The Danger of Fence-sitting
Finn Foster / Youth Minister First Baptist Church of Durango
In college, I was taught that intelligence and skepticism were one in the same. I was told that in difficult or controversial matters the best way to sound smart was not to pick a side and argue it, but to sit between the two opinions and question them both. In fact, the more skeptical you were about everything or the more you could stand against the traditional ways of thinking, the more you were revered. The purpose of this was not to bring about resolution, but to prove that true resolution is not possible. The philosophy of this is that the only certain thing in life is uncertainty. For a long time, I continued to hold this view. I believed that drawing hard lines was not just intellectually irrelevant, but ethically wrong. Who was I to tell other people how to live? Wouldn’t it just be better if I drew no lines, stayed open and accepting to all people, and stood in the middle? Wouldn’t that make me a sort of ambassador between two worldviews that could bring more people to Jesus? Wouldn’t it be good for the Kingdom if I would just sit on the fence?
This, in many ways, was the same culture that the prophet Elijah stood before in 1 Kings 18. Israel had been in a downward spiral. Ultimately this spiral led to a king named Ahab who is described as a guy who “did evil in the sight of the Lord, more than all who were before him,” (1 Kgs 16:30). During his nearly 40-year reign, Ahab restored the worship of the foreign god Ba’al and expected all of his people to worship this false god. Ahab drew a hard line and made the declaration that Ba’al was the god worth all worship and all other worship would be punished. But in verses 17-40, the courageous prophet Elijah shows up to confront Ahab for his many evils. Elijah challenges Ahab and all of his prophets of Ba’al to a mountaintop battle. The specifics of the battle were that there would be an altar placed on the ground and whoever’s god could make holy fire on top of the altar and burn it all up would be the god worth worshipping. Interestingly enough though, it isn’t the battle that I find most convicting in this story. In fact, the battle, while insane in many ways, is less like a traditional battle scene and more like that embarrassing moment when a baseball team gets utterly destroyed by another team’s pitcher. In this scene, it was as if God threw a no-hitter on Ba’al proving his god-less-ness and the purpose-less of those prophets. The battle had all the signs of a great drama yet when it was all said and done, all that was left was a crowd of people humbled by a Holy God. Yet that still wasn’t the real conviction.
Right before the battle begins, Elijah looks around the mountaintop arena at all the people who have come to see the show. With intent in his eyes and God’s words in his mouth, Elijah looks directly at Israel and asks one of the most painful questions in the whole Bible. He looks out at God’s chosen people and sees a nation who had decided that it would be better to just “see how this one plays out” before they choose which being to worship. Then he opens his mouth and says, “‘How long will you go limping between two different opinions?’” (1 Kgs 18:21). Ouch. Elijah wants to know how much longer they will remain unconvinced by the God of their ancestors. He asks this question to pull at their heartstrings and make a confused people certain about something. Elijah says that the people of Israel have become fence-sitters and that they had been limping between two opinions for far too long. Elijah goes on to say that it would be better if they just chose Ba’al and worshipped the false god than to stand in the middle, between two world views (18:21). I suspect that the primary motivation for not worshiping YHWH was because they thought that the evil Ahab would kill them for opposing his beliefs. Yet at the same time, they had convinced themselves that because they hadn’t specifically chosen to worship Ba’al yet, they were still in good graces with their ancient God. It sounds crazy, but Elijah says that picking one or the other would be better than staying on the fence in between two gods. The middle isn’t a safe place to find refuge at all. It isn’t the “intelligent” choice. By worldly standards, it seems safe, but according to heavenly standards, fence-sitting is anti-God. Obviously, false god worship is a massive problem, especially when all false gods end up being humiliated by God anyway. That’s a given. It’s the fence-sitting that seem innocent, but is actually evil.
So, is it better for me to just stand in the middle and cause no disruptions, stir no pots? Shouldn’t we encourage others to be more agreeable and less rigid in our beliefs? To Elijah, to the whole Bible, the answer is no. That type of living is not something that will cause people to love Jesus. It is lukewarm and deceitful. It leads to being spit out by Jesus (Rev 3:15-16) or being tossed into the fire to be burned up (John 15:6). Intense? Yes. We should heed this warning.
In a world where skepticism somehow equals intelligence, fence-sitting has, once again, become a respected way of viewing life. Fence-sitting often starts out with a true desire to choose correctly between two things. However, over time, it becomes easier to sit in the middle and not make specific decisions and we find ourselves suffering from decision fatigue or spiritual paralysis. We know that saying “let’s agree to disagree” or “I can see it both ways” isn’t something we can keep up forever, but we try to anyway. What started as an attempt at wisdom has morphed into 2 an attempt to be non-controversial, non-offensive, non-boring, and non-religious. However, the truth is that our faith is worth standing up for. It is worth fighting for. It is worth late night debates and lifelong battles. The Christian faith was authored by and perfected by Jesus, the Son of God and His finished work on the cross. He did it all to make it abundantly clear, to ensure there be no confusion, to lovingly force the fence-sitter into a decision. He took on human flesh and lived among us. He lived perfectly when no one else could. He took upon Himself the death that we all deserved to die, a death of full wrath and full abandonment from God. He did all of this so skepticism would die and truth would live. The truth: He is the only way to life (John 14:6).
To be specific, some of us are scared of living this radically new life because of the relationships that might change because of our commitment to Jesus. We might be worried that submitting our lives to God and His Word means that we can no longer chase after our own desires. Some of us see Jesus as a social reformer, a good teacher, and an open-minded leader, but not the Holy God of the Universe. His ideas are worth considering, but His life is not worth imitating. Some of us are worried about offending others or being in conflict so we make the Christian faith seem simple and carefree. We try not to rub anybody the wrong way so we let go of doctrines and theology to sound accepting and approachable. Instead of upholding the lines and picking a side, we wrongly depict the God of the Universe. When we do this we make concessions in our faith and slowly drift towards our self and away from our Savior. We are so nonchalant about the beliefs about God that we cover it up by constantly repeating that we just believe in God. When we try to find Jesus this way, we lose Him entirely. Our beliefs about God effect our faith in Him. This happened to Israel, it can happen to us. Let us not wait until the next Elijah comes and rebukes us for our departure before we run full speed back to God.
The fact is, we need the Bible. From the shortest verse to the longest verse, we need all of God’s inspired and holy Word (2 Tim 3:17-17). It can be confusing, but the God of the Bible goes to great lengths to perfectly and clearly reveal Himself to us. It is in the Bible where we read that Jesus gave up His heavenly seat to make skeptics into believers; enemies into friends; and fencesitters into Gospel-proclaimers. It is the call upon Christians, now, to get off the fence and walk with Jesus, and Jesus alone. He is worth everything because He gave us everything. Cherish that truths that we are made right in His eyes, held tight in His arms, and led gently by His Word and Spirit. There is no room for skepticism in the work of Christ: He said it, He did it, and now we live in light of it. Trust God and His Word as truth and life in your daily walk.