Monday, August 02, 2010

Manhattan Declaration Revisited

If you're a comment reader, you've discovered in the post below that a few have expressed shock and disappointment over my signing the Manhattan Declaration. Apparently, there's even some watchdog org that's jumped into the fray.

Here are a few of my thoughts by way of response:

1. I wasn't aware that there was any controversy surrounding the Manhattan Declaration (though I shouldn't be surprised!). I read the Declaration and it resonated with my own convictions, so I signed it.

2. When I was questioned about my signing, I realized I better look into this thing a bit more. I dug in to read both sides of the issue. I read some of those who expressed concerns and therefore, could not, in good conscience, sign themselves. I also read the positions of those who, in good conscience, signed.

3. The big debate surrounds the Gospel and whether its reasonable and acceptable to unite with others who may have a different understanding of the Gospel. . . i.e. Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox. Does the Manhattan Declaration compromise the Gospel or imply agreement about the Gospel among the signers?

4. I understand those issues. I myself am passionate about a clear, Biblical Gospel. . . . salvation and right relationship with God by grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone. I respect those who feel like the Manhattan Declaration in uniting Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox around the sanctify of life, marriage and religious freedom, compromises that clear, Biblical Gospel.

5. I respect that position, but don't personally agree with it. I don't see the Manhattan Declaration as a definition of the Gospel, but as merely referring to it in a total of 3 places. The Gospel is referred to as a "gospel of costly grace". Though that is hardly a complete definition of the gospel, I believe it is a true and accurate definition. Though others might understand the Gospel differently than I, I can still work with them and unite with them in laboring for these 3 biblical values.

6. I compare this to our partnership with others for Serve Day. On that day every year, we not only work with other churches, who may or not share our definition of the gospel, but also with other helping organizations across our community to provide care and help to needy people throughout the Central Coast. We need not agree on the gospel or other doctrinal matters to work together to meet the needs of our community. I don't think this requires or implies gospel compromise on our part.

7. Some have posited a larger, hidden ecumenical agenda behind the Manhattan Declaration. I don't buy it. I don't see it that way.

8. My own thoughts on this matter lie closely along the lines of Ligon Duncan below. . .

The Manhattan Declaration: A Statement from Ligon Duncan

Article by December 2009
The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals has received a number of requests for comment upon the Manhattan Declaration, a recent public statement on the sanctity of life, marriage and sexuality, and religious liberty, signed by a number of leaders from the evangelical, Anglican, Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox traditions.

The Alliance has not historically weighed in on social ethical issues, not because they are unimportant, nor because it is inappropriate for Christians to do so, but because of the mission of the Alliance which is "to call the twenty-first century church to reformation, according to Scripture, so that it recovers clarity and conviction about the great evangelical truths of the gospel and thus proclaims these truths powerfully in our contemporary context." Specifically, we are an alliance of confessional Protestants (and heirs of the historic Reformed Confessions) who work together to "promote the reform of the church according to Scripture, and to call the church to be faithful to the Scriptures, by embracing and practicing the teaching of Scripture concerning doctrine, life and worship."

However, a number of Alliance Council members were invited to participate in the meeting that resulted in the production of the Manhattan Declaration, and/or to sign the final document. These Council members did so as individuals, not as representatives of the Alliance.

While neither the Board nor the Council of the Alliance has taken a position on the document, some Alliance Council members subsequently decided to sign the document, while others decided not to sign. Some Council members have also offered public statements explaining why or why they did not sign the document.

Those who did not sign the document believe that it is a lamentable example of the confused sort of ecumenical theology, on display in the ECT (Evangelicals and Catholics Together) statements, and that it implicitly commits its signers to acknowledge a commonality between evangelicals, Roman Catholics and Orthodox on the gospel, who is a true Christian and what is a true church. They rightly point out that the Alliance has always been and remains unanimously critical of the presuppositions and products of ECT.

Those who did sign the document believe that it is a statement of solidarity, not of ecumenism, and that it represents the kind of principled co-belligerency advocated by, for instance, Francis Schaeffer and James Boice. These signers believe that document actually helps clarify their concerns with the whole ECT project, because the Manhattan Declaration only asks evangelicals, Catholics and Orthodox to agree on matters on which we actually agree (marriage and sexuality, the sanctity of life, and religious liberty), rather than purporting an agreement in vital matters on which we do not agree (the Gospel, what is a Christian, what is a true Church).

It should be made clear that those Council members who did not sign the document agree with what the document says about the social issues it addresses. Their concern is that the document implies an agreement between evangelicals and Catholics on the Gospel where there is in fact not an agreement. Conversely, those Council members who signed the document fully understand the agreement on the documents' statement on social issues that they share with those who didn't sign, and also fully appreciate the non-signers' concerns for Gospel clarity and fidelity. However, the Council members who signed do not believe that the document commits them to an agreement with Roman Catholics or Eastern Orthodox on the nature of the Gospel, the Church or who is a true Christian.

The issue boils down to a matter of judgment, not a disagreement in principle, between those Council members who signed and didn't sign. The non-signers believe that the content of the document and the associations of the primary authors imply an ECT-like confusion about the Gospel. The signers believe that the explicit assertions and emphasis of the documents relate only to areas of principled social-ethical agreement between evangelicals and non-evangelicals. Further, they believe that it is important for individuals from the major quadrants of the historic Christian tradition to speak on these pressing matters in solidarity.

The Council members have had good, robust discussions on these things among ourselves about this whole matter. We continue to love and respect one another, and we all want to continue to serve and work with one another. The bonds of our fellowship are unbroken. Our commitment to the mission of the Alliance is unchanged. Our unity in the Gospel, and in the great solas of the Reformation is stronger than ever.

Ligon Duncan is president of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals.


Janice Phillips said...

Thanks for the clarification on your intent and motivations. I respect your signing and the opportunity to discuss these things in charity.

Ron Johnston said...

Like Pastor Tim, I evaluated the statements of and dynamics around the Manhattan Declaration. I signed it last week as an expression of my wholehearted agreement with its statements.

I recognize that there are significant, essential-faith differences between evangelicals, Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox believers. At the same time, I agree with the Manhattan Declaration's statements about 1) the sanctity of life; 2) the God-ordained nature of marriage; and 3) the importance of religious liberty.

In no way does my endorsing these 3 statements with others imply that I agree with everyone's doctrines on everything else.

allenpeek said...

James White sums it up nicely…

“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.

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.”

Jeff Martin said...

I believe Ron best articulates where I am at in all this. When I first heard of this back in time when it was published, I unfortunately got cautiously swayed looking through a limited lense by men I sincerely appreciate as christian mentors in my life. Although I sincerely respect their opinions, I am reading it for what it states and not reading into it further...

I appreciate the freedom that our true Christ centered faith gives us in all this and I will champion the three points of the cause.

I will be signing this weekend, with my family as one in it.


allenpeek said...

I believe you Brother Ron, Tim, and Jeff when you say you don't agree with all the signee's doctrines. There is no question in my mind as to what you believe. All of us who know you guys know that you reject the doctrines of the false teachers you’ve signed with.

But remember, the document you’ve signed or will sign is not only a declaration to the church but to the world. Outsiders see your names on a declaration like this and all they hear from it is truth statements about life, marriage, and religious freedom (all good things that I agree we should strive to protect and herald).

My point is that the truth statements in the declaration are void of the True Gospel of Grace. Your declaration (your signing of TMD) to people who don’t know you comes across as a declaration of moralisms. In spite of the fact that I personally know you guys would reject all the rank heresies many of the signee’s adhere to, outsiders don’t see you, or the church that way.

Outsiders see your names on the document with all the false teachers and all they hear is, “This is what we believe…Don't do this, Do this, Don't do this, Do this…" Our declaration must, 1) NEVER be mingled with false teachers and 2) NEVER be void of the Gospel of grace.

Our declaration must be, "You've not done what God has required. You’ve sinned against Him and you’re hell-bound because you’re a sinner. But God made a way of escape – a way for you to be forgiven. He sent His Son to the earth in the Person of Jesus Christ. Jesus is fully God and fully man and without sin. He lived a perfect life and died on the Cross, taking upon Himself the sins of all who would believe. He died, satisfying the wrath of God that was toward sinners. Christ came and accomplished all that was required to save sinners and reconcile them to GOD. He died in their place and rose again, defeating sin and death. Because of what Christ has done for the sinner, you are offered the free gift of eternal life. Repent and believe the gospel that you’re sins will be forgiven, you’ll be cleansed of all unrighteousness, and declared righteous in the site of GOD.”

The Manhattan Declaration is nothing more than a declaration of legalism my Brothers. I know you guys are not heretics but outsiders don’t. As best I can tell, to them, this does imply that you agree with everyone’s doctrines on everything else.

Please teach me Brothers. I want to understand and I thank GOD for each of you.

Tim said...

Thanks, Allen. I appreciate your thoughts and your fire. We will all stand before the judgment seat of Christ and give an account for the things done in the body. I am painfully aware of that. I'm doing the best I can to be husband, a father, a pastor and a man of God living "coram Deo" in the world. I don't have it all figured out. I understand that you and I, once again, to do not agree on this issue. I'm good with that. Your emails and blog comments have challenged and sharpened my own thinking in a helpful way. Thanks for that. Like you, I'm committed to our continued loving Gospel fellowship. Here are my concluding thoughts on this issue. I hope they're helpful in some way . . . .

• After reading both sides of the debate, I still find myself standing with J.I. Packer, Wayne Grudem, Albert Mohler, Philip Ryken, Tim Keller, Kevin DeYoung, and other signers. I think I understand your position and other non-signers' and I respect it, but I just see TMD differently.

• In addition to Ligon Duncan's statement posted on the blog, here are two more that express well my viewpoint. . . .

Kevin Deyong:

Albert Mohler:

• I read TMD as a clear statement of my own personal position on these 3 issues. I thought little about "who else is able to sign this document?" and "what are people going to think if I sign this document? and "what am I indirectly agreeing to in signing the document?" etc. . . again TMD represents well my own position on these 3 issues. I think that's a legitimate way to read and interpret and even sign TMD.

• I do not see TMD as defining the Gospel, but as referring to it. (I understand thats the problem for many!) I don't see signing TMD as implying or requiring a compromise of the Gospel, as I believe it. I understand that others do.

(continued in next comment...)

Tim said...

• I draw a distinction between personal political involvement and our church's political involvement. I think our folks should be personally politically involved. . . . probably much more than they are. I wasn't trying to sign "us" up for political activism, but encouraging personal political engagement, as individual consciences might permit. While the gathered church is called to the priority of preaching the Gospel of Christ crucified, the church scattered (i.e. individual Christians) are called to be salt and light in the world. . . . . which surely includes civic and social involvement/engagement. I think this gathered/scattered, corporate/individual distinction is a crucial one. I think its a truncated and inaccurate reading of Scripture to reduce a Christian's individual role and responsibility in the world to Gospel proclamation. That is our first calling, but not our own calling as individual Christians.

• I don't see TMD as "political activism", but as the exact opposite . . . . not picketing, not campaigning, but thoughtfully presenting a statement on the importance of these 3 issues. I'm not interested in a "movement" or next steps beyond TMD. I'm not aware of any hidden agendas. I think, as the prelude indicates, there is a case to be made and a historical precedent for "co beligerance" and social labor on the part of individual believers. I'm grateful for William Wilberforce and all those who labored with him in this respect for the abolition of the English slave trade.

• I think there is a place for cooperation with Catholics and EO in the public square on social issues like these. I understand others see this differently.

• I really do think this is a conscience and Christian liberty issue, like so many others, and an opportunity for us to show charity with one another and disagree agreeably. I respect your position. I hope you can respect mine and understand my intent and give me the benefit of the doubt. Just the fact that there are Godly men we all respect on both sides of this issue, ought to encourage Gospel humility and charity toward one another.

• I'm not interested in winning an argument, but in being understood, and moving forward in mutual respect.

Thanks again for the thoughtful dialogue, Allen. . . . Let's keep spurring one another on as we journey together by faith in Christ. . . . Pastor Tim