The Manhattan Declaration

Tuesday, Nov 24, 2009

(By John MacArthur)

Here are the main reasons I am not signing the Manhattan Declaration, even though a few men whom I love and respect have already affixed their names to it:

• 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.

• This is precisely where the document fails most egregiously.  It assumes from the start that all signatories are fellow Christians whose only differences have to do with the fact that they represent distinct “communities.” Points of disagreement are tacitly acknowledged but are described as “historic lines of ecclesial differences” rather than fundamental conflicts of doctrine and conviction with regard to the gospel and the question of which teachings are essential to authentic Christianity.

• 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.

• The Declaration therefore constitutes a formal avowal of brotherhood between Evangelical signatories and purveyors of different gospels. That is the stated intention of some of the key signatories, and it’s hard to see how secular readers could possibly view it in any other light. Thus for the sake of issuing a manifesto decrying certain moral and political issues, the Declaration obscures both the importance of the gospel and the very substance of the gospel message.

• This is neither a novel approach nor a strategic stand for evangelicals to take.  It ought to be clear to all that the agenda behind the recent flurry of proclamations and moral pronouncements we’ve seen promoting ecumenical co-belligerence is the viewpoint Charles Colson has been championing for more than two decades. (It is not without significance that his name is nearly always at the head of the list of drafters when these statements are issued.) He explained his agenda in his 1994 book The Body, in which he argued that the only truly essential doctrines of authentic Christian truth are those spelled out in the Apostles’ and Nicene creeds. I responded to that argument at length in Reckless Faith. I stand by what I wrote then.

In short, support for The Manhattan Declaration would not only contradict the stance I have taken since long before the original “Evangelicals and Catholics Together” document was issued; it would also tacitly relegate the very essence of gospel truth to the level of a secondary issue.  That is the wrong way—perhaps the very worst way—for evangelicals to address the moral and political crises of our time. Anything that silences, sidelines, or relegates the gospel to secondary status is antithetical to the principles we affirm when we call ourselves evangelicals.

John MacArthur


9 thoughts on “The Manhattan Declaration

  1. Mike, thank you for printing both articles from well respected Christian pastors. They each gave greater clarity as they stated their reasons for opposing it. Amazing to me has been the thousands of Christians who have agreed with this document….

    It has become a very hotly discussed issue. I have a difficult time understanding why…..the Gospel is so clear….


  2. It’s hard to get the gospel to those who aren’t aware that they need it. At minimum, this document takes a stand against sin and states Christians will not participate in it, nor support a government that does, nor a church that does.

    With all the watered down, Gnostic, mystical junk we so frequently blog about, this document is a breath of fresh air. I can understand a concern to not look like we agree doctrinally with other signers, but can we agree that the U.S., our government and our renegade churches need to be called into account? I’m not a universalist by any stretch, but SIN IS UNIVERSAL and the church hasn’t done a very good job of standing against it lately. Law to the proud.


  3. I understand Dr. MacArthur’s concerns stated above. I thought i would post another perspective by another well respected theologian. Dr. Al Mohler is one of the signatories on this document, and he did so with Dr. MacArthur’s concerns in full view. Though this article and Dr. Mohler’s radio broadcast on the Manhattan Declaration are not in response to one another, you may find it edifying to hear the other side from another conservative theologian.

    just thought i’d contribute for healthy dialogue. I honestly find the perspectives of both men very compelling.


  4. Dr. Mohler also wrote a corresponding article. the meat and potatoes of the whole thing culminates in this section:

    “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. I cannot and do not sign documents such as Evangelicals and Catholics Together that attempt to establish common ground on vast theological terrain. I could not sign a statement that purports, for example, to bridge the divide between Roman Catholics and evangelicals on the doctrine of justification. The Manhattan Declaration is not a manifesto for united action. It is a statement of urgent concern and common conscience on these three issues — the sanctity of human life, the integrity of marriage, and the defense of religious liberty.

    My beliefs concerning the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox churches have not changed. The Roman Catholic Church teaches doctrines that I find both unbiblical and abhorrent — and these doctrines define nothing less than the Gospel of Jesus Christ. But The Manhattan Declaration does not attempt to establish common ground on these doctrines. We remain who we are, and we concede no doctrinal ground.”

    With that in mind, i think Dr. MacArthur is right in his categorical convictions, but maybe a bit hasty in his take on exactly what this document is supposed to be.


  5. From John Macarthur quote above:
    “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.”

    This statement cannot make it any clearer: “WE” means ‘together’ in no other terms. The ‘called out ones’ should not have anything to do with false gospels that are no gospel at all. We should refute false teachings and not become ‘together’ with them for any reason. John is right on and Moler is now blending who ‘we’ are. WE are not blinded in a false works based so-called gospel.


  6. This document isn’t preaching the gospel. It’s taking a stand against a sinful society and government. It can open the DOOR to sharing the gospel, which we should always be looking for.

    The world is so far from knowing what sin even is that it’s time someone got together and told them; or we can sit in the shadows critiquing each signer and not accomplishing much.


  7. Dr. Mohler is speaking out of both sides of his mouth. And I have written to him and called for repentance on his part. II Cor 6:11-18; II John 9-11 do not allow for such “fellowship”. Muslims are hard and fast against homosexuality, why not ask them to sign on also? I’m sure you can find plenty of Mormons and JW’s that don’t care for abortion. The line must be drawn somewhere. MacArthur was right on, the Gospel is the line in the sand, not some social concern no matter the urgency. Take your choice: the new social gospel of Al mohler, et al, or the real Gospel of Jesus Christ. It’s one or the other, you cannot have them both.


  8. I agree with John MacArthur’s position. While the document itself may not explicitly deal with issues outside of the three that are emphasized in it, the fact that “we”, “As Christians…”, and other such unifying language is present concedes that Roman Catholicism is just as Christian as evangelical Christianity. The truth is the two couldn’t possibly be more opposed to one another, and to sign a document that speaks in such a way as to imply that the two are part of the same body is compromise. Now I don’t believe that each signatory views it this way, but this is how it is going to appear to anyone who views the document and the list of signatories. It is going to tell people that all such faiths are the same and that it doesn’t matter which one you belong to as long as you subscribe to the moralistic ideals being supported.

    I believe this document is nothing more than yet another attempt to draw Catholics, orthodox, and evangelicals into the same fold. May God’s people have discernment and reject all such attempts. I hope that those who signed will reconsider the implications and issue retractions.


  9. Amy, God only opens the door, we just share.
    Let’s take your thoughts:
    “It can open the DOOR to sharing the gospel, which we should always be looking for.”
    now let’s take that to the extreme and blow up a building so people will be ready for us to share some ‘good news’. The ends do not justify the means.
    Let’s band together under one flag then go declare an act of war (for false justification to kill), invade a foreign country shoot to kill anyone opposing our idea of government and ‘freedom’, now we have an ‘open the door’ to sharing the gospel.
    When the ‘ends justify the means’ that will be considered ‘good’.
    God doesn’t need any help sharing the gospel… we simply get to help (from the Spirit) and he does the door opening and the saving as I’m sure you know.
    Truth and love,


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