Last week I spoke about the active controversy about whether Christians should sign The Manhattan Declaration, a 7-page document that stands up for:
- the sanctity of human life
- the dignity of marriage as the conjugal union of husband and wife
- the rights of conscience and religious liberty.
Although it is well written, timely, and doesn’t say anything that a traditional Christian would likely disagree with, I noted that I personally would not sign it for five reasons:
[ 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. ]
- It is short on scriptural references
- It misuses Scripture
- It encourages a religious hierarchy (by providing a “List Or Religious Leader Signatories” — http://manhattandeclaration.org/sign/list-of-religious-leaders-signatories)
- It devalues the Gospel
- It implicitly defines “Christian” in a way I cannot accept
I also noted that the last two were my far greatest concerns–and those two are what I am going to focus on today.
What is the Gospel?
Who are Christians?
What is the Gospel?
Last week I quoted Dr. John MacArthur, conveying his concern that the document doesn’t identify “the one true and ultimate remedy for all of humanity’s moral ills: the gospel” [ http://www.shepherdsfellowship.org/pulpit/Posts.aspx?ID=4444 ]. As he noted:
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.
So, what is the Gospel?
In my sermon, “WDJD: The Gospel” [ http://fahrner.us/blog-mind-of-alan/alan-blog-sermons/95-alan-wdjd-003-gospel ], my final conclusion was that ultimately Jesus is the gospel. Although that is, in my opinion, a great summary, the specifics are too important to today’s discussion to leave it at that. In that sermon and a research paper I did on “The Gospel Message in the Sermons of Acts” [ http://fahrner.us/alan/liberty/gospel_in_acts.pdf ] I noted that some “sub-items” in the gospel are the kingdom message; Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and ascension; Jesus’ humanity; humanity’s sinful state; the need for belief; salvation, justification, reconciliation, and eternal life; obedience; judgment; peace; heaven; Christ’s glory; Christ’s post-resurrection appearances; the resurrection of the saved; Christ’s lordship; grace; repentance; and turning from idols. [ Please see the footnote for Wetmore’s part of that list in my research paper. The previous sermon notes also have multiple Scripture references. ]
I wrapped up my definition with, “In summary, the essentials of the gospel are Jesus Christ, His death, His resurrection, and salvation based on His work. It is not that other portions of the good news are unimportant–they just flow from those fundamentals.”
What isn’t the Gospel?
However, when it comes to whether we sign The Manhattan Declaration or not…it’s actually more important to agree on what is not in the gospel. When you think of false gospels in churches that claim to be Christian, where do they usually go awry?
[ Wait for answers. ]
Generally they fail when it comes to either the person of Christ or what we must do to be saved. With the former they have a habit of undermining His divinity or His humanity; with the latter they either make salvation dependent on our own works or put others (or the church itself) in a position of granting it.
Why is it important?
Let’s turn to Galatians 1:1-9:
6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel– 7 not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you,let him be accursed. 9 As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.
If Paul, inspired by the Spirit, says people who preach a gospel other than the disciples preached should be accursed…clearly it is important! (Please also note that that quote is from a letter that specifically combat those who were claiming a need for works…with Paul vehemently saying we are saved by faith, not by the works of the Law.)
What is a Christian?
What does the Bible say?
The Bible only uses the word Christian 3 times [ look-up the first one ]:
Acts 11:26 and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. For a whole year they met with the church and taught a great many people. And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians.
Acts 26:28 And Agrippa said to Paul, “In a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian?”
1 Pet 4:16 Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name.
As you can see…none of those can count as a dictionary entry…and even if you look up all the cases of a more common name for Christians in the New Testament, “The Way,” it really is just a label, not a definition (see Acts 9:1-2; 19:9, 23; 24:14-15, 22).
I noted last week I prefer to use 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.
As I’ve thought about it though, I’d like to propose a new one based on this from Dr. James White (also shared last week):
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 ]
I would like to define a Christian as someone who preaches the true gospel. Now…I’ve actually said “preach” on purpose. No, I don’t expect all of you to stand up here behind the podium, but the true gospel requires we share it–and there are far more ways to “preach” then in a sermon.
As I noted last week, this quote right after The Manhattan Declaration’s preamble was problematic for me.
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.
Although I’m not entirely sure what they would include in “Orthodox,” we know from the “List Or Religious Leader Signatories” that “Catholic” means the Roman Catholic Church.
Is the Catholic Church a Christian church?
On Thursday I visited the Vatican’s web site…and found these from the Catechism [ read them from the book ]:
1113 The whole liturgical life of the Church revolves around the Eucharistic sacrifice and the sacraments.29 There are seven sacraments in the Church: Baptism, Confirmation or Chrismation, Eucharist, Penance, Anointing of the Sick, Holy Orders, and Matrimony. [ http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG0015/__P2Z.HTM ]
1129 The Church affirms that for believers the sacraments of the New Covenant are necessary for salvation.51 “Sacramental grace” is the grace of the Holy Spirit, given by Christ and proper to each sacrament. the Spirit heals and transforms those who receive him by conforming them to the Son of God. the fruit of the sacramental life is that the Spirit of adoption makes the faithful partakers in the divine nature52 by uniting them in a living union with the only Son, the Savior. [ http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG0015/__P33.HTM ]
The church affirms that for believers the sacraments of the New Covenant are necessary for salvation. Does that sound like it’s part of the true gospel? Does it contradict the true gospel? [ Ask for reasons it contradicts. ]
Right…it contradicts the true gospel because it ties salvation to works–and we are saved by grace through faith, not by works. (The Catholic church has more heresies than just that, but it is a key one.)
Now, the Catholic Church might argue all Christians agree if God commands us to do something, and we are a true follower of Christ, we will do that. But then I would argue that with their sacraments they’ve put themselves in the place of God in deciding what is commanded and necessary for salvation.
If the Catholic Church is preaching a false gospel, are they a Christian church? [ Wait for answers. ]
No…although I personally believe there are Catholics who are Christians, the Roman Catholic Church is not a Christian church.
Let’s turn to a familiar Scripture:
14Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For a what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? 15What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? 16 What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said,
“I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them,
and I will be their God,
and they shall be my people.
17 Therefore go out from their midst,
and be separate from them, says the Lord,
and touch no unclean thing;
then I will welcome you,
18and I will be a father to you,
and you shall be sons and daughters to me,
says the Lord Almighty.” (2 Corinthians 6:14-18)
I think the most common use I’ve heard of this Scripture is to tell Christians not to marry non-Christians (and I do think it is applicable)…the John MacArthur Study Bible gives a much better understanding:
6:14 unequally yoked together. An illustration taken from OT prohibitions to Israel regarding the work-related joining together of two different kinds of livestock (see note on Deut. 22:10). By this analogy, Paul taught that it is not right to join together in common spiritual enterprise with those who are not of the same nature (unbelievers). It is impossible under such an arrangement for things to be done to God’s glory. with unbelievers. Christians are not to be bound together with non-Christians in any spiritual enterprise or relationship that would be detrimental to the Christian’s testimony within the body of Christ (see notes on 1 Cor. 5:9–13; cf. 1 Cor. 6:15–18; 10:7–21; James 4:4; 1 John 2:15). This was especially important for the Corinthians because of the threats from the false teachers and the surrounding pagan idolatry. But this command does not mean believers should end all associations with unbelievers; that would defy the purpose for which God saved believers and left them on earth (cf. Matt. 28:19, 20; 1 Cor. 9:19–23). The implausibility of such religious alliances is made clear in vv. 14b–17. [ MacArthur, J. J. (1997, c1997). The MacArthur Study Bible (electronic ed.). Nashville: Word Pub. ]
If the Catholic Church isn’t a Christian church…and we shouldn’t be “unequally yoked” with unbelievers (and one could definitely argue they have a problem with “pagan idolatry”), then should we join them in a spiritual enterprise? Is The Manhattan Declaration a “spritual enterprise”?
I would argue yes, The Manhattan Declaration is a spiritual enterprise and that as such no, we should not sign it with them.
But…what about Scriptures like…
Now some might quickly argue that we shouldn’t be so picky. They would rightly send us over to a couple of important references:
49 John answered, “Master, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he does not follow with us.” 50 But Jesus said to him, “Do not stop him, for the one who is not against you is for you.”
15 Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. 16 The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. 17 The former proclaim Christ out of rivalry, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. 18 What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.
Jesus’ words are especially impactful–I can’t necessarily say at this point in history the Catholic Church is “against us.”
However, we believe that we let Scripture interpret Scripture, so let’s first remember Paul’s words about a false gospel…and then turn to:
23 Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.
2 Corinthians 11:12-15
12 And what I do I will continue to do,in order to undermine the claim of those who would like to claim that in their boasted mission they work on the same terms as we do. 13 For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen,disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. 14 And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself asan angel of light. 15 So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves asservants of righteousness.Their end will correspond to their deeds.
Jesus was not setting up some ecumenical carte blanche and Paul only rejoiced if the gospel being preached was a true one.
The gospel matters!
But let’s not go too far…
Before I wrap up…let’s make sure we don’t go to far the other direction…what is the limit to not being “unequally yoked”?
1 Corinthians 5:9-12
9 I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people– 10not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. 11 But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler–not even to eat with such a one. 12 For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? 13 God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.”
Our main concern is being unequally yoked with people who claim to be Christians but aren’t–not avoiding the huge mass of lost souls Christ has called us to reach out to. It brings reproach on Christ when we encourage Jesus’ name to be connected with false believers.
Going back to the genesis of all this…
Should you sign The Manhattan Declaration?
You must decide…and I’ll definitely consider you a brother or sister in Christ regardless. (If I wanted, I could preach another sermon on why you should. ☺)
Is the Catholic Church a Christian denomination?
Again, you must decide…as you must with any similar question.
I suspect it is our basis for our answers to both of these questions that speak to whether we are Christians or not–not the answers themselves.