The Church of England was the only real church at the time … at least the only one that was recognized and allowed by the British Crown and by the military man turned politician named Oliver Cromwell, who called himself “The Lord Protector of England.” And to say that Oliver “was not a good man” would be one of the great understatements of history.
For about 10 years, Oliver Cromwell crushed the hopes, the confidence, and the faith of the people living in England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland. He was an equal-opportunity oppressor who made the church bow down to him and his ideals, subjugating all the religious leaders of his day to either follow him or be executed. You gotta love that choice.
In fact, Oliver Cromwell was such a scoundrel, that after he died of natural causes in 1658, he was so hated and reviled by the people of England and by the people who succeeded him in leadership … he was so completely despised and loathed, that in 1661, three years after his death, his body was exhumed and he was publicly executed.
Now I’ve heard of people getting an award after their death … but getting publically executed three years after you’re dead and buried?! Wow! That’s got to be a new height of lowness! So Oliver was a real piece of work … and the oppression he brought to the British Isles politically, socially, economically and spiritually was not soon forgotten.
Sound a bit like the Roman Empire, and the cultural atmosphere of the Early Church doesn't it? And yet out of this time of great persecution and suffering, God raised up a variety of leaders and Christian movements, through which He could bring Truth and Light to the hurting, discouraged, oppressed people of the British Isles.
These groups had various names, including “The Children of the Light,” “The Ranters,” and “The Society Of Friends” who were also called “The Quakers” ... a group of Christians who took the name “Friends” from Jesus’ words in John 15:14 when He said, “You are my friends if you do what I command you to do.”
George Fox, was a shoemaker and about 25 years old when God used him to turn Cromwell and much of England on its ear. The church is the people, not the steeple George Fox was fond of saying. Out of context Fox’s words sounds simple, almost like they've been lifted out of a nursery rhyme.
And yet God used the context in which George Fox’s words were spoken in the birthing process of a new perception of what the Church was and could become.
The church is the people not the steeple. At Ogden Church, we don’t literally have a “steeple", and yet I believe Fox’s words need to be paid attention to because we have a building, we have a location where we come together on Sundays and throughout the week. And what Fox was trying to get across to people is that it is God’s design, God’s plan, God’s heart for us that the church not be a place, but that …
walking, talking, breathing, fully-alive people who
are making it their daily choice to invite Jesus to teach
them how to think, how to speak and how to live …
and who are inviting others to join them in their quest.
The church is the people, not the steeple. Sometimes the people who make up the church are the church gathered. Like on Sunday mornings and at other times throughout the week. We’re literally together. But we don’t come together just so we can have a “holy huddle” designed to keep the world and all its “ungodly influences” outside our doors. No way!
We come together as the church gathered so that we might be grounded in the WORD of God and guarded by the WORD of God … so that we might be equipped and encouraged to live for Jesus in practical, down-to-earth, day-in-and-day-out ways. And for what purpose? So that during the other 160-something hours in the week when we’re not the church gathered that we will be the church scattered … the church out in the world, engaging the world, living out our faith in ways both radical and strong and in ways simple and quiet.
The church gathered … and … the church scattered. This holy rhythm of gathering together for Jesus-focused worship and then being scattered out in Spirit-led ministry is how the influence of God and the presence of Jesus Christ in us and through us will have the power to change the world. This God-cadence of gathered-and-scattered is how the Kingdom of God grows, matures, and becomes more than just a good idea.
God calls us, during all the hours in every week when we’re not the church gathered, to intentionally let our "inward faith turn outward" and become the church scattered. Scattered out into our homes, into our schools, into our offices, into the grocery store, into wherever we go. Because it’s only as we begin to “get this” and “understand this” that we will begin to live “missional lives.” Lives no longer centered in our egos … lives no longer directed only by our priorities … lives no longer paralyzed by fear.
To live “missional lives” means living lives that find their source in God, that find their purpose in God, that find their hopes and dreams in God … lives that see the world, not as a “den of sinners” to be judged, feared and shunned … but …
- That see that the world is a place filled with people just waiting for someone to explain to them that the longing in their hearts for significance, for purpose and for a place to belong …
- That see the world as a place filled with people just waiting to be loved into the heart of God …
- That see that ultimately this longing and ache inside of people isn’t a desire for worldly success. But rather, it’s a longing to know God and be known by God … it’s a longing to know themselves, their real selves … and it’s a longing to know others and to be known by others.
- And that this is a longing and a nearly inexpressible yearning to experience the transforming power of spiritual community.
- And that this is a hunger to connect with Jesus Christ, the One who stepped out of heaven for the single purpose of stepping into our lives.
And if this a vision of who the church can be that you want to learn more about and live into, then you’re in luck. Because this is a description of who the leadership at Ogden Church longs for it to be and to become in greater measure.
The church is the people, not the steeple. The church isn’t a location. It’s you and me. It’s people caring for one another, watching out for one another, crying with those who cry and laughing at those who, frankly, need to be laughed at … I mean, laughing with those who laugh. But there’s always more to uncover, discover and live into about what God’s intentions are for us as “the church”, as the Bride of Christ.
There’s always more for us to learn about what it means for us to "become the church". And I know that God gets excited when you and I long in our hearts to connect with what’s in His heart and on His mind for us as “His church.” Godspeed.