The Manhattan Declaration

This week, a woman in one of our congregations asked me why the Presbyterian Church did not speak out more clearly on moral issues. She thought that as a church we often lacked the courage to address controversial issues directly and clearly. I tried to explain that we often do make clear statements in the reports that go to our General Assembly each June and in reports to Boards throughout the year but that these do not often receive much press coverage. It may also be that we fail to communicate our position clearly to many ordinary church members.

This past week, North American Christians have spoken out on important moral issues in The Manhattan Declaration which has received a good amount of press coverage, largely because it has been signed by people from a variety of church traditions. The 4,700-word declaration issues a call to Christians to adhere to their convictions and it informs civil authorities that the signers will not under any circumstance abandon their Christian consciences. It is clearly sending a message to the Obama administration about what they are not prepared to tolerate. The drafters of the Declaration say that Christians, when they have lived up to the highest ideals of their faith, have defended the weak and vulnerable and worked tirelessly to protect and strengthen vital institutions of civil society, beginning with the family. It is a robust statement which is worth reading.

The signers identify themselves as Orthodox, Catholic, and evangelical Christians who have united to reaffirm fundamental truths about justice and the common good, and to call upon their fellow citizens, believers and non-believers alike, to join them 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.

Among the signatories are men whom I know well and hold in high regard: Peter Lillback, Bryan Chappell, Tim Keller and Ligon Duncan. But the fact that other non-evangelical and non-reformed people have signed the declaration make some people uncomfortable and they view the signing of the declaration as a form of undesirable ecumenism. One of the dissenters has been John McArthur who presents his case for not signing.

But Albert Mohler, President of Southwestern Baptist Seminary and a highly respected preacher, theologian and commentator, has signed up. He states his reasons clearly. It made me think that my questioner had a point. Perhaps we do lack courage. Or maybe we are nervous about who might actually agree with us and may want to stand with us on key moral issues? I think Dr Mohler makes his point well.

I signed The Manhattan Declaration because I believe it is an historic statement of conviction and courage that is both timely and urgent. Over the course of the next few months and years, these issues will be reset in our culture and its laws. These are matters on which the Christian conscience cannot be silent. There are, of course, other issues that demand Christian attention as well. The focus on these three issues is forced by the circumstances of current threats as well as the awareness that the time of decision on these questions has come. Though Christians struggle to understand the extent to which our convictions should be incorporated in the law, we must now recognize that the very respect for these convictions — and the freedom to follow and obey these convictions in our own lives, families, and ministries is now at stake.

I signed The Manhattan Declaration because I lead a theological seminary and college, serve as a teaching pastor in a church, and am engaged in Christian leadership in the public square. Thus I see the threats to Christian liberties that now stare us in the face. The freedom not to perform a same-sex marriage is one thing, but what about the freedom to hire employees according to our Christian convictions? What about the right of Christian ministries to conduct their work according to Christian beliefs? What about the freedom to preach and teach against the grain of the nation’s laws (for example, after the legalization of same-sex marriage)? When do hate crimes laws slide into definitions of “hate speech?” The threats to our religious liberties are immediate and urgent.

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.

But when Catholic Charities in Massachusetts chose to end its historic ministry of placing orphaned children in good homes because the State of Massachusetts required it to place children with same-sex couples, this is not just a Catholic issue. The orphanage could have easily been Baptist. When Belmont Abbey college in North Carolina is told by federal authorities that it must offer abortion services in its insurance plans for employees, this is no longer just a Catholic issue. The next institution to be under attack might well be Presbyterian. We are in this together, and we had better be thankful that, in this case, we are not alone.

Finally, I signed The Manhattan Declaration because I want to put my name on its final pledge — that we will not bend the knee to Caesar. We will not participate in any subversion of life. We will not be forced to accept any other relationship as equal in status or rights to heterosexual marriage. We will not refrain from proclaiming the truth — and we will order our churches and institutions and ministries by Christian conviction.

There will be Christian leaders, pastors, seminaries, colleges, universities, denominations, churches, and organizations that will abandon the faith on these issues. They will bend the knee to Caesar. Far too many already have. The signatories to The Manhattan Declaration pledge that we will not be among them.

I want my name on that list. I surrendered no conviction or confessional integrity to sign that statement. No one asked me to compromise in any manner. I was encouraged that we could stand together to make clear that to come for one of us on these issues is to come for all. At the end of the day, I did not want my name missing from that list when folks look to see just who was willing to be listed.

17 Replies to “The Manhattan Declaration”

  1. It is sad that these so called strong evangelicals have put their names to this document. I am un-impressed by Mohler’s statement. It is not a question of being “asked” to compromise – the fact is, he compromised with ungodly Romanist Bishops and Priests by attaching his name to this. It is a declaration of Roman Catholic teaching on social justice – and it speaks highly, though subtilly, of Roman Catholic action in history, e.g. Papal decrees against slavery. I also note the references to Christian “tradition”. This is an anti-gospel declaration. How any evangelical could sign up to that is beyond me. Why would they do it, other than for reasons of popularity?

    Dr White makes his point well:

    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.

    I agree that the document does not, explicitly, seek “to establish common ground on these doctrines.” But that is part of the problem. Since it seeks to speak for the “Christian tradition,” by isolating the gospel and the distinctives that separate biblical believers from the “traditions” of “Christianity,” the document asserts that we as “Christians” can “stand” together apart from the very divine truths that create the only kind of lasting unity and power the Church has ever known. That was my primary concern, one shared by Dr. MacArthur. Yes, I am glad when a Roman Catholic says “Abortion is wrong,” but why does the Roman Catholic say that? What is the theological grounding of his objection to abortion? And what is the believer to do when faced with the next question, “Now what?” Will the Roman Catholic offer the same positive solution to abortion that the biblical believer will? Isn’t the issue of how one views life fundamentally an issue of the heart? And what power changes the heart? Rome’s gospel? Priests and sacraments, never-ending Masses and confessionals and purgatory and indulgences? Surely not.

    I understand Dr. Mohler’s statement, “At the end of the day, I did not want my name missing from that list when folks look to see just who was willing to be listed.” Dr. Mohler, believe me, sir, no one with a scintilla of common sense will be questioning where you were in the battle for righteousness. I fully understand the desire to stand against the hypocritical forces of secularism that are seeking to undermine everything that is good and godly in our society to the life-destroying detriment of all. For the moment I will leave aside the question of how much of this is simply God’s wrath coming upon a very deserving nation. But I just have to wonder if there will not be a time, if the Lord tarries, when, as in the days of Athanasius, or the days of Wyclif, Luther, Spurgeon, Machen, etc., our children’s children will look back and ask, “Who stood clearly for the gospel once for all delivered to the saints in those dark days of compromise when so many were willing to remove it from being definitional of the faith?” I want my name to be on the list of those who despite all the pressures and incentives stood firmly and clearly apart, not ignoring the cultural issues by so doing, but seeking instead to stand firm for the truth in those areas because of the gospel, not in spite of it.

  2. “The Manhattan Declaration” … a though provoking document but not one which I could put my name to. Its position on abortion alone is contrary to the Presbyterian Church’s stance which I would share.

  3. I wonder are we as quick to separate our financial interests on grounds of purity? Would J Trimble be equally committed to avoiding being “unequally yoked”, when it comes to using banks, loans, mortgages, interest-bearing accounts? Where our treasure is…
    I remember a story about a preacher dressing up in a suit of armour to illustrate the whole armour of God, and saying finally “Where’s the devil now?”… to which the loudly murmured reply was heard “He’s inside that suit of armour.” !
    Re the Manhattan Declaration, I have enough sin of my own to deal with, and enough sin within my own communities. I’m encouraged that non-atheists want to remind the world that they haven’t gone away. I suspect that in fact the world will only hear reactionary judgmentalism, which is clearly not the intention.
    Can we find creative ways to communicate to the world, in a language it can actually hear and understand, that we too are sinners and that we have found cleansing and hope and love in Jesus – and that for many of us (but not all) this relationship has changed our desires, so that instead of greed, lust, anger and divisiveness, we are at ease with people different from us, even to the point of loving our (theological?!) enemies and being free to live chaste lives of material simplicity?
    The impression I get from the above is that such a declaration won’t achieve that. I wonder what it will achieve.
    A new freedom to judge our brothers for signing or not signing? A nice new excuse for putting our energies into division?

  4. I’m not really one for signing things, generally I think it’s a bad idea, but in this case… I’d be happy to put my name to…

    …Cheryl’s declaration!

  5. I would have to confess that I don’t have a fixed idea about whether or not I would sign this document. My comment would be about the manner in which the leading conservative evangelicals from the “two sides” have treated each. Their comments, from what I have seen, have been tempered with grace and brotherly kindness.

    My prayer with this as with other matters is to echo Paul’s words in Philippians 1:9-11

    “And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.”

  6. There is a desparate need for the church to state clearly where we stand on moral issues, but the issues all to often are compressed into the usual suspects, the right to life, religious freedom and marriage.

    My problem remains that issues such as poverty, abuse of power (even by the churches), the widow, the orphan etc etc rarely get a mention. While I accept that we can’t include everything there are other issues as pressing if not more so that the church should comment on.

    as for who to sign up with, well that remains a very thorny issue. The credibility, particularly in Ireland today, of signing anything regarding morals, with members of the catholic church will be severly damaged. We are all sinners and no one can throw the first stone, but maybe we as presbyterians should design our own Manifesto and have it signed by member of our own church as a start and leave others to do the same – where we agree we agree where we don’t – so be it

  7. The following questions posed by Dan Phillips on the evangelical Pyromaniacs blog merit much consideration not only for those who have signed but also for others who may be considering signing –

    1. Is the Bible your sole, sufficient, ultimate source and authority for faith and practice?
    2. 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?
    3. Do you see — note well my wording — Scriptural warrant for applying the word “Christian” to anyone other than one who is yoked as a student to the words of Christ and His apostles (Acts 11:26), who affirms the Gospel as described in #2 above (Acts 26:28), and who has been spiritually regenerated by grace alone through faith alone (1 Peter 4:16; cf. 1:3-5)?
    4. Do you see — again, note well my wording — Scriptural warrant for applying the word “Christian” to anyone who would distort and oppose that Gospel, either personally or by aligning himself directly as a supporter (let alone promoter) of such institutional distortion and opposition?
    5. Do you believe that “distortion” of that Gospel is a damning heresy, such as falls under the thundering apostolic condemnation of Galatians 1:6-9?
    6. Do you believe that Roman Catholicism’s official formulation of the gospel is such a damning heresy?
    7. Can a church be a Christian church if it has the Gospel wrong?
    8. What do you believe the Reformation was about?
    9. Do you believe the Reformation was vital and necessary, or a mistake?
    10. Do you agree with the document you signed, that the Popes of the 16th and 17th centuries were Christians (remembering ##1-6, above)?
    11. As to the central themes of the Reformation, has anything fundamental changed today, so that the Reformation is no longer relevant?
    12. 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 in #2 above?
    13. Do you admit that “The Manhattan Declaration” identifies as Christians men and women who are members of — indeed, leaders within — sects which (A) formally and officially oppose the Gospel as described in #2, above; and which (B) make a great deal of the fact that all adherents of those institutions must walk in lockstep conformity with their formal and official positions?
    14. If your son or daughter were to tell you that he or she wants to join the Orthodox or Roman Catholic church, “Because anyway, you said they were Christians just like you are, except for ‘ecclesial
    15. Can your fellow-signatories rely on the “Gospel” that their sects officially proclaim — which “Gospel” contradicts the Gospel as defined in #2 above — and still go to Heaven?
    16. Which is more important and more critical in our day: to define marriage, life, and civil liberty; or to define the Gospel?
    17. How can it be helpful to join hands in defining the former, with those who cannot define the latter?
    18. Can any civic gains that this document achieves for the issues of abortion or marriage offset the spiritual damage it causes in blurring the line between a true, Biblical, saving Gospel, and a false, un-Biblical, damning distortion?
    19. If you have answered all of the preceding questions, can you explain why you would not ask that your name be removed from “The Manhattan Declaration,” which over and over again identifies both you and adherents of Gospel-distorting sects as alike Christians, which says that you and they alike “are compelled by our Christian faith,” and which repeatedly suggest that you and they alike proclaim “the Gospel”?

    The co-signatories made a public statement by endorsing this document.
    What I would ask of those who have signed, I would press all the more urgently on anyone tempted to sign.

  8. hey, as a convinced Presbyterian (being both evangelical and reformed) i have to say i totally agree with john macArthur andJ Trimble. As Protestants who adhere to the westminster confession of Faith we should be distancing ourselves from all Romish documents

  9. Take Heed

    Tell me this, if I were to answer each and every one of the questions you posted in a ‘sound and orthodox’ way, would that transform my heart?

    The reason I ask is this, one day I happened upon the sound of my ‘sound as a bell doctrine’, and it had an uncanny resemblance to a tinkling cymbal.

  10. Dear Peter,

    In response to your inquiry – honest answers to the questions posed, if found to be ‘sound and orthodox’, would indicate evidence of an already ‘transformed heart’.

    In response to predicted days when people will not endure ‘sound doctrine’ Paul instructed Timothy to “preach the word” – is the faithful preaching of God’s Word to be construed by you as merely a ‘tinkling cymbal’ in the ears of those like Roman Catholics and Orthodox who are the victims of false so-called ‘gospels’?

    God’s Word declares that those who ‘abide not in the doctrine of Christ have not God’ – to sign up to a declaration that states that those who ‘abide not in the doctrine of Christ’ do actually have God is not to ‘speak the truth in love’.

    This declaration is injurious to the fullness and sufficiency of the true glorious Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.

  11. Take Heed

    Thankyou for your reply.

    Here is my very real dilemma. While recognising that ‘sound’ answers may indeed be evidence of an already transforming (ed to ing is important) heart, the questions, in being predicated on a rather (yet not unimportant) narrow field of vision are likely to provoke rather limited answers.

    I might put it this way, these questions regarding ‘sound doctrine’ ignore what were once called ‘weightier matters’.

    Please don’t misunderstand, I do not wish, and am not, accusing any other of self-righteousness, what I am suggesting is that in endlessly affirming certain aspects of doctrine (however sound), which emphasise primarily what we are to believe, or how we are to think, we run the risk of forgetting how we ought to act, and how it is that hearts are changed. In effect we become hearers of and agree-ers with the word, having separated ‘doing’ from our salvation and sanctification.

    ‘Sound doctrine’ (which I absolutely affirm), points us to what we must ‘sign up to’ or believe, and it also points us to how we ought to live. These are inseparable. Sound doctrine points us to the centrality of Jesus and the cross, it points us to grace and faith, and it also points us the importance of acting justly and mercifully.

    I think that this is one of the problems people like me have with theological statements or in this case declarations; it is not that they are unimportant, it is that all to often this is all the ‘world’ hears from the church. They hear our statements of faith, they hear our disagreements, the hear about those we include or exclude on the basis of such, they hear our arguments, but it is my suggestion that they need to see the actions of transforming hearts and see that more clearly and more often.

    I have also learned that it is not those who are obviously unorthodox who need fear the ‘leven’ of Phariseeism, rather it is those who, like me, claim to know the truth who need to take care. And while I realise it isn’t inspired (!) the heading at the beginning of Matthew 23 in the KJV reads, “Of the Scribes and Pharisees’ good doctrine, but evil examples of life.” Those who annotated the text gave wise counsel.

    Declarations are easy to write and agree or disagree with, I’m just not sure what all that achieves.

    And of course ‘faithful preaching’ is not a tinkling cymbal, how could it be, it is the proclamation of the Word of the Living God, rather, and more devastatingly, I have learned that it is I who am the withering tinkling sound when I deceive myself by ‘hearing alone’.

  12. Dear Peter,

    Thank you for your detailed response.

    I noted where you wrote of ‘primarily what we are to believe’ – the reality is that ‘primarily what we are to believe’ we are also commanded to ‘defend’ and ‘contend for’ – in signing this declaration those claiming to be ‘evangelical’ have failed on both counts as they have set human ‘wisdom’ above Christ’s glory and His unique gospel.

    As for the world seeing ‘the actions of transforming hearts’ – they see those actions when someone faithfully preaches the true gospel and someone by the action of the Holy Spirit is truly converted by the inherent power of that life-changing gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.

    Sadly, anyone held in the darkness of the false gospels of Rome or Orthodoxy, and reading this declaration, will be given the totally wrong impression that they are ‘Christian’ and, as far as the the evangelical signers are concerned, their actions in signing such a document do not constitute genuine Christian love in action.

    Thank you for your considered responses.

  13. Dear Peter (and others interested)

    I invite you to visit
    where I further explain my views on this MD.

    I share Peter’s concerns about the apparent never-ending production line of ‘declarations’ etc and wish people would concentrate only on God’s Word but when such ‘declarations’ are issued and compromise the truth of The Gospel then faithful Chrisians must speak up and speak out.

  14. Albert Mohler has always advocated what he calls “sphere ecumenism” and “cultural co-beligerence”. You can find some articles on it from about 8 years ago in the Southern Baptist Journal of Tehology. The articles are as follows and are worth reading:

    A Unity Based on Truth, by Thomas R. Schreiner. The Southern Baptist Theological Journal, Vol. 5, No. 4 (Winter 2001)

    Standing Together, Standing Apart: Cultural Co-Belligerence Without Theological Compromise, by R. Albert Mohler, Jr. The Southern Baptist Theological Journal, Vol. 5, No. 4 (Winter 2001)

    Changing American Evangelical Attitudes towards Roman Catholics: 1960-2000, by Don Swetting. The Southern Baptist Theological Journal, Vol. 5, No. 4 (Winter 2001)

    Of Sacraments and Sawdust: ECT, The Culture Wars, and The Quandary of Evangelical Identity, by Russell D. Moore. The Southern Baptist Theological Journal, Vol. 5, No. 4 (Winter 2001)

    ECT and Beyond: A Plea for the Pursuit of Unity, Irenic Perspicuity, and Sphere Ecumenism, by C. Ben Mitchell. The Southern Baptist Theological Journal, Vol. 5, No. 4 (Winter 2001)

    How Should Evangelicals Think About Roman Catholics Today?, by Kevin Offner. The Southern Baptist Theological Journal, Vol. 5, No. 4 (Winter 2001)

    The SBJT Forum: Key Points in the ECT Debate. The Southern Baptist Theological Journal, Vol. 5, No. 4 (Winter 2001)

  15. lets stop fooling around and declare this catholic cult, not a true church, our gospel is at stake , the pope, and colson are just tell lies after lies regarding the truth, when it moves from the bible truth, all of so-called christians, who signed up , on this paper , joined the catholic church, in all its teaching, no matter what things they state,christ is lord, the cross, his atonement, his blood, his ransom for his people, not pope, mary, priests, of false belivers like colson and his friends, this man, has spent 2 years kissing up to this popes and church, beinging false, and fines it hard to understand, the true gospel of the bible. god bless,

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