The Troubling Aspects of the Manhattan Declaration

11/23/2009 – James White

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. 

These words conclude the Manhattan Declaration, promulgated November 20, 2009. There is much in this document that any serious-minded Christian not only can agree with, but simply must agree with. There is no question that the forces of secularism are moving quickly, under the guise of “social advancement” and “equal rights,” to attack, denigrate, and, in their highest hopes and aspirations, relegate the Christian worldview to the trash heap of history. Evil men, and women, hold positions of power in Western societies, and since it is inevitably true that the Christian witness enrages those who love the darkness (John 7:7), they are doing all they can to subvert and silence that witness which so exposes their consciences. 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.

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.

This document presents a Christianity ostensibly based upon bare Trinitarianism. I listened to Chuck Colson speak on the Hugh Hewitt program this afternoon. He made it very clear that this is, in fact, a theological document, despite the assertions of others that it is not. He was asked why Jews, Mormons, and others, were not invited to sign the document. He said they were not asked because this is a specifically Christian statement, quoting from the Christian scriptures. Once again we are led to the inevitable conclusion that “Christian” then is “Trinitarianism plus agreed upon historical truths such as the crucifixion and resurrection, but, most importantly, without any gospel content.” It does no good to muddle this discussion with “Well, what about the medieval church” questions, since we are talking about a day and age when the issues are well known. We are not talking about a dark period of biblical ignorance. There is more light available today than ever before. And for many, the gospel is simply no longer part of the “non-negotiables.”

But I am left confused by the inconsistency of the document. Mormons are not invited. Understandable, given that the LDS faith is the most polytheistic faith I’ve ever encountered. Trinitarians only need apply. I can fully understand that. So…why are we told toward the end of this Declaration that Martin Luther King, Jr., wrote from an explicitly Christian perspective? A brief visit to Martin Luther King’s writings will reveal he was hardly orthodox even using the limited definition utilized by this Declaration. For example, writing in a paper while in seminary, Martin Luther King, Jr. said:

The orthodox attempt to explain the divinity of Jesus in terms of an inherent metaphysical substance within him seems to me quite inadaquate. To say that the Christ, whose example of living we are bid to follow, is divine in an ontological sense is actually harmful and detrimental. To invest this Christ with such supernatural qualities makes the rejoinder: “Oh, well, he had a better chance for that kind of life than we can possible have.” In other words, one could easily use this as a means to hide behind behind his failures. So that the orthodox view of the divinity of Christ is in my mind quite readily denied.

So why put forth King as explicitly Christian, but not invite the Jehovah’s Witnesses, who would “quite readily deny” the deity of Christ as well? Perhaps a document that identifies Papal actions as explicitly Christian actions can be excused for its inherent self-contradiction.

There is no question that all believers need to think seriously about the issues raised by this declaration. But what is the only solution to these issues? Is the solution to be found in presenting a unified front that implicitly says “the gospel does not unite us, but that is not important enough to divide us”? I do not think so. What is the only power given to the church to change hearts and minds? United political power? Or the gospel that is trampled under foot by every Roman Catholic priest when he “re-presents” the sacrifice of Christ upon the Roman altar, pretending to be a priest, an “alter Christus”? Am I glad when a Roman clergyman calls abortion murder? Of course. But it exhibits a real confusion, and not a small amount of cowardice, it seems, to stop identifying the man’s false gospel and false teaching simply because you are glad to have a few more on the “right” side of a vitally important social issue.

This takes me back to my original response to the ECT document. I have seen so many re-organize their priorities in light of having made “common cause” with those who have a false gospel all in the name of doing social good. I am glad Rome retains elements of God’s truth and morality. But when did being good or moral bring one salvation, as if anyone is ever truly good, or truly moral?

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.

3 thoughts on “The Troubling Aspects of the Manhattan Declaration

  1. I agree with what you’ve said. But frankly, who is going to read this? Even most Christians, including pastors, have never heard of this much less the non-Christian world whose mainstream media is certainly not going to report on it. One other point that I think you also made–today we need to ask the sad question in the evangelical church itself, “What exactly is a Christian?” I never thought I would hear this question being ask within the church, but sadly, the “times they are a-changin’.”

  2. Mike, thanks for this post. It is worth expressing disagreement in items like this. One person did finally change their mind on signing it over at my blog after my post against it.

    I don’t think we should divide over it, but we also should be able to clearly and fairly express why we will not sign.

    Mark

  3. Diane: [I agree with what you’ve said. But frankly, who is going to read this?]

    It doesn’t matter who reads it, it’s already being reported on TV. I first heard about the Manhatten Declaration from a report on Bill O’Reilly. This is the opening salvo of a major theological debate.

    Diane: [One other point that I think you also made–today we need to ask the sad question in the evangelical church itself, “What exactly is a Christian?”]

    The answer is at Monergism.com. I for one will not trade my birthright of preaching the gospel for the pottage of mere moralism. The social gospel has sown confusion within the church. God is not the author of confusion.

    -PJ

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