the Manhattan Declaration; to Sign or Not (Part 3)

BY Mike Henderson

Last Time I asked the question, is drafting an ecumenical (proposed unity with so-called Christians, ie. Romans and Orthodox) document the proper way the church should engage our society in light of all we discussed about the gospel. My answer was no and I suggested that a proper understanding of who we are as the church of Christ would actually influence every practical decision we take in engaging our society with the gospel. So then I have to ask you, what is the Church? Now I am going to attempt to answer this for you. First a simple definition (because I love simple definitions) is to look at the word translated to church in the New Testament. Ekklēsia, it means the called out ones, or an assembly of God’s people. Now, here we come to a subsequent question that must be answered, what are we called out for? Answering these two questions will unlock to us a treasure chest of practical wisdom for profoundly engaging the culture we live in for the glory of God in the cross of Christ.

Now, briefly, before I answer what the church is I must say that the issues raised by the Manhattan Declaration are huge issues. Abortion, homosexuals marrying, and religious freedom are huge issues. I understand this and I have strong feelings about all of these things, but I do not agree at all with the method the drafters and signers of the Manhattan Declaration have submitted to us and the unbelieving world. And my disagreement lies in a belief that who we are as the church is completely incompatible with this ecumenical approach. So then what is the church? 1 Peter 2:9-10 says,

But you are A CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR {God’s} OWN POSSESSION, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; for you once were NOT A PEOPLE, but now you are THE PEOPLE OF GOD; you had NOT RECEIVED MERCY, but now you have RECEIVED MERCY.

We are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession Titus 2:14 says this same thing, we have been redeemed so that He may purify a people for His own possession. We have been set apart from the world and the reason for this is the proclamation of the excellencies of Him who has called us out of darkness and into His marvelous light. We are the people of God who before did not have mercy but now do. We have been reconciled! This is the gospel proclamation, the message of the reconciliation of sinners to God. We are a redeemed people, a race ,a priesthood, a nation. This was firmly established in previous posts, but in scripture it is impossible to get away from, the gospel is of first importance (1 Cor. 15:1-3). So in summary we are called out to proclaim His excellencies which begins with the gospel.
Having firmly established the gospel as the primary message and reason of the church Peter then says in v.v. 11-12,
Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul. Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe {them,} glorify God in the day of visitation.
And Titus 2:14 ends the same way, a people zealous for good deeds. Here’s how we address the “issues” of the day, we are to be zealous for doing what is righteous, and what is righteous is not keeping “traditional marriage,” making abortion illegal, and fighting for religious freedom because those things in and of themselves are not righteous, righteousness is being right with God, and none of these issues makes one right with God. Notice how the good deeds are subsequent to the gospel proclamation. Therefore it is a worthless cause to champion the issues apart from why we stand for them which is exactly the most serious flaw of the Manhattan Declaration. You see, I hate abortion because God hates abortion, but what is most important is why I care about what God hates! It is because I have been reconciled to Him through the gospel! The same goes for the rest of the issues, or every issue for that matter. And let us take note that even if these matters are lost to us who oppose them, the church is not lost, for Christ said He is building His church and not even death can overcome it(Matt. 16:18) so we never really lose as long as we do not lose sight of who we are.
In closing I want to say I would never vote for any piece of legislation, or for any legislator who opposes the things of God. Not because of some inherent morality of such things, but so that I can be one who proclaims why I hate such abhorrent deviations from the things of God. I hate the things God hate because having not had mercy, I have now received mercy and therefore want to abstain from fleshly lusts and keep my behavior excellent among unbelievers so when the Holy Spirit comes upon a person they may glorify God!

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