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Previous article in this series: August 2010, p. 436.

In our previous editorial (Aug. 1) we began a brief critique of the Manhattan Declaration and the subsequent controversy it has stirred up in evangelical circles. Its authors drew it up to be a clarion call for ‘Christian solidarity’ on three basic social, ethical issues, namely, the sanctity of life (vs. the legalization of abortion and euthanasia), marriage and sexuality (vs. the homosexual movement and gay-rights), and religious liberty (vs. laws curtailing religious freedoms, in particular the right of Christians to express their faith and evaluations in the marketplace without restrictions).

The document was first signed by a good number of leading names from the evangelical as well as Anglican, Roman Catholic, and even Eastern-Orthodox traditions. The invitation to sign was then extended to “other men and women of good will” of every background as well, thus not excluding Mormons, Jewish rabbis, or anyone else of conservative political stripe.

Hence the controversy within evangelical circles. Those leading evangelicals who refused to sign the Declaration found it necessary to explain why they refused to sign a document that speaks out against assaults on principles so foundational to a free and moral society. Those who signed the Declaration found it necessary to justify their making an alliance with Roman Catholics and men of Eastern Orthodox convictions.

In our previous article we offered a quotation from one of the signatories, Ligon Duncan III (President of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals). Dr. Duncan insists that the Declaration is not an ecumenical document, like those produced by the Evangelical and Catholics Together (ECT), because the Declaration does not deal with biblical doctrines, but rather with social, ethical issues basic to the fabric of a free and orderly society.

Dr. A. Mohler’s rationale for signing the Declaration is much the same. Having stated that “… [t]here is every good reason to believe that the freedom to conduct Christian ministry according to Christian conviction is being subverted and denied before our eyes” (with which we certainly agree), Mohler goes on to state,

I signed the Manhattan Declaration because it is a limited statement of Christian conviction on… 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…..

We are happy to hear that Dr. Mohler would not sign a document such as Evangelicals and Catholics Together, a document that does indeed subvert confessional integrity and corrupt the doctrine of justification in order to bridge the chasm between Rome and Protestantism. Such refusal is to be commended.

The question is, however, is it indeed true that signing this Declaration does not essentially commit one to the same thing?

Dr. Mohler and his colleagues say it does not. We are convinced it does, as we intend to demonstrate.

But before we do that, we want to comment on Mohler’s assertion (reassurance?) that “TheManhattan Declaration is not a manifesto for united [!] action” (with “united” referring, of course, to the forging of an alliance between evangelicals and Roman Catholics that commits the signatories to united political action down the road).

Dr. Mohler and his associates may in all sincerity assert such is not so, but such simply cannot be maintained in any credible way. If such is not the purpose of this Declaration, there would be no need for the Declaration. Surely Mohler, Duncan, J.I. Packer, J. Dobson, et al do not need to sign some public document for the public to know that they are for family values and are committed to opposing the social evils loose in our society today. That’s known. This is exactly why their signatures were sought to begin with. They were men who, in the public eye, were opposed to the social evils receiving legal sanction in our day.

The whole rationale for drawing up the Declaration and seeking well-known names in the Christian church world to sign it was exactly to serve notice to the powers that be that those whose signatures are affixed to this document do not stand alone in opposing the evils being sanctioned by law, but that they (we) stand shoulder to shoulder with many others who are resolved to oppose having certain evils imposed upon us or restrictions placed upon our right to oppose said evils. The whole purpose of the Declaration is to let Washington know that we are not going to go down on these issues without a fight. And this we is not just a few, but many—count the signatures! Let Washington take note!

The public expression of solidarity, by implication, commits the signatories to united action when the call for such action goes out. Strikingly, for all Dr. Mohler’s honorable intentions, the fact is that he himself realizes that he, with the other signatories, cannot really escape the implications of the Declaration. The concluding words of his apology make this plain.

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.

The pronoun we is used five times. It is not an editorialwe. Just previously, Dr. Mohler used the pronoun I. Thewe refers to those with whom he has chosen to take a stand, namely those whose signatures are affixed to the document—not just evangelicals with whose doctrines he agrees, but the Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox as well. With such he makes his pledge (one of mutual allegiance)—to do what? This: “…that we will not bend the knee to Caesar…. We will not be forced [!] to accept any other relationship as equal…to heterosexual marriage.” For all Dr. Mohler’s honorable intentions, those are fighting words, implying, “Let the State take notice. She can expect usnot simply meekly to acquiesce, but to offer stout resistance if she seeks to impose on us what goes against our convictions and consciences.” Dr. Mohler may be sure that those who drew up the Declaration and those who signed it will expect him to honor his pledge for action when the time comes, and to do so in concert with Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox. And not just as convenient comrades-in-arms. The point of the Declaration is that the signatories do this in the name of Christ, united (as fellow believers) in the cause of His righteousness and truth. This is clear from the concluding paragraph of the second section of the document (under the heading “Declaration.”)

We are Christians who have joined together across historic lines of ecclesial differences to affirm our right…to speak and act in defense of these (three listed) truths. We pledge to each other, and to our fellow believers [!], that no power on earth…will intimidate us to silence or acquiescence.

Significantly, those evangelicals who refused to sign the Declaration understood this. Their reasons for refusing to sign and, by implication, for criticizing their colleagues who did, show commendable insight. One such explanation for refusing is offered by Dr. John MacArthur:

[The Declaration] assumes from the start that all signatories are fellow Christians whose only differences have to do with the fact that they represent distinct ‘communities.’ Points of disagreement are tacitly acknowledged but are described as ‘historic lines of ecclesial differences’ rather than fundamental conflicts of doctrine and conviction with regard to the gospel and the question of which teachings are essential to authentic Christianity. … [It would] relegate the very essence of gospel truth to the level of a secondary issue. That is the wrong way—perhaps the very worst way—for evangelicals to address the moral and political crises of our time.

MacArthur’s opening sentence is precisely correct.

Signing a document such as the Declaration is not merely a matter of declaring where one stands on various social evils being sanctioned in our day. It is not the same as signing a petition to get a proposal on the state ballot against legalizing gay-marriage, for instance. By such action one says nothing about recognizing the spiritual status of fellow signatories, nor concerning the orthodoxy of the doctrines they profess.

Signing this Declaration is different. Here one goes on record as acknowledging that the ‘community’ that the Romish ‘brothers’ represent, namely, Rome herself, is an authentic brand of Christianity when all is said and done, and, therefore, so is the ‘gospel’ to which Rome is committed. And note well, the great gospel truths that have divided confessional Protestantism from Rome are relegated to the category of being merely a matter of “ecclesial differences,” which is to say, merely a matter of emphasis found in Christ’s church that arises out of different historical traditions rather than a matter of fundamental biblical interpretation.

Say what they will, what men like Mohler and Duncan tried to withhold from Rome with one hand by refusing to sign the ECT documents a decade ago, namely, Rome’s right of claim to be valid representatives of the apostolic gospel, they now, by signing the Declaration, have granted Rome with the other.

But as serious as MacArthur’s and others’ criticism of the Declaration is, the problems with the document go even deeper. This is brought home by Richard Bennett in an article entitled “The Roman Catholic Agenda Embedded in the Manhattan Declaration.”

This we intend to quote and comment on next time.