The Manhattan Declaration – Pro or Con?

Since the signing of the Manhattan Declaration, it has been getting all the buzz in the Christian blogosphere and news outlets. Even Bill O’Reilly makes it the focus of his Talking Points one day last week  (Talking Points: 11/24).

What is the Manhattan Declaration? It is a Christian manifesto that addresses the moral issues of sanctity of life, sanctity of marriage and religious liberty and how they have been and continue to be issues that “are being subverted under our eyes” to quote Al Mohler. It is a joint statement between Evangelicals, Roman Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox Church.

You can read the declaration here and read the names of the signatories here.

A quick perusal through the signatories will reveal many well-respected and sound thinkers within the Evangelical community. Yet, for as many sound thinkers who have signed this document we have just as many respected theologians against it including Alistair Begg and John McArthur.

The argument for being part of this declaration is basically these issues are part of our call to a justice ministry.

The argument against is that when Evangelicals join the ranks of support for the Manhattan Declaration we are de facto subverting the gospel and raising a contrary gospel in its place. This is especially obvious through Dan Phillips’ 19 questions he asks of all who sign this document, which can be read here.

The most cogent argument I found pro the Manhattan Declaration was from Al Mohler. I found three arguments against the Manhattan Declaration worth reading. They are by John Stackhouse, James White and Frank Turk.

The issue of difference is a place of emphasis. Al Mohler, and the other sound Evangelical leaders who signed the MD, clearly do not see the integrity of the gospel message at risk. They clearly believe they can, with integrity, continue to preach the gospel of Christ while supporting this initiative. Those against question, at best, this ability.

Of all those against I think John Stackhouse raises the primary issue, which really is a “what now” issue? Okay, okay – you’ve signed the declaration. But now what? Where do we go from here? Have we not already been saying these things as a collective whole from our individual positions of influence? Coming along side each other will make what impact? Until I would be satisfied with answers given to these specific issues I see no reason to sign this document.

However, I don’t think that the signing of the MD is a compromise of conscience for those who signed. Their track record says different. They are men and women of faith who have been exemplary in the past and we should do well to remember that as we raise our own concerns.

On a closing thought concerning the compromise of the gospel by signing this document – the issue has been raised that Mormons and Jehovah Witnesses were not invited to sign the document because it is meant to be a Christian document. This is proof, says the argument, that we are comprising the gospel message because we are aligning ourselves with Roman Catholics and The Eastern Orthodox Church and agreeing that they are Christian de facto. But the very heart of our break from Catholicism is Soli Fide – by faith alone. This comes to the very heart of the gospel. If we agree that they preach a different gospel, why are we excluding others who claim to preach the Christian message but who in fact subvert it? This is a good question and deserves its own attention in many respects. However, let me point out that general evangelical consensus would say (and I agree) that there are Christians who are Catholic or Eastern Orthodox but not Mormon or Jehovah Witness. So some distinction is made already. Also, many evangelical churches believe that faith is a work of oneself including the possibility of loss of salvation engaging in a similar theology as both Roman Catholicism and the Eastern Orthodox Church. These churches are far from their reformation roots. If we are not prepared to cast out our synergistic brothers and sisters in Evangelical circles than we have no leg to stand on to do so based on the same ground to RC and EO. I am not saying the differences are precisely the same, but that faith alone is a topic of disagreement even within the Evangelical community. I admit I lament this, but that is not the point of the charges raised against evangelicals signing the document when it comes to gospel integrity. The charge is one of Salvation by faith alone. If Soli Fide is the real issue not to sign the Manhattan Declaration then we should not only not sign because of Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodoxians,  but also because of Evangelical Christians who do not have a consistent faith system of faith alone.

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