the Manhattan Declaration; to Sign or Not to Sign (Part 2)

By Mike Henderson

In my last post the biblical doctrine of sinners being justified before God by grace alone through faith alone was presented as “that which is of first importance” (1 Cor. 15:1-3). I then left you with a quotation from the Manhattan Declaration that most concerned me and also challenged you to do your homework on the Roman and Orthodox definitions of justification, and said we would discuss these doctrines in short. In summary, the Roman Catholics define justification as the “process of justification” as canonized at the Council of Trent in 1547. This process begins with faith that the justification of God in the Bible is true, then one must be genuinely sorry for all sins and resolve to begin a new life by receiving “holy baptism” and “observing the commandments of God”. This process is brought to a close by water baptism,

“inasmuch as by the grace of this sacrament the catechumen is freed from sin (original and personal) and its punishments, and is made a child of God. The same process of justification is repeated in those who by mortal sin have lost their baptismal innocence; with this modification, however, that the Sacrament of Penance replaces baptism.”

The council concludes that faith alone cannot justify any man but “good works of Charity” must proceed justification (please visit the cited source and read the explanation there). This is simply incompatible with what Paul teaches in Romans 4:1-5. The one who works only does what is due but the one who does not work but believes in God who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness.

As to the Orthodox definition of justification, in the Orthodox Study Bible, the commentary on Acts 10:35 states,

Justification is not merely a once-for-all event, but a dynamic, ongoing process. Two conditions are given here: God accepts whoever (1) fears Him and (2) works righteousness. This in no way denies justification by faith; by faith alone. And God supplies the grace necessary for us to fear Him and work righteousness.

Also another quote that is at the heart of the Orthodox teaching of justification says,

…there is nothing esoteric or extraordinary about the methods which we must follow in order to be deified [the equivalent of being saved which includes justification]. If someone asks “How can I become God?” the answer is very simple: go to church, receive the sacraments regularly, pray to God “in spirit and truth”, read the Gospels, follow the commandments (Ware, 236).

You may view this and more by clicking here. These beliefs also stand clearly in contradiction to Romans 4:1-5 and the whole of the Biblical definitions we established in the previous post. In fact there is something absolutely extraordinary about the Biblical definition of justification by grace alone through faith alone according to Christ’s merits alone. Nothing short of a miracle on behalf of God is required to reconcile sinners to Himself (Eph. 2:1-10).

Now all things considered, do these differences appear to be mere “ecclesiastic differences” as the drafters of the Manhattan Declaration purport. Consider something with me, there is one gospel, and it is the one given in the previous post, and this gospel is called the “the gospel of the glory of Christ who is the image of God… the glory of God in the face of Christ”(2 Cor 4:6-7), which is supremely important because we are under God’s wrath for falling short of His glory (Rom 3:23). Therefore if the glory of God necessary for a right relationship with God is contained in the gospel then we must preach a right gospel, and together with Paul and all the apostles affirm and declare Galatians 1:8-9 which says,

But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.

Why? Why is this necessary? Because this is the “Great Commission” of our Lord Jesus Christ, that men be reconciled to God. And we the Church, the called out ones, have been set apart from the world to be those by whom God’s salvation blessing comes to the world. Now to my biggest issue with this document (and I hope this criticism is obvious in light of all we have discussed), if there is no resolve for a clear definition of who the church is then how can men come to know God, because we are the ones who know God. We are the ones who are entrusted with bringing the good news of reconciliation with God by His grace alone through faith alone because of Christ’s merits alone. That is what we are to do, preach the Gospel! I don’t care if homosexuals can or can’t marry, if they don’t hear the gospel they’re going to hell! I don’t care if people can or can’t abort babies( which the thought of such a practice makes me want to weep bitterly!), if they don’t hear the gospel they’re going to hell! I don’t care if we have religious freedom if we blur the line of who is truly the Church of Christ, then no one hears the gospel and they’re going to hell! In the end, only the transforming power of God in men’s hearts through the gospel will change a society.

In closing I want to make clear my feelings about the signers of this document. I am aware that my language is strong here, I could not say it any other way for I truly feel the gospel is under attack by this document. But that does not mean I have any animosity toward many of the evangelical leaders who signed. My honest feelings, at first, as a young man in the faith were dismay and confusion. There are many who have signed the document whom I deeply respect and value their teaching and leadership, nevertheless I feel their decisions to sign were misguided and perhaps in some cases reactionary to a seemingly frightening political climate for people of faith in America. I simply am putting forth the question in light of the gospel, is drafting a document to be cosigned with apostate religions while making no distinction thereof but actually including them as fellow Christians the proper means for such a discussion. I say absolutely not, and the next part I will discuss what the church is and how we should behave within our democratic republic.

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