The Manhattan Declaration
How many out there use social networking sites?
At this point all I really use is Facebook and Twitter, and there has been quite a controversy amongst Christians on that service under #mdec about The Manhattan Declaration — mainly, whether a Christian should sign it or not.
To complicate things, Christian leaders I respect have come down on both sides of the issue.
[ These are quick sermon notes…not cleaned-up…and missing the "extras" that come out in the audio (which is available here). All quotes are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted. ]
So what, exactly, is The Manhattan Declaration? Perhaps the best thing to do is to quote their site directly:
We are Orthodox, Catholic, and evangelical Christians who have united at this hour to reaffirm fundamental truths about justice and the common good, and to call upon our fellow citizens, believers and non-believers alike, to join us in defending them. These truths are:
- the sanctity of human life
- the dignity of marriage as the conjugal union of husband and wife
- the rights of conscience and religious liberty.
Inasmuch as these truths are foundational to human dignity and the well-being of society, they are inviolable and non-negotiable. Because they are increasingly under assault from powerful forces in our culture, we are compelled today to speak out forcefully in their defense, and to commit ourselves to honoring them fully no matter what pressures are brought upon us and our institutions to abandon or compromise them. We make this commitment not as partisans of any political group but as followers of Jesus Christ, the crucified and risen Lord, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
Although the full Declaration is 7 pages long (http://manhattandeclaration.org/images/content/ManhattanDeclaration.pdf), that’s how the authors have chosen to summarize it on the front page of their site.
And it is quite an impressive document–it speaks eloquently to those issues and more and aptly says, “Go no further!” to the part of society that wants to push their secular beliefs on a nation that, as a whole, labels itself as Christian. I think anyone sitting before me could agree with statements such as this:
While the whole scope of Christian moral concern, including a special concern for the poor and vulnerable, claims our attention, we are especially troubled that in our nation today the lives of the unborn, the disabled, and the elderly are severely threatened; that the institution of marriage, already buffeted by promiscuity, infidelity and divorce, is in jeopardy of being redefined to accommodate fashionable ideologies; that freedom of religion and the rights of conscience are gravely jeopardized by those who would use the instruments of coercion to compel persons of faith to compromise their deepest convictions.
Because we honor justice and the common good, we will not comply with any edict that purports to compel our institutions to participate in abortions, embryo-destructive research, assisted suicide and euthanasia, or any other anti-life act; nor will we bend to any rule purporting to force us to bless immoral sexual partnerships, treat them as marriages or the equivalent, or refrain from proclaiming the truth, as we know it, about morality and immorality and marriage and the family. We will fully and ungrudgingly render to Caesar what is Caesar’s. But under no circumstances will we render to Caesar what is God’s.
So, what’s the problem?
And as Dr. James White aptly said, “There is much in this document that any serious-minded Christian not only can agree with, but simply must agree with.” [ http://www.aomin.org/aoblog/index.php?itemid=3638 ] Dr. White also notes:
The general statements of the document relating to life, abortion, marriage, sexuality, and religious liberty, are well stated and timely. There is something reassuring in realizing that the concerns we have had are shared across a broad spectrum.
So, what’s the problem?
Why, while Christian leaders like Dr. Albert Mohler (President, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) and Dr. James Dobson (Founder, Focus on the Family) have already lent their name to the declaration are others like Dr. John MacAthur (Pastor of Grace Community Church, author, and President of Master’s College and Seminary) and Dr. James White (Director of Alpha and Omega Ministries, a Christian apologetics organization)…and the one I just quoted…so dead-set against it?
Probably the most common complaint about the declaration is that, in trying to find common ground with other “Christians,” it implicitly devalues the Gospel. As John MacArthur notes:
Although I obviously agree with the document’s opposition to same-sex marriage, abortion, and other key moral problems threatening our culture, the document falls far short of identifying the one true and ultimate remedy for all of humanity’s moral ills: the gospel The gospel is barely mentioned in the Declaration. At one point the statement rightly acknowledges, “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”–and then adds an encouraging wish: “May God help us not to fail in that duty.” Yet the gospel itself is nowhere presented (much less explained) in the document or any of the accompanying literature. Indeed, that would be a practical impossibility because of the contradictory views held by the broad range of signatories regarding what the gospel teaches and what it means to be a Christian. [ http://www.shepherdsfellowship.org/pulpit/Posts.aspx?ID=4444 ]
And Dr. MacArthur is right, in its long 7 pages it only mentions the Gospel 3 times…the one that MacArthur quoted and these two:
Like those who have gone before us in the faith, Christians today are called to proclaim the Gospel of costly grace, to protect the intrinsic dignity of the human person and to stand for the common good.
Going back to the earliest days of the church, Christians have refused to compromise their proclamation of the gospel.
Not a whole bunch too that, eh?
So, why sign it?
So, why sign it? Dr. Mohler chose to because:
There are several reasons, but they all come down to this — I believe we are facing an inevitable and culture-determining decision on the three issues centrally identified in this statement. I also believe that we will experience a significant loss of Christian churches, denominations, and institutions in this process. There is every good reason to believe that the freedom to conduct Christian ministry according to Christian conviction is being subverted and denied before our eyes. I believe that the sanctity of human life, the integrity of marriage, and religious liberty are very much in danger at this very moment.
He also said:
I signed The Manhattan Declaration because it is a limited statement of Christian conviction on these three crucial issues, and not a wide-ranging theological document that subverts confessional integrity.
And I think all traditional Christians can agree that especially since the most recent administration came into office there seems to be pitch-black clouds on the horizon foretelling an ominous storm–one that not only will result in a society as debased as any condemned in Scripture, but one where we will be punished for calling sin, sin. Abortion is murder (see Exodus 21:22-23). Practicing homosexuality is an abomination to the Lord (Leviticus 18:22). It is easy for us to judge whether we should obey God or man (see Acts 4).
But I have not, and will not, sign it. Why?
Although I still respect those who did choose to sign it, there are 5 main reasons I did not, and will not, sign it–I’ll save my main two reasons for last.
It is short on scriptural references
First, it is short on scriptural references. It’s not that everything that we write has to have myriad references–but when The Manhattan Declaration boldly states:
A truly prophetic Christian witness will insistently call on those who have been entrusted with temporal power to fulfill the first responsibility of government: to protect the weak and vulnerable against violent attack, and to do so with no favoritism, partiality, or discrimination. The Bible enjoins us to defend those who cannot defend themselves, to speak for those who cannot themselves speak.
Shouldn’t it take the time to show where Scripture actually does so? Or do we really want people just accepting our word for it? As Acts 17:11 says:
Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.
The Bereans didn’t just trust Paul and Silas…all the more proof that we shouldn’t encourage others to just take our word on what we emphatically claim!
It misuses Scripture
This may be a bit more petty on my part, but it always disturbs me when someone, even if I agree with them, takes a Scripture out of context and misuses it. In the section on life…which is in context of temporal life (e.g. against abortion and euthanasia), it gives this reference:
I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. John 10:10
Did Jesus really come so that we can have life here on earth? Was that the life He was really offering in that quote?
Now, this is the only reference I can honestly say they used incorrectly–but I would also argue that introducing the three major sections with a couple references each and not really explaining how they buttress what is argued after itself is misusing the Word.
It encourages a religious hierarchy
If you go to mahattandeclaration.org you’ll notice on the right, mid way down, it has a link, “List Of Religious Leader Signatories” (http://manhattandeclaration.org/list-of-religious-leaders-signatories).
Now I can understand how an organization, wanting to get as many of us to sign their declaration as possible, would want to list leaders who have so that we can follow in their footsteps…however…isn’t that setting up a religious hierarchy and encouraging people to sign because their “rulers” say to instead of because God has convicted them to?
Also, isn’t that implicitly contradicting this Scripture?:
But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers. 9 And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. 10 Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ.
And if you don’t think that listing names of Christian leaders is in conflict with Matthew 23:8-10, how about a few selections from the “List Of Religious Leader Signatories”?:
29. Most Rev. Salvatore Joseph Cordileone
Bishop, Roman Catholic Diocese of Oakland, CA
49. His Grace, The Right Reverend Bishop Basil Essey
The Right Reverend Bishop of the Diocese of Wichita and Mid-America (Wichita, KS)
122. His Eminence Justin Cardinal Rigali
Archbishop, Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia, PA
(As an aside, I also wrestle with the idea of Christian ministries being named after their founder, and one of the 3 listed at the end of the document as on the “Drafting Committee” is Chuck Colson, Founder, the Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview.)
And those are first 3 reasons are petty compared to my last 2…
It devalues the Gospel
I agree with John MacArthur that the document is painfully silent about the Gospel. Going back to Dr. White’s thoughts:
But there are a number of troubling things that I cannot get past in examining this document and considering its implications. When I see some of the leading ecumenists in the forefront of the documents’ production, I am made uneasy, and for good reason. Great damage has been done to the cause of Christ by those who have sought to promote the Kingdom by compromising the gospel, the only power given to the church that can change hearts, and hence change societies. By relegating the gospel to a matter of opinion and difference, but not something that defines the Christian faith, these ecumenists have left their followers with a cause without power, a quest without a solution. And though their open-mindedness fits better with our current post-modern culture, from a biblical perspective, they have truly betrayed the apostolic example.
Later he continues:
Once again we are led to the inevitable conclusion that “Christian&qout; then is “Trinitarianism plus agreed upon historical truths such as the crucifixion and resurrection, but, most importantly, without any gospel content.”
And that’s my greatest concern with the document. It implicitly defines “Christian” in a way that I cannot accept.
What is a Christian?
Right after it gets done with the preamble, The Manhattan Declaration declares:
We, as Orthodox, Catholic, and Evangelical Christians, have gathered, beginning in New York on September 28, 2009, to make the following declaration, which we sign as individuals, not on behalf of our organizations, but speaking to and from our communities.
I think we would all agree that:
Mormons are not a Christian denomination
Jehovah Witnesses are not a Christians denomination
And I’m sure we could list more pseudo-Christian churches and cults…but…
What about the Roman Catholic Church?
Dr. White makes a statement in a follow-up post in his blog I think is very pertinent to this question:
The gospel forms the faith, and if you do not have the right gospel, you can call what you have Christianity all you want—it isn’t. Without the gospel, you have one of man’s religions, and men’s religions will never have the power to change the heart, and hence the society. [ http://www.aomin.org/aoblog/index.php?itemid=3643 ]
Out of time
At this point putting this sermon together I knew I’d be out of time…so this is only part 1 of 2…and the next time we’ll discuss a bit more what a Christian is…and how we, as Christians, should interact with non-believers. Until then I would like to share C.S. Lewis’ definition of a Christian from Mere Christianity:
Far deeper objections may be felt–and have been expressed–against my use of the word Christian to mean one who accepts the common doctrines of Christianity. People ask: ‘Who are you, to lay down who is, and who is not a Christian?’ or ‘May not many a man who cannot believe these doctrines be far more truly a Christian, far closer to the spirit of Christ, than some who do?’ Now this objection is in one sense very right, very charitable, very spiritual, very sensitive. It has every available quality except that of being useful. We simply cannot, without disaster, use language as these objectors want us to use it.
Next week let’s choose a definition for Christian together…and spend a little bit more on the Gospel…and see what we can conclude about how we should behave when it comes to things like signing The Manhattan Declaration.
Finally, I do realize that it is a bit ironic that after complaining about the declaration’s lack of scriptural references this has turned out to be my least reference-filled sermon so far. ☺