Alpha & Omega Ministries Apologetics Blog
The Manhattan Declaration Examined: PRBC 11/29/2009
11/30/2009 - James White
Further Thoughts on the Manhattan Declaration and a Response to Frank Beckwith
11/25/2009 - James White
I returned from a very enjoyable jaunt up and down South Mountain with my wife (on bicycles, of course) to discover that Southern Seminary President Albert Mohler had tweeted a link to my comments on the Manhattan Declaration. I am very thankful Dr. Mohler felt them worthy of notice. I said recently Dr. Mohler is the smartest Southern Baptist alive, and I gain much from listening to his podcasts (again while slowly cranking along on my quest to finish my second trip around the earth at the equator---only 2800 miles away now!).
Of course, one of the main questions I have received since posting my thoughts (and referring to those of John MacArthur) has to do with Dr. Mohler's defense of his signing the document. It has never been my intention to excite that spectrum of folks who exist on the fringes of meaningful apologetics who are constantly looking for a new conflict, a new battle. Yes, I had read Dr. Mohler's comments on why he signed the document prior to writing my article. I appreciate his position, but I beg to differ. I am thankful Dr. Mohler does not view the document as a theological manifesto requiring him to abandon a biblical view of the gospel. But as I and others have pointed out, it is difficult, if not impossible, to speak of what Christians should do, and in fact, must do, in the face of an ever increasingly hostile secularism, without doing so in the context of the gospel itself. In other words, a Christian who believes in the God-centeredness of the gospel of grace will respond differently to secularism than one who embraces a much more man-centered, works-oriented "gospel." And given the long history of Rome's violation of biblical teachings regarding the gospel (not just on the matter of sola fide, but the entire complex of doctrines that forms Rome's sacramental system, including its rejection of sola scriptura, its sacerdotal priesthood, and its perfection-denying doctrine of the Mass as a propitiatory sacrifice), I, and others, find it impossible to speak in unison with a Church that claims to define "Church," embody "Church," all the while perverting the gospel of Christ. Our social duties are not separate from the gospel. They are defined by it. Now I accept that Dr. Mohler honestly believes the following words are true, and as a result, signed the document:
My beliefs concerning the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox churches have not changed. The Roman Catholic Church teaches doctrines that I find both unbiblical and abhorrent — and these doctrines define nothing less than the Gospel of Jesus Christ. But The Manhattan Declaration does not attempt to establish common ground on these doctrines. We remain who we are, and we concede no doctrinal ground.
I agree that the document does not, explicitly, seek "to establish common ground on these doctrines." But that is part of the problem. Since it seeks to speak for the "Christian tradition," by isolating the gospel and the distinctives that separate biblical believers from the "traditions" of "Christianity," the document asserts that we as "Christians" can "stand" together apart from the very divine truths that create the only kind of lasting unity and power the Church has ever known. That was my primary concern, one shared by Dr. MacArthur. Yes, I am glad when a Roman Catholic says "Abortion is wrong," but why does the Roman Catholic say that? What is the theological grounding of his objection to abortion? And what is the believer to do when faced with the next question, "Now what?" Will the Roman Catholic offer the same positive solution to abortion that the biblical believer will? Isn't the issue of how one views life fundamentally an issue of the heart? And what power changes the heart? Rome's gospel? Priests and sacraments, never-ending Masses and confessionals and purgatory and indulgences? Surely not.
I understand Dr. Mohler's statement, "At the end of the day, I did not want my name missing from that list when folks look to see just who was willing to be listed." Dr. Mohler, believe me, sir, no one with a scintilla of common sense will be questioning where you were in the battle for righteousness. I fully understand the desire to stand against the hypocritical forces of secularism that are seeking to undermine everything that is good and godly in our society to the life-destroying detriment of all. For the moment I will leave aside the question of how much of this is simply God's wrath coming upon a very deserving nation. But I just have to wonder if there will not be a time, if the Lord tarries, when, as in the days of Athanasius, or the days of Wyclif, Luther, Spurgeon, Machen, etc., our children's children will look back and ask, "Who stood clearly for the gospel once for all delivered to the saints in those dark days of compromise when so many were willing to remove it from being definitional of the faith?" I want my name to be on the list of those who despite all the pressures and incentives stood firmly and clearly apart, not ignoring the cultural issues by so doing, but seeking instead to stand firm for the truth in those areas because of the gospel, not in spite of it....
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The Troubling Aspects of the Manhattan Declaration
11/23/2009 - James White
Because we honor justice and the common good, we will not comply with any edict that purports to compel our institutions to participate in abortions, embryodestructive research, assisted suicide and euthanasia, or any other antilife act; nor will we bend to any rule purporting to force us to bless immoral sexual partnerships, treat them as marriages or the equivalent, or refrain from proclaiming the truth, as we know it, about morality and immorality and marriage and the family. We will fully and ungrudgingly render to Caesar what is Caesar’s. But under no circumstances will we render to Caesar what is God’s.
These words conclude the Manhattan Declaration, promulgated November 20, 2009. There is much in this document that any serious-minded Christian not only can agree with, but simply must agree with. There is no question that the forces of secularism are moving quickly, under the guise of "social advancement" and "equal rights," to attack, denigrate, and, in their highest hopes and aspirations, relegate the Christian worldview to the trash heap of history. Evil men, and women, hold positions of power in Western societies, and since it is inevitably true that the Christian witness enrages those who love the darkness (John 7:7), they are doing all they can to subvert and silence that witness which so exposes their consciences. The general statements of the document relating to life, abortion, marriage, sexuality, and religious liberty, are well stated and timely. There is something reassuring in realizing that the concerns we have had are shared across a broad spectrum.
But there are a number of troubling things that I cannot get past in examining this document and considering its implications. When I see some of the leading ecumenists in the forefront of the documents' production, I am made uneasy, and for good reason. Great damage has been done to the cause of Christ by those who have sought to promote the Kingdom by compromising the gospel, the only power given to the church that can change hearts, and hence change societies. By relegating the gospel to a matter of opinion and difference, but not something that defines the Christian faith, these ecumenists have left their followers with a cause without power, a quest without a solution. And though their open-mindedness fits better with our current post-modern culture, from a biblical perspective, they have truly betrayed the apostolic example.
This document presents a Christianity ostensibly based upon bare Trinitarianism. I listened to Chuck Colson speak on the Hugh Hewitt program this afternoon. He made it very clear that this is, in fact, a theological document, despite the assertions of others that it is not. He was asked why Jews, Mormons, and others, were not invited to sign the document. He said they were not asked because this is a specifically Christian statement, quoting from the Christian scriptures. Once again we are led to the inevitable conclusion that "Christian" then is "Trinitarianism plus agreed upon historical truths such as the crucifixion and resurrection, but, most importantly, without any gospel content." It does no good to muddle this discussion with "Well, what about the medieval church" questions, since we are talking about a day and age when the issues are well known. We are not talking about a dark period of biblical ignorance. There is more light available today than ever before. And for many, the gospel is simply no longer part of the "non-negotiables."
But I am left confused by the inconsistency of the document. Mormons are not invited. Understandable, given that the LDS faith is the most polytheistic faith I've ever encountered. Trinitarians only need apply. I can fully understand that. So...why are we told toward the end of this Declaration that Martin Luther King, Jr., wrote from an explicitly Christian perspective? A brief visit to Martin Luther King's writings will reveal he was hardly orthodox even using the limited definition utilized by this Declaration. For example, writing in a paper while in seminary, Martin Luther King, Jr. said:
The orthodox attempt to explain the divinity of Jesus in terms of an inherent metaphysical substance within him seems to me quite inadaquate. To say that the Christ, whose example of living we are bid to follow, is divine in an ontological sense is actually harmful and detrimental. To invest this Christ with such supernatural qualities makes the rejoinder: "Oh, well, he had a better chance for that kind of life than we can possible have." In other words, one could easily use this as a means to hide behind behind his failures. So that the orthodox view of the divinity of Christ is in my mind quite readily denied.
So why put forth King as explicitly Christian, but not invite the Jehovah's Witnesses, who would "quite readily deny" the deity of Christ as well? Perhaps a document that identifies Papal actions as explicitly Christian actions can be excused for its inherent self-contradiction.
There is no question that all believers need to think seriously about the issues raised by this declaration. But what is the only solution to these issues? Is the solution to be found in presenting a unified front that implicitly says "the gospel does not unite us, but that is not important enough to divide us"? I do not think so. What is the only power given to the church to change hearts and minds? United political power? Or the gospel that is trampled under foot by every Roman Catholic priest when he "re-presents" the sacrifice of Christ upon the Roman altar, pretending to be a priest, an "alter Christus"? Am I glad when a Roman clergyman calls abortion murder? Of course. But it exhibits a real confusion, and not a small amount of cowardice, it seems, to stop identifying the man's false gospel and false teaching simply because you are glad to have a few more on the "right" side of a vitally important social issue.
This takes me back to my original response to the ECT document. I have seen so many re-organize their priorities in light of having made "common cause" with those who have a false gospel all in the name of doing social good. I am glad Rome retains elements of God's truth and morality. But when did being good or moral bring one salvation, as if anyone is ever truly good, or truly moral?
These are the matters that truly concern me about the Manhattan Declaration. Why does God have the right to determine human sexuality, marriage, and to define life itself? It all goes back to the gospel, does it not? If we are going to give a consistent, clear answer to our culture, we dare not find our power in a false unity that overshadows the gospel and cripples our witness.
More on Homosexual Uber-Rights
11/19/2009 - James White
I have been saying for years, homosexuals do not want equal rights. They want uber-rights. They want to silence anyone who would identify their sexual perversion as sin. Why? Romans 1 tells you. Suppressing the truth is tiring, and for the homosexual, it is a full-time job. They cannot silence their conscience, but they can try to silence anyone who would remind them of it. And so, they seek to force us, by rule of law, to honor, or admire, in the words of President Obama, their sin. Note this article from the UK:
Homosexual activists are lobbying to change the law hoping that, in the future, churches may be forced to host gay civil partnership services.
At present the gay lobby group Stonewall is seeking an amendment to the Equality Bill which will allow churches to host the services if they wish.
But Ben Summerskill, head of Stonewall, said: “Right now, faiths shouldn’t be forced to hold civil partnerships, although in ten or 20 years, that may change.”
Mr Summerskill said his organisation was working with the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement (LGCM) and the Metropolitan Community Church.
Rev Sharon Ferguson of the LGCM told Pink News, a gay news website, she wanted “equality” for civil partnerships and marriage.
This is why there is no protection at all in the addition of "free speech" protections in hate crimes laws, etc. We need to realize they are taking things one step at a time: get the law in place, then whittle away at the protections until you accomplish your goal. Do it slowly enough not to raise too loud an alarm, but never, ever give up. And given that these people define themselves by their deviancy, they will dedicate themselves each and every day to their task.