In November 2009 a group of 150 Evangelicals, Catholics, Orthodox and a few Mormons got together and signed a document called the Manhattan Declaration (MD). It was drafted by Chuck Colson, Timothy George and Robert George. Just recently, the number of people that have signed the MD passed 500,000. On the surface this document says nothing about doctrine and appears as a purely moral piece. The MD website explains the purpose of the document:
It is important to understand that the Manhattan Declaration is a call of Christian Conscience. It speaks to the church just as much as it speaks to the larger culture. In fact it is a clarion call to the church to take a stand on three vital issues: The sanctity of life, the dignity of marriage as the union of one man and one woman, and religious liberty.
Some of the big names, among evangelicals, that signed the document were Ravi Zacharias, Randy Alcorn, Josh McDowell, Steve Brown, Erwin W. Lutzer, Joe Stowell, Chuck Swindoll, James Dobson, Tom Oden, J. I. Packer, Cornelius Plantinga, Tim Keller, Richard J. Mouw, Albert Mohler, along with lots of Orthodox and Roman Catholic leaders who have pompous titles like: His Grace, The Right Reverend Bishop Basil Essey and His Eminence Adam Cardinal Maida. The document they signed states:
We are Christians who have joined together across historic lines of ecclesial differences to affirm our right—and, more importantly, to embrace our obligation—to speak and act in defense of these truths. We pledge to each other, and to our fellow believers, that no power on earth, be it cultural or political, will intimidate us into silence or acquiescence. It is our duty to proclaim the Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in its fullness, both in season and out of season. May God help us not to fail in that duty.
There where, however, prominent evangelical leaders who were invited to sign the document but did not. One was Alistair Begg, who wrote this statement in a letter to Chuck Colson explaining why he didn't sign the document:
"Thank you for sending me the amended document. I care deeply about these issues, but I cannot in conscience sign on with those with whom I have fundamental disagreements on the nature of the Gospel. (I just re-read Calvin in the Institutes, Book IV, section 18.)"
Alistair then went on to explain in his article what he sees as some of the dangers of the Manhattan Deceleration:
"This particular section of Calvin’s Institutes provides us with his response to the Roman Catholic doctrine of the mass. It was maintained at the meeting in New York that this document was not to be viewed as a product of ECT (Evangelicals and Catholics Together). However, in light of the evangelical leadership behind the declaration, it is hard not to take into consideration the most recent ECT paper on 'The Blessed Virgin Mary in Christian Life and Faith.' In examining the place of Mary, the writers 'acknowledge the primary authority of Holy Scripture.' This at least gives the impression of a concession to Roman Catholicism. Protestant theology affirms the sole authority of Scripture. Sadly contemporary evangelicalism seems little concerned with the solas of The Reformation and is therefore susceptible to initiative."
Alistair's link between MD and the document ECT is insightful. ECT was a document that was originally drafted in 1994 and then reaffirmed by the 1997 document The Gift of Salvation. The documents claim that Catholics and Evangelicals actually agree on the gospel and basically states that the Reformation was just one big misunderstanding. The document itself is extremely vague in its language and stays away from the solas of the Reformation. The drafting committee for the second ECT document included Charles Colson, Richard Mouw, Timothy George, Tom Oden and J. I. Packer. This information can be found in R. C. Sproul's book about ECT called Getting The Gospel Right. It's hard not to view the MD as a product of ECT since it was drafted by the same people and has been signed by the same people.
There are two ways documents like this are leading evangelicals astray.
1. When Evangelical leaders link arms with groups like the Roman Catholics and say together: "It is our duty to proclaim the Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in its fullness, both in season and out of season. May God help us not to fail in that duty." Christians are left to think that their Evangelical leaders agree on the gospel with the Roman Catholics. All the while, the Roman Catholic Church has never repealed official Church decrees like The Council of Trent which declares that all who are outside the Church of Rome are headed for Hell. Evangelicals are then led to think that all the Roman Catholics, Greek Orthodox and Mormons they know are saved and don't need to be evangelized. The confusion about the nature of the gospel is not worth any political battle no matter how big.
2. Making politics more important than the gospel.
Even if those signing the document did not believe that they have come to an agreement with the Catholics on the nature of the gospel, which I suspect is the reason why Chuck and the boys were trying to separate the MD from ECT, they are still saying that their method of changing the culture is by politics not revival. The MD states:
Sadly, we are today far from having a thriving marriage culture. But if we are to begin the critically important process of reforming our laws and mores to rebuild such a culture, the last thing we can afford to do is to re-define marriage in such a way as to embody in our laws a false proclamation about what marriage is.The big question we have to ask is "has that ever worked before?" Has an entire society ever come back to God because of the laws that were enforced? Look at the example of the Judges or the kings of Judah in the Old Testament, while leaders can bring about victories and a new rule of God inspired law it, does not ensure a transformed culture. The church has been given the great commission by the Lord Jesus. When He was about to ascend into Heaven, He said to His disciples: “'All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.' Amen." - Matthew 28:18-20. He didn't say "go therefore and transform the culture" or "go therefore and win elections" or "go therefore and lobby," He said "Go into all the world and preach the gospel." - Mark 16:15.
The ironic thing is that in their attempt to keep their liberty of being able to preach the gospel, these Evangelical leaders have actually given up their liberty to preach the gospel. There is no liberty to preach the gospel at a meeting full of the people who signed the MD document for fear of offending someone.