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  • Writer's pictureJoseph Givens

Jesus is the Center

Over the course of our time support raising so far, we’ve gotten to visit a number of Mennonite churches. Neither of us grew up in the Mennonite denomination, so there are many things that are familiar to us, but there are also many things that are different and new. As we’ve been traveling and sharing our message and our mission, we’ve been constantly expanding our vision of what it means to love our neighbor.

See, many people in various denominations, not least of which the denomination we grew up in, have a viewpoint that says a person must believe the same things and behave in a certain way in order to be considered a member of the “in” crowd. Anyone who does not conform is considered “out.” Perhaps this is only human nature, and it is definitely a way that we tend to categorize people, creating an “us” and “them” dynamic. In other words, we have it all right, and if you disagree or question our beliefs, you are not a real Christian. This has been called a bounded set, as illustrated here.

This may seem harmless on its surface, but it can have very real and significant consequences. For example, I know a person who has autism. This person was constantly marginalized and pushed to the outside, effectively being “otherized” in the church that he grew up in. The prevailing belief in that church is that autism isn’t real and depression or other mental health issues meant that person simply wasn’t trusting God enough or praying enough. In this person’s experience, the marginalization caused him to completely disavow Christianity and all religious belief as he grew into adulthood. What a tremendous loss for both him and for the church!

There were times when I questioned whether I wanted to identify with Christianity because of the “us” vs “them” mentality. But thankfully I had people around me and books to read that helped me understand that the heart of our faith does not create this mentality. Rachel and I have come to think in different terms. Rather than focusing on who is considered “in” and who is considered “out,” we have chosen to refocus on Who is at the center: Jesus Christ. This type of worldview is known as a Centered Set, as illustrated here and below by Adriana of Tabor Mennonite Church.

The point of all this is that, yes, we can have disagreements with other believers. Yes, we can disagree with the theology of other faith traditions. But despite all the disagreements, it is important to remember that Jesus is at the center, and that our focus should always be on moving toward that center. You see, no one has everything right. In fact, most of us probably have more things wrong than we do right. But we ought to be encouraging one another on our journey toward the Center, coming alongside our brothers and sisters who are straying from that journey and helping them get back on track. Creating needless divisions and marginalization does much more to hurt our witness to the gospel than it does to bring people into that journey toward Jesus. Jesus is, and always will be, the Center of our hearts and our lives, even when we make mistakes and take a wrong path. We must always keep our eyes on the Center of our faith, the One who loved all people so much that he willingly suffered persecution and death for us. He is the Center.

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