The main concern of this news story was whether or not the Manhattan Declaration calls for civil disobedience, and it would seem to me that it certainly does call for civil disobedience if such should be required. But my own concerns about the declaration lie in another area. To be sure, there is much in the seven page document with which I and most other Evangelical Christians may wholeheartedly agree, and this is no doubt why a number of men I respect have signed it. For example, the List of Religious & Organizational Leaders Signatories includes men such as Bryan Chapell, J. Ligon Duncan, Wayne Grudem, and R. Albert Mohler.
So with men like that willing to sign it, why do I have concerns about it? Well, my misgivings have to do with the way the term Christian is used in the document, which is subtitled "A Call of Christian Conscience." Here are some examples of what I mean:
After the barbarian tribes overran Europe, Christian monasteries preserved not only the Bible but also the literature and art of Western culture. It was Christians who combated the evil of slavery: Papal edicts in the 16th and 17th centuries decried the practice of slavery and first excommunicated anyone involved in the slave trade; evangelical Christians in England, led by John Wesley and William Wilberforce, put an end to the slave trade in that country. Christians under Wilberforce’s leadership also formed hundreds of societies for helping the poor, the imprisoned, and child laborers chained to machines. (p.1)Notice the way in which the document speaks of medieval monasteries and Papal edicts as Christian along with Evangelicals like Wesley and Wilberforce.
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. We act together in obedience to the one true God, the triune God of holiness and love, who has laid total claim on our lives and by that claim calls us with believers in all ages and all nations to seek and defend the good of all who bear his image. (p.1)Again notice the way in which the Orthodox, Catholics, and Evangelicals are jointly spoken of as Christians. And it speaks just as broadly of them all as believers. Such language continues on page 2 of the document:
We are Christians who have joined together across historic lines of ecclesial differences to affirm our right—and, more importantly, to embrace our obligation—to speak and act in defense of these truths. We pledge to each other, and to our fellow believers, that no power on earth, be it cultural or political, will intimidate us into silence or acquiescence. 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. May God help us not to fail in that duty.Here is where I begin to get a bit more nervous. For not only are terms like Christian and fellow believers used indiscriminately of the Orthodox, Catholics, and Evangelicals mentioned previously, but the document also speaks of their joint duty to "proclaim the Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in its fullness." But here is where things get very problematic, since these groups do not agree on the nature and meaning of the Gospel. In fact, the Roman Catholic Church, for example, has anathematized all those who hold to an Evangelical understanding of salvation by grace through faith alone and justification by faith alone. Consider, for instance, these statements from the sixth session of the counter-Reformation Council of Trent in 1547:
CANON IX.-If any one saith, that by faith alone the impious is justified; in such wise as to mean, that nothing else is required to co-operate in order to the obtaining the grace of Justification, and that it is not in any way necessary, that he be prepared and disposed by the movement of his own will; let him be anathema.I hope the readers of this blog are beginning to see why I have concerns about this document. Although I agree strongly with the stances taken in the Manhattan Declaration on the issues of life, marriage, and religious liberty, I cannot agree that those who believe the things formally taught by the Roman Catholic Church about the Gospel should be called Christians, at least not in the same sense that we use the term of those who believe the true Gospel as taught in Scripture. In fact, the above citations from the Council of Trent indicate that the Roman Catholic Church does not think we should all be called Christians either, for when it pronounces an anathema upon those of us who believe in justification by faith alone, it places us outside what they believe to be the true Church.
CANON XXIV.-If any one saith, that the justice received is not preserved and also increased before God through good works; but that the said works are merely the fruits and signs of Justification obtained, but not a cause of the increase thereof; let him be anathema.
CANON XXX.-If any one saith, that, after the grace of Justification has been received, to every penitent sinner the guilt is remitted, and the debt of eternal punishment is blotted out in such wise, that there remains not any debt of temporal punishment to be discharged either in this world, or in the next in Purgatory, before the entrance to the kingdom of heaven can be opened (to him); let him be anathema.
Now, I could go on to cite a number of other examples of this sort of ecumenical ambiguity in the language of the Manhattan Declaration, but I think the point has been made sufficiently. I will just say in closing that this is a "call of Christian conscience" that my conscience will not permit me to sign. For in doing so, I might publicly clarify my stand on some important moral issues, but I would do so while at the same time helping to foster a lack of clarity about the Gospel. This I could never do. As a true Protestant, I must instead say, "I protest."
Update 1 December 2009
You may also want to read Al Mohler's Why I Signed The Manhattan Declaration and Alistair Begg's article simply titled The Manhattan Declaration, in which he explains why he chose not to sign the declaration (from the standpoint of one who was present when the initial draft was presented). Obviously, I agree with Begg on this one.
Update 8 December 2009
Today R.C. Sproul weighed in on the issue with a blog post entitled The Manhattan Declaration: Why didn’t you sign it, R.C.? Here is an excerpt:
In answer to the question, “R.C., why didn’t you sign the Manhattan Declaration?” I offer the following answer: The Manhattan Declaration confuses common grace and special grace by combining them. While I would march with the bishop of Rome and an Orthodox prelate to resist the slaughter of innocents in the womb, I could never ground that cobelligerency on the assumption that we share a common faith and a unified understanding of the gospel.
The framers of the Manhattan Declaration seem to have calculated this objection into the language of the document itself. Likewise, some signers have stated that this is not a theological document. However, to make that statement accurate requires a redefinition of “theology” and serious equivocation on the biblical meaning of “the gospel” (2 Cor. 11:4).I am grateful for his input.