Can We Cooperate with Christian Groups?

Can We Cooperate with Christian Groups?
by Jack Cottrell (Notes) on Wednesday, September 14, 2011 at 7:34pm

QUESTION #1 – “Some parachurch organizations use the 1974 Lausanne Covenant to describe what they believe. What are your thoughts about this?”

QUESTION #2 – “What do you think of the Manhattan Declaration? Have you signed it? How can we cooperate with those whose doctrine is different from ours?”

ANSWER: The former question came today; the latter came some months ago. Each involves the same two issues: (1) Can we endorse the doctrine expressed in these documents? And, (2) can we in good conscience join hands with and stand alongside others who subscribe to these documents?

The Lausanne Covenant was produced by the International Congress on World Evangelization held in Lausanne, Switzerland, in July 1974. The meeting was called by Billy Graham and others, and was attended by over 2,300 evangelicals. The purpose was to explore ways to evangelize the world. The Covenant document is a rather lengthy manifesto challenging all believers to join together in this task.

The Manhattan Declaration was produced in late 2009. It was written mainly by Chuck Colson along with Robert George and Timothy George, and was originally endorsed by about 150 religious leaders from both Protestant and Roman Catholic backgrounds. The signers include very familiar names, such as J. I. Packer, Ravi Zacharias, Wayne Grudem, Don Wildmon, Chuck Swindoll, Al Mohler, Josh McDowell, and James Dobson. Since then nearly a half-million others have signed it, including me.

The point of the Manhattan Declaration is to present a unified voice in defense of three values that are under severe attack in American (and Western) culture: (1) a defense of the sanctity of life, in opposition to such practices as abortion, euthanasia, and embryonic stem cell research; (2) a defense of traditional marriage, in opposition to such practices as out-of-wedlock births and same-sex marriage; and (3) a defense of religious freedom, e.g., in opposition to compelling Christian individuals and groups to violate their consciences in the above matters (e.g., by being forced to hire homosexuals or to arrange adoptions for same-sex couples), or in opposition to laws that prosecute preaching against homosexual behavior as hate speech.

What can we say about the teaching expressed in these documents? Regarding the Manhattan Declaration, I give it my whole-hearted agreement and support, and I can testify as to its importance. That is why I signed it. Regarding the Lausanne Covenant, I cannot do the same. I do applaud its firm commitment to Biblical inerrancy and authority (Section 2), and its rejection of inclusivism and universalism (Section 3). I also applaud its general purpose of calling upon all Christians to take the Great Commission seriously.

I have some serious reservations about the Covenant’s doctrinal perspectives, however. First, it is ambiguous regarding the relative importance of evangelism on the one hand, and socio-political action by the church on the other hand. It affirms “that evangelism and socio-political involvement are both part of our Christian duty” (Section 5). It does affirm that “evangelism is primary” (Section 6), but this priority is lost in the emphasis on social justice. Second, though it is not prominent, a Calvinistic thread is seen in the statement that “faith in Christ” is the work of the Holy Spirit (Section 14). The idea that faith is a gift of the Holy Spirit is the essence of the “I” in Calvinism’s T-U-L-I-P system, i.e., “irresistible grace.” Third and most disturbing is the obvious endorsement of a faith-only approach to salvation, in the statement that Christ “offers the forgiveness of sins and the liberating gifts of the Spirit to all who repent and believe” (Section 4). There is no reference to baptism anywhere.

In view of these doctrinal problems, I cannot endorse the Lausanne Covenant, and I would not want any Christian group that I support to endorse it either.

What, then, of the second issue involved here? Both of the documents are “ecumenical,” in a sense. Both are produced by and supported by individuals and groups from across much of the Christian spectrum, including those who hold to (some) serious false doctrines. Can we or can we not join hands with and cooperate with them all, in supporting and applying the teachings of these documents? How can I, for example, be consistent when I endorse one and separate myself from the other?

My “split decision” is based on an important distinction. Whereas the Lausanne group is altogether about salvation and evangelism and faithfulness to the Great Commission, the Manhattan Declaration group is altogether about a defense of the Christian world view as opposed to the secular world view. In reference to the former, I cannot join hands and cooperate in the evangelistic enterprise with those who have a faulty view of how to be saved. But in reference to the latter, I CAN cooperate with any group that is seeking to uphold the Biblical world view, e.g., in apologetical matters such as creation vs. evolution, and in defense of the absolute moral principles given to all human creatures by the Creator. In reference to the latter, I am ready to stand shoulder to shoulder with the Christian world in general, including Roman Catholics and all sorts of Protestants, in opposition to those who are attacking the Biblical world view.

I will close with a quotation from near the end of the Manhattan Declaration that sums up quite well what it is all about. I recommend that my readers find the website ( www.manhattandeclaration.org ), read the declaration carefully, and click-to-sign. Here is the quote:

“Because we honor justice and the common good, we will not comply with any edict that purports to compel our institutions to participate in abortions, embryo-destructive research, assisted suicide and euthanasia, or any other anti-life act; nor will we bend to any rule purporting to force us to bless immoral sexual partnerships, treat them as marriages or the equivalent, or refrain from proclaiming the truth, as we know it, about morality and immorality and marriage and the family. We will fully and ungrudgingly render to Caesar what is Caesar’s. But under no circumstances will we render to Caesar what is God’s.”

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