The Manhattan Declaration: A Statement from Ligon Duncan

Article by   December 2009
The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals has received a number of requests for comment upon the Manhattan Declaration, a recent public statement on the sanctity of life, marriage and sexuality, and religious liberty, signed by a number of leaders from the evangelical, Anglican, Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox traditions.

The Alliance has not historically weighed in on social ethical issues, not because they are unimportant, nor because it is inappropriate for Christians to do so, but because of the mission of the Alliance which is "to call the twenty-first century church to reformation, according to Scripture, so that it recovers clarity and conviction about the great evangelical truths of the gospel and thus proclaims these truths powerfully in our contemporary context." Specifically, we are an alliance of confessional Protestants (and heirs of the historic Reformed Confessions) who work together to "promote the reform of the church according to Scripture, and to call the church to be faithful to the Scriptures, by embracing and practicing the teaching of Scripture concerning doctrine, life and worship."

However, a number of Alliance Council members were invited to participate in the meeting that resulted in the production of the Manhattan Declaration, and/or to sign the final document. These Council members did so as individuals, not as representatives of the Alliance.

While neither the Board nor the Council of the Alliance has taken a position on the document, some Alliance Council members subsequently decided to sign the document, while others decided not to sign. Some Council members have also offered public statements explaining why or why they did not sign the document.

Those who did not sign the document believe that it is a lamentable example of the confused sort of ecumenical theology, on display in the ECT (Evangelicals and Catholics Together) statements, and that it implicitly commits its signers to acknowledge a commonality between evangelicals, Roman Catholics and Orthodox on the gospel, who is a true Christian and what is a true church. They rightly point out that the Alliance has always been and remains unanimously critical of the presuppositions and products of ECT.

Those who did sign the document believe that it is a statement of solidarity, not of ecumenism, and that it represents the kind of principled co-belligerency advocated by, for instance, Francis Schaeffer and James Boice. These signers believe that document actually helps clarify their concerns with the whole ECT project, because the Manhattan Declaration only asks evangelicals, Catholics and Orthodox to agree on matters on which we actually agree (marriage and sexuality, the sanctity of life, and religious liberty), rather than purporting an agreement in vital matters on which we do not agree (the Gospel, what is a Christian, what is a true Church).

It should be made clear that those Council members who did not sign the document agree with what the document says about the social issues it addresses. Their concern is that the document implies an agreement between evangelicals and Catholics on the Gospel where there is in fact not an agreement. Conversely, those Council members who signed the document fully understand the agreement on the documents' statement on social issues that they share with those who didn't sign,  and also fully appreciate the non-signers' concerns for Gospel clarity and fidelity. However, the Council members who signed do not believe that the document commits them to an agreement with Roman Catholics or Eastern Orthodox on the nature of the Gospel, the Church or who is a true Christian.

The issue boils down to a matter of judgment, not a disagreement in principle, between those Council members who signed and didn't sign. The non-signers believe that the content of the document and the associations of the primary authors imply an ECT-like confusion about the Gospel. The signers believe that the explicit assertions and emphasis of the documents relate only to areas of principled social-ethical agreement between evangelicals and non-evangelicals. Further, they believe that it is important for individuals from the major quadrants of the historic Christian tradition to speak on these pressing matters in solidarity.

The Council members have had good, robust discussions on these things among ourselves about this whole matter. We continue to love and respect one another, and we all want to continue to serve and work with one another. The bonds of our fellowship are unbroken. Our commitment to the mission of the Alliance is unchanged. Our unity in the Gospel, and in the great solas of the Reformation is stronger than ever.

Ligon Duncan is president of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals.

"The Manhattan Declaration: A Statement from Ligon Duncan"

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This article was originally published in/on Reformation21, The Online Magazine of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. The Alliance calls the twenty-first century church to a modern reformation through broadcasting, events, and publishing.  This article and additional resources can be found at www.alliancenet.org or by calling 800-956-2644.

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