Christian Unity: The Manhattan Declaration

In a conversation after chapel today one of the professors mentioned the signing of The Manhattan Declaration about 10 days ago. Since I hadn’t heard of this, I thought I should read up on it. After reading the brief summary (HERE) and seeing the list those who have signed it, I was a little surprised. In light of what I read in this “declaration” it prompted this posting. The basic premise of this “declaration” is:

We are Orthodox, Catholic, and Evangelical Christians who have united at this hour to reaffirm fundamental truths about justice and the common good, and to call upon our fellow citizens, believers and non-believers alike, to join us in defending them. These truths are:

1. the sanctity of human life
2. the dignity of marriage as the conjugal union of husband and wife
3. the rights of conscience and religious liberty.

In these 3 points affirmed above, I would assume most “Christians” would be in general agreement with the tenants put forth here. However, there is a more significant issue at stake. These 3 issues take a secondary role to the Gospel. Yet in this document, they are the prominent force and purpose of its message. This raises the question of what their true purpose really is. Here are a few quotes from the document itself.

“Christians today are called to proclaim the Gospel of costly grace…”

What do they mean by the Gospel of costly grace? And how does is it similar to or different from the one Gospel Christ brought to mankind [1 Corinthians 15:3-5]?

“The church through service to others can make a profound contribution to the public good.”

I would completely agree that service must be a integral part of how Christians make the Gospel visible as Jesus preached to the soul and ministered to the body [Matthew 9:35] and James exhorts that faith is seen through one’s works [James 2:22], but service is no substitute for Christ’s message which He kept distinct from His service, even though He did both.

“We call upon all people of goodwill, believers and non-believers alike, to consider carefully and reflect critically on the issues we here address.”

This is basically appealing to the “inherent” goodness within people. But all of these “issues” are Biblically based and to the unsaved it is foolishness [1 Corinthians 1:18], not making any sense until God has imparted the Spirit to them.

“It is our duty to proclaim the Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in its fullness…”

After reading this statement it should be noted that there are no passages of Scripture or any other sort of clarification as to how they define the Gospel. While Orthodox, Catholic, and Evangelical people would all claim this duty as their primary responsibility, HOW they read Scripture to define what the Gospel encompasses is quite different, and here appears as though there is no distinction. Dan Phillips over @ teampyro.blogspot.com posited 19 questions to those who have signed this document. I have selected five of note here.

“Is the Bible your sole, sufficient, ultimate source and authority for faith and practice?”

“Do you believe that the Biblical Gospel is the good news that lost, sinful man can be reconciled to God by grace alone, through faith alone, in and because of Christ’s person and work alone, to the glory of God alone, as seen with final authority in Scripture alone?”

“Can a church be a Christian church if it has the Gospel wrong?”

“Do you believe that persuading people to assent to a vaguely-Biblical opinion about homosexuality, marriage, or abortion is more critical than clearly presenting the Gospel, as described above?”

“Which is more important and more critical in our day: to define marriage, life, and civil liberty; or to define the Gospel?”

Bottom Line

This Declaration hit at the core of why “Christianity” in general has been so fragmented with so many denominations, namely raising the issue of where the church is to stand regarding it’s role in impacting the world with the gospel and with good works. Both are commanded. Both are exemplifed in the life of Christ. Is it important that Christians take a stand for our Christian values and beliefs? Yes. Is it important for Christians to proclaim the Gospel to every creature? Yes. So where is the balance?

Personally this Declaration does very little in the way of actually impacting real lives with real values through real personal contact. As far as I can tell it gets a failing grade in its presentation of the Gospel. “Christianity” is mentioned some 37 times, while “Christ” is mentioned only 7 and several of those are Bible quotations about His deeds. Our own institutions should not find such prominent when Christ should be displayed as preeminent. This “Declaration”  seems to be more politically motivated than anything else. Christ did not directly challenge the political system, but He did challenge people. It is easy to make broad statements, but they often have little impact. It is much harder to bring the Gospel into the world of a single individual so that they not only hear the Words of Christ but feel His love through acts of service.

Do I think that life, marriage, and our religious freedom are all important? Yes I do. But I think in this Declaration these issues have placed the Gospel in a secondary role. In fact, however, these are to rather flow from a heart transformed by the Gospel.

But what does it prove if I do not sign this Declaration? If an unsaved person were to ask if I believed what was written on those pages, would I say yes or no? If asked why I have not yet signed the document (as I have not), would I tell them it is because of a theological conviction that it seems to confuse the Gospel even though I agreed with the three principles of life, marriage, and religious freedom they put forth? While it might allow me an opportunity share the Gospel, could I not just as easily affirm those three issues as important (which I do) and then point out that the best part and only reason I can hold to those truths is because of the Gospel and go on to articulate it in detail? This is what I wrestle with. And each day as we ask similar questions: how will my actions, my time, my energy be best used to direct the most attention to truth, and the most glory to God?

UPDATE >> I actually just ran across Dr. Mohler’s blog post on his signing of this document. I really do agree with him that these are fundamental civic issues Christians need to take a stand for. But it seems that it is largely a petition that will be sent to governmental leadership, and even Dr. Mohler seems to indicate that it is primarily political in nature. It really all comes down to asking at what level are we willing to work with other denominations. And I know often there is no cut and dry answer in these more practical issues. My beef, as stated above, is that the gospel seems to take a secondary role. The signatories would probably argue that this is not primarily about the gospel, and understandably so… but i can’t get around how you can make any “Christian” statement without it. Including Catholics in that arena seems to confuse the issue of what constitutes “Christianity”. This is just me being open and honest. I certainly agree that we should take these issues seriously, and do something to make our voice heard in the public realm. But my question would be did it have to be in union with Catholics just to make the statement stronger? Why not just issue a protestant declaration?

Every individual believer needs to exercise their priest-hood before God guided by their conscience. I see the dilemma when we seek to make the Gospel the priority in our interaction with the world and yet balance that with taking a stand in obeying God’s commands when they are directly attacked. Matthew 5:15 – “Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” If we keep the light in our little baskets, our churches, others will never see His light in us and give glory God. But this should have never been done apart from a clear presentation of the Gospel. If the Gospel is lost or minimized because the world would see this as a religious duty motivated by political tension… then we really have failed to ultimately focus the glory back to God.

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