A Reader Misses My Point on the Manhattan Declaration

I take it you are distancing yourself from the Nicene creed since you know the “One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church” of the creed has a different meaning to Catholic and Orthodox, than to Protestant denominations?

Will you distance yourself from the bible also, since Catholic and Orthodox sign off on it? If I can get a Catholic to sign off on the 1689 confession, can I get you to withdraw from it too?

Hello John, thanks for writing.

There is a fundamental flaw in your thinking on this topic, both in your basic logic as well as your understanding of my own stated position. Hopefully by correcting your logical errors others will be able to see more clearly, along with yourself, the real issue in the Manhattan Declaration.

There are real and historic differences in understanding the nature of the “one holy Catholic church,” and there is no question whatsoever that the church of Nicea did not hold to the distinctives of most of the modern groups. But trying to parallel the Nicene statement with a modern statement is obviously fallacious: the Manhattan Declaration is written in the context of full knowledge of the issues that divide us. The Nicene Creed does not come from the same context, and hence is not relevant. Further, the issue at hand, that being the gospel itself, is not defined by the Nicene Creed (hence the emptiness of attempting to base any kind of meaningful unity merely upon the Nicene symbol: it is insufficient for the task from a biblical perspective).

But much more glaring is the obvious error of referring to the Bible. What does it mean that Rome and Eastern Orthodoxy “sign off” on it? Both vociferously deny the doctrine of sola scriptura, do they not? So the reality is that neither submit to it as the final authority from God, but both, in differing ways, detract from its authority through subjecting it to external authorities.

You seem to have confused my concern over the gutting of the gospel with some kind of “I don’t want anything to do with those folks” simplistic attitude of a back-woods fundamentalist. This is seen in your comment about getting a Catholic to “sign off” on the London Baptist Confession of 1689, another highly illogical offering. A Catholic who “signs off” on the 1689 is, obviously, no longer a Roman Catholic. It is impossible for a Roman Catholic to agree to the teachings of the LBCF and remain in communion with Rome. Its teachings are directly and inalterably contradictory to Roman Catholicism.

So none of your examples were, in fact, relevant to the situation we face today, where men, fully knowing the fundamental differences in the proclamation of the gospel message between Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, and at least the Reformed churches (many “Protestants” are merely popeless Catholics theologically speaking), are seeking to present a “Mere Christianity” that seeks to create a unity based upon a gospel-less Trinitarianism. Christianity is fully and richly Trinitarian. But so is the gospel, and the Christian faith ceases to exist without the gospel at its core. The “Mere Christianity” of Frank Beckwith and Dinesh D’Souza and Timothy George and Chuck Colson is sub-Christian, for it lacks the very animating element of the faith, that being the gospel, the very thing the Trinity does in self-glorification, that which ties together the whole reason for creation! By pushing the gospel outside the definition of the faith (which clearly men like Timothy George do, for he embraces non-compromising Roman Catholics as fellow believers in Christ) these “Mere Christianity” proponents give to the world a new religion that has only the most external connections to the biblical faith found in the Scriptures. As Jesus told us long ago, the one who loses his life for Christ’s sake and the gospel’s is His true disciple. Today men want to separate out that troubling, controversial “gospel” for the sake of a philosophically driven unity. No believer who takes the Scriptures as his or her final authority can join in such a movement.

So, John, my concern is about those who are trying to replace the centrality of the gospel with a salvationless Trinitarianism that is not just sub-biblical, it is blatantly anti-biblical. I cannot get past the fact that a plain reading of the text of the Manhattan Declaration (a reading drawn from the worldview of the three main authors) indicates that it promotes the idea that all three groups possess the gospel, which they are to preach in its fulness (despite the fact that this means they are to preach contradictory messages). I know some fine men signed the document, and they insist it has nothing to do with the gospel, but words have meanings, and the authors of the document have made it painfully clear that it is, in fact, a theological statement, a veritable catechism of the Christian faith, according to Chuck Colson. I hope this helps to clarify things for you.