09 December 2009

Manhattan Declaration again: R. C. Sproul puts another one in the ten-ring

by Dan Phillips

Worthy men such as Alistair Begg and John MacArthur explained why they were unable to sign the Manhattan Declaration.

Shortly after, in Nineteen Questions for Signers of the Manhattan Declaration, I tossed in my widow's mite. The post demonstrated that the document (A) was necessarily theological, (B) unfortunately communicated some significantly bad theology, from the perspective of Biblically-faithful Christianity, and that (C) it was not a document that someone concerned with the clear delineation, definition, and declaration of the Gospel should want his name associated with.

Then in NEXT! #19, we skewered the dodge that refusal to sign the document had anything to do with unwillingness to "work with" anti-Christian faiths in opposition to abortion.

After that, Michael Horton also published a demurral.

Now R. C. Sproul has contributed a forceful, gracious, and yet trumpet-like blast to the discussion. In The Manhattan Declaration: Why didn’t you sign it, R.C.?, Sproul gives eloquent voice to the same basic objections that others of us also sounded. Here are just a couple of particularly choice extracts.
While I would march with the bishop of Rome and an Orthodox prelate to resist the slaughter of innocents in the womb, I could never ground that cobelligerency on the assumption that we share a common faith and a unified understanding of the gospel.

The framers of the Manhattan Declaration seem to have calculated this objection into the language of the document itself. Likewise, some signers have stated that this is not a theological document. However, to make that statement accurate requires a redefinition of “theology” and serious equivocation on the biblical meaning of “the gospel” (2 Cor. 11:4).

...how could I sign something that confuses the gospel and obscures the very definition of who is and who is not a Christian? I have made this point again and again since the days of ECT. Though the framers of the Manhattan Declaration declaim any connection to ECT, it appears to me that the Manhattan Declaration is inescapably linked to that initiative, which I have strenuously resisted.  More than that, this new document practically assumes the victory of ECT in using the term “the gospel” in reference to that which Roman Catholics are said to “proclaim” (Phil. 1:27).
I am sorely tempted to quote a great deal more; instead, I'll just urge you to get over there and read the entire post. It is masterful.

I'll just close with one portion that resonates with me:
The Manhattan Declaration puts evangelical Christians in a tight spot. I have dear friends in the ministry who have signed this document, and my soul plummeted when I saw their names. I think my friends were misled and that they made a mistake, and I want to carefully assert that I have spoken with some of them personally about their error and have expressed my hope that they will remove their signatures from this document. Nevertheless, I remain in fellowship with them at this time and believe they are men of integrity who affirm the biblical gospel and the biblical doctrines articulated in the Protestant Reformation.
...It is only in our united proclamation of the one, true gospel of Jesus Christ that any heart, any mind, or any nation will truly change, by God’s sovereign grace and for His glory alone.

Dan Phillips's signature


Jason Engwer said...

I'm glad to hear that R.C. Sproul is speaking with some of the signers of the document, trying to get them to remove their signatures. He could have some significant influence.

I would think that some of the signers will be more hesitant to sign such a document, and will be more discerning on issues like this one, in the future. Despite all of the problems with the document, that's a good development.

Eddie Eddings said...

R.C. Sproul
Blesses my soul!
(I know it rhymes)

His pastor's heart is evident in his declaration against the Declaration. His logic is inescapable.

Eddie Eddings said...

I wanted to include this quote from Spugeon:

"For Christians to be linked in association with ministers who do not preach the gospel of Christ is to incur moral guilt. A Union which can continue irrespective of whether its member churches belong to a common faith is not fulfilling any scriptural function. The preservation of a denominational association when it is powerless to discipline heretics cannot be justified on the grounds of the preservation of 'Christian unity.' It is error which breaks the unity of churches, and to remain in a denominational alignment which condones error is to support schism,"

(C.H. Spurgeon, The Forgotten Spurgeon, Iain Murray, pp. 164-165).

DJP said...

That's an apposite quotation, Eddie. This is a linking in association. It says of self-identified members of Gospel-perverting sects, "We are all Christians who preach the Gospel, banding together as such to oppose moral/social ills." It is specifically a grouping of "Christians" — though it isn't.

That's the problem, as the men I named, others, and I have made clear.

Tom Chantry said...

No surprise, given R.C.'s strength on ETC. These are the moments that separate the men from the boys among the "big names." Most of us will never be asked to sign anything of this nature; it is a mercy of God that He grants us some men who achieve the popularity to be asked, but who also retain the character and determination to say "no."

(It reminds me of a pastor of mine who once, during a visit of the Pope in which many evangelical leaders were going to meet with him, preached a sermon entitled "Why I Didn't Meet the Pope." He loved to tell the story on himself later that when he got home from preaching that sermon, his wife, who had been home with a sick child, laughed at his sermon title. She said, "It must have been a short sermon; nobody invited you to meet the pope!"

I'm glad nobody ever invites me to meet the pope, or even the local archbishop, or to sign foolish proclamations of gospel solidarity with idolaters. At the same time, I thank God that some of the men who are asked have the convictions and the clarity of MacArthur and Sproul.

SandMan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jim said...

Having read (and agreed) with many arguments against the MD, I was particularly encouraged reading Sproul's reasoning. Sproul not only explains why we cannot sign this, but also explains it what capacity he can work with non-Christians to stand up for the children who are being slaughtered.

DJP said...

Yes; as everyone else also has repeatedly done, Sproul does make that clear, Jim. It's a great post.

Sandman, I want to be clear. I'm uncomfortable with your saying "there are still men among us who are more concerned with the truth and glory of God and His gospel rather than the opinions of men." That's true, and I think it's true of Sproul. He gives a good example of it.

But I would not make the leap to say that all the signers are less concerned with the truth and glory of God and His gospel rather than the opinions of men. In fact, of some, I could never conceive of saying that, nor thinking it.

That is why (as I said) it so resonates with me when Sproul says that "my soul plummeted when I saw their names." Mine too; I groaned.

And that's why I also say, as Sproul does, "I think my friends were misled and that they made a mistake... [and] I remain in fellowship with them at this time and believe they are men of integrity who affirm the biblical gospel and the biblical doctrines articulated in the Protestant Reformation."

SandMan said...


Point taken. I do not know personally any of the men that did sign, and I unintentionally judged their hearts...the shot was really intended toward the folks out there who seem so eager to blend the Gospel with Roman Catholicism.

Thanks for pointing out my error. I'm going to delete the comment.

Brad Williams said...

See? See?! This is precisely the reason why I hardly ever sign stuff. The last time someone tricked me into signing something it was because they said some atheist woman was trying to take "Touched by an Angel" off the air because they said God on the show.

I'm so glad I didn't get tricked into signing this one.

donsands said...

Thanks for a very edifying post.

RC is gentle and humble, and yet speaks with authroity. He is one of great "ensamples to the flock".

I appreciate all the Lord's pastors/elders, who feed the Lord's people. From RC Sproul to the TeamPyro three amigos, and especially my own local in church house pastors, I say thank you for speaking the truth of God's Word with passion, compassion, and love.

"We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work."

Paula said...

Brad Williams: Thanks for my 'spiiting-coffee-on-my-computer-monitor' moment of the day!!!

The Seeking Disciple said...

Sproul need not fear, this Declaration will fall in line with the others that have come before it that generate nothing and offer nothing. The world ignores them as should we. The only hope for the world is the gospel and the true Church knows this and preaches this. May we be those disciples who do just that and exalt Christ for His glory and His kingdom.

Paul D said...

Sproul gives eloquent voice to the same basic objections that others of us also sounded.

%$*@! It's becoming more and more difficult to maintain a clear conscience as an MD signer. All this thinking and logic and whatnot.

David Bayly said...

Thanks for this, Dan. It's good to be in the same demographic together with you.