(An article combining this post and the previous one on the Manhattan Declaration is available in downloadable and printable PDF, 2-column article format: Click here to download)
This is the third and final post in a series concerning the Manhattan Declaration. I would encourage you to read the first two posts so you will have the context for understanding my final conclusions.
Please take a moment to complete the ABI Manhattan Declaration Survey
The Nature of the Manhattan Declaration
The Manhattan Declaration addresses issues that are a part of the current public debate and symptomatic of the culture wars: life, marriage and religious liberty. The Manhattan Declaration was also designed to speak directly to the present administration because of the increasingly liberal policies it seeks to enact that come into conflict with conservative values. However, beyond this, the document is designed to speak specifically to conservative Christians to encourage them to take a stand for the moral values that are formed exclusively in the context of their Christian faith. As the document states:
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
The document would not need to be considered as anything but a civil document addressing social issues if it left out explicit mention of Christianity. But by invoking the framers obedience to the Lord and his word as the authority for their moral beliefs, it automatically becomes an inherently Christian document because it is informed by Christian theology.
That this is primarily a theological document is further confirmed by the following:
Like those who have gone before us in the faith, Christians today are called to proclaim the Gospel of costly grace, to protect the intrinsic dignity of the human person and to stand for the common good. In being true to its own calling, the call to discipleship, the church through service to others can make a profound contribution to the public good.
These are very important statements in the overall evaluation of the Manhattan Declaration. As it does in several places, it clearly identifies all of the writers and original signers as acting in unity as a single group – not a group defined by their individual conservative values or their American citizenship – but rather defined primarily by their identity as Christians. However, this is a very serious issue, because it is inappropriate to simply assume that just because Roman Catholics and Orthodox Christians call on the name of Christ and identify themselves as Christians in the world-religion sense, they can all be viewed as brothers and sisters in Christ – born-again Christians in the biblical sense.
And although the above quote makes reference to the call to “proclaim the gospel” – it is widely understood and biblically demonstrable that the gospel proclaimed by the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Church is what the apostle Paul would label, “a different gospel.” Reaction to this different gospel birthed the Reformation. It was this very gospel against which the Reformers preached, for which they were persecuted and which eventually became the foundation of evangelicalism.
If the Manhattan Declaration were a purely civil document addressing social concerns with no theological implications, then anyone who agreed with the tenets of the document could have and arguably should have been included. As a strictly civil document, it could have included conservative Protestants of all kinds, Mormons, Quakers, even Muslims – and actually anyone who might have a conservative moral compass – including possibly even agnostics and atheists.
If it had been that kind of document, that could be signed simply as a morally conservative patriot – then I think I could sign it. As an American citizen with my own personal conservative moral views, I could add my signature to a document that was signed by any other conservative American citizen.
However, that is not the nature of this document. It is not asking me to sign it as an American citizen. It is asking me to sign it as a conservative Christian. But beyond that, by signing it, I would not only be making a statement that I agree concerning the issues of life, marriage and religious liberty. I can’t say, “Well, I’m only signing the parts of the document I agree with.” If I sign it, I am signing the whole thing – including the statements that form the most foundational aspects of the document, namely that I am joining with other brothers and sisters in Christ. But this isn’t true. This isn’t what I believe.
If a Roman Catholic firmly believes the official Church teaching concerning the gospel, it would be almost impossible for that person to know enough of the gospel clearly enough to be born-again (it could happen, but it isn’t likely and doesn’t happen often). But Chuck Colson wouldn’t agree with this. His understanding of the gospel is broad enough and inclusive enough that it led him to be one of the primary leaders in the first Evangelicals and Catholics Together document. The Manhattan Declaration does not stand independent of ECT. In fact, I would suggest that the Manhattan Declaration could never have been written as it was if it weren’t for ECT.
Beyond this, it isn’t just a matter of joining together with a few friends of other faiths to actively work on a common political cause. It is joining together with some of the most prominent leaders in their respective denominations – pastors, teachers, theologians, who are leading untold numbers astray with false doctrine. This would almost certainly fall into the category of being unequally yoked with unbelievers – which Paul clearly forbids.
And I would suggest that the theology of the issue is also important to everyone who might sign – although many might initially say that it’s all about the issues. To test that, let’s suppose there were another document that is identical concerning the issues of life, marriage and religious liberty – but those who are identifying themselves as Christians are Mormon, and it was written and signed only by Mormon leaders. Would there be very many conservative evangelicals who would sign the Manhattan Declaration – even if they agreed with everything it said about the issues? My sense is that there would be almost none – and the reason would be purely theological.
So, by signing the Manhattan Document which identifies evangelicals, Catholics and Orthodox all as Christians, then we’re saying that the theological differences are not as great as they would be if it were a Mormon Document – and that these differences aren’t really important. The question then becomes, if I wouldn’t sign it because the Mormons are theologically wrong and preach a false gospel – then why would we join with anyone else who has the same problem?
The Value of the Manhattan Declaration
In practical terms, let’s ask ourselves about the actual value of the Manhattan Declaration. Exactly what is it going to accomplish – and how?
Again, here’s what the document says:
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 he good of all who bear his image.
So, one of the document’s purposes is to “speak to” our communities – to us. But in reality, how many sincere, committed Christians are presently going around violating God’s laws in order to obey Caesar? How many spiritually mature Christian doctors are violating their consciences and performing abortions? And how many of them would not be willing to go to jail rather than be forced to take the life of an unborn child?
How many pastors of conviction would perform a homosexual marriage – or even allow one to be held in their church? How many would be willing to give in to governmental pressure to stay far from violating hate-crime laws and not condemn homosexuality as sin when teaching on Romans chapter 1?
I don’t think we have to sign a document that says we are going to do those things that we are already doing. And furthermore, the government and everyone else knows what we’re going to do and what punishment we’re willing to face if we must obey the Lord rather than Caesar.
Why would I compromise the very theology that informs my worldview and morals in order to simply confirm publicly what is already public knowledge concerning my worldview and morals?
Then there’s the value of the Manhattan Declaration with regard to those who don’t agree with it. Who in our society is somehow going to be influenced by even hundreds of thousands of signatures such that they won’t get an abortion, or avoid extra-marital sex, or stay out of homosexual relationships? If they are not persuaded by the Word of God, they won’t be persuaded by the content or the number of signers of what is essentially a petition.
And finally, what is the value of the Manhattan Declaration with regard to public policy? I can’t imagine any lawmaker being influenced to change his position because of this document. Those who agree will continue to vote the way they would have anyway – and those who disagree will do the same.
I can’t see that this document will ever have any political force. I don’t think it will save one unborn child. I don’t think it will prevent a single homosexual relationship or marriage. And if I thought signing the document would actually accomplish these goals, I might have to reconsider. But I don’t think that is what is going to happen.
I can imagine that despite the best of intentions and hopes that it might make a difference, in six months the Manhattan Declaration will be nothing more than a brief footnote that generated some interest for a few weeks.
I don’t think it will ever be a second “95-Theses” as Mike Huckabee speculated last week. And if it might, we must remember that Luther’s document was theological – and it made a theological difference. If the Manhattan Document has any effect, it will not be that of changing society, but rather, it will be just another contribution in the long process that has been underway for quite some time – that of undoing the Reformation. The Manhattan Declaration encourages us to act as if the Reformation never happened and that the theological reasons for the Reformation were really inconsequential.
If we’re going to get involved with things like the Manhattan Declaration now or in the future, we should sign something that calls on us only as concerned American citizens with common moral values – but not as “Christians” in the world-religion sense – and let it include anyone, regardless of religion. Or alternately we should join together with others of same like faith so that we can remain true to the Word of God and to our Spirit-guided consciences.
But let’s be very careful to be consistent in how we obey the full counsel of God if we find it necessary to resist or even challenge the law of Caesar. Let’s not do it if it requires us to minimize, overlook or discard the Word of God – something that always leads to negative consequences in the present generation and assures deep troubles for the next.
Whether you agree or disagree with these conclusions, I would like to hear from you – so please take a moment to comment.
In His Care,