There has been a recent buzz in the air over the “Manhattan Declaration”. I am not one who jumps on band wagons nor signs pointless petitions. As is the case on facebook, I do not join groups that I agree with often because I see no point. To me most seem like shouting in the wind. The Manhattan declaration seems different though, many of the leaders both in the SBC and out of it have signed it and promoted it. One such leader is Dr. Albert Mohler who serves often as the voice of the Sothern Baptist Convention on most cultural issues. Though many have signed it, a few have come out against which led me today to both give my thoughts and opinion on the document.
The document is call for men of faith, both protestant and catholic to stand together on three culturally hot issues. (1.) Human Life (2.) Marriage (3.)Religious Liberty
Across the board I agree and affirm the necessity of the document and wholeheartedly affirm the statements on these issues. Unfortunately the documents treatment of religious words leaves me with a few caveats that I just don’t know if I can get past.
On Human life…
“We call on all officials in our country, elected and appointed, to protect and serve every member of our society, including the most marginalized, voiceless, and vulnerable among us.”
“A culture of death inevitably cheapens life in all its stages and conditions by promoting the belief that lives that are imperfect, immature or inconvenient are discardable.”
“We will be united and untiring in our efforts to roll back the license to kill that began with the abandonment of the unborn to abortion. We will work, as we have always worked, to bring assistance, comfort, and care to pregnant women in need and to those who have been victimized by abortion, even as we stand resolutely against the corrupt and degrading notion that it can somehow be in the best interests of women to submit to the deliberate killing of their unborn children. Our message is, and ever shall be, that the just, humane, and truly Christian answer to problem pregnancies is for all of us to love and care for mother and child alike.”
On the Sanctity of Marriage …
“Marriage then, is the first institution of human society—indeed it is the institution on which all other human institutions have their foundation.”
“We confess with sadness that Christians and our institutions have too often scandalously failed to uphold the institution of marriage and to model for the world the true meaning of marriage.”
“The impulse to redefine marriage in order to recognize same-sex and multiple partner relationships is a symptom, rather than the cause, of the erosion of the marriage culture.”
“We acknowledge that there are those who are disposed towards homosexual and polyamorous conduct and relationships, just as there are those who are disposed towards other forms of immoral conduct. We have compassion for those so disposed; we respect them as human beings possessing profound, inherent, and equal dignity; and we pay tribute to the men and women who strive, often with little assistance, to resist the temptation to yield to desires that they, no less than we, regard as wayward. We stand with them, even when they falter. We, no less than they, are sinners who have fallen short of God’s intention for our lives. We, no less than they, are in constant need of God’s patience, love and forgiveness. We call on the entire Christian community to resist sexual immorality, and at the same time refrain from disdainful condemnation of those who yield to it. Our rejection of sin, though resolute, must never become the rejection of sinners. For every sinner, regardless of the sin, is loved by God, who seeks not our destruction but rather the conversion of our hearts”
On religious liberty…
I have a just a small problem… the general way the document deals with these issues is that it asks the believer to give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and give to God what is God’s. On that I agree, but it also comes with the presumption of religious freedom as biblical… in fact is states “Thus the right to religious freedom has its foundation in the example of Christ Himself and in the very dignity of the human person created in the image of God—a dignity, as our founders proclaimed, inherent in every human, and knowable by all in the exercise of right reason.” I am grateful to live in a country where I exercise religious liberty, and am able to speak my opinion where I disagree with the government… but religious liberty has also bread spiritually lukewarm churches and church members who see political activism as the apex of Christian witness. Christ did not die for moralism, he did not die for political correctness, or freedom, he died for sin. We must be careful that we do not mix up Christian values with political values. Should believers stand up when matters of God intersect matters of the state, yes, but we must be willing to accept the consequences as well. A martyr speaks more than a protest sign.
On the gospel…
My true caveats with this document come in its definition of the gospel and Christians… In a desire to not offend any member of the Christ cantered religions, the document takes a very general definition of who a person of faith might be. In fact, the first mention of the word “gospel” in the document references the good news of the gospel as the social justice the church has been engaged in. “Like those who have gone before us in the faith, Christians today are called to proclaim the Gospel of costly grace, to protect the intrinsic dignity of the human person and to stand for the common good.”
The gospel is not a social gospel… the gospel only is the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The gospel certainly leads us to good works… but the core of the gospel must be redeemed hearts. The Manhattan declaration infers that the gospel is a works based salvation.
The declaration also does not define who are men and women of faith. It states “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.” In this there is no definition of grace or faith… the authors of the MD have dumbed down the gospel so that any person might be able to sign it.
As the document defines the gospel as the good works of the church in the preamble, so the document states that the gospel must be proclaimed in its fullness… As a believer I think the true gospel must be proclaimed in its fullness, but here as defined by the authors it is not the true gospel…
I stand with the authors in stating that life must be preserved, marriage must be protected, and we must give to God what is His and Caesar what is his. That said, I cannot support a document that undermines my core convictions. I cannot support a gospel that is not by grace through faith. I will gladly speak out, as I have, to my congregation about value of marriage and human life. I will gladly stand on truth when the world seems so different, but I cannot support a statement that cheapens faith.
As Christians we truly have missed the boat… we have lost our zeal to see hearts changed and because of that the ruler of this world has taken the throne of our culture. We have a choice… to continue to scream through political channels about our rights, or we can as we are called to do, see lives and hearts changed by the real gospel of Christ. If we place our energy and time into political channels we will continue to produce the same fruit that is now evident in our country today… Christians who see political activism as the apex of righteousness. If we place the same zeal that we have had for political activism back where it belongs in true evangelism, our nation will naturally turn back to God… you cannot legislate righteousness… the only way to true righteousness is through God changing hearts.