Does the Manhattan Declaration unite or divide Christians? This question I posed last week prompted several thoughtful comments. I will address just one of them today, and more in the days to come. This discussion warrants continuation.
Commenter “Pastor Tony” exemplifies the committed Christian who declines to sign based on the most prevailing argument: the Gospel. He articulated his opposition to the Declaration based on his stance that the Catholic and Orthodox Christian leaders who signed at the onset are not Christians. He stated, “When someone denies the biblical gospel we cannot call them a Christian, and by signing this document one is doing so.” With all due respect to Pastor Tony and fellow Christians who share his perspective, I must disagree.
First, Christian faith is an issue of the individual heart, an issue settled only between that individual and God, and irrespective of church membership or attendance. Many will debate the definition of “the biblical Gospel”, but as for the truth of salvation, Jesus spoke clearly, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16). Obviously he who denies Jesus has clarified his eternal position for us. But as for the one who worships Jesus as the Son of God, Savior and Lord, who are we to discern the deepest affairs of his heart? “You, then, why do you judge your brother? Or why do you look down on your brother? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat” (Romans 14:10).
Second, by signing the Manhattan Declaration, we aren’t calling anyone anything; we are stating our position on three critical legislative issues. Even if we were asked to declare the other signers to be true heartfelt believers, we are simply unable to do this, as previously explained, and we certainly should not claim to have such supernatural ability. We only have clues to others’ salvation – the presence of spiritual fruit, the desire to follow God’s commands, and a love for one another. But clues to another’s faith do not give us the authority to declare their salvation or lack thereof. On the contrary, by signing, we only declare our own position on the legislative issues therein, and proclaim our individual selves as believers in Jesus the Christ, the Son of God, while others do the same. We should be rejoicing at such a vast public profession of faith, not refuting it.
I am an evangelical Christian, but I am concerned about a sort of spiritual pride that often characterizes our community. Please understand, I agree with my evangelical brothers and sisters that the Bible clearly teaches we are saved by God’s grace alone (Eph 2:8-9). But just as our faith in Jesus Christ comes from the leading of the Holy Spirit, so is the revelation of truth individually guided by the Holy Spirit throughout one’s lifetime. The Ephesians didn’t fully understand the gift they had been given, that to trust Christ was sufficient for salvation. Paul had to continue teaching them the truths of the Word. Thankfully God provides all of us a continuing education. None of us know it all, nor will any of us this side of heaven.
When young children come to faith, we rejoice, “Sarah is saved!” But does 7-year-old Sarah understand the theology that Christ is the all-sufficient, atoning sacrifice for her sinful flesh? It’s doubtful. Does that negate her salvation? I don’t believe so. Jesus said, “Permit the children to come to Me; do not hinder them; for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these” (Mark 10:14).
There are many children of God who are mere babes in Christ. Will God reject their belief in Christ because they have not come to a mature understanding of grace and sufficiency? I don’t know, but I do know they are on a learning curve just like me. Such lofty judgments about others’ faith and salvation are not ours to make, but the Almighty’s. What is ours is the call of Christ to be influential men and women of faith – sharing God’s story of hope in Christ, teaching truth in love, pursuing peace and righteousness, and bringing harmony and healing to this hurting world.
Pastor Paul Shepherd of Enduring Truth said in his sermon, “The Reality of the Resurrection”: “Our mission is so critical – we are serving a dying world, and we can only do it as a unified body of Christ.” “What the enemy does is he encourages the Church to get so hung up on secondary matters and to divide over those until we’re not unified in our fight for what is right.”
The Manhattan Declaration is not a statement of religious doctrine, or a theological dissertation on Christianity. It is a fight for what is right: the preservation of life, biblical marriage and religious liberty. I shudder to think that the enemy celebrates this current division over the Manhattan Declaration.
Endnote: My quoting of Pastor Paul Shepherd is not in any way an assumption of, or an indication of his personal position on this issue – whether in support of, or opposition to, the Manhattan Declaration.