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Yet another post about the Manhattan Declaration

As many have likely noticed, the Christian blogosphere is abuzz right now over the the Manhattan Declaration. Currently in my RSS feeds I see coverage from at least 6 different blogs and have come across links to several others.

To summarize, the declaration is primarily concerned with the “sanctity of human life, the dignity of marriage as a union of husband and wife, and the freedom of conscience and religion” and defending the biblical position on each. However, while the statements made regarding these issues are good, the declaration isn’t without its critics.

The essential issue for the critics (at least those I’ve read) actually has nothing to do with statements made on any of these three issues, but rather with how it describes “Orthodox, Catholic, and Evangelical Christians” as “fellow believers.” At one point it describes those involved in creating the declaration this way: “We are Christians who have joined together across historic lines of ecclesial differences.”

I can understand where those critics are coming from. The document, in its language, seems to have gone beyond being a common stand on social issues to being a document that implicitly recognizes these differing belief systems as being, effectively, one and the same.

Since this document is targeted towards believers and non-believers alike, I think this conflation of Roman Catholicism and Evangelical Christianity can further obscure the differences between our respective belief systems to the outside world. I don’t think this is a good thing.

We have to face facts, the root issues which sparked the Reformation are still alive and well … the differences between Roman Catholic and Protestant Evangelical theology have not been resolved. As was clarified in the Reformation, Protestant Evangelicals hold that:

  • The Bible alone is authoritative in matters of the faith, it is the inspired Word of God and is in itself clear (Sola Scriptura).
  • Justification (being made right before God) comes though faith alone, apart from any and all works performed by man (Sola Fide).
  • Salvation is given by God’s grace alone based on the sacrificial work of Christ, it is in every way an undeserved gift (Sola Gratia).
  • Glory is to be given to God alone because every aspect of our salvation is accomplished by him (Soli Deo Gloria).
  • Christ alone is the mediator between man and God and salvation us found through no other (Solus Christus).

On these points, Catholics and Evangelicals simply cannot not agree. So, given that at these most essential levels – including salvation itself – we disagree, why would we try to paint ourselves as a unified body to the outside world?

Can we work together on social issues? Of course! But I am not sure how declaring we are united with respect to the gospel helps things. To quote the declaration: “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. May God help us not to fail in that duty.”

To that I can’t disagree … but mustn’t we be clear about what gospel we are proclaiming?

  • And Jesus adds (in Mt. 7:24-27) that the wise one is not simply the one who hears Jesus’ words, but the one who does them. It is the fool who hears Jesus’ words but does not do them.