Stronger is the church than any king,/I tell it to you without disparagement...
- Anonymous, Life of Colman Ela (Irish, 17th century from an earlier ms.)
Jesus answered him, "You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above."
- John 19.11
In the days when Christianity was taking root in Ireland, kings were local rulers presiding over a tribal group of relatives and friends. They were powerful, but only within a limited scope.
Some of these kings tried to resist the progress of Christianity, but to no avail. They soon came to understand that Christianity had many benefits to offer the people in their charge and, rather than resist the Gospel, most of them actively supported it. When the day came to unite the people of Ireland under one law, the Irish kings turned to the Church and her teachers to help them in writing legal code.
It seems laughable today to think that the Church would have more power to affect people's lives than the government. Or that government would look to leaders of the Church to help it with anything except getting re-elected. Government has real power to wield. All churches can do is persuade and, well frankly, they're not very persuasive.
But Celtic Christian church leaders were persuasive because they lived what they preached, making great personal sacrifices and enduring much hardship to help unsaved people come to know the Lord, illiterate people learn to read, unskilled people discover how to make a living off the land, and a people given to passion the power to control their emotions and live together in peace.
The Church today lacks power because the Church has backed away from the Gospel of the Kingdom and has settled for a kind of "near Christianity" in the name of following Jesus. We are not following Jesus if we are not walking in His Law (1 Jn. 2.1-6). We are not following Jesus if we are not actively fishing for men (Matt. 4.19). We are not following Jesus if we are not preaching the Kingdom of God and seeking it as our highest priority in all things (Matt. 4.17; 6.33). We are not following Jesus if we are not working to build His Church (Matt. 16.18). We are not following Jesus if we are not devoted to learning about Him by every available means (Matt. 11.29).
When government launches a new program - the stimulus, for example, or the national health care program - everybody feels its effects in one way or another. When churches offer new programs, most people just ignore them.
Perhaps if we as church leaders were more serious about following Jesus we might find that Jesus' teaching about salt, light, and leaven really had some substance to it.