jesus’ way of the cross as the model for Christian discipleship” (Marlin Miller, Mennonite Encyclopedia).
Since the 16th century, Mennonites have continued to consider practical life as central to theology. The draft version of the new “Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective” reflects this by emphasizing Jesus’ life as well as his birth and death:
“We accept Jesus Christ as the Savior of the world. In his ministry of preaching, teaching, and healing, he proclaimed forgiveness of sins and peace to those near at hand and those far off. In calling disicples to follow him, he began the new community of faith. In his suffering, he loved his enemies and did not resist them with violence, thus giving us an example to follow. In the shedding of his blood on the cross, Jesus offered up his life to the Father, bore the sins of all, and reconciled us to God. God then raised him from the dead, thereby conquering death and disarming the powers of sin and evil.”
This emphasis on holding together Jesus’ way of life with our beliefs about Jesus as Savior remains crucial today. The human situation is no different now than it ever has been. We still have the same needs. Jesus remains the way to salvation.
• We need hope that life is worth living and that a fulfilling live is possible.
• We need to intergrate our ideals with our practice in life and with our overarching belief system. We need a sense of harmony with ourselves, a freedom from feeling hypocritical.
• We need to understand why we live in the way we do and to be able to communicate that with others.
• We need the strength to live according to our ideals.
• We need other people who share our ideals and also want to practice them, people who share our frustrations and hindrances. We need community.
• We need a sense of connectedness with past traditions, with the people who have gone before us.
• We need to know experientially a sense of joy, excitement, transcendence, connectedness to the power of love.
• We need hope that death will not have the final say.
The New Testament affirms that Jesus helps us meet these needs and aspirations.
• Jesus is an example of a person who lived an integrated life grounded in love. He lived life as it is meant to be lived.
• Jesus offers the insight of a person whose keen perceptivity uncovers barriers to faith and false idols.
• Jesus models a creative connectedness with God and tradition. Though not rejecting his Jewish tradition, his relationship with it was creative. He challenged elements which hindered people from knowing God’s mercy. Yet his portrayal of God was based on the God known by his fathers and mothers in the faith–Abraham and Sarah, Moses, the prophets.
• Jesus models a creative response to evil, brokenness, and violence, providing possibilities for our present-day creative responses.
• Jesus promises power over death. In his acceptance of a violent death as likely for one who lived as he did, in overcoming fear of death, in rejecting the possibility of taking others’ lives violently, in trusting that God’s love would survive and continue its work after his death, Jesus points to a life free of terror from death.
• Jesus established a community for ongoing strength and encouragement toward faithful living.
The New Testament, in its account of the central elements of Jesus’ life, provides the basis for our lives moving toward fulfillment. We are charged to continue to work to understand how Jesus leads us to faithful living and gives hope for our future in God.
A helpful motif for understanding and applying the story of Jesus is the contrast between life lived with an assumption of abundance versus life lived with an assumption of scarcity.
“Do we inhabit a universe where the basic things that people need–from food and shelter to a sense of competence and of being loved–are ample in nature? Or is this a universe where such goods are in short supply, available only to those who have the power to beat everyone else to the store? The nature of our action will be heavily conditioned by the way we answer those bedrock questions. In a universe of scarcity, only people who know the arts of competing, even of making war, will be able to survive. But in a universe of abundance, acts of generosity and community become not only possible but fruitful as well,” writes Parker Palmer in The Active Life (HarperCollins, 1990).
Jesus, in his life and teaching, “wanted to help people penetrate the illusion of scarcity and act out of the reality of abundance.” He showed people that scarcity is an illusion! He showed that abundance is real. We can, like the birds of the air and the lilies of the field, trust God for our needs in life.
Mark’s Gospel summarizes Jesus’ message of abundance: “Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the good news” (1:14-15).
Here Jesus presents his message in a nutshell. Jesus’ kingdom has to do with an awareness of God’s presence, love, and mercy. The kingdom is “at hand.” God’s world is abundant right now, in resources of mercy and caring. Scarcity is not an unshakable fact etched into the deepest of realities. Scarcity is artificial, reigning only when we forget about God’s abundant love. Jesus challenges us to repent from our forgetting or ignoring God.
This means letting nothing stand between us and life. To repent is to turn from those hindrances, those things which deny us life, those things which separate us from others. And it is to turn toward the king and his merciful kingdom.
Jesus challenges us to enter this kingdom like little children–that is, with the simple (but, oh so profound) trust that Jesus’ way is the way to life.
From the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, he faced opposition. Many forces in his day benefited from a world order based on scarcity. He threatened that order, witnessing to hte abundance of God’s mercy.
The story of Jesus’ life apparently ends with tragedy. He is executed by the political and religious powers-that-be who found him a threat. However, the story doesn’t actually end. The group of followers who had surrounded Jesus, shocked into disarray with his death, regathered. They proclaimed that they had seen Jesus again. God raised him from the dead.
The story of Jesus’ deathg actually affirms life. The story exposes and thereby undercuts the powers of death, so widespread in our world. By revealing the actual motives, fears, and disrespect of the powers-that-be, both religious and political, the story of Jesus warns people to beware of those powers. Those people who put Jesus to death claimed to be serving the good of the most people, but the story reveals that they were actually acting in opposition to human good.
The story also witnesses to continuing elements of faithfulness even amidst the fearfulness and betrayal among even Jesus’ closest followers. A few women, including Jesus’ mother and his friend Mary Magdalene, stayed while the others scattered. They loyally remained nearby, even at great risk.
By doing so, they remained receptive to what happens a few days later. The flickering light of love–a continued affirmation of life in the face of such a shattering death–flamed back up when they discovered Jesus was alive.
In telling how Jesus faced death, the story underscores the quality of the life Jesus lived–right to the end. He faced death courageously, without compromising his way of life. Jesus died for the sake of living truthfully.
And God raised Jesus from the dead, showing once and for all that God’s love is supreme. The resurrection of Jesus tells us that God endorses this life. The powers of violence and death cannot conquer such life.
Jesus’ living on witnesses to the power of love being genuine power, the only power that evil can’t touch. Jesus’ resurrection gives hope that the corruption inevitable with brute power is not inevitable. Jesus’ life continues, a life lived fully in trust in God.
The basic Mennonite belief about Jesus is that in him we see God. In Jesus’ birth, we see God entering the world on behalf of hurting humanity. In Jesus’ life, we see God’s chosen one revealing human life as it is meant to be lived. In Jesus’ death, we see God’s faithfulness standing the ultimate test, the crucifixion by “rulers of this age” (1 Cor. 2:8).
And in Jesus’ resurrection, we see God’s vindication of Jesus’ life. We learn just how faithful God is to the promise of life everlasting for those who trust in God’s mercy.