Hickory, Dickory, Dockery: Ecumenism in the SBC
On December 9, 2013, David Dockery, President of Union University in Jackson, Tennessee announced his intention to step down from the presidency and assume the role of chancellor (in an honorary role) no later than July 2014. In his farewell address, Dockery said that he intends to participate more in the Manhattan Declaration project which purports to be a movement of Orthodox, Catholic, and Evangelical Christians for life, marriage, and religious liberty. Upon the issuance of the Manhattan Declaration, many religious leaders, including many high-profile Southern Baptists, were asked to sign the document. Besides Dockery, other notable Southern Baptist signatories include the ultra-ecumenical Timothy George, Dean of the Beeson School of Divinity and, of course, the Pope-praising Russell Moore, President of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. While it is no surprise that Dockery, George, and Moore signed the document, Southern Baptists may be surprised to learn that two SBC seminary presidents, Albert Mohler of Southern Seminary and Danny Akin of Southeastern Seminary also affixed their signatures to the Manhattan Declaration. While the contributions of Dockery, Mohler, and Akin are appreciated, Southern Baptist are asking why their leaders continue to be unequally yoked together with unbelievers by signing documents such as the infamous Evangelicals and Catholics Together, and The Manhattan Declaration, and participate with organizations such as the Evangelical Immigration Table, funded by socialist financier George Soros.
Notable evangelicals such as John MacArthur, R.C. Sproul, Michael Horton, and Alistair Begg refused to affix their signatures to the declaration. While these men affirm the document’s opposition to same-sex marriage, abortion, separation of church and state, and other moral issues, they could not sign it because it identifies Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and Evangelicals as Christians. MacArthur, in explaining why he did not sign the statement wrote:
Instead of acknowledging the true depth of our differences, the implicit assumption (from the start of the document until its final paragraph) is that Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Protestant Evangelicals and others all share a common faith in and a common commitment to the gospel’s essential claims. The document repeatedly employs expressions like “we [and] our fellow believers”; “As Christians, we . . .”; and “we claim the heritage of . . . Christians.” That seriously muddles the lines of demarcation between authentic biblical Christianity and various apostate traditions. 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.
Indeed, the Eastern Orthodox Church and the RCC are purveyors of a different gospel. The Apostle Paul, writing to the church at Galatia declared that false teachers who preach another gospel are to be accursed (Galatians 1:1-9). Writing to the church at Ephesus, Paul commanded them to “have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them” (Ephesians 5:11).
R.C. Sproul wrote, ” I have dear friends in the ministry who have signed this document, and my soul plummeted when I saw their names.” Surely, the souls of many Southern Baptists plummeted when they saw that Dr. Dockery, who has provided exemplary leadership to Union University, pledged to devote more of his time to the Manhattan Declaration project. They were further disheartened when they saw the names of Akin, Coppenger, Draper, George, Graham, Moore, Mohler, Perkins and Platt associated with a document recognizing false teachers as orthodox Christians.
Southern Baptists are calling upon their leadership to “have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness” and to disavow any involvement now, or in the future, with any ecumenical associations such as the Manhattan Declaration, the Evangelical Immigration Table, and Evangelicals and Catholics Together which compromises the gospel, dilutes the witness of the Christian church and confuses a proper understanding of the true gospel among unbelievers.