December 11, 2009
On November 20, Chuck Colson was joined at the National Press Club by cross-section of Evangelical, Catholic and Orthodox Christian leaders to announce the release of "The Manhattan Declaration"—a bold, 4,700-word statement that clearly articulates a defense of human life, family and religious liberty, pledging, "to each other, and to our fellow believers, that no power on earth, be it cultural or political, will intimidate us into silence or acquiescence." To date, some 275,000 have joined as signatories. Drafted by Chuck Colson, Robert George and Timothy George, the declaration has been supported by a coalition of leaders from the Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox traditions. But the absence of support from a number of leading conservative evangelicals nature has been an issue of considerable discussion and speculation.
Dr. R. C. Sproul has finally weighed in on the declaration and—to no one's surprise—he's against signing it while "shar(ing) the document's concern for defending the unborn, defining heterosexual marriage biblically, and preserving a proper relationship between church and state." Dr. Sproul opposes the document on the same basis that MacArthur, Begg, and Horton have previously articulated. He makes the following primary points:
"The Manhattan Declaration confuses common grace and special grace by combining them. While I would march with the bishop of Rome and an Orthodox prelate to resist the slaughter of innocents in the womb, I could never ground that cobelligerency on the assumption that we share a common faith and a unified understanding of the gospel."
"...how could I sign something that confuses the gospel and obscures the very definition of who is and who is not a Christian?"
"Without a clear understanding of sola fide and the doctrine of the imputation of Christ's righteousness, you do not have the gospel or gospel unity (1 Cor. 1:17; 2 Cor. 5:21)."
As to point number one: To conclude that the framers of the Manhattan Declaration are grounding cobelligerency on the assumption that Orthodox, Evangelicals, and Catholics "share a common faith and a unified understanding of the gospel" is itself an assumption that the drafters of the document made efforts to avoid.
The declaration clearly states that the drafters/signers have come together across historic lines of ecclesial differences, differences which must include theology. My friends MacArthur, Begg, Horton and Sproul are working very hard to make a point that "ecclesial differences" cannot include "theological differences," otherwise the principle point of their argument against signing the document fails.
As to point number two: While the Manhattan Declaration uses the identifier "Christian" to describe those who have come together from differing faith backgrounds, it does so not in the sense of agreement on the nuances of what is or isn't included in an understanding of what it means to be a Christian. Nor is it necessary to do so. When "the disciples were first called Christians at Antioch," it wasn't a moniker they affixed to themselves. The disciples were called Christians by those outside of the church as a way of describing what they interpreted as a mimicking of Christ on the part of the disciples, not because of some agreement on all of the nuances of what the gospel meant.
Orthodox, Catholics and Evangelicals certainly have fundamental differences on what the gospel is, and not all adherents in each particular group are Christians in the gospel sense of that word, but in terms of individual groups they all consider themselves Christians because of their common allegiance to Jesus Christ, even though very significant theological differences persist about how a person is brought into proper spiritual relationship to God. A Christian is Christ follower. While you can argue about what that means in its particulars, no one can deny that in the broad sense of the term, Evangelicals, Catholics and Orthodox see themselves as uniquely under the authority of Christ. It is in that sense that the term "we Christians" is being used.
As to point number three: the doctrine of imputation and sola fide (justification by faith alone) are certainly mandatory in gospel unity. But once again it must be emphasized that the Manhattan Declaration is not a statement of "gospel unity." It is a statement of moral clarity on three crucial areas of our culture which, if abandoned to secularism, will result in the collapse of our culture. If the document went to lengths to define "gospel" there would be no document, because clearly there is no unity among the signers on that issue—only on the urgency of defending life, marriage, and religious liberty. The documents' detractors are opposed to it only because they read into it what clearly isn't there and assume that it is a broader theological statement than it actually is.
In order for MacArthur, Begg, Horton and Sproul to reach the conclusion that signing the Manhattan Declaration "obscures the gospel," they must read all of the history behind Evangelicals and Catholics Together into this present document.
This is precisely what Dr. Sproul has done in his statement:
"The drafters of the document, Charles Colson, Robert George, and Timothy George, used deliberate language that is on par with the ecumenical language of the Evangelicals and Catholics Together (ECT) movement that began in the 1990s."
"Though the framers of the Manhattan Declaration declaim any connection to ECT, it appears to me that the Manhattan Declaration is inescapably linked to that initiative, which I have strenuously resisted."
Dr. Sproul is assuming a continuation of ECT in this present document. He cannot reach that conclusion based on anything which is clearly stated in the Manhattan Declaration itself, though he attempts to do so by suggesting the language of this current statement is "on par" with ECT, referring mainly to ECT's use of the terms "Gospel" and "Christians," while ignoring the fact that ECT was clearly a statement of theological unity whereas in no sense can it be said that the Manhattan Declaration is such a statement, if you allow this document to stand in isolation from ECT.
Organizing a rescue effort does not require full agreement on theological nuances. Yet this is precisely the position of those who, on the one hand, are in favor of what the Manhattan Declaration aims to accomplish, while on the other hand refusing to assist in that aim because some on the rescue team aren't as clear on nuances as they'd prefer they be.
Paul Edwards is a regular columnist and the host of "The Paul Edwards Program" heard daily on WLQV in Detroit. Contact Paul at firstname.lastname@example.org.