by Phil Johnson
Another silly manifesto has been issued by some "top evangelical, Catholic, and mainline" officials, outlining new rules of engagement for missionary and evangelistic work. The document is full of ecumenical argot and liberal gobbledegook. It employs the most passionate special pleading for pluralistic, postmodern, and politically correct values—urging Christians to "cooperate with other religious communities engaging in interreligious advocacy towards justice and the common good and, wherever possible, standing together in solidarity with people who are in situations of conflict."
But the document never once shows the slightest concern for getting the content of the gospel message correct. It is, in fact, a denunciation of evangelical principles; it is by no means a valid statement of evangelical mission.
hy are front-row evangelical leaders so enthralled with drafting formal statements and grandiose-sounding declarations? Virtually every year since the release of the first "Evangelicals and Catholics Together" statement in 1994, some group or another (usually consisting of self-appointed "evangelical" strategists and Christianity Today contributing editors) gets together to repudiate evangelical principles and discuss post-evangelical strategies—while pretentiously laying claim to leadership in the amorphous evangelical movement.
In the end, with great fanfare, they invariably issue "a historic manifesto." The profound historic significance of their work is typically declared by the drafters themselves in the lead sentence of all their press releases. And for some reason or another, Chuck Colson's name is prominent in most of the groups drafting these documents.
There was, of course, ECT II, "The Gift of Salvation" in 1997; ECT III, "Your Word Is Truth" in 2002; ECT IV, "The Communion of Saints" in 2003—and so on, all the way through ECT VII in 2009.
(There may actually be more ECT documents than that. I don't know. I've lost count, and I've lost interest.)
There have also been several non-ECT manifestos—most recently the highly publicized but quickly fizzling "Manhattan Declaration" (2009). That document aimed to garner one million signatures within a month. But almost two years after the PR campaign began, that charter still has not been able to acquire even half that many signatures.
One can't help noticing the common thread in this growing quiltwork of documents: virtually all of them strongly promote an ecumenical agenda. And the urgency of the ecumenical appeal is inversely proportional to the level of enthusiasm for whatever few shreds of evangelical conviction (if any) are expressed therein. If I read the trend correctly, the ecumenical agenda being pushed in these documents is growing more brazen and more demanding with each new document.
For example, ECT II included this statement, carefully crafted to sound as if it were full of evangelical conviction: "In justification, God, on the basis of Christ's righteousness alone, declares us to be no longer his rebellious enemies but his forgiven friends, and by virtue of his declaration it is so." But, of course, the statement simultaneously solicited signatures from Catholic priests and others who formally disavow the principle of sola fide. So notice: that sentence (the best in the whole statement) purposely omitted any mention of imputed righteousness and gave just enough wiggle-room to permit, say, a Jesuit theologian to put his own spin on the words and sign. It was a subtle approach to undermining the central evangelical distinctive.
Twelve years later, ECT VII (titled "Do Whatever He Tells You: The Blessed Virgin Mary in Christian Faith and Life") took a much less subtle approach. That document repeatedly scolds Protestants for their "neglect of Mary" and the supposed lack of evangelical reflection on Marian themes in their soteriology. The document goes on to make this promise: "We [evangelicals and Catholics] will seek together the mind of Christ about Mary." Then it states: "Evangelicals need to consider whether more reflection on Mary would strengthen their relationship with Jesus Christ."
Now, does anyone truly believe these ecumenical diatribes are strengthening evangelical conviction? Isn't the real point rather to undermine the very truths that make evangelical doctrine distinctive, so that (quietly setting all such things aside) we can join hands with the Vatican in the name of brotherhood and unity?
No one who understands what historic evangelicalism is could possibly think that type of "unity" represents anything other than the wholesale rejection of everything that truly differentiates evangelicals from Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Coptic Christians, and the cults.
As a matter of fact, that is exactly what these statements are aiming for. Sadly, the evangelical movement is being commandeered by people who do indeed reject evangelical doctrinal distinctives and would like to see a brand of evangelicalism that can easily syncretize almost anything from Roman Catholic mysticism to postmodernized versions of Socinianism.
You know: Christianity Today-style religion.
The epitome of this, once again, is Charles Colson, a politically shrewd, worldly-wise, fully-educated, well-spoken man who nevertheless manages to sound stunningly clueless at times. For example, he claims to believe the Manhattan Declaration failed because people who are apathetic about doctrine were afraid of it. Anyone who paid attention knows the precise opposite is true. Those most outspoken voices against the Manhattan Declaration were conservative evangelicals who insist on being far more precise in their doctrine than the drafters of that manifesto want evangelicals to be.
But Colson said this in Christianity today:
An aversion to doctrine caused some thoroughly orthodox young evangelicals to decline to sign the Manhattan Declaration (which defends human life, traditional marriage, and religious liberty), even though the document is rooted in Scripture.
So the latest document being peddled to evangelical leaders is "Christian Witness in a Multi-Religious World." It's nothing more than old-style ecumenism re-stated in the patois of postmodernism.
Describing what's wrong with the document, one of my favorite fundamentalist bloggers, Dave Doran (president of Detroit baptist Theological Seminary and Senior Pastor of Inter-City Baptist Church) writes:
Hard to think of any argument against Dave Doran's analysis. In fact, it would be hard to sum up any more succinctly than that all the problems with the past decade's torrent of ecumenical manifestos.