TWENTY-FIRST SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST
PRAYER OF THE DAY: Sovereign God, you turn your greatness into goodness for all the peoples on earth. Shape us into willing servants of your kingdom, and make us desire always and only your will, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.
Who is the greatest? That question always rears its head when two or more people are thrown together. For every jury there is an alpha, one individual who dominates the group, steers the deliberations and exercises a powerful influence over its thought process. A good trial lawyer learns to spot the alpha by his or her mannerisms, interactions with the rest of the jury and the way in which other jurors respond to him or her. Because the lawyer is not permitted to speak with the jurors during the trial and obviously cannot be present during deliberations, s/he must observe the jury’s outgoing, incoming and socialization outside the jury room for clues about just who the alpha might be. The alpha is the one you need to convince for, chances are, as goes the alpha, so goes the jury.
In every gathering of clergy there is always some jousting to determine who is the more well-read, the most successful in parish leadership, the best informed about crucial contemporary issues. Chances are, a leader will emerge within the first several minutes of conversation. Or perhaps two leaders will emerge, but not for long. After an exchange of barbs, intensity of which ranges from mildly discomforting to embarrassingly hostile, one or the other will leave or grudgingly settle for the beta position. No pack of hounds can tolerate two alphas for long. There is room at the top for only one.
Whether we are a jury of strangers given the task of determining the fate of a criminal defendant, a casual group of professionals or the cast of Survivor, we tend to size each other up and vie for position. It’s what we do. We have an irresistible urge to know where we stand in the hierarchy and to ensure that we get as close to the top as possible. If you can’t be the greatest, then you need to pony up to the one who is. That was the strategy of James and John in today’s gospel. They knew that the key to greatness lay in being as close as possible to Jesus. They also knew that greatness does not come to those who wait patiently for it to fall out of the sky. It is the prize of those bold enough to seize it when the opportunity arises.
Amazingly, James and John were at the same time both right on target and woefully mistaken. Jesus is the greatest in God’s sight and those who are associated with him share his kingdom, his power and his glory. But the two disciples were dead wrong about kingdom, power and glory. Little did they know that the reign of God is exercised through humble service. Power lies not in the ability to coerce, but in the patience to forgive the very ones taking your life. Glory is revealed in giving one’s life up to a shameful death for the sake of obedience to God’s highest commandment of love. Exalted at the right and left hand of Jesus in his glory were not any of the apostles, but rather two condemned criminals on crosses. This is what it means to be at the right and left hand of Jesus. Clearly, James and John had no clue what they were asking when they requested this honor.
The Bible turns our notion of greatness on its head. God chose Abram the resident alien-an illegal in our nomenclature-to be the father of his chosen people. God chose Moses, a murderous fugitive, to deliver the Ten Commandments to his people. God elected David, the runt of Jesse’s litter, to be king over Israel, telling the prophet Samuel, who would have chosen one of his more promising elder brothers, “the Lord sees not as man sees; man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” I Samuel 16:7. God selected Paul, the antichristian jihadist with blood on his hands to bring the good news about Jesus to the gentile world. And finally, God raised up and sat at God’s right hand Jesus-the rabbi from Nazareth whose ministry appears by all human measures to have been an abysmal failure. “This,” says the Lord, “is what greatness looks like.”
Our obsession with greatness is bound to lead us astray. If the Bible tells us anything, it is that we are utterly incompetent when it comes to measuring individual human worth and significance. God delights in choosing for God’s own purposes the least likely, the least worthy and the seemingly least competent to accomplish God’s redemptive work. If we could only get that through our heads and hearts, perhaps we would begin to think differently about those we consider “the least” among us. We might begin to think differently about the pregnancies we terminate; the lives we are prepared to sacrifice and the “collateral damage” we are prepared to inflict in time of war; the life sustaining programs for the poor we are prepared to cut in order to balance the budget; the refugees coming to our land fleeing terror for whom many of our leaders tell us there is no room; the criminals on death row we consider unredeemable and deserving of death. How can we ever know whether the life we so casually dismiss is the very one God means to use for a purpose too wonderful for our comprehension? Because we can never know with any certainty who God will exalt or who God will humble, we ought to leave the business of judging the worth and importance of all lives to God and be content in knowing that, wherever we might fall on anyone’s spectrum of greatness, we are children of our heavenly Father with a place at his table. That is as much greatness as any of us need and reason enough for us to treasure every single human life.
Scholars attribute this text to “Second Isaiah” (Isaiah 40-55), a collection of oracles authored in the main by an anonymous prophet speaking a message of salvation to the Jewish exiles living in Babylon during the 6th Century B.C.E. His was the task of alerting his fellow exiles to the new opportunity created for them to return home to Palestine opened up by Persia’s conquest of Babylon. On the one hand, the prophet makes a joyous declaration of salvation for Israel and announces the potential for a new start. On the other hand, the prophet makes clear that God is doing with Israel something entirely new. This will not be a return to “the good old days” when Israel was a powerful and independent people under the descendants of David. That, according to the prophet, “is too light a thing” for the people of God. Israel and the servant prophet are to be given “as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” Isaiah 49:6.
This particular reading is taken from the fourth of Isaiah’s four “servant songs,” encompassing all of the verses found at Isaiah 52:13-53:12. I encourage you to read the song in its entirety. The other three servant songs are found at Isaiah 42:1–9, Isaiah 49:1-6 and Isaiah 50:4-11. According to biblical commentator Claus Westermann, these songs represent a special strand within section two of Isaiah. Westermann, Claus, Isaiah 40-66, The Old Testament Library (c. SCM Press, Ltd. 1969) p. 92. As I have pointed out in previous posts, scholars hold differing views on the identity of the “servant” in these songs. Some view the servant as an individual, perhaps the prophet himself/herself. Others maintain that the servant is the people of Israel whose covenant life in the restored Jerusalem will enlighten the nations. Christians from very early on have seen reflected in these verses the ministry of Jesus. It seems to me that all of these interpretations are valid in some measure. Clearly, the prophet himself/herself understood that s/he was announcing an act of God that would be revelatory for all peoples. So too Israel always had an awareness that her existence was in part a demonstration of God’s glory to the world though, like the church, she tended to forget that aspect of her calling at times. The church likewise confessed from the outset that Jesus’ lordship was defined in terms of the hopes and expectations set forth in the Hebrew Scriptures. Just as the faithful service of the prophet was a model for Israel’s servant role among the nations, so the church is a continuation of Jesus’ faithful ministry. In sum, these differing interpretations enrich rather than contradict one another.
This passage might remind you of Lent and Holy Week. That is because it almost always comes into the passion observance at some point. The New Testament church recognized in these words the mission and ministry of Jesus. As I said above, this is all well and good. Nevertheless, it is important for us to keep in mind that this passage, which was composed five hundred years before Jesus was born, had a meaning of its own for the people to whom it was directed. It was originally addressed to the Jews living in exile in Babylon at the end of the 6th Century B.C.E. Part of the prophet’s purpose is to make sense out of the catastrophic destruction of Jerusalem and reassure the exiles that Israel had a future and an important role in God’s redemptive plan. S/he points out that the conquest of Babylon by Persia and the Persian policy of amnesty for peoples exiled under the Babylonian regime is part of that plan. The Jews now have the opportunity to return to the promised land-albeit as subjects of the new Persian Empire. Though they can never hope to recapture the glory of Israel under the Davidic dynasty, their life as a covenant people living in humble obedience to their God will reflect a different and greater glory.
How is the prophet’s/Israel’s suffering redemptive? As I have said before, this is dangerous theological territory. It must be said again from the outset that there is nothing at all redemptive about suffering in and of itself. Nothing good comes from spousal abuse, bullying, racial discrimination, economic exploitation, famine or disease. These are all instances in which suffering has been imposed on people by others or by circumstances beyond their control. There are some instances, however, in which people embrace suffering, not because it is good in itself, but because it is necessary to accomplishing a greater good. If you decide to have children, you will suffer in many ways. There will surely be pain, discomfort and a measure of risk for serious physical harm (to the mother). Sleep deprivation, economic loss, anxiety and stress go hand in hand with raising a family. And this is only the sort of suffering you can expect when everything goes well! The pain of child rearing increases exponentially when your little ones suffer from chronic illness, make self-destructive choices or are taken from you in your lifetime. Still, we keep on having babies because we believe having and raising children to be worth the sacrifices required.
So, too, just as it is costly for us to love a son or daughter whose choices derail their lives, it costs God dearly to love this world that so often takes a self-destructive turn. Any parent who has ever walked with a son or daughter through the long and torturous path from addiction to sobriety knows that love is costly. The cost God was willing to pay for the redemption of the world was a long and often painful journey with God’s people Israel from slavery in Egypt, through doubt in the wilderness, through disobedience and rebellion in Canaan and through the dark night of despair in Babylonian exile. Yet this story reflects to all the world God’s commitment to the redemption of all of creation. Therefore, Israel will finally be vindicated. Her suffering finally will be recognized as faithfulness to a gracious God whose salvation is for all people.
Not surprisingly, the church similarly recognized the redemptive love of God at work in Jesus’ faithful life, obedient suffering and willing death. His resurrection was seen as proof that “the will of the Lord” prospered in his hand. Vs. 10.
Israel’s expression of faithfulness to her God finds both its strongest and most “problematic” expression in this psalm. Anderson, Bernhard, W., Out of the Depths-The Psalms Speak for us Today, (c. 1983 by Bernhard W. Anderson, pub. by Westminster Press) p. 212. The psalm also has the infamous distinction of being the scripture with which the devil tried to induce Jesus to jump to his death from the highest point of the Temple in Jerusalem. (Matthew 4:5-7; Luke 4:9-12). The structure and flow of the psalm is difficult to understand as it is not clear throughout who is speaking and who is being addressed.
The psalm opens with an address to one who is seeking refuge. Psalm 91:1-2. It is possible that the psalmist has in mind the idea of the temple or tabernacle as a place of “sanctuary” where fugitives could find protection from the hasty justice of their angry pursuers by “grasping the horns of the altar.” E.g., I Kings 1:50-51. Ibid. Further support for this interpretation is found in vs. 4 where protection is found beneath God’s outspread wings, perhaps alluding to the cherubim that adorned the ark. There is also a foreshadowing here of Jesus’ lament over Jerusalem: “Oh Jerusalem, Jerusalem, killing the prophets and stoning those who are sent to you! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, but you would not!” Matthew 23:37; Luke 13:34. This powerful image of maternal protection provides a striking contrast to the very masculine, military images of “shield” and “buckler” in verse 4.
In the next section, the psalmist makes bold declarations and assertions about the protection the faithful servant of Israel’s God can expect. S/he need not fear terror of darkness, hostile arrows, sickness or draught. Psalm 91:5-6. Though thousands are perishing all around, the faithful one will remain unscathed. Psalm 91:7-8. That is the lead up to the verse at the start of our reading: “Because you have made the Lord your refuge, the Most High your habitation, no evil shall befall you, no scourge come near your tent.” Vs. 9. Then come those famous words (made infamous by the devil), “For [God] will give his angels charge of you to guard you in all your ways. On their hands they will bear you up, lest you dash your foot against a stone.” Vss. 11-12.
Unfortunately, this prayer extolling the protective love of God for those who trust in him is open to demonic distortion. There is no shortage of religion in book stores, on the airwaves and pulsing through the internet promising that the right kind of faith in God insulates a person from suffering. The Prayer of Jabez bv Bruce Wilkinson is a prime example. Though I am probably guilty of oversimplifying Mr. Wilkinson’s argument, his basic claim is that extraordinary blessings flow from praying the prayer of a biblical character mentioned briefly in the Book of I Chronicles by the name of Jabez. The entire scriptural basis for this assertion is I Chronicles 4:9-10: “Jabez was more honorable than his brothers. His mother had named him Jabez, saying, ‘I gave birth to him in pain.’ Jabez cried out to the God of Israel, saying, ‘Oh, that you would bless me and enlarge my territory! Let your hand be with me, and keep me from harm so that I will be free from pain.’ And God granted his request.” This snippet of narrative comes in the midst of a lengthy chronology with no supporting context. Jabez’ mother gave birth to him in pain. I am not sure what this means as childbirth typically does not happen without some pain to the mother. Perhaps this was a particularly difficult delivery. All we know about Jabez himself is that he was more honorable than his brothers. But since we don’t know his brothers, this assessment is hard to evaluate. Is this like being the smartest of the Three Stooges? Jabez prays that his territory will be enlarged so that he will be protected from pain-a seeming non sequitur. Seems to me that having a bigger ranch only means you stand to lose a lot more when the tornadoes strike. I must confess that I really don’t know quite what to make of Jabez. So I think I will continue to get my instruction on prayer from Jesus. See Matthew 6:9-13; Luke 11:2-4).
But I digress. The point here is that we should not read this psalm the way Wilkinson interprets the prayer of Jabez, as some sort of magical antidote to life’s slings and arrows. If you read the psalm carefully from the beginning, you will discover that it was composed by one who has seen combat, lived through epidemics and faced mortal enemies. The psalmist knows that the dangers out there in the world are very real and that life is not a cake walk. You might well prevail over lions and adders, but that does not mean you will come through without any scratches. The Lord promises, “I will be with him in trouble” (vs. 15), which can only mean that trouble will come the psalmist’s way. This psalm, then, must be interpreted not as the promise of a magic charm (the devil’s exegesis), but as a word of assurance that God’s redemptive purpose is at work in the lives of all who place their ultimate trust in God’s promises. As such, it is a word of profound comfort.
You will note that from verse 14 on the voice changes. In the previous verses the speaker appears to be that of the psalmist. But the last three verses are words of God declaring a promise of protection to those who know and trust in him. It is possible that this last section of the psalm constitutes an oracle proclaimed by a temple priest or prophet to the psalmist as s/he was seeking assurance in time of trouble and that the previous verses were inspired by the psalmist’s experiencing the fulfillment of these words of promise in his or her own life. Rogerson, J.W. and McKay, J.W., Psalms 51-100, The Cambridge Bible Commentary (c. 1977 by Cambridge University Press) pp. 203-204. The soul and content of this psalm are best summed up by the comments of Artur Weiser:
“The hymn is a sturdy comrade; its boldness and unbroken courageous testimony to God has already enabled many a man to overcome all sorts of temptations. By virtue of the soaring energy of its trust in God it leaves behind every earthly fear, every human doubt and all the depressing realities of life to the hopeful certitude of a faith which is able to endure life and to master it. True, the Christian’s trust in God requires a further readiness to submit to God’s will, even when he has resolved to deal with us in ways other than those we expected the venture of faith to take.” Weiser, Artur, The Psalms, The Old Testament Library (c. 1962 by S.C.M. Press, Ltd.) p. 613.
At this point, you might want to review my introductory remarks on Hebrews from the post of Sunday, October 4, 2015. You might also want to take a look at the Summary Article of Hebrews written by Craig R. Koester, Professor of New Testament at Luther Seminary, St. Paul, MN. I want to emphasize once again that the characterization of Jesus as the ultimate high priest is not a repudiation of Judaism, but rather a repudiation of the efficacy of Temple worship and piety as it had become in the days of Jesus. At its best, the Temple served as a powerful symbol of the actual presence of God in the midst of Israel. It drew worshipers from all corners of Israel to Jerusalem where they celebrated their common faith in God and their solidarity with one another through sacrificial meals. The priesthood served as a mediator of God’s mercy and faithfulness to Israel and Israel’s confession of sin, prayers for forgiveness and hymns of thanksgiving.
At the time of Jesus, the office of the high priest was highly politicized and notoriously corrupt. The Temple that stood during the time of Jesus was built by Herod the Great, a hated figure appointed by Rome to be “King of the Jews.” Herod, it should be noted, was not a Jew and so his designation as the Jewish king was all the more insulting. The Jews, then, were naturally ambivalent about the Temple in Jerusalem. It was, to be sure, a magnificent piece of architecture that arguably dignified the worship of God. But it was also a cash cow for the corrupt priesthood and its Roman overlords. Consequently, both Jews and Christians viewed the Temple’s destruction as God’s judgment on a hopelessly corrupt priesthood.
Just as obedience to Torah and worship revolving around the synagogue replaced Temple worship in the Jewish community, Jesus was understood among Christians as the new Temple of God and God’s true high priest of an entirely different lineage, that of Melchizedek. Melchizedek is an obscure figure who, like our friend Jabez, makes only a fleeting appearance in the scriptures. Genesis 14 tells the story of how a confederation of kingdoms defeated the infamous city states of Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham’s cousin Lot and his family got caught in the cross-fire and were kidnapped and enslaved by the victorious confederation. Abraham formed his servants into an army and pursued the confederation forces, ambushed them during the night, scattered their troops and rescued Lot. The king of Sodom was naturally grateful to Abraham as this victory benefited his kingdom. He came out to greet Abraham and with him was Melchizedek, king of Salem (another name for Jerusalem). Melchizedek, identified as “priest of God Most High,” brought with him bread and wine. He also blessed Abraham with the words:
“‘Blessed be Abram by God Most High, maker of heaven and earth;
and blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand!”
And Abram gave him one-tenth of everything.” Genesis 14:19-20. The only other mention of Melchizedek is in Psalm 110, a coronation hymn, in which the newly crowned king of Judah is named “a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek.” Psalm 110:4. It is this very mysteriousness of Melchizedek, his lack of both genealogy and history, that makes his priestly office such an appealing analogy to the ministry of Jesus. Jesus’ priestly authority is not grounded in the corrupt lineage of the Jerusalem establishment of his time, nor is it even rooted in any human genealogy. Jesus’ appointment and priestly office are grounded in God’s sovereign choice. Vs. 5.
For those of us far removed from the historical context, the argument is a little hard to follow. But the bottom line is that, for the author of Hebrews, Jesus is the focal point for communion with God and fellowship among God’s people. The Eucharistic meal now serves the original purpose of the sacrificial meals in the Temple. Jesus’ once and for all sacrifice is now sufficient to feed God’s people so no further sacrifices of any kind are necessary. Consequently, Christians need not despair over the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem.
In some ways, our own context is analogous to that of the church addressed by the book of Hebrews. We mainline protestants are also experiencing losses-in terms of membership, in terms of financial resources, in terms of our capacity, both as congregations and as national denominations, to be the church we have always been. If current trends continue, my own Evangelical Lutheran Church in America will be a far smaller, poorer and less influential church by the middle of this century. Many of our congregations may no longer be in existence. If numbers, finances and the ability to run expansive programs addressing every conceivable human need are at the center of what it means to be church, this is disturbing news. But maybe size, wealth and programmatic success don’t matter anymore than did the Temple. In my humble opinion, a small, poor and marginalized church speaking from the edges of society is a more faithful witness to Jesus than a wealthy, powerful church entrenched in the structures of societal power speaking from the center. But that is just Jesus, the writer of Hebrews and St. Paul. What do they know?
We might find problematic the language in verse 9 suggesting that Jesus was “made perfect.” Was there a time when he was anything less? From the point of view expressed in John’s gospel, Jesus is the incarnate Word that was with God in the beginning and was God. John 1:1. Yet as a human person Jesus can be known only as all of us are known-through the narrative of our concrete lives, that is, our stories. Jesus’ story, though complete from the standpoint of the resurrection, was fraught with contingencies. His life was genuinely threatened by Herod, he was tempted to forego the cross by the devil, his own disciples and the power of his own human survival instinct. If the gospel narrative is to have any meaning for us, we must accept that these temptations were very real and the danger of stumbling-for Jesus and for us-was also real. It was in the overcoming of these challenges through faithful trust in and obedience to his heavenly Father that Jesus reveals within the human frame the heart of God and realizes the divine intent for human existence, thereby accomplishing God’s redemptive purpose. The gospel narrative, then, is the perfection of Jesus.
At first blush, it seems we should not be too hard on James and John. After all, this how things work among “the gentiles,” including us American gentiles. People who have donated generously to a successful campaign are rewarded with ambassadorships, cabinet positions and committee chairs in the new administration. (That is why prudent donors typically contribute to both campaigns. That way, no matter who wins, s/he will owe you. Why put all your eggs in one basket?) James and John have certainly paid their dues. They have been at Jesus’ side throughout his ministry, stood by him in the face of opposition and have joined him on a danger fraught journey to Jerusalem. It is hardly unreasonable to ask that Jesus reward their loyalty with some measure of privilege in the coming kingdom. This is how politics is practiced in the real world.
Much of the story’s irony will be lost on us this Sunday because the lectionary makers have failed to include verses 32-34 that come directly before the lesson. Here we read: “They were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them; they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. He took the twelve aside again and began to tell them what was to happen to him, saying, ‘See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death; then they will hand him over to the Gentiles; they will mock him, and spit upon him, and flog him, and kill him; and after three days he will rise again.’” It is after this dark pronouncement that James and John come forward with their request for a high office in the coming Jesus administration. The warning that Jesus’ mission will end with his execution seems to have fallen upon deaf ears. The two disciples do not yet understand what Jesus’ coming in glory is going to look like. If they had understood, they might have been thankful to learn that the privilege of being at Jesus right and left hand had already been given away-to two criminals. James and John truly have no idea what they are requesting.
Yet, says Jesus, they will drink the cup he must drink and share in the baptism with which he is about to be baptized. That is a good word; a word of promise. James and John cannot understand it as such yet. Perhaps they cannot understand it at all. The question is, though, do we understand it? And if we understand it, do we hear it as good news? This is one of those texts that is more conveniently ignored-just like the one from last week in which Jesus calls upon the rich young man to sell all his possessions and give them to the poor. In fact, as I look at how most of our congregations are managed, how church denominations (including my own ELCA) are operated, we don’t look all that different from the gentile world. We have constitutions that divvy up power and authority between the pastor, lay leaders and committees. The pay structure for bishops, pastors of large congregations and pastors of smaller congregations does not suggest to me that we view “the least” as the “greatest.” We have our power struggles, disputes over authority and arguments over who is the greatest. I am not always convinced that our liturgy communicates the message that worship leaders and ministers of word and sacrament are “the least of all and the servants of all.” Vs. 44.
Some of this, no doubt, is attributable to sinful human nature. After all, if we find power politics at work among the original twelve disciples, is it really so surprising that it persists among us today? Yet I wonder whether our structures do not contribute to our failure to practice servant leadership effectively. More importantly, I wonder if our structures are not the misbegotten fruit of a theology of church based on the notion of individual rights rather than selfless service within the Body of Christ. As a tail end baby boomer and child of the 60s (sort of), to be at all critical of “rights” goes against the grain of my moral conscience. But lately I have come to believe that my moral conscience is wrong. I do not believe that it is possible to preach the good news of Jesus Christ in the language of “rights.” The only way I can possess a right is to have an existence independent of the Body of Christ. If I am a member of the Body of Christ, then it makes no more sense to speak of my right to do this or that than it does to speak of my foot’s right to act independent of the rest of my body. To be baptized into the Body of Christ is to die to any individual right I may have and to live henceforth for the good of the Body.
For a broken and divided world filled with individuals and groups all having conflicting interests, the language of rights does little more than define the contours of its fractures. The language of rights can only produce endless disputes over whose right is primary and how far a given right goes. That, of course, is colored by economic self-interest, value judgments, cultural bias and a whole host of other distorting factors that virtually ensure a conceptual quagmire. When the church attempts to couch the gospel in the language of rights and frames its call for justice, peace and reconciliation in terms of rights, it invariably finds itself the dupe of some partisan interest. To be sure, the church has often sided with partisan interests that advance the cause of justice. But just as often it has sided with slavery, segregation, war and exploitation. In short, when we get caught up in speaking the language of rights, I am not convinced the church speaks truth any more clearly or faithfully than other people of good will. We are self-interested too, after all.
Perhaps before we can speak of justice we need to experience it. Maybe we cannot ever hope to speak the truth unless we give ourselves to living the truth in a community that is founded not on inalienable rights, but on the unconditional mercy by which we have each been absorbed into a Body where our individual lives have been surrendered. “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Galatians 2:20. Maybe the first step in speaking truth and justice is simply to be the church, the Body of Christ, a community of servants who claim no rights, no privileges, no greatness or distinction. We might not be any better at living as a Body than were James and John, or the church in Corinth or any other New Testament congregation. Nevertheless, even a church that does church badly is a better witness than a church that has given up on being church and adopts the way of “the gentiles.”