By Fanning Yater Tant
Pilate was in a dilemma. An innocent man stood before him for judgment; Pilate knew that for envy he had been delivered up, and there was no evidence of wrong doing which would justify a sentence against him. Yet the mob was howling for blood. It was a ticklish situation, a nasty mess. Pilate must have wished with all his heart that he could be relieved of the necessity of handling this case. Either way he went, he was certain to have regrets. His sense of Roman justice was outraged at the thought of condemning an innocent man; yet his political sagacity told him that he dare not antagonize the mob.
At this crucial juncture his wife sent an urgent message: “Have thou nothing to do with that righteous man; for I have suffered many things this day in a dream because of him.” How pleasant that would be! What a relief just to wash his hands of the whole affair, bow gracefully out of the picture, and refuse to render a verdict. In a sense that was what Pilate tried to do. He even called for water and symbolically “washed his hands” of the matter, avowing his innocence. Yet Pilate found that it was impossible to side-step his moral responsibility. The verdict of history, repeated endlessly in that earliest of all creedal statements, is that Christ was “crucified under Pontius Pilate.”
As it was with Pilate, so is it with everyone who has knowledge of Jesus. Neutrality is an impossibility. The advice of Pilate’s wife is incredible. Pilate’s very failure to declare himself was a declaration. Had he been familiar with the teachings of the prisoner he would have recalled his words, “He that is not with me is against me; and he that gathereth not with me scattereth abroad.” (Matt. 12:30) The long story of the years has demonstrated the inexorable truth which Jesus put into words, “I came not to send peace, but a sword.” His advent into the world has brought to mankind the necessity of making a choice regarding him. In theory they may postpone the choice, or try to evade it or avoid it; in practice the choice is made every day, and in every act or word or thought. Pilate’s theory was that he could avert the choice; his practice was that he delivered Christ to be crucified.
A hundred years ago the Church of Christ stood at the crossroads. For multiplied thousands of Christians an inescapable choice loomed up. They did not ask for this problem; they did not want it; they did not like it. But it was there. In theory multitudes of them tried to shut their eyes to the problem, and ignore it; in practice every last one of them made a choice. Apparently in any such circumstances there are three choices possible: a positive choice for, a positive choice against, and a neutral choice. But as the years unfold, it has been demonstrated over and over again that the “neutral” choice disappears in the cold, hard logic of practice. Men can be neutral in theory only; in practice they are compelled to declare themselves.
In national affairs, when a nation is engaged in a struggle to the death for her very existence, neutrality is regarded as treason. In spiritual affairs, it is true that the Lord’s church is perpetually engaged in a warfare that knows no respite. When a matter of truth or error is up for decision, any attempt at “neutrality” is treason to the truth!
“Have thou nothing to do with that righteous man,” said Pilate’s wife. Attempting to follow that advice, Pilate turned Christ over to his tormenters. “Have thou nothing to do with that righteous man,” is the unexpressed, but none-the-less real, determination of thousands upon thousands of our contemporaries and acquaintances. Yet every such effort at “neutrality” is disastrous to the one attempting it. For Christ cannot be ignored. He makes positive claims and demands on the life of every individual. A failure to acknowledge those claims, a refusal to yield to those demands places one squarely in opposition and rebellion against God.
In theory a man can decide to be “neutral” on the subject of baptism; he is neither “for” it, nor “against” it. But in practice he either will be baptized, or he will not be. There is no neutrality in practice. In theory a man may be “neutral” on the subject of instrumental music in the worship; he is neither “for” it, nor is he “against” it. But in practice he cannot be neutral. He will either worship with it; or refuse to worship with it. The choice may not be forced upon him all at once; but sooner or later it will come. Perhaps he thinks himself against instrumental music; but he never speaks against it; never points out to any man the error of it; refuses to discuss it either publicly or privately. He is neutral in theory only; he is not neutral in practice. His influence is on the side of those who advocate the organ.
In theory, a man can decide to be “neutral” as to the regularity of observance of the Lord’s Supper; in practice he cannot be neutral. A failure to be for a weekly observance of it inevitably puts him in the class of those who are NOT for a weekly observance of it.
“Have thou nothing to do with that righteous man.” Yes, that is what Pilate devoutly wished could be so. But it was impossible for him. And it is impossible for anybody. It is impossible for YOU! When right and wrong are involved, when truth and error are in combat, neutrality is not only treason, it is impossible. Even an attempt at neutrality marks one as disloyal to Christ. There is no middle ground between Christ and Satan.