While evangelical leaders such as John McArthur and R.C. Sproul refused to sign the Manhattan Declaration on theological grounds, specifically, Sproul said, because of the danger in referring to Catholics as Christians who “are heirs of a 2,000-year tradition of proclaiming God’s Word,” I would like to voice my concerns on historical grounds.
While I agree that it’s important for people who have similar views to work together politically in order to conquer moral injustices, the Manhattan Declaration goes further than just encouraging Christians to become co-workers in support of traditional marriage or against abortion. It lumps Catholicism and Orthodoxy in with the church of the ages, and rolls all of their sins into the heritage of the Christian church as a whole acknowledging “the imperfections and shortcomings of Christian institutions and communities in all ages . . .”
I don’t think the faithful church should have remorse for the sins of unfaithful churches. Should Christians who opposed slavery share in the blame for those who supported slavery? Should Christians who opposed, and even suffered at the hands of the Catholic inquisitors, now share in the blame of the inquisitors? Should those Christians who opposed Hitler and Nazism, now share in the blame for the sins of the Nazis?
I spend a lot of my time debating atheists, and I wrote a book to counter the claims of Christopher Hitchens, who claimed that God wasn’t great. One of the arguments he makes is that the church is guilty of many great sins, such as the inquisitions, Nazism, genocide, and slavery. He’s absolutely right! The historical record reveals an ugly, violent, evil church–that existed at the same time as the beautiful, heroic, and faithful church. The wheat and the tares have grown up together. Both carried the name of Christ, yet some stood on the Word of God and remained faithful to Jesus while others corrupted the scriptures and betrayed him.
We can see both churches in action during the middle ages. Luther and his colleagues opposed the Catholic church, and their rallying cry was “Sola scriptura!” (Scripture alone!) They were tortured, harassed, and burned at the stake–by Catholics! Later, the abolitionists, such as Frederick Douglass, stood on God’s Word and opposed the latest science of the day (polygenism and phrenology) that was used to support slavery. They were tarred and feathered and scorned by Protestant Christians! The Confessing Church opposed the German Church that supported Hitler and Nazism by declaring in the Barmen Declaration that they were standing on the Word of God. They were sentenced to Auschwitz and Ravensbruck by those who called themselves Christians.
If Christians now lump themselves in with Catholicism, Orthodoxy, or any other church that abandons the scriptures, and allows themselves to be held responsible for “the imperfections and shortcomings of Christian institutions and communities in ALL AGES (emphasis mine) . . . ” how will we ever be unable to defend Jesus and his church against the horrendous charges that atheists make against Christianity?
We can’t be lumped together! Even if the Catholics did good deeds, such as opposing slavery, does that make them part of the true church? Does the performance of a few good deeds guarantee that something is part of the true church? Or does a commitment to the Word of God and truth make up the true church? Christianity isn’t just a collection of good deeds; it’s a commitment to eternal truths that lead to reconciliation with God through Christ, with the result being changed lives that produce beautiful fruit.
Perhaps the apostate churches of the past would now like to hitch their wagon to the heroic acts done in the name of Christ (“we claim the heritage of those Christians who defended innocent life . . .”) by the church that remained faithful–and that’s understandable. But the faithful church CANNOT be associated with the wicked acts done in the past by the unfaithful church. We can’t cross that line.
The Manhattan Declaration could be useful if it were merely declaring that the Orthodox and Catholic churches were joining with Protestant churches to defend marriage, life, and religious freedom, but to yoke all three together in a spiritual or historical sense goes beyond what’s wise, true, acceptable, and just.