Having now carefully considered the Manhattan Declaration, I made the decision not to sign. I have now read and re-read the various responses to the Manhattan Declaration andÂ have come to two conclusions. In the first place, there are manyÂ right, helpful and persuasive arguments that have been aptly asserted. But I am also deeply saddened that so many pastors and theologians do not acknowledge the logical implications of the ecumenical tone of this document.
The list of signatories includes such prominent evangelical leaders as, Chuck Colson, Ravi Zacharias and Randy Alcorn; as well as a significant number of Calvinist church leaders such as Al Mohler, Danny Akin, Russel Moore, Neil Nielson, Steve Brown, Robert Cannada, Ligon Duncan, Bryan Chapell, Timothy George, Bill Edgar, Wayne Grudem, Tim Keller, Peter Lillback, Joel Belz, Marvin Olasky, andÂ J.I. Packer. These men have expressed that such a document is a welcomed response to the problems that have been fueling the deterioration of a society that was once built on biblical principles.Â They have unanimously expressed the need for national reform in what are said to be the three most significant areas of concern: sanctity of life, marriage and religious freedom.
There have also been several prominent voices, such as Alistair Begg, John MacArthur,Â Mike Horton, James White (here,Â here andÂ here), Tim Challies, Dave Doran, andÂ John Stackhouse who have conscientiously raised objections to the nature of the document. It is also interesting to note that R.C. Sproul, John Piper, Mark Dever, and Mark Driscoll did not sign. The men who have expressed concern have, in a humble manner, articulated their reasons for abstaining from signing it. It is not because they believe that the causes set forth in it are unworthy of our immediate prayers or actions. Nor are they simply theological kill-joys, who love opposing any significant movement outside of their own congregations. They are men deeply committed to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and who believe that the Manhattan Document reduces Christianity to mere Trinitarianism, thus denigrating the heart of Christianity, namely, the Gospel of Jesus Christ. They understand that there is no Christianity without Jesus, and that to speak of the Jesus of Scripture is to speak of His Person and His Work. You cannot lay aside the saving work of Christ and reduce Christianity to a set of ethical standards.
Then there is Brian Maclaren, who represents an emergent view of the document. It is evident that saving the planet means more to McLaren than the salvation of sinners, human life or the sanctity of marriage. His concerns show that he does not understand the Gospel or ethics.
In response to the men who gave their reasons for not signing, Kevin DeYoung has dismissed the concerns of the aforesaid as really being nothing more than the logical fallacy of affirming the consequent. You can read his analysis here. If you agree with that assessment, I encourage you to read this article. It serves as grounds to show that Chuck Colson, the chief architect of the document, believes that these Orthodox, Catholic and Evangelicals leaders are united by the Gospel. Note what Colson concludes about the salvation of these Orthodox and Roman Catholic leaders in the article above. If authorial intent matters, then Colson’s role should not be understated. Colson (notable for his political activism and ecumenical endeavors such as ECT) was one of only three members of the drafting Committee, together with Robert George (Professor of jurisprudence at Princeton University and a committed Roman Catholic), and Timothy George (President of Beason Divinity School).Consider the language employed in the Manhattan Document. These three men have given further exhortations concerning the Declaration here. Note their statement that the people who have signed pledge not to compromise the Gospel!
As far as the statement is concerned, there is some equivocation in the composition as to whether it is meant to be considered an ecumenical statement or merely an ethical statement. The first sentence begins with the words, â€œWe, as Orthodox, Catholic, and Evangelical Christians, have gathered, beginning in New York on September 28, 2009, to make the following declaration,â€ but ends by saying, â€œwe sign as individuals, not on behalf of our organizations, but speaking to and from our communities.â€ This qualification seems to sweep away any concern of there being an ecumenical agenda, that is, until we come to the latter part of the statement–the wording of which is almost verbatim from Evangelicals and Catholics Together (ECT). In both places, an attempt is made toÂ make to qualify that it is not an official statement on the part of any specific ecclesiastical bodies. But in both documents the individuals involved are purposefully joining together on the confession of their adherence to the Christian religion. It appears that Colson carefully crafted the declaration to reflect the language employed in ECT with regard to ecclesiastical affiliations. In this post Colson explains, “The Manhattan Declaration is a wake-up callâ€”a call to conscienceâ€”for the church.” While the Manhattan Declaration is obviously less doctrinal, similar phraseology to that used in ECT I and ECT II is nevertheless present.
Furthermore, the language in the Declaration of a (single) â€œ2,000-year traditionâ€ betrays the denial of any ecumenical agenda. The document states that over those 2000 years, â€œChristians have refused to compromise their proclamation of the gospel,â€ and that â€œthe nature of religious liberty is grounded in the character of God Himself, the God who is most fully known in the life and work of Jesus Christ.â€ How can anyone insist that the Gospel and its implications are not involved in this document? What is the â€œproclamation of the Gospelâ€ in Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches? What are the doctrinal statements concerning the life and work of Jesus Christ expressed in Orthodox and Catholic Catechisms? History and established doctrinal standards clearly reveal a radical difference in the beliefs about the life and work of Jesus in these ecclesiastical bodies.
The emphasis of the document is largely, albeit not exclusively, on social and ethical concerns. There is no grounds for objections to the legitimacy of these concerns. These ethical matters in the civil sphere are important to me as an Christian and they matter to me as an American citizen. I do not, in any way, want to send a contrary message. Concern for ethical matters that effect society are important to me as a Christian because the apostle Paul said “as we have opportunity, let us do good to all men, but especially to those of the household of faith.” When we as individuals and citizens of a democracy have opportunity., and the right, to do good in the civil sphere, we then have a responsibility to do something. But do we, as followers of the Lord Jesus Christ, have the right or the responsibility to join with others from different religious communities to make a “joint statement?” I want to suggest that we do not. In fact, if the Gospel is the central unifying factor then we have a right and a responsibility to reject any unified movement that compromises the definition of the “Gospel.” This is the precise concern of the men, listed above, who have given reasons for not signing the declaration. Here is where the problem arises.
The language, “the Gospel of costly grace,” and “The Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in its fullness” are used in the documentÂ The document even goes so far as to make the joint statement by “Orthodox, Catholic and evangelical Christians” that “It is our duty to proclaim the Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in its fullness, both in season and out of season.” This is a troubling statement on several levels. It is a dangerous statement because it does not define “the Gospel.” The declaration that it is “our duty to proclaim the Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” is not problematic in and of itself. It is only problematic in the context of an ecumenical statement. This is a nuance that should not be overlooked. But, the statement is troubling for another reason. As Protestants we are historically known for “protesting” Rome’s perversion of the Gospel. The heart of the Gospel is “justification by faith alone.” Rome rejects the Protestant articulation of justification. Rome rejects the idea that by it is only by faith in Christ we have the forgiveness of sins and the imputation of His righteousness as the sole ground of our justification. Protestants have historically said that the Roman Catholic Church, as a ecclesiastical body with doctrinal standards, teaches “another Gospel.”
In Galatians 1:6-8 the apostle Paul told the churches of Galatia, â€œI marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed.â€ In 2 Corinthians 11:3 he declares, â€œI fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. For if he who comes preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or ifyou receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not acceptedâ€”you may well put up with it!â€ We would be foolish to think that Paul is only rejecting the idea of preaching a Jesus who is less than God. He is certainly rejecting that. But there is no indication that the Judaizers were preaching a Jesus that was less than divine. They were preaching a Jesus who was less than a complete Savior. They were taking away from the work of Jesus. Paul boldly explained that this was â€œanother Gospel.â€This is the principle concern I have with the Manhattan Declaration.
While many have suggested that it is not an ecumenical document, or a theological document, I want to suggest that they are overlooking a key factor–the use of Scripture in the very fabric of the Declaration. Now, consider this together with the fact that Colson would not allow Jews and Muslim’s to sign, and it becomes all the more clear that it is a theological document. If it is simply a matter of Law, then would we not also be able to include Jews, Mormons, Jehovah’s witnesses and Muslims? TheseÂ groups all acknowledge the moral law (i.e. the 10 commandments) to be the ethical standard by which men are called to live? In fact the apostle Paul tells us that those who do not have the law “show the works of the law written on their hearts (Romans 2:15).” This means that any concerned American, who by common grace acknowledges those principles of law revealed in the hearts of all men, should be able to join with other concerned Americans to make a declaration on these issues.But to join with individual Jews, Mormons, JWs, and Muslims would mean there would be no ecumenical statement.
So, to which Scriptures is appeal made in the document? There are three couplets, each containing one verse from the Old Testament and one verse from the New Testament for the three ethical and social concerns enumerated. Some of the verses are general principles of creation, and others deal more specifically with the work of redemption. They can be summarized as “Law and Gospel.” While I do not believe that each of these verses have been interpreted carefully, the greater question arises as to the appeal to them in the first place. Mike Horton has made the observation, “The law is indeed the common property of all human beings, by virtue of their creation in Godâ€™s image. Â As Paul says in Romans 1 and 2, unbelievers may suppress the truth in unrighteousness, but the fact that they know this revelation makes them accountable to God. Â However, in chapter 3, Paul explains that a different revelation of Godâ€™s righteousness has appeared from heaven: Godâ€™s justification of the ungodly through faith alone in Christ alone.” The use of the word “law” is never used in the declaration. But the word “Gospel” is used throughout. There is a confusion of the “law” and the “Gospel” in the Manhattan declaration. If someone thinks this is too hard a criticism I again quote from Horton: “Having participated in conversations with Mr. Colson over this issue, I can assure readers that this is not an oversight. Â He shares with Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI the conviction that defending the unborn is a form of proclaiming the gospel. Â Although these impressive figures point to general revelation, natural law, and creation in order to justify the inherent dignity of life, marriage, and liberty, they insist on making this interchangeable with the gospel.
While much more could be said, I hope this serves as a defense of the concerns of the men who decided not to sign the Manhattan Declaration. Their concerns are valid and right. Should we voice our opinions publically on these issues? Absolutely! Can we join with other Christians and make joint declarations? Certainly! We can also join with non-believers and make statements concerning life, marriage and religious freedom. Is it the work of the church to make such declarations? Perhaps. But let us beware of the dangers of joining forces with representatives of ecclesiastical bodies that have a different Gospel than the Gospel we have received.