“Lawful Neutral Christianity”Categories: M. W. Bassford, Meditations
DISCLAIMER: I am a huge dork. Do not feel the need to inform me of this because of this post. I already know.
The other day, I found myself explaining the intricacies of Dungeons & Dragons to a couple of Christians who had never played before. Among other things, we discussed D&D’s alignment system. In D&D, every character has one of nine alignments. These describe their attitude toward good versus evil along one axis and law versus chaos along the other.
As I was setting this out, one of these Christians asked me to explain the difference between the Lawful Good alignment and the Lawful Neutral alignment. I told him that Lawful Good characters view the laws of society as a tool for bringing about justice and benefiting everyone, whereas Lawful Neutral characters look on law as an end in and of itself. You follow the law Just Because.
He replied, “Oh; so Lawful Neutral is the way that some people think the church is.”
The more I thought about that, the more I decided it was worth exploring. Indeed, I would go so far as to say that Lawful Neutral Christianity is not merely a perception of the church that others hold. Instead, it represents a trap for us.
On the D&D moral axis, our lawfulness is undeniable. “Do all in the name of the Lord,” we say, and we proceed to explain that in the context of Colossians 3:17, “name” means “authority”. From that, it is easy to conclude that obedience to the authority of Christ is all that matters. Thus, we need to marshal our arguments in such a way as to compel even the unwilling to obedience. Every i must be dotted; every t must be crossed, whether you want to or not.
The problem is, though, that the New Testament doesn’t present itself as a Lawful Neutral system of ethics. What underlies the law of Christ is not obedience, but love. As Paul says in Romans 13:9, every commandment can be summed up in, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
Rightly understood, every ordinance of God is an expression of love for somebody. They exist not because God’s call to love is inadequate, but because our understanding of love is. We are foolish and easily deceived, so we are prone to mistake selfishness for love. By leading us to reject behavior that appeals to us but really is unloving, the commandments keep us on the path of godliness.
Because Christianity’s moral code is love-dependent, in the absence of love, it falls apart. If you take love out of Christianity, you end up with Pharisaism or even worse. Thus, Christian ethics always must be accepted internally rather than imposed externally. If we make somebody go through the motions of loving God and others when they don’t share that love, all we have done is to create a hypocrite.
Lawful Neutral Christianity is seductive. All of us have known the desire to compel someone else to be righteous, to beat them over the head with the Bible enough that they give in. However, unless love is present, righteousness never will be. The gospel cannot penetrate the hard hearts of the unwilling, but in those who desire to follow Jesus, it will produce not merely lawfulness, but goodness.