Co-Belligerence and the Manhattan Declaration

On November 20, 2009, the Manhattan Declaration: A Call of Christian Conscience was released.  The Declaration addresses several key moral issues and it was signed by numerous leaders within the Christian tradition, from men in the PCA (our own denomination) to Roman Catholic Archbishops.  A summary statement from the document highlights their key concerns:

Because the sanctity of human life, the dignity of marriage as a union of husband and wife, and the freedom of conscience and religion are foundational principles of justice and the common good, we are compelled by our Christian faith to speak and act in their defense. In this declaration we affirm: 1) the profound, inherent, and equal dignity of every human being as a creature fashioned in the very image of God, possessing inherent rights of equal dignity and life; 2) marriage as a conjugal union of man and woman, ordained by God from the creation, and historically understood by believers and non-believers alike, to be the most basic institution in society and; 3) religious liberty, which is grounded in the character of God, the example of Christ, and the inherent freedom and dignity of human beings created in the divine image.

While the declaration affirms many important truths, and while it properly highlights the dangers of neglecting our moral duties as Christians and human beings, it also seems to make some errant assumptions about the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  We can see this in the following statement:

We are Christians who have joined together across historic lines of ecclesial differences to affirm our right—and, more importantly, to embrace our obligation—to speak and act in defense of these truths. We pledge to each other, and to our fellow believers, that no power on earth, be it cultural or political, will intimidate us into silence or acquiescence. It is our duty to proclaim the Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in its fullness, both in season and out of season. May God help us not to fail in that duty.

First, the declaration appears to assume unity around this gospel, and this of course begs the questions, "Are Protestant Christians really speaking of the same 'Gospel' as Catholic Christians?"  Second, the declaration also appears to suggest that to proclaim the message of the gospel is to speak and act out against these moral issues.  Again, this raises a question about the very nature of the biblical gospel.  Is the gospel a message and declaration about what God has done on behalf of man in history, or is the gospel about what man does?

For answers to these questions (and for reasons why they didn't sign the declaration) consider the thoughts of the following men:

Michael Horton

R.C. Sproul

John MacArthur

Alistair Begg

We can be thankful for the healthy debate that has arisen over the nature of the gospel and the proper way to understand co-belligerence.  We should pray, work, and fight toward the end of the evils and moral depravities that the Manhattan Declaration addresses, but we should never think of the gospel as a message about what man does, nor should we assume unity around it in the midst of significant historical and theological differences.  R.C. Sproul summarizes his position well, "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."