Can we really remain neutral in these crucial areas?

Can and should the Christian be neutral? Well, it depends on what we are talking about. Let me first deal with the term being used here. One online dictionary offers two senses of the word “neutrality”:
-The state of not supporting or helping either side in a conflict.
-The absence of decided views, expression, or strong feeling.

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In some areas there can indeed be such neutrality, and it does not really matter if it is there. If a sporting event is on with two archrivals battling it out, and you are keen on that sport, and especially support (or hate) one of the teams, then you will not remain neutral. But if you are not into that particular sport, or have no favourite teams, then you can easily stay neutral, in the sense of not having strong feelings either way as to who wins or loses.

For the Christian, the idea of complete neutrality is quite questionable – at least in various key areas. Here I will offer three such areas, and show how taking sides is in fact what we are called to do, and refusing to take sides can be an indication of our lack of love for God and others.

The Myth of Spiritual Neutrality

In terms of the spiritual war that is taking place all around us, we have to go along with the words of Jesus: “Whoever is not with me is against me” (Matthew 12:30a). There are only two sides in this cosmic conflict that we all find ourselves in: God’s side and the devil’s side.

The Bible makes it clear throughout that if we are not on God’s side, then we are on Satan’s side. This is especially the case when it has to do with those who are God’s children, and those who are not his children. You either is or you ain’t, to put it simply.

One way of putting this is to say that there are only two humanities: the redeemed and the unredeemed; the saved and the lost. And there are only two eternal destinies that people will find themselves in. So we all must choose, and choose carefully.

Sure, some people do not find such a black and white polarity to be to their liking. But repeatedly in Scripture we find this very thing. And I have written on this issue before, so have a look there for the numerous passages that make this so very clear:

Before moving on, let me say that some people are moving closer to God or further away. Conversion CAN be a process, something that may occur over time. So I am not saying all people MUST be able to pinpoint the exact moment that they passed over from death to life, from darkness to light.

The apostle Paul could certainly pinpoint the time and place, but for others, such as the apostle Peter, they may have been on a bit of a journey to get there. See more on this here:

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The Myth of Cultural and Political Neutrality

My second area has to do with things like political involvement and the culture wars. These are matters I have of course written on quite frequently. And the main point I have tried to make in this case is that we really do NOT have the luxury of sitting on the fence when so many hardcore issues are being discussed, debated and/or voted on.

Thus all true biblical Christians SHOULD have been involved in things like the attempt by activists to radically redefine and thus destroy the institution of heterosexual marriage. Not only should ALL believers have been involved in that long and difficult battle, but they should have known that there was only ONE position that they could hold to. There was only one side they could champion in that fight.

But sadly, because of apathy, indifference, falling for secular propaganda, a lack of Christian love, or a lack of courage, far too many believers did not get involved. That is a shameful place to be in, in my eyes. When something this vitally important to faith, family and freedom is not getting all believers involved, it is a damning indictment of the state of the church and the lack of our biblical passion and concern.

As Rod Dreher has stated, “You may not be interested in the culture war, but the culture war is definitely interested in you.” And as Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel once said: “Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, not the tormented.”

Politics is often the main arena in which these battles are being fought out. So we must have SOME political interest and involvement. Sure, not all will run for office or even join a political party, but being aware of the issues at least, and making sure you vote the right way is crucial.

Yes, in some areas things might be a bit more grey, and not so black and white. As Abraham Lincoln once famously said when one of his advisors said he was grateful that God was on the Union’s side: “Sir, my concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God’s side, for God is always right.”

But the idea that we can just be apolitical, and remain with our heads in the sand as our politicians and parliaments are making weighty decisions that will impact us all – and our churches – is the height of carelessness and foolishness. As Pericles put it, “Just because you do not take an interest in politics doesn’t mean politics won’t take an interest in you!”

The Myth of Theological Neutrality

My last case is a bit different. It has to do with the fact that none of us are really completely neutral – in the sense of being totally uninfluenced by others – in how we read and understand Scripture. Some believers pride themselves in thinking they are above theology, and that their beliefs are purely biblical.

But they are just kidding themselves. We are ALL impacted one way or another by other believers, both past and present. None of us live in some pristine intellectual and theological realm in which we have never been influenced by others.

But let me offer this imaginative scenario for you: A person is born and very early on is abandoned by his or her parents. Somehow the toddler survives and grows, all without any further human contact. Even more amazingly, somehow the person learns how to read. And then one day the person discovers a Bible, and starts reading it.

In that case we might be able to talk about an intellectual and theological blank slate. But two problems arise here. One, such an imagined situation will never occur of course. That scenario was the stuff of science fiction, not of reality.

But two, even if some believers think they can rely solely on the Bible, with no outside interference, guess what? If it is an English translation – or any translation – it ALREADY has been impacted and interfered with by others. Human beings have made numerous choices as they work on translating Scripture.

So even the Bible we hold in our hands has some human influence all over it. None of us come to Scripture in a pure and pristine state, uninfluenced by others. The culture we live in, the language we speak, the parents we had, and the part of the world we live in will ALL determine how we read and apply Scripture.

Sure, we all should seek to identify and rid ourselves of biases and preconceived notions where possible, but none of us will ever be able to fully do so. So we should be humble enough to admit that we do NOT have a direct pipeline to God via the Holy Spirit, and that we do need the help of others. If that were not the case, God would not have given to us teachers to help us along the way.

In sum, in most crucial areas of life, neutrality is a myth. It either does not exist, or seeking to remain neutral will just cause harm and hurt. We all must get involved, take a stand, and take sides. That certainly is the case with our eternal destiny. But it also matters in things like the culture wars.

And as we read and study Scripture, we must admit that none of us are completely neutral and untainted by the ideas and input of others.

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The Unlucky Country - Zimmermann & Moens

Bill Muehlenberg teaches ethics, apologetics and theology at several Melbourne Bible Colleges. His independent blog, Culture Watch, has over 5,000 articles commenting on the major cultural, social and political issues of the day.

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