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Milt Hankins: Can the church no longer change society?

May. 03, 2013 @ 12:00 AM

In times past, Christians were seen as catalysts for change. The Book of Acts traces the impact of Christians on a preponderantly pagan society. When St. Paul encountered the worship of idols, he called the people out, challenging them to turn to the "one true God."

According to church history, wherever the apostles, who were scattered by the Great Diaspora, wound up, they preached the gospel ("good news" of God's love), a new way, and consequently thousands of people adopted a new ethic and a new lifestyle.

Ostensibly, 12 men (the Bible leads us to believe) were ultimately responsible for altering the way of thinking and believing in the first and second centuries.

The least we can say is that after the fall of Jerusalem and the spreading of this new-born faith throughout Eastern Europe, the world was never again the same. Yes, there was change, but the central question is: Was it for the better or for the worse?

A study of religious movements, disputes, outrages and wars provoked by Christianity (the Crusades, the Inquisition, the Reformation and Puritanism, to name a few) raises valid questions.

Today, Christianity has a tremendous worldwide presence. The 12 have become 2.18 billion! A substantial majority of Americans claim they are Christians. Christian missionaries are proclaiming the gospel in all parts of the modern world.

And a new question is raised: Has Christianity lost its power to significantly affect society? As I see it, that appears to be the case. And largely, I suspect, because modern Christians have perverted the message of Christ. What the modern church, in general, espouses is neither attractive nor effective!

If it were attractive, hundreds of thousands of new converts would flock to the churches annually. Sanctuaries would be overflowing -- not half full. Churches, not the government, would be the most visible, successful protectors of the impoverished.

If it were effective -- that is, if it had the power and the authority to change society -- most of the prominent issues the church occupies itself with would be moot. It is unlikely that terrorism would be a major concern, and crime blotters might take up a column inch in our local newspapers.

Something is radically wrong with modern Christianity. It ought to be making an impact in and on our daily lives, but it isn't. It should be changing our society, but it isn't. It should be a proactive force for what is just, right and good, but it isn't.

Is the church no longer a major, positive force for change in our society? I'm afraid so.

If you have doubts about this, consider the number of social issues where the church establishment is on one side and the majority of its congregants are on the other. The church needs either 1) to reinvigorate its message or 2) stop slighting its relevant, major message with minor irrelevancies.

It might also practice what it preaches.

Milt Hankins of Ashland, Ky., is a retired minister, theologian and freelance writer.

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