Article ID: JAV341 | By: R.C. Sproul and Michael F. Ross
This article first appeared in the Viewpoint column of the Christian Research Journal, volume 34, number 01 (2011). For further information or to subscribe to the Christian Research Journal go to: http://www.equip.org
Why Didn’t You Sign It, R. C.?1
by R. C. Sproul
On November 20, 2009, a document called the Manhattan Declaration was presented to the public by a coalition of cobelligerents. The document is concerned primarily with three very important biblical and cultural issues: the sanctity of life, the meaning of marriage, and the nature of religious liberty. Without question, these issues are up for grabs in our nation.
As anyone familiar with my ministry will know, I share the document’s concern for defending the unborn, defining heterosexual marriage biblically, and preserving a proper relationship between church and state. However, when the document was sent to me and my signature was requested, I declined to sign it.
In answer to the question, “R. C., why didn’t you sign the Manhattan Declaration?” I offer the following answer: 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.
The framers of the Manhattan Declaration seem to have calculated this objection into the language of the document itself. Likewise, some signers have stated that this is not a theological document. However, to make that statement accurate requires a redefinition of “theology” and serious equivocation on the biblical meaning of “the gospel” (2 Cor. 11:4).
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. The Manhattan Declaration states, “Christians are heirs of a 2,000-year tradition of proclaiming God’s Word,” and it identifies “Orthodox, Catholic, and Evangelicals” as “Christians.” The document calls Christians to unite in “the Gospel,” “the Gospel of costly grace,” and “the Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in its fullness.” Moreover, the document says, “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.”
Without question, biblical truth must be proclaimed and the gospel preached prophetically to our nation. But how could I sign something that confuses the gospel and obscures the very definition of who is and who is not a Christian? I have made this point again and again since the days of ECT. Though the framers of the Manhattan Declaration disclaim any connection to ECT, it appears to me that the Manhattan Declaration is inescapably linked to that initiative, which I have strenuously resisted. More than that, this new document practically assumes the victory of ECT in using the term “the gospel” in reference to that which Roman Catholics are said to “proclaim” (Phil. 1:27).
The Roman Catholic Church has a long history of using studied ambiguity in order to win over opponents. Let me be unambiguous: 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). The ECT initiative repeatedly avowed that the signatories had a unity of faith in the gospel. This included Roman Catholic signers who affirm the canons and decrees of the sixteenth-century Council of Trent, which anathematizes sola fide. I believe there are true and sincere Christians within the Roman Catholic and the Orthodox churches. But these people are Christians in spite of their church’s official doctrinal positions.
At least one of the document’s framers, Mr. Colson, sees the Manhattan Declaration as a way to revitalize the church in America. In his commentary on November 25, Mr. Colson said the Manhattan Declaration is “a form of catechism for the foundational truths of the faith.” He suggests that the Manhattan Declaration is an antidote to “biblical and doctrinal ignorance” within the church. However, true reformation and revival within the church and the winning of our culture to Christ will come only through the power of the Holy Spirit and our clear, bold proclamation of the biblical gospel, not through joint ecumenical statements that equivocate on the most precious truths given to us. There is no other gospel than that which has already been given (Gal. 1:6–8).
The Manhattan Declaration puts evangelical Christians in a tight spot. I have dear friends in the ministry who have signed this document, and my soul plummeted when I saw their names. I think my friends were misled and that they made a mistake, and I want to assert carefully that I have spoken with some of them personally about their error and have expressed my hope that they will remove their signatures from this document. Nevertheless, I remain in fellowship with them at this time and believe they are men of integrity who affirm the biblical gospel and the biblical doctrines articulated in the Protestant Reformation.
Lastly, I stand with the sentiments expressed by my friends Alistair Begg, Michael Horton, and John MacArthur, and I appreciate their willingness to say “no” to the call to get aboard this bandwagon as they continue to stand firm in their proclamation of the gospel and the whole counsel of God as it pertains to all matters of faith and life, including the sanctity of life, the meaning of marriage, and the nature of religious liberty. It is only in our united proclamation of the one, true gospel of Jesus Christ that any heart, any mind, or any nation will truly change, by God’s sovereign grace and for His glory alone.
R. C. Sproul is the founder and chairman of Ligonier Ministries and can be heard teaching daily on the Renewing Your Mind radio broadcast. Dr. Sproul has written more than sixty books and has authored scores of magazine articles for evangelical publications as well as being editor of the Reformation Study Bible. In addition, he has taught at numerous colleges and seminaries. Currently, Dr. Sproul serves as Senior Minister of Preaching and Teaching at Saint Andrew’s Chapel in Sanford, Florida.
- 1 Used with permission, from R. C. Sproul, Ligonier Ministries, http://www.ligonier.org/blog/the-manhattan-declaration/.
Why I Signed It
by Michael F. Ross
Back in 1994 noted evangelical and Roman Catholic leaders published the misguided document Evangelicals and Catholics Together (ECT). I took great issue with this consortium and its purpose, as well as the formulation of their joint statement. As an ex-Catholic, a former candidate for the Roman priesthood, and an ordained pastor in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), I quickly saw through the nuanced language and the double-speak of ECT. I even wrote to one of the principal framers of ECT and questioned him on his motives and his message. So, when the Manhattan Declaration (MD) emerged from the pen of some of the same authors, I was naturally suspicious. “Here we go again,” I thought to myself.
But as I read the MD, my opinion changed. For years I, and other evangelical pastors, have said, “I would gladly stand with Jews, Catholics, and conservative non-believers in the cause of the right to life.” In fact, evangelicals have indeed worked side-by-side with Catholics and conservatives for almost forty years in opposition to abortion and in favor of “family values.” I believe the MD is written in the spirit of the “cobelligerency” practiced by many of us for decades.
In 1 Timothy 1:8–11, the apostle Paul makes a profound statement: “Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine, in accordance with the glorious Gospel of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted” (ESV, emphasis added).
Notice that Paul clearly states that murder (abortion) and same-sex marriages (sexual immorality and homosexuality) are contrary to the gospel. The authors of the MD come from two faith backgrounds: evangelical Protestant and Roman Catholic. Both profess to be Christians. Each speaks for himself, not for his church, in calling those who name the Name of Christ to a consistent and courageous application of the gospel: the sanctity of life, the integrity of marriage, and religious freedom. These three gospel values cannot be exclusively claimed by any church, for they flow from a historic Judeo-Christian heritage.
Are all those who authored or signed the MD truly Christian? I don’t know. Do they speak officially for their churches? No. Is their document intended to redefine “gospel,” “conversion,” “justification,” and “Christian,” as ECT did? No. These three men and those who signed the MD with them are simply stating that, as cobelligerents against an encroaching moral and spiritual darkness that opposes the gospel message, they stand united in support and defense of three clear, apostolic, gospel values: the sanctity of life, the integrity of marriage, and religious freedom.
The MD is not intended to be a theological document, though it cannot avoid theological terms and nuances. Signing the declaration does not make one complicit with the varied theological perspectives of the authors. When I and my congregation recite the Apostles’ Creed, we do not agree with the Catholic or Orthodox interpretations of that creed, also used by Catholics and Orthodox churches in their worship services. I approach the MD in the same manner. We share a creed, we share a declaration, though our core understanding of the truths behind both diverge at essential points.
I cannot and will not conjecture as to the motives of these men, and I refuse to speculate on the “implication” of the MD (a highly subjective process). Candidly, I do not agree with the vaunted aims of some proponents of the declaration. I fail to see the MD as a catechetical tool, and I do not agree that the MD can be an opportunity for renewal and revival. My understanding of both historical catechisms and biblical awakening leaves no place for documents like the MD. Nor do I brook any ideas that some ecumenical good could arise from this statement. The MD cannot and will not redefine the central tenets of the Christian faith.
What I do see, and why I signed the MD, after prayer, reflection, and discussions with other Reformed pastors, is this: the gospel demands that we use the law of God and the teaching of the church to uphold the sanctity of life, the integrity of marriage, and religious freedom. This is what the New Testament calls for in 1 Timothy 1:8–11. I am only seeking to be obedient to the apostolic kerugma and its social implications.
Each signer of the MD signs only as an individual. And if each signer professes faith in Christ, trusting Him alone for salvation as He offered in the gospel, then that signer must be considered a Christian, in some cases despite his or her church’s dogma. My acceptance of other Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox believers as professing Christians does not imply the endorsement of their church, the affirmation of their theological errors, or the validation of their church hierarchy’s agenda. We sign on only to what is written—not to any unbiblical agenda that may exist in the hearts of some people associated with the document, or that some critics of the document may believe exists.
The fact that some of my mentors, friends, and co-pastors have declined to sign the MD merely affirms the declaration’s third value: the freedom of conscience in religious activities. I maintain both affection for and affinity with others in gospel ministry, and a oneness of spirit in reference to life, marriage, and freedom. I am responsible only for my conscience, and not for any other. And, as Paul exhorts, I am responsible to help bring the gospel to bear on the evils of our age.
Michael F. Ross is an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church in America. He was reared as a Roman Catholic and studied in high school for the Roman Catholic priesthood at the Divine Word Seminary in Perrysburg, Ohio.