Why I Can't Sign the Manhattan Declaration


Recently, a group of evangelicals, Roman Catholics, and Orthodox folks came together and drafted what has been called the “Manhattan Declaration”. In it, these leaders pledge to stand together and refuse to accommodate themselves, or the religious institutions they represent, to the encroachment of pagan society with regard to human life issues, issues of the fundamental definition of marriage, and issues of religious liberty. In short, there is much to agree with in this document, and a number of folks whom I deeply respect have chosen to add their names as signatories to the document. Charles Colson, whom I admirea dn respect deeply, but who seems committed to these types of ecumenical, gloss-over-the-issues types of things, spearheaded this one. Christian pastors are being called on to sign; indeed, any Christian can “sign on”.

I won’t.

In a nutshell, this document glosses over the gospel. And the gospel cannot be compromised for anything. Not for anything. Because if we don’t have the gospel, we got nothing. Zero. Bupkus. At several points, the document lumps together all of the above group under the name “Christians”. Granted, in one sense of the word, that is true–just as in some sense of the word, we could use that term to refer to pseudo-Christian cults like the Mormons and the Jehovah’s Witnesses. At other points, it uses terminology such as “proclaim(ing) the Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in its fullness, both in season and out of season”, and suggests that this is our common mission.

The problem ought to be obvious: while I am certainly sympathetic with the overall gist of the document (apart from the issue of the gospel), I cannot agree that I share a common mission with Rome, for instance. I’m not “doing the same thing”. My goals, my mission, my preaching, my teaching, my life is not devoted to a “gospel” which is no gospel, which glosses over the fundamental differences that divide these branches of “Christendom”. The gospel is the issue–and rather than linking arms with Roman Catholics as brothers/sisters in Christ (though on a different basis, we could stand together); rather than smoothing over the unsmoothable differences in our beliefs, it is incumbent upon me to stand first and foremost for the gospel.

Now, when it comes to the particular social actions advocated by this document, I would find myself in substantial, if not total, agreement with its aims. But I refuse to act as if the Reformation didn’t matter; I refuse to compromise sola fide; I refuse to embrace any “greater good” than the specifics of the gospel–because without its specifics, we have no good. And I thus refuse to sign the Manhattan Declaration.

Just to give you a little more food for thought, here are two respected Christian bloggers who have written on the subject:

Tim Challies on The Manhattan Declaration

Pyromaniac’s Dan Phillips on Nineteen Questions for Signers of “The Manhattan Declaration”

And here, further, are the responses of John MacArthur and Alistair Begg.


  1. Don on November 30, 2009 at 11:29 pm

    Albert Mohler has a different take on this. On his blog he explains Why I Signed The Manhattan Declaration:

    I believe we are facing an inevitable and culture-determining decision on the three issues centrally identified in this statement. I also believe that we will experience a significant loss of Christian churches, denominations, and institutions in this process. There is every good reason to believe that the freedom to conduct Christian ministry according to Christian conviction is being subverted and denied before our eyes. I believe that the sanctity of human life, the integrity of marriage, and religious liberty are very much in danger at this very moment.

    I signed “The Manhattan Declaration” because it is a limited statement of Christian conviction on these three crucial issues, and not a wide-ranging theological document that subverts confessional integrity. I cannot and do not sign documents such as “Evangelicals and Catholics Together” that attempt to establish common ground on vast theological terrain. I could not sign a statement that purports, for example, to bridge the divide between Roman Catholics and evangelicals on the doctrine of justification. “The Manhattan Declaration” is not a manifesto for united action. It is a statement of urgent concern and common conscience on these three issues — the sanctity of human life, the integrity of marriage, and the defense of religious liberty.

    • Byron on December 1, 2009 at 7:28 pm

      @Don: Yes he does, and I’d read that, and I greatly respect Dr. Mohler, as you probably know, as I also respect many others who signed the document–and their signing doesn’t change that. I’m just not sure I see much difference between this and ECT, at least in spirit. I believe that the fatal flaw in this document is singular and simple: if some term such as “religious leaders”, or what-have-you, had been used, rather than wording which suggests in more than one place that we are all brothers in Christ, I’d put my name on it.

  2. Graham on March 14, 2010 at 8:00 am

    Yesterday, myself and 2500 other evangelicals were in London for the London Men’s Convention & London Women’s Convention. (These are normally two separate events, but this year they were combined).

    The first speaker was Tim Keller of Redeemer Presbyterian Church, Manhattan.

    As a group of us were going from Custom House train station to the ExCel Centre for the event, there was a man asking people if they were going to the event and giving them leaflets. These outlined that the Manhattan Declaration was heretical (it’s all about putting Mr Ratzinger, aka Antichrist, in charge of the Protestant churches), that Mr Keller was a heretic for signing it, that the organisers and other speakers were endorsing Mr Keller’s heresy by inviting him/sharing a platform with him etc…

    • Byron on March 15, 2010 at 8:54 am

      That’s way, way overkill, of course. There are many good men who chose to sign it, and I understand their reasons. I could not, for reasons I’ve outlined, but to call people who signed “heretics” is to be guilty of the same kind of thing, IMHO, that Americans for Truth is doing–smear campaigns that take no prisoners in attempting to root out “compromise”…as they perceive it.

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