As some of you may know, I was one of the original signers of the Manhattan Declaration. I have received communication of encouragement and thanksgiving for signing the Manhattan Declaration. I have been asked questions as to why I signed the declaration when some of my closest friends and colleagues with whom I serve the Lord alongside did not sign. Then, of course, I have received the inevitable charges that by my signing such a document – I have abandoned the faith.
I am grateful for the first two groups from whom I received messages as everyone needs encouragement and well thought out challenges concerning one’s actions as a minister of the Gospel are helpful and instrumental in maintaining accountability. As for the third group, the messages that were sent to me were not well thought out. They were emotionally passionate but not Biblically rational.
So, the following is my answer to them and I hope it contributes to both the proper use of the Manhattan Declaration as well as an encouragement to its ultimate end as a declaration (which is a call to faithfulness to the Gospel in life and ministry looking to its beneficial impact in the culture through the changed life of men and women).
Secondly, a notice to the culture-shapers of the day ~ that as believers we will stand firm to not only proclaim Gospel blessings but to maintain Gospel imperatives in humble reliance upon Divine Grace and the work of the Holy Spirit.
Why I Signed The Manhattan Declaration
I have been requested to respond as to why I signed the Manhattan Declaration in light of the fact that some of my closest friends and colleagues in life and ministry decided that they could not, in good conscience, sign it. I highly respect and love these men but I find myself in disagreement with them so I thought it would be appropriate to outline my reasons:
Most of those who have not signed the Manhattan Declaration did not do so for the same reasons that they did not sign the Evangelicals and Catholics Together document (ECT). This fact becomes significant for a couple of reasons.
- I did not sign the ECT for the same reason they did not sign it.
- I along with others at that time also signed another statement which contained the reasons why I could not in good conscience sign the ECT document.
Question? If I agreed with them on the ECT and refrained from signing it why would I now not agree with them and therefore along with them refrained from signing the Manhattan Declaration since their reasoning is the same?
Answer. Because the documents are not the same in content or purpose. The Manhattan Declaration, while similar to the ECT in purpose in that it is desirous of eliciting unity of response to the issues of the culture by bringing together elements of the professing Christian community, it’s content and claims are distinctly different.
- The Evangelicals and Catholics Together document while purposed to unite professing believers in a focused response to the cultural issues of the day attempted to do so by claiming that we were all in confessional agreement concerning the Doctrine of Justification. The ECT, in light of the cultural battles we were facing ( i.e. Sanctity of Life, Marriage, Sexuality and Religious Liberty), declared that it was important for Evangelicals and Catholics to stand together. I had no problem being a co-belligerent with Roman Catholics in addressing issues of the culture but I could not in good conscience and with integrity declare that we believed the same thing concerning the cornerstone doctrine of the Gospel – Justification by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone nor did I believe it was necessary to declare that were in agreement on the Doctrine of Justification in order to speak to cultural issues with unanimity. This was so important that I, along with others, signed a later document clarifying the differences between Evangelicals and Catholics on the Doctrine of Justification.
- The Manhattan Declaration is basically a call to Apostles Creed/Nicene Creed confessing Christian churches to face the issues of the day firmly, faithfully and with united urgency. At the same time it also acknowledges that the true answer to cultural transformation is the personal transformation of men and women through the Gospel of Jesus Christ. But it does not attempt to claim that all signatories are in complete agreement of what we believe concerning the Gospel.
- In other words, in the name of promoting unified cultural engagement by Evangelicals and Catholics the ECT was not only a call to action but also an ecclesiastical and confessional document stating that we were in agreement on our understanding of the Gospel in general and the Doctrine of Justification in particular. I believe that was false (and still do) and therefore could not sign that document and instead I signed another document which clarified the theological and confessional differences between Evangelicals and Catholics concerning the Gospel and specifically the Doctrine of Justification. In contrast, the Manhattan Declaration, while being a call to unified Christian action in the engagement of the cultural issues of the day, does not purport to be a confessional or an ecclesiastical statement of theological unity. It is simply a Declaration of the signatories that there are crucial issues facing us in our culture (namely the sanctity of life, marriage, sexuality and religious liberty) and therefore the urgent need to deal with these even to the point of civil disobedience if necessary (since we must obey God rather than man) while also acknowledging that it is only the Gospel that can transform this culture of death into a culture of life through the life-giving and life-changing power of the Gospel in the lives of men and women. In no place in the Declaration does it purport to be a confessional statement where all of the signatories propose that they are in agreement confessionally nor is it binding upon any of the organizations or churches as an ecclesiastical covenant. On the contrary, beyond the fact that those signing would all own the Apostles Creed and the Nicene Creed confessionally it actually declares and recognizes that we are not necessarily in agreement on numerous theological issues.
- The Manhattan Declaration is not a formal vow of agreement that the signatories are confessionally agreed on the Gospel or ecclesiology. It is primarily a statement of the crucial issues that must be faced in the culture and in addition that the ultimate answer to the issues of the culture is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And, the signatories would declare also that we must stand firm with urgency and united perseverance. It is a historical fact in the founding of this country and at other times of crisis that there were numerous similar declarations by Apostles/Nicene Creed churches and confessing believers who at that time agreed on the crucial issues of the day and declared their united desire to respond to them. The Manhattan Declaration purposely avoids the error of minimizing the theological commitments of our churches as to what we believe is the truth by attempting to present a misrepresentative confessional statement of agreements. Yet it does commit the signatories to the purpose of identifying the issues of the day and a commitment to intentionally and consistently respond to them and that the primacy of the Gospel is the only ultimate and effective answer to these issues. It furthermore states that we will take a Christ-honoring stand in message and manner within the public square on the previously identified issues.
- If in fact the Manhattan Declaration required an acknowledgment and affirmation of the confessional positions of all who signed or an attempt to claim that the signatories were in agreement theologically or that our understanding of the Gospel is identical then I would not have signed the document as I refused to do so with the ECT.
In summation through the Manhattan Declaration I have committed along with other Apostles/Nicene Creed signatories to face the issues of the day with clarity, charity and conviction and I have also declared a willingness to work together with other professing Christians on these issues while personally and pastorally leading my congregation in the glorious privilege of Christ-centered and Gospel-driven evangelism and discipleship which alone will transform men and women and that alone will ultimately transform a culture of death from its death-spiral into a culture of life.