a word about manhattan

I’m a little late to the party, but it seems to me that so far one point is missing from all the discussion of the manhattan declaration.

The fundamentalist reaction, all over the place, is to note that the declaration is a serious compromise of the gospel by its declaration that all signers are Christians. I’ll not repeat all of the analysis on this point, you can find that elsewhere.

The evangelical reaction is mixed. Some fairly conservative names have signed the document while others have notably and publicly made their opposition clear. Al Mohler is a prominent conservative signatory while John MacArthur is a prominent non-signatory.

Dave Doran comments in one of his blogs on the subject:

Thankfully, to this point Dr. Mohler has kept a theological edge that has prevented him from fully embracing the ecumenical path of men like Timothy George and Chuck Colson. I hope he never loses that edge. Well, truth be told, I really hope he slides closer to John MacArthur’s position.

This quotation contains all the elements of the one point I’d like to highlight and poses a serious question for the rising neo-fundamentalists who seem to want closer ties to the conservative camp.

The point is this:

  • Many neo-fundamentalists (or ‘young fundamentalists’ or what have you…) have applauded MacArthur’s analysis and opposition to the MD. And as far as it goes, I would have to say MacArthur is spot on in his comments.
  • The assumption of many is something like this… “See, MacArthur is too a fundamentalist.”

Well. Is he?

Dave Doran has been making a lot of good points in his discussion of fundamentalism lately. I agree with a good deal of it. I have noted some of my disagreements. One of the things I agree with is one of his statements concerning the essential stance of fundamentalists:

For the sake of the clarity of the gospel, believers and churches must separate from those who compromise the faith by granting Christian recognition and fellowship to those who have denied essential doctrines of the faith (Rom 16:17; Phil 3:17-19; cf. 2 Thess 3:6-15).

All right, I agree with that. This view is consistent with the stance fundamentalists have taken for about sixty years.

Now let’s apply it to this situation.

Is Al Mohler granting Christian recognition and fellowship to those who have denied essential doctrines of the faith by signing the Manhattan Declaration?

When the MD says:

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. [Emphasis mine.]

Now Mohler protests that he hasn’t changed his views on Catholicism, etc. He claims there remain sharp divides between him and these other faiths. But he signed a document that includes the words highlighted above.

Is he granting Christian recognition and fellowship to those who have denied essential doctrines of the faith? Yes or no?

  • If the answer is no, then Mohler is just in an ‘uncomfortable alliance’ to promote a socio-political agenda.
  • If the answer is no, then Mohler is still not embracing the ecumenical evangelism of Billy Graham, which of course means that it doesn’t matter that he chaired the Graham crusade in Louisville or that he presides over the Graham center for evangelism at Southern Seminary.
  • If the answer is no, then Mohler is in fact keeping the ‘theological edge’ that has kept him from ‘fully embracing the ecumenical path’.

But is the answer ‘no’? What if the answer is ‘yes’?

Consider, for example, some of MacArthur’s comments about the MD:

[The Manhattan Declaration] assumes from the start that all signatories are fellow Christians whose only differences have to do with the fact that they represent distinct “communities.” Points of disagreement are tacitly acknowledged but are described as “historic lines of ecclesial differences” rather than fundamental conflicts of doctrine and conviction with regard to the gospel and the question of which teachings are essential to authentic Christianity.

Or…

The Declaration therefore constitutes a formal avowal of brotherhood between Evangelical signatories and purveyors of different gospels. That is the stated intention of some of the key signatories, and it’s hard to see how secular readers could possibly view it in any other light. Thus for the sake of issuing a manifesto decrying certain moral and political issues, the Declaration obscures both the importance of the gospel and the very substance of the gospel message.

Read the whole thing at MacArthur’s site.

What do you think? Is Mohler granting Christian recognition and fellowship to those who have denied essential doctrines of the faith?

If the answer is ‘yes’, then what MacArthur does now will go a long way to show the difference between fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals.

If the answer is ‘yes’, then fundamentalists should say something like this:

“I think bro. Mohler has grievously erred in granting Christian recognition to people who are not true Christians. Until he repudiates that recognition, we must mark him as a disobedient brother and dissuade others from sitting under his influence.”

Isn’t that what the fundamentalist response should be? Isn’t that what separation looks like?

In some of the argumentation about separation, men have said, “Oh, well, how can I practically separate from someone like Mohler? Should I send him a letter? Should I put an ad in the paper?”

This is disingenuous. Of course someone like me, and most fundamentalists, have no direct connection with a Mohler or others like him. But should we then do nothing?

  • Shouldn’t we mark him?
  • Shouldn’t we, by marking him, make that mark clear to others who are following us so that they aren’t influenced by the error?
  • Isn’t that what Dave means when he says:

For the sake of the clarity of the gospel, believers and churches must separate from those who compromise the faith by granting Christian recognition and fellowship to those who have denied essential doctrines of the faith (Rom 16:17; Phil 3:17-19; cf. 2 Thess 3:6-15).

And then, what should be done about MacArthur? Well, it is clear that in this case for certain, bro. MacArthur hasn’t granted Christian recognition to those who have denied essential doctrines of the faith. Does that, then, make him a fundamentalist?

Well, has he separated from bro. Mohler?

Has he marked him in any way as someone whose errors are so grievous that MacArthur cannot participate in partnership in Gospel ministry any longer until this compromise is repudiated? Or is it likely that you will see bro. Mohler taking the platform at the next Shepherd’s Conference as he has done several times in the last few years? Which will it be?

I think you know the answers to that one.

And the answer distinguishes neatly the difference between fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals. The conservative evangelical will say, “tut, tut” and carry on. The fundamentalist will not continue in fellowship when the gospel is compromised.

And I think, more than merely hope that Mohler “slides closer to John MacArthur’s position”, I would like to see him repudiate his own errors and go further than MacArthur and repudiate his conservative evangelical errors as well. (How exactly can you ‘slide closer’ to MacArthur’s position anyway?)

If this statement is true (and it is):

When a genuine Christian brother welcomes into Christian fellowship someone who teaches false doctrine, that genuine Christian brother, according to John, has become a partner in the false teaching. Standing against the false teaching means standing against this partnership with it. The truth and seriousness of the issue at stake necessarily demands this additional application.

Then the fundamentalist has something hard to say to the Mohlers of this world and something almost as hard to say to those who will not make the same compromise but will still maintain ongoing ministry partnerships.

don_sig2

Comments

  1. Hard to argue with your logic here Don. Unfortunately, there are a number of men I know who can’t even muster a tepid word of criticism for the likes of Mark Driscoll. Are you suggesting they should now “mark” Albert Mohler and John MacArthur?

    Chris

    • Hi Chris

      Well, I think I have been marking them here. I am suggesting that there is a new kind of fundamentalism upon us that seems unwilling to mark men like this in their disobedience.

      Please note the comments by so many fundamentalists writing on this issue. Many are obviously uncomfortable with Mohler here, but they can’t quite bring themselves to note the barrier this action puts between them and Mohler. On this issue, MacArthur has said the right thing. It remains to be seen if he will do the right thing, going forward. Past actions warn me not to hold my breath.

      The simple point I am making is that these men are not fundamentalists, they know the line that marks out fundamentalism from their position, and they really want no part of it. So why should erstwhile fundamentalists play footsie with them?

      Maranatha!
      Don Johnson
      Jer 33.3

  2. Don,
    I think you have made a clear distinction between “conservative evangelicals” and fundamentalists. Leaders like John MacArthur are willing to talk or write books, but not actually mark and avoid.

  3. Don:
    This is a very good article! I’ve posted two articles already at my blog on these same lines.

    You wrote, “I think bro. Mohler has grievously erred in granting Christian recognition to people who are not true Christians. Until he repudiates that recognition, we must mark him as a disobedient brother and dissuade others from sitting under his influence.”
    100% agreed that 2 Thess. 3:6, 14-15 is the mandate for Mohler’s actions.

    You also write in this thread,

    Please note the comments by so many fundamentalists writing on this issue. Many are obviously uncomfortable with Mohler here, but they can’t quite bring themselves to note the barrier this action puts between them and Mohler.

    This is also very true. We have men in IFB circles, and I mean the Reformed IFB men, who are willing to tolerate and/or excuse obvious doctrinal aberrations (non-cessation of charismatic sign gifts) and disconcerting issues like signing the MD by the so-called “conservative” evangelicals (ce) like Mohler, Piper, Mahaney, et. al.

    Things they would never tolerate or allow for in their own ministries are tolerated when found in the ce camp. Can you imagine what the reaction would be if a well-known IFB pastor or college president had signed the MD? IMO, we see a much greater out-cry from IFB men.

    In any event, our Reformed IFB men are going to go to the evangelical conferences and will happily sit under the preaching/teaching ministry of Mohler, Piper, Mahaney and even Driscoll as many have already. The glue that holds that fellowship together in spite of the obvious reasons to avoid those men is their mutual affinity for Calvinism. They (IFB men) want the fellowship around Calvinism and will tolerate and/or give benefit of the doubt to the obvious problems among the conservative evangelical Calvinists to have that fellowship.

    Lou

  4. Keith says:

    What exactly is the problem with fellowship around calvinism? How is “separation” and “IFB” more important than a long standing theological and eclesiastical heritage? Where do you get the idea that fundamentalism and separatism are more important than other Christian groupings?

    • Keith,

      There is no problem with fellowship around Calvinism per se. There is a problem when someone makes Calvinism (or any other pet doctrine) the “get out of jail free” card whereby virtually any other error can be overlooked. Some in the King James Only movement are guilty of the same thing.

      Personally, I don’t think “separation” and “IFB” are more important than anything. I don’t think a long standing theological heritage is more important than anything either. I think fidelity to the gospel is the first essential of Christianity. I think that fidelity to the gospel is so important that contention, even with other professing Christians, is demanded by the Scriptures in order to remain faithful to the gospel in all its glory. It is simply a matter of obeying God rather than being bound by men or traditions.

      Let me ask you some questions:

      1. Do you think it was right for Al Mohler to sign the Manhattan Declaration?
      2. Do you think it would be right for other Christians to continue to invite Mohler to their conferences without demanding and receiving some kind of retraction for said signing?

      Maranatha!
      Don Johnson
      Jer 33.3

  5. Paul says:

    I’m just wondering…how many of those who refuse to take a strong separated stand against the compromise of Mohler & Duncan do so because they want to go to T4G 2010 in Louisville in a few months?

    • You know, I had forgotten about that angle. I just went over to the t4g 2010 web-site. It is to be held at Louisville in April. The usual group headlines the event. Unless MacArthur withdraws, it will show (yet again) that he is all talk and no action.

      Ironically, the theme is: “The (Unadjusted) Gospel”.

      Sheesh!

      Maranatha!
      Don Johnson
      Jer 33.3

  6. Paul:

    You asked, “I’m just wondering…how many of those who refuse to take a strong separated stand against the compromise of Mohler & Duncan do so because they want to go to T4G 2010 in Louisville in a few months?”

    IMO, this is a major reason why so few of the Reformed men who still claim the “fundamentalist” title have reacted to the problem with their evangelical counter-parts signing the MD. Can you inagime the outcry if it had been a non-Calvinist pastor in IFB circles had signed the MD?

    On the other hand, some of the YFs in particular have been so enamored with the so-called “conservative” evangelical camp that they may now have little problem with Mohler and Duncan signing and if truth be known some of them may have signed it in spirit already.

    We are witnessing a consistent pattern among some of our Reformed IFB men to tolerate, give benefit of the doubt and/or excuse things in the ministries of the “conservative” evangelicals that they (IFB men) would never allow for, tolerate or excuse in their own ministry or in a fellow IFB’s ministry.”

    You might want to read an article I wrote on that theme. It is, Al Mohler Signs TMD: Tolerance & Compromise Will, In its Wake, Leave Casualties

    Lou

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