The Law Coalition

While working on a talk for a conference last week hosted and attended by academic conservatives, I revisited the Manhattan Declaration. My point was that so many who think themselves conservative think they also take religion seriously by injecting faith into public affairs. But what ends up happening most often is that the complexities and depth of faith are sacrificed for the sake of a common cause, and that commonality is almost exclusively moral and comes from the Second Table of the Decalogue. Listen, for instance, to the way that the Manhattan Declaration’s writers (and the Baylys and Rabbi Bret may well want to follow along) turn the sanctity of human life, traditional marriage, and religious liberty into “the Gospel.”

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.

Which gospel would that be exactly? The one professed by Southern Baptists, Roman Catholics, or Eastern Orthodox? J. Gresham Machen, in one of the quotations I used recently, might have a very different understanding of such joint endeavors:

I am bound to say that the kind of discussion which is irritating to me is the discussion which begins by begging the questino and then pretensd to be in the interests of peace. I should be guilty of such a method if I should say to a Roman Catholic, for example, wthat we can come together with him because forms and ceremonies like the mass and membership in a certain definite organization are, of course, matters of secondary importance – if I should say to him that he can go on being a good Cathoilc and I can go on being a good Protestant and yet we can unite on comon Christian basis. If I should talk in that way, I should show myself guilty of the crassest narrowness of mind, for I should be shoing that I had never taken the slightest trouble to understand the Roman Catholic point of view. If I had taken that trouble, I should have come to see plainly that what I should be doing is not to seek common ground between the roman Catholic and myself but simply to ask the Roman Catholic to become a Protestant and give up evertyhing that he holds most dear.

In other words, if Trent still matters, or the the Westminster Confession still matters, the signers of the Manhattan Declaration were in serious denial about the gospel.

What is also important to observe, though, is that they are also in mega-denial. For the law that they affirm, merely calling it the gospel, is only a few brief rules outlined in Scripture. For starters, God’s law also says a fair amount about worship and church polity that again would drive Roman Catholics and Protestants not together but apart — can you say the Mass, or how about apostolic succession? (The same can be asked of the Gospel Coalition — are they ignoring the means of grace, or ecclesiology in order to affirm a meager understanding of the gospel?)

So why is it conservative to affirm the law as revealed in holy writ during public debates if you don’t affirm all of the law? And how conservative can it be to rename the law “gospel”? This is not conservative. It is actually liberal and may border on being modernist.

But saying so makes you an antinomian and a secularist? Shazam!

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41 thoughts on “The Law Coalition

  1. Okay, wait a minute here. Even positing for a moment that both Westminster and Trent still matter… why should that prevent us from working together with Rome on points where we do, in fact, agree? One might object to the language of the Manhattan Declaration, and I do so object, but the concept, that Christians from diverse traditions can make common cause on certain issues, certainly has merit, does it not?

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  2. Ryan, agreed, which is why the Man Dec folks decided they needed to cooperate in the name of the gospel, as if that resolves anything. Why wouldn’t you want Mormons, Jews, and secularists also to cooperate on these matters?

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  3. Dr. Hart,

    Do you know the Christ the Center interview you did today will air/be posted? I tried to listen to it on the live stream, but it kept stopping and cutting out. He maybe having some bandwidth issues.

    I’ve read all but the final two chapters of “Between the Times”, being fairly to new the OPC and to Presbyterianism. Fighting the Good Fight, Seeking a Better Country, and now, Between the Times have all very helpful to me….. Thank you

    God Bless
    Joe

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  4. Rome is not a part of the “diverse tradition”. It is synagogue of Satan and Antichrist.

    When did Protestants decide it was OK to get all fluffy with Rome (and Salt Lake City, but I digress)?

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  5. And, Ryan, I also agree that Christians from diverse traditions (along with Mormons, Jews, and secularists) can make common cause on certain issues. But I also wonder if you’d agree that Christians from within narrow traditions can make war with one another on certain issues? IOW, if a Reformed, Roman and Anabaptist Christian can agree that each other should be civilly free to practice their faith then can three Presbyterians disagree with each other and agree with those from diverse traditions on how to solve the civil problems of reproduction and marriage?

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  6. Why wouldn’t you want Mormons, Jews, and secularists also to cooperate on these matters?

    Because they aren’t Christians? Whatever happened to “one holy, catholic, and apostolic church?” This would seem to be where that would come into play, would it not? I mean, sure, when it comes to the civil sphere I’m pretty comfortable making common cause with almost anyone who shares my opinions on a particular issue, but I still think there’s something to be said for the broader church taking a public stand on issues about which we agree.

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  7. I also wonder if you’d agree that Christians from within narrow traditions can make war with one another on certain issues? IOW, if a Reformed, Roman and Anabaptist Christian can agree that each other should be civilly free to practice their faith then can three Presbyterians disagree with each other and agree with those from diverse traditions on how to solve the civil problems of reproduction and marriage?

    Sure, why not? I don’t see why the two need to be in conflict.

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  8. Rome is not a part of the “diverse tradition”. It is synagogue of Satan and Antichrist.

    Somebody needs to stick his head in a bucket of cold water.

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  9. Ryan, maybe because it doesn’t take too long before “those issues” become confused with the essentials of faith. That’s the point of the post, with which you said you agreed.

    The advantage of joing up with pagans over “those issues” is that the risk of confusing them with the essentials of faith is drastically lowered. I mean, the godless-secular prolifers make a pretty good point that one doesn’t need faith to come to certain creational conclusions. Secular friends like this help keep religionists from getting confused.

    http://www.godlessprolifers.org/home.html

    http://secularprolife.org/

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  10. Ryan- you’re contradicting yourself and getting yourself into a muddle. Why would you exclude Mormons but not Romanists? Do you consider the church if Rome a legitimate Christian church? If so you need to re-read your Bible and the confessions. There may be regenerated men and women in that organisation, but that is in spite of their affiliation not because of it.

    Agreed: if the issue is abortion then I’m happy to stand alongside anyone who shares my position. But we don’t need to make it into a church crusade. But if we want to stand together as Christians on a particular issue then we can’t afford to be so tolerant. If a body denies fundamental Biblical truths and doctrines we cannot commune with it, or come together with it in an ecclesiastical way. Sometimes denominations do matter. It matters if I’m a Protestant and they’re a Romanist and it matters if I’m a Presbyterian and they’re a Baptist.

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  11. Alexander,

    “Do you consider the church if Rome a legitimate Christian church? If so you need to re-read your Bible and the confessions.”

    So let me get this straight, wouldn’t any church other than your own be illegitimate because not in strict compliance with your church’s confession? Congratulations.

    So assume both an Episcopal and a Presbyterian church fund (which would certainly qualify as taking a stand on the issue of hunger) a coat drive in the winter. Is this impermissible?

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  12. Ryan- you’re contradicting yourself and getting yourself into a muddle.

    No, I’m not. I know exactly what I’m saying, and its entirely consistent. Or, at least, nothing you’ve said suggests otherwise.

    Why would you exclude Mormons but not Romanists?

    Because the two aren’t the same thing. But I’m not getting into a conversation about the merits of Catholicism here. That’s a tangent, and Kane’s got the right of it. What’s being discussed here isn’t ecclesiastical unity or even ecclesiastical fraternity. There’s no reason we need to blur our distinctives to say that we do, in fact, agree about certain things. We don’t even need to share the same justifications for those things to recognize that.

    As a matter of fact, it’s almost better that we don’t. That way, the Church, as a whole, winds up taking the position that even though we have our differences and disagree about what we consider to be very important things, there are certain things that we do agree about, and that this matters.

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  13. Ryan, a comment of mine to you has been hung up in moderation, so I am going to try and see if I can restate it now and break through.

    DGH wondered why you wouldn’t want Mormons, Jews, and secularists also to cooperate on certain matters. You said, “Because they aren’t Christians? I still think there’s something to be said for the broader church taking a public stand on issues about which we agree.”

    But maybe we don’t want to take public stands on issues about which we agree with fellow religionists because it doesn’t take too long before “those issues” become confused with the essentials of faith. That’s the point of the post, with which you said you agreed.

    But the advantage of joing up with pagans over “those issues” is that the risk of confusing them with the essentials of faith is drastically lowered. I mean, the godless-secular prolifers make a pretty good point that one doesn’t need faith to come to certain creational conclusions. Secular friends like this help keep religionists from getting confused.

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  14. This was tweeted by Al Mohler during SBC 2011, two hours ago

    Southern Baptists are at a crucial decision point. The immigration crisis demands a Gospel response before any political response. #SBC2011

    Al needs to read “Living in God’s Two Kingdoms” badly

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  15. Ryan, Kane: If a Presbyterian congregation and an Episcopal one want to fund a coat drive, that rocks. They have my blessing. Do they need to call a convention, draw up a declaration or a “covenant” and affirm those “fundamentals of the faith” on which they both agree in order to do this? No, they don’t. Do I need to sign a declaration with my Romanist, Baptist and Mormon (if I had any) neighbours in order for us to donate money to a pro-life candidate and then go and vote for him? No, I don’t!

    The simple quesion here is: why does every issue need to be elevated to the level of ecclesiastical communion? which it is when people from churches come together and form coalitions and declarations. It doesn’t matter that they’re not submitting to each other’s governig bodies or taking communion together on a Sunday, it’s still an ecclesiastical coming together when you form some sort of covenant or agreement and start talking about the church coming together as one body.

    Another question: are you saying justification and the correct administration of the sacraments are less important than abortion?

    And obviously the Roman church is different from Mormonism. Duh! But just because Romanists don’t believe in aliens doesn’t mean they’re ok. And no that doesn’t mean that only my denomination is the right one, but the reality is that even within the blanket group of Protestantism there are denominations which show flgrant disregard for Biblical truth on the sacraments, justification, worship &c. That’s not to say that in order to go into association with another group that group has to be an exact replica. Compromise is often made on worship, for example. But just because the Baptist church down the road believes in justification by faith alone, doesn’t change or excuse the fact that they’re sinning in refusing to baptise the babies of covenant parents and that their understanding of the Lord’s Supper is grossly deficient.

    Another question(s): whichever denomination you’re a member of, why are you a member of it? Are you non-denominational, if not why not? People who get all rainbow denominational never seem to think through the practical issues of why they are where they are and aren’t somewhere else.

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  16. it doesn’t take too long before “those issues” become confused with the essentials of faith.

    By whom? The rest of the world? Screw ’em. Us? Well then let’s just make sure we don’t do that. Taking our ball and going home, as Alexander would have us do, is not the right answer.

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  17. Alexander,

    No one ever said a formal declaration was necessary for the hypothetical (sadly) coat drive. You’re the one that said “if we want to stand together as Christians on a particular issue then we can’t afford to be so tolerant.” The point is that we can indeed agree, implicitly, on certain matters, our confessional differences notwithstanding.

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  18. Ryan,

    I don’t know what your position is. MD is all about social issues. So why not cooperate with RC’s and Mormons? Why would Christianity be any kind of test for cooperation?

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  19. Dr. Hart,

    It is. I never said it wasn’t. I was responding to the argument that agreement/cooperation of sister churches in any fashion should not be tolerated due to our differences.

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  20. Ryan, here it is again:

    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 [sanctity of human life, traditional marriage, and religious liberty]…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.

    It would appear that the gospel is something about sanctity of human life, traditional marriage and religious liberty, which I thought we agreed was lame. You say, “Well, just don’t do that.” Uh, ok. But if we are serious about the depth of human depravity and its tendency to turn law into gospel and vice versa then your suggestion comes off as naive as telling a football team that winning is easy, all you have to do is either score points than the other team or keep them from scoring more than you. Uh, ok, coach, but I’m pretty sure it’s a lot more complicated than that. Which isn’t the same as suggesting we take our ball and go home.

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  21. Kane, I don’t who was arguing against cooperation of sister churches. The issue here was the Manhattan Declaration and non-sibling churches cooperating “in the name of the gospel” on social matters.

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  22. I don’t know what your position is. MD is all about social issues.

    My position, which admittedly was not entirely spelled out, is that though the MD as such was executed poorly,* it is an example of something that can be done well. You seem to be taking the position that it cannot, and if that is the case, I beg to differ.

    *My own main objection to the MD is that the thing is *ridiculously* Thomistic. The law/gospel thing you identify is a problem, to be sure, but since when are Protestants in general or Reformed-types in particular comfortable with the kind of teleological ethics on which the MD seems to be grounded? I don’t care who‘s on board, I’m not signin’ that thing.

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  23. Ryan, my position is that this sort of enterprise — getting a diverse band of Christians together for the sake of cultural renewal or social regeneration — was precisely the logic behind modernism. It puts the temporal before the eternal and that is always wrong, at least according to St. Paul

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  24. Machen nailed it. Ecumenical discussions (like the MD) often begin by begging the question. Many folks just don’t see that, or don’t want to see it. “Can’t we all just get along?” seems to be the order of the day. Thanks for the reminder, Dr. Hart.

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  25. Ryan, my position is that this sort of enterprise — getting a diverse band of Christians together for the sake of cultural renewal or social regeneration — was precisely the logic behind modernism.

    Hmm. Okay, I guess what I meant by “this type of thing” was more “making a common declaration of belief” than “cultural renewal or social regeneration.” But as neither you nor I believe in the latter even without the issue of ecumenism, I would think that the main objection would be against the project as a first-order matter rather than because it happens to rope in extra people.

    If the people behind the MD had, for whatever reason, decided that what they were looking for was to issue a unified statement about the orthodox Christian position on homosexuality, I think that could have been fine. Taking a unified stand on cultural change? Screw the “unified” part: I get off the train at “cultural change”.

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  26. Ryan: if you don’t want to change the culture, why issue a unified statement against homosexuality at all? Isn’t it enough to teach that position in our churches, to those whom that message is most pertinent?

    By the by, how unified would such a statement be since the church is not unified against homosexuality?Many denominations aren’t even unified on the subject. So what we have is this part of this denomination joining with that part of that denomination. Gets a bit complicated.

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  27. Alexander, not only does it seem dubious that a “unified statement on you-name-it” isn’t a thinly veiled attempt at cultural impact, but one also wonders why the pallet is so limited. I mean, why just homosexuality? Isn’t there also fornication and adultery and divorce? Let’s just be honest: “traditional marriage” means something very specific relative to homosexual marriage, as in let’s oppose it, not fornication, as in let’s bring back fornication prohibition or adultery, as in let’s go after no-fault divorce legislation. My own sense is that it’s pushback against what the declarers perceive to be a particular socio-political problem. Which begins to bring us back to the thin veil and how it just seems impossible to mainatin that this has nothing to do with cultural impact (Ryan’s middle finger notwithstanding) but simply a way to convey “the orthodox Christian position.” Fubar.

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  28. A splendid idea dgh. But my concern would be that it woul make me appear, well, anti Nashville, lol.

    Zrim- completely agree. The obsession with homosexuality begins to get a bit creepy. To be sure, homosexulity and homosexual marriage is the issue at the moment, and the (orthodox/true?) church should be clear on where it stands. Again, I think it best to keep it inhouse.

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  29. Darryl, the only place I tolerate country music is when I have peanut shells under my feet and girl named Megan in a black tee shirt bringing me a pink sirloin and a cold beer (but even then it’s barely tolerable).

    Alexander, true, but at the same time I tend to be leery of even in-house declarations. They seem like ways the world sets the church’s agenda. I mean, do we really need denominational committees drating papers critical of abortion and homosexuality? How about just councils/sessions practicing discipline on actual cases involving personal behaviors?

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  30. Zrim- I suppose that’s what I meant. Just regular teaching in a preaching/pastoral way. Though I’m certainly not suggesting we spend lots of time focusing on it. Rather, address it as it comes up in Scripture.

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  31. And now the Archbishop of Philadelphia joins the Law Coalition:

    This year’s Fortnight for Freedom has special urgency because the U.S. Supreme Court will likely rule on cases involving the HHS mandate. The outcome of those cases will have very significant religious liberty implications.

    To ready ourselves for this year’s Fortnight, I want to focus our attention on a gathering in early May that needs our involvement and support.

    In 2009, Catholic and other national religious leaders came together to draft the Manhattan Declaration. The Declaration sought to address growing debates over the sanctity of life, the integrity of marriage and the future of religious freedom in the public square, and to provide the latest news and helpful commentary on these issues.

    Since then, Manhattan Declaration supporters have stayed active on all these vital matters, with discussions, action alerts and educational meetings around the country. This year — on Friday, May 2 — the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) will sponsor “The Manhattan Declaration in Philadelphia,” an interfaith prayer service and religious liberty forum. Speakers and panelists will include Ryan Anderson, editor of The Public Discourse; Marjorie Dannenfelser of the Susan B. Anthony List; author Sherif Girgis; Robert George of Princeton University; Patrick Brennan, Scarpa Chair at the Villanova University School of Law; Alan Sears of the Alliance Defending Freedom, and others.

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