Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Manhattan Declaration— Saving Morality at the Expense of the Gospel

By S. Michael Durham

I’m compelled to write this, even though I know better brains and more eloquent pens have already written on the Manhattan Declaration. But there may be some of you who read this infrequent blog who have not heard anything about it. Therefore, to you I offer sundry comments.

The Manhattan Declaration is a 4,700-word manifesto produced by evangelical, Catholic, and Orthodox leaders to state support for the pro-life movement, traditional marriage, and one’s right to freedom of religion. The document plainly states that if the government continues on its secular agenda that Christians will have no other choice but to condone and practice civil disobedience against laws contradicting their understandings of life and marriage.

For years I’ve stated that true believers will suffer persecution in this country. Laws will be passed that will allow no wiggle room for the Christian. He or she will have to decide to either compromise or suffer. And should we say as Luther, “Here I stand; I can do no other,” then we will suffer. The law of the land will have been violated. If Caesar will not be surrendered to, then Caesar will have his vengeance.

It is the purpose of the original 150 drafters and signers of this document to put on notice civil leaders that Christians will not comply with laws that violate the Bible. I could not agree more. But . . .

I could not sign this declaration for the same reason—it violates the Bible. It contradicts the very essence and nature of the gospel. It does so by joining Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy with the historical evangelical gospel of salvation by faith alone. If the statement had simply stated that the three groups have differing views of what the gospel is and what a Christian is, but we would stand together opposed to the immoral laws forcing us to accept abortion and same-sex marriage, I could have agreed to it and gladly added my name. But this they did not do. Here is one of the problematic portions of the declaration.

We, as Orthodox, Catholic, and Evangelical Christians, have gathered, beginning in New York on September 28, 2009, to make the following declaration, which we sign as individuals, not on behalf of our organizations, but speaking to and from our communities. We act together in obedience to the one true God, the triune God of holiness and love, who has laid total claim on our lives and by that claim calls us with believers in all ages and all nations to seek and defend the good of all who bear his image.

It reads as if those who subscribe to the tenets of the Orthodox and Roman Catholic institutions are Christians. Certainly, there are true Christians from each group, but they are most likely the exception rather than the rule. The official dogmas of both religions deny the doctrine of justification by faith and the imputed righteousness of Christ, without which there is no salvation. And if there is no salvation there is no good news—the gospel.

The Manhattan Declaration also states,

We are Christians who have joined together across historic lines of ecclesial differences to affirm our right—and, more importantly, to embrace our obligation—to speak and act in defense of these truths. We pledge 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. It is our duty to proclaim the Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in its fullness, both in season and out of season.

The gospel should be proclaimed, but which gospel? The gospel of the pope or the Apostle Paul? They are not the same. Sadly, some very sound evangelical leaders lent the credibility of their names to this document. I fear that in the name of morality they have struck a blow against the hope of society returning to morality. The gospel of Jesus Christ is the only hope of societal integrity. But with these good, but misguided, men’s signatures they have joined with Rome. They have stated that Rome’s gospel and ours is the same.

I fear that these well-meaning brothers have let the moral issues of the day outweigh the greater issue—the Great Commission. In their hopes of saying to the government that we will not compromise the truth, they compromised the truth of the gospel.

The morality of men will never be legislated from the bench of law. It can only be legislated from the heart. All the law can do is get behavioral compliance. Morality is deeper than compliance. It is the loving embrace of the beauty of virtue and that virtue is Christ. True morality flows from loving God supremely and the love of neighbor secondarily. Other than this you have an immorality that disguises itself in the garb of righteousness. It may appear to be very good, but inside is corruption. Only the grace of the gospel can change the immorality of a man and make him moral. The gospel cannot be compromised. It cannot be altered, not even for life or marriage.