the Manhattan Declaration; to Sign or Not to Sign (Part 1)

By Mike Henderson

In light of the recent document entitled the Manhattan Declaration, which was drafted primarily by some high profile Evangelicals, what should Evangelicals’ involvement in social issues look like and how do we go about accomplishing this? As of first importance a single question must be addressed:

What is the Gospel?

The answer to this question defines what Christianity is, what it truly means to be a Christian, and by definition an Evangelical. I raise this question for two reasons. First , it must continually be raised by each and every generation of those who have been, by God the Father’s grace, called out of the world system in which we lay dead spiritually, and into the Kingdom of Christ through newness of life. Second, an understanding of what the gospel is will profoundly shape our involvement in our society. So the game plan is that today, before I address the content of the Manhattan Declaration I’ll answer that which is of “first importance,” (1 Cor 15:1-3) what is the Gospel?

First, a simple definition of the Gospel is God’s good news. God has good news for mankind and the question, then, we are seeking to answer is what is the good news God has for mankind. This begins with understanding who the Bible says God is. There is but one living and true God (Dt 6:4; Is 45:5–7; 1Co 8:4), an infinite, all-knowing Spirit (Jn 4:24), perfect in all His attributes, one in essence, eternally existing in three Persons—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Mt 28:19; 2Co 13:14)—each equally deserving worship and obedience. Next we must understand who the Bible says we are.

Man was directly and immediately created by God in His image and likeness. Man was created free of sin with a rational nature, intelligence, volition, self-determination, and moral responsibility to God (Ge 2:7, 15–25; Jas 3:9).

God’s intention in the creation of man was that man should glorify God, enjoy God’s fellowship, live his life in the will of God, and by this accomplish God’s purpose for man in the world (Is 43:7; Col 1:16; Rev 4:11).

But in Adam’s sin of disobedience to the revealed will and Word of God, man lost his innocence; incurred the penalty of spiritual and physical death; became subject to the wrath of God; and became inherently corrupt and utterly incapable of choosing or doing that which is acceptable to God apart from divine grace. With no recuperative powers to enable him to recover himself, man is hopelessly lost. Man’s salvation is thereby wholly of God’s grace through the redemptive work of our Lord Jesus Christ (Ge 2:16, 17; 3:1–19; Jn 3:36; Ro 3:23; 6:23; 1Co 2:14; Eph 2:1–3; 1Ti 2:13, 14; 1Jn 1:8).

Because all men were in Adam, a nature corrupted by Adam’s sin has been transmitted to all men of all ages, Jesus Christ being the only exception. All men are thus sinners by nature, by choice, and by divine declaration (Ps 14:1–3; Jer 17:9; Ro 3:9–18, 23; 5:10–12).

In summary, God is holy, righteous, just, kind, loving, good, generous, and awesome. Man was created to experience Him having been created in His image in a perfect universe to image forth God’s glory in the world through delight in Him and joyful obedience to Him. However mankind, being represented by Adam, rebelled against God’s purpose and thereby incurred the righteous judgments of God being physical death, and spiritual death experienced under the hateful and terrible wrath of God for eternity in Hell. In Adam’s sin (rebellion) we are declared guilty with him, and have inherited a corrupted nature. By choice, nature, and divine declaration we are sinners and therefore hopelessly lost under God’s wrath.

Now in the midst of this pitch black reality the light of the Gospel, the good news of God to mankind, shines out through the darkness like a blazing star. The Bible teaches that salvation is wholly of God by grace on the basis of the redemption of Jesus Christ, the merit of His shed blood, and not on the basis of human merit or works (Jn 1:12; Eph 1:4–7; 2:8–10; 1Pe 1:18, 19). In the act of Jesus Christ dieing on the cross God’s wrath toward those sinners who believe has been satisfied. Justification before God is an act of God (Ro 8:30, 33) by which He declares righteous those who, through faith in Christ, repent of their sins (Lk 13:3; Ac 2:38; 3:19; 11:18; Ro 2:4; 2Co 7:10; Is 55:6, 7) and confess Him as sovereign Lord (Ro 10:9, 10; 1Co 12:3; 2Co 4:5; Php 2:11). This righteousness is apart from any virtue or work of man (Ro 3:20; 4:6) and involves the placing of our sins on Christ (Col 2:14; 1Pe 2:24) and the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to us (1Co 1:2, 30; 6:11; 2Co 5:21). By this means God is enabled to “be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Ro 3:26). In summary Christ lived the life we couldn’t live but that God requires us to live and received the wrath of God that those individual sinners who believe in Christ have incurred against themselves so that the righteousness of Christ may be given to us. Therefore God no longer sees the sinner for whom Christ took their wrath, but He now sees His holy Son’s righteousness as it was imputed(applied) to my life. This all is applied to that sinner By Grace alone through Faith alone(Eph 2:8-9).

So the good news of God is that we hopelessly lost sinners are being saved by grace alone through faith alone, apart from any works of our own, because of the sacrificial death of the perfect, sinless Son of God on behalf of all who would believe in Him! Only those of whom this grace reality is true are Christians. This is of first importance for we Christians to diligently work at making known to all peoples (1 Cor 15:1-3; Mat 28:18-20).

Now to the Manhattan Declaration, and why the above is so important to understand in light of the language of the Declaration. Only those whom the above is true of, by loving adherence and devotion, are Christians, with supreme emphasis on by grace alone through faith alone… not of works so that no man can boast(Eph 2:8-9; Titus 3:3-7). The Declaration signed by individual leaders in their respective religions, nowhere makes this distinction between Orthodox, Catholic, and Evangelicals, sadly it includes them,

We, as Orthodox, Catholic, and Evangelical Christians…”, “ While the whole scope of Christian moral      concern…we are especially troubled that in our nation today…”, “ we are compelled by our Christian faith…”

Most problematic and alarming to me is the  statement concluding the section titled “Declaration”, from which all above quotes are taken in order of appearance;

“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. May God help us not to fail in that duty.”

If I could, I would like to end at this point, and resume my thoughts concerning this statement in the next post. But I must leave you with this admonition, please consider heavily the implications of this statement in light of the Biblical definition we put forth for the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. Then I would encourage you to do your homework on what the Orthodox definition and the Catholic definition of the Gospel is. That is what we will discuss in brief next time, and then we will dive into the implications of the Manhattan Declaration.

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