With nearly 300,000 citizens added to the original 189 signatories of the Manhattan Declaration, of which I was privileged to be one, opposition from the “outside” is not only natural but expected. Taking even reasoned, compassionate and principled stands of the sanctity of life, definition and integrity of marriage and vitality of religious freedom are throwing red meat before the pit bulls of the media, political, academic and even religious elite.
It is the “in house” opposition I would like to speak to, recognizing my very humble standing to do so.
I would like to specifically address concerns and opposition expressed by some evangelicals, Dr. John MacArthur in particular, who have given seemingly legitimate and theologically based reasons for opposing the Declaration. A necessary disclaimer is that I am not nor ever will be in the same league of biblical training, education or proclamation as Dr. MacArthur. He is one of the truly outstanding biblical scholars of our day.
MacArthur’s primary objection is that “The Gospel is barely mentioned in the Declaration.” He is also opposed because, “Thus for the sake of issuing a manifesto decrying certain moral and political issues, the Declaration obscures both the importance of the Gospel and the very substance of the Gospel message.”
I must state why I believe he has missed the point of the Declaration, although at least he is consistent with the fact that he also believes that the Declaration of Independence was a violation of biblical principles of authority. I won’t digress on that other than to assert that there is no rational defense of that position, biblical or historical, unless a person grants absolute authority to civil rulers and institutions in clear violation of sound biblical interpretation.
With the current Declaration, however, I believe the issue is simple. It was based on a Christian worldview but was not designed or purposed to be an evangelistic document any more than was the Magna Carta, Lex Rex, the 1689 English Bill of Rights, etc.
I reject Catholic and Orthodox doctrines that place church ecclesiastical authority equal to that of Scripture, the elevation of Mary beyond that of one who was clearly a virgin favored by God to give birth and nurture His Son and our Savior Jesus Christ, as well as salvation by anything other than by faith in Christ, through grace alone. I am a “Sola” supporter.
However, time and time again over the past 20 years I have stood side by side with Catholics – and Mormons – who shamed the evangelical church by the level to which they put their money and their time where their faith is in standing for life and marriage. According to a California Proposition 8 insider, over three-fourths of the money and volunteers for that effort came from those two religious groups – again.
This was in spite of many mega-churches in California flowing with money and manpower.
I do not and will not assert that I agree with the doctrines of the Catholic or Orthodox churches any more than I agree with all the doctrines of the Assemblies of God, Southern Baptist Convention, Presbyterian, Anglican, Methodist, Episcopalian and over 20,000 other denominations in the United States. There are men much more learned than I debating and dividing us well enough at that level. I do know, however, that there are true, sincere and passionate followers of Christ in every one of those of which I am familiar. There are also many who are not believers in those same denominations, including some of the clergy.
As Dr. Rick Scarborough of Vision America replied tongue-in-cheek when once accused by the media of trying to drive the “infidels” out of Pearland, Texas, “I haven’t even driven them all out of my church yet!”
I can speak with the authority of a quarter century experience in the pro-life, pro-family evangelical grass-roots and “grass-tops” trenches that I don’t know one Christian activist or leader I have ever interacted with who did not believe, as Dr. D. James Kennedy asserted, “There is no reformation without redemption”; that a personal relationship with Jesus Christ is the starting point for all personal and corporate renewal.
The tragic truth is that if the Christian church in this country were actually carrying out the Great Commission in the form of the early church, from Apostles to martyrs through the ages (including many Catholic priests and missionaries, by the way), our nation would be spiritually, morally, culturally and politically reflective of the righteous fruits of the Spirit. We are clearly not.
I would concur heartily with Dr. MacArthur that the above has always been and must be the first order of business for the institution of the church – but not the only business. Using his logic, the early church should have left the unwanted babies to die in the fields, the Reformers should have stayed silent against heresy, and men like Wilberforce were out of line fighting for the dignity and freedom of the slaves.
The Manhattan Declaration is a statement of common faith and First Principles by individuals, not by institutions, and I challenge John MacArthur to personally prove that any or all of the signers are not followers of Jesus Christ. I don’t believe he is that arrogant.
I am thankful beyond measure that clergy like MacArthur were outnumbered by the “Black Regiment” of patriot pastors not only of our founding era but through the ages. His position of disengagement against tyrants, perpetrators of injustice and amoral agents bent on destroying God’s created order, is, I humbly assert, a denial of the full Gospel that redeems everything a true believer touches.
I have signed, I will stand, I will contend, and if necessary I will die. When evangelicals in general and specifically the pastors of the nation step up and exhibit the same commitment as those we often criticize, we may prayerfully turn the spiritual, moral, cultural and political tides in our country.