For a long time, the Church was an institution of influence in the West. Its grip on society was unrivaled for 1500 years. Even as secularism (as we understand it today) began to encroach in the 18th-19th centuries, the Church consistently acted as the ethical mooring of the people, influencing political and social changes that reverberate today. But, in most measurable demographics, church attendance is down. Once mighty denominational institutions now operate with weaning influence and less financial power to initiate social change. With a Church losing her influence, how does a Christian change the world?
Perhaps the simplest answer is the concern for holiness, to model ourselves after the saints of old by rooting ourselves in Scripture and the formation of virtue through the rites and practices of the Church. Scripture itself is consistently focused on personal and communal holiness, demanding a life that seeks justice, cares for the poor, loves the neighbor, and seeks forgiveness from God and others for our personal sins. Christ himself states that to be his disciple requires a denial of self and daily taking up our cross (Luke 9:23, Matt 10:38, Mark 8:34).
Scripture also affirms that this is no easy task. In Matthew 7: 13-14, Christ states, “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” It is easy to commit ourselves to selfishness, pride, and to our own disordered desires. The call to carry our cross demands so much more.
But in the crucible of God’s love that reshapes and redeems us, the ways in which we engage our world shift. The change is palpable, even if its small. God takes what is curved inward and concerned only for the self and points it back out to others. Sometimes the work God does in our lives is quick and the changes we see are sudden. Other times it is a crawl, a slow revealing of those internal hurdles that keep us out of tune with God and our neighbor. Whatever the pace, the work is good and necessary.
So, when we look at the big, wide world and ponder anxiously what we might do to change, heal, and redeem it, one place to start is with God’s redemption in our own life. It will start with our relationships with our families, friends, work, and communities. And while we may not get to see how it impacts things on a global scale, the steady work of God in our lives through the Church will most certainly touch lives in ways we can never guess.