The Manhattan Declaration, begun in NY on September 28, 2009 and released on November 20, 2009, is a 4700 word document endorsed by 152 religious leaders, united to oppose the moral collapse of our society in the areas of marriage, abortion, and religious freedom. The document is intended to be a cooperative effort of “Orthodox, Catholic, and Evangelical Christians” to join forces and “speak and act in defense of these truths.” Prominent signers of the document from the evangelical community include men such as Chuck Colson, Dr. J.I. Paker, Dr. Robert Cannada Jr. and Pastor Al Mohler. Many other Catholics and Evangelicals have rallied support and signed this declaration. Professor Al Mohler argues for support from his blog in which he writes on November 23, 2009:
“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.”
But others, such as Pastor John MacArthur of Grace Community Church, refuse to sign such a document on the grounds that it compromises the gospel. In a statement released on Tuesday November 24, 2009 he writes:
“Instead of acknowledging the true depth of our differences, the implicit assumption (from the start of the document until its final paragraph) is that Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Protestant Evangelicals and others all share a common faith in and a common commitment to the gospel’s essential claims. The document repeatedly employs expressions like “we [and] our fellow believers”; “As Christians, we . . .”; and “we claim the heritage of . . . Christians.” That seriously muddles the lines of demarcation between authentic biblical Christianity and various apostate traditions.”
Who is right? To sign or not to sign…that is the question! Men of great intellect and accomplishment appear to be taking positions on both sides of the line. Does it matter? I believe that it does. Personally I am deeply saddened that so many good men and women from Evangelical churches no longer appreciate the significance of this compromise. They seem to believe that we can safely set aside our differences on the gospel to deal with matters of social sin. But my dear reader, the only means appointed by God to deal with sin IS the gospel. And although the Manhattan Declaration clearly states that it is “our duty to proclaim the Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in its fullness” it has, in my opinion, utterly and entirely ignored this duty in the context of this document. I do not claim any sort of perfect grasp or understanding of the issues involved in the Declaration. Like you, maybe, I am just trying to think these things through as a steward and servant of Jesus Christ and, if possible, hope to help others to do the same. I do, however, feel compelled to speak. Allow me to lay out, in my opinion, the problems with the Manhattan Declaration:
Problem #1: Soft-peddling the Problem of Sin
The document deals with matters which the Bible clearly and unequivocally calls SIN. But the document fails miserably, in my opinion, to clearly call these moral failures by this name. Sin is not mentioned as a concern in the Preamble (page 1). Sin is not mentioned in the declaration (page 2). When dealing with the issue of abortion (page 3) the document does not call it sin, does not call it murder. The section on government tyranny (page 7) never speaks of sin. The section on marriage (which runs from page 3-6) only mentions sin in 1 short paragraph and in that context the emphasis, in my opinion, is clearly to downplay the seriousness of sin. There are 5 references to “sin” or “sinner” in this little paragraph (and nowhere else in the document). Here are 4 of the 5 references:
“Our rejection of sin, though resolute, must never become the rejection of sinners. For every sinner, regardless of the sin, is loved by God, who seeks not our destruction but rather the conversion of our hearts.”
This section does not call marital infidelity sin, does not call homosexuality sin, though I grant it seems to be implied. It only deals with God’s love and desire to restore sinners…but sadly never presents God’s just wrath and anger with our sin. Although it is right to speak of God’s love toward sinners, that concept has been divorced in this document from God’s anger with sinners. Both are Biblical. Psalm 7:11 says “God is a just judge, and God is angry with the wicked every day." It must be remembered (with fear and trembling) that God doesn’t send sin to hell…he sends sinners to hell. In fact, this section wrongly identifies the drive toward same-sex marriage as a symptom of the “the erosion of the marriage culture.” Is that what the Bible says? In Romans 1 Paul talks about homosexuality. He clearly identifies the cause. It is not because man has rejected “marriage” but because man has rejected “God.”
"For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them…Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due.” (Romans 1:18, 19, 27)."
I believe the section on abortion equally tiptoes around the issue of sin, and focuses the issue on the “loss of the sense of the dignity of the human person.” Though true, it misses the point. Man has sinfully rejected God and therefore loves death (Proverbs 8:36). The wages of sin are death. Murder (not simply “killing” as the document prefers to call it…which is misleading) is an attack upon God Himself. Men murder themselves and others ultimately because they want to murder God.
Problem #2: Avoiding the Solution to the Problem: Repentance and the Cross
The Manhattan Declaration, thus unwilling to deal with sin as sin, is unable to deal with the remedy provided in the cross of Jesus Christ. Since the cause is not really addressed, the cure is not really needed. Since the wrath of God against sin isn’t mentioned, it is appropriate that the cross is not mentioned either. Notice: the cross of Christ is never mentioned. This is a document on sin, serious sin, by those claiming to be Christians, and they never once mention the cross. But this should not surprise us. Paul said, writing to the Corinthians “…but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness (1 Corinthians 1:23)." The cross has long been an embarrassment to many in the church, so it is not surprising to find it absent from such public appeals. The world has no use for the cross, for a bloody Savior, for an atonement that would cost so much.
The cross of Jesus Christ is the central event in the history of the world which proclaims both the seriousness of sin, and God’s plan to deal with sin through a substitutionary sacrifice of His very own Son.
"In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace (Ephesians 1:7)."
"But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin (1 John 1:7)."
Some will say that this misses the purpose of the document. I say again: this Declaration is intended to highlight the offense of three particular and pressing sins of our day. It is, if you will, a “sin soaked” document. And it has been drafted by professing Christians– not doctors, psychiatrists, or lawyers (well…not AS lawyers). Christians! And it has not one drop of the blood of Christ. The drafters, and signers, in my opinion, should be ashamed.
This Declaration also never calls sinners to repentance. The Bible has a solution for sin. Repent! But such a call is neither politically correct nor polite any longer. They gently ask Christians to repent of sin, but not others. While discussing the marriage failures of many believers they write “…we repent, and call upon all Christians to do the same.” Yes, we need to repent. Christians need to repent. Every day I must repent. But it is a sad day in Evangelical Christianity when representatives no longer have the courage or conviction to call all mankind to repent of their sins before a holy God. The late James Montgomery Boice put it well in his book called “Foundations of the Christian Faith” when he said “We often hear the "Savior" characteristics of God stressed – His love, mercy, goodness and so on – but the matter of his lordship is absent. The distortion is particularly clear in evangelism. In modern practice the call to repentance is usually called an "invitation," which one can obviously accept or refuse. It is offered politely. Seldom do we hear presented God's sovereign demand to repent or his demand for total submission to the authority of his appointed king, Christ Jesus.”
Problem #3: A Call to Discernment
One of the saddest elements of this document is the testimony it gives to the growing lack of discernment amongst evangelicals. Discerning Christians should recognize the evangelical names on this document and begin to see red flags immediately. J.I. Packer is the author of several books that I dearly love. He has helped me in many ways develop as a Christian. But several years ago, against the advice of many of the most prominent and faithful leaders in Reformed and Evangelical Christian circles, he signed the hotly debated Evangelicals and Catholics Together (ECT) document. Chuck Colson has made it abundantly clear for a long time that he believes the Catholic church to be just one expression of the body of Christ to which we all, as “Christians” are united. He has said “But at root, those who are called of God, whether Catholic or Protestant, are part of the same Body.” If this is so, it would appear that the Reformation was unnecessary, unfortunate, and wrong. The name “Al Mohler” should, I believe, be shocking, saddening, and sobering. This is the same Al Mohler who, several years ago, endorsed RC Sproul’s book on “Faith Alone” by saying “In a day of rampant theological confusion and compromise, R.C. Sproul provides a voice of conviction deeply rooted in Biblical truth and the faithful heritage of the gospel. He makes clear what is at stake in the current patterns of evangelical compromise.” Did he really ever mean that? Has he himself now fallen into that very compromise he warned others about? I hope and pray he did not, and that he will come to see the error of his endorsement.
Alistair Begg, pastor of Parkside Church near Cleveland, OH sums up his reasons for not signing the Declaration well in this statement:
"Are we wise to lay aside crucial differences of eternal significance so as to secure temporal advantages? George Smeaton, in his classic work on the atonement observes, "To convert one sinner from his way is an event of greater importance than the deliverance of a whole kingdom from temporal evil."
I do not believe it is possible to embrace the premises of ecumenical strategy and still draw the conclusions of evangelical orthodoxy."
It should also be a matter of awareness to discerning Christians that certain names are conspicuously NOT on this list. Those of us from a Reformed background have a wide range of godly and gifted men laboring for Christ in His church today, whom we especially respect and listen to. That is not to say they can’t be wrong. The best of men are men at best. Yet a humble attitude toward this issue should at least give us some pause when we consider who has opted to NOT sign. Shall we name a few? In no particular order, and with no intention on being comprehensive:
The Apostle Paul (okay…threw that one in for fun).
I recently read a book entitled “Risking the Truth” in which Martin Downes collected answers from 20 top Reformed men around the world on issues related to heresy in the church. Note: not one of these men signed the declaration. The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals has a website and blog with a variety of contributors. These men are on the cutting edge of issues affecting the church. Not one of them signed it [correction: Ligon Duncan signed]. The Banner of Truth holds a conference every year for Reformed men and ministers. Five men will speak in 2010 in Pennsylvania. Not one of which signed this document. For those who see this Declaration as “no big deal” I merely present these facts to give some support for re-thinking your position.
Dr. James White sums up the issue quite well in his blog I believe: “These are the matters that truly concern me about the Manhattan Declaration. Why does God have the right to determine human sexuality, marriage, and to define life itself? It all goes back to the gospel, does it not? If we are going to give a consistent, clear answer to our culture, we dare not find our power in a false unity that overshadows the gospel and cripples our witness.”
Problem #4: The Danger of Pride
This is not a problem with the Manhattan Declaration. But it is a real potential problem for those of us who are trying to wedge their way through this difficult issue, raise an awareness about the seriousness of the gospel, and provide some Biblical perspectives on this matter. If Satan cannot get us to fall into an error (as we perceive it) he will tempt us to pride over our position and accomplish, virtually, just as much a victory. Richard Baxter, the Puritan minister, put it this way “Self is the most treacherous enemy, and the most insinuating deceiver in the world. Of all other vices, it is both the hardest to find out, and the hardest to cure.” Therefore, whatever side of this issue you fall on, let us humble ourselves before the Lord. J.C. Ryle said “Let us watch against pride in every shape – pride of intellect, pride of wealth, pride in our own goodness, pride in our own deserts. Nothing is so likely to keep a man out of heaven, and prevent him seeing Christ, as pride. So long as we think we are something, we shall never be saved.”
I hope that nothing I have said has transgressed the boundaries of charity. There are men whom I deeply respect who have chosen to sign this declaration. I want to speak the truth in love. But I do want to speak the truth, to the degree I see it, and to the best of my meager ability. All that I have said is true to the best of my knowledge. Where wrong, I am willing to stand corrected. I am very disturbed by the moral climate of our culture, especially respecting these areas of abortion, marriage, and government tyranny. What is the answer? Personally I think the best answer is to pray and preach the gospel. Promote the gospel. Tell this dying world of a risen Savior. Let them see you weep over their sin, as Christ wept over Jerusalem. Finally, plead with heaven the promises of Scripture that "if My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land (2 Chronicles 7:14)."