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Is the Manhattan Declaration an Affront to the Teachings of Jesus?

  • Julie Ferwerda Contributing Writer
  • Published Dec 22, 2009
Is the Manhattan Declaration an Affront to the Teachings of Jesus?

Perhaps you've noticed the commotion lately over The Manhattan Declaration, which includes vows such as, "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."

In spite of such contentious statements, most of the articles I've read center a debate on who's aligning with whom. For instance, should Evangelicals be aligning with Catholics and Anglicans? In my opinion, these debaters have ignored the far more critical question raised by the manifest "Is civil disobedience Biblical for believers (whomever they might be)?" 

The Manhattan Declaration (TMD) certainly opens a Pandora's box of subjective interpretation and self-governed responses to authority, all potentially "in the name of Jesus." As the Church, we need to take a second thoughtful look at what Jesus would have us do in regard to the laws of the land as they conflict with the laws of His Kingdom.

Certainly many believers might point to specific passages in the Old Testament to justify resistance or even violence by some of the workings of God through Israel against neighboring nations. However, the intent of many of the Old Testament natural world examples were to reveal spiritual applications and truths that would be fulfilled through Christ. Therefore, we will conservatively use New Testament examples of Jesus' practices and Paul's teachings to identify His intent in and through His Church. Did Jesus ever teach His followers to reject or defy secular authority in this current age? We'll explore four directives:

Jesus came in peace: In Zechariah 9:9 we read: "Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout in triumph, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; He is just and endowed with salvation, humble, and mounted on a donkey…"

Just before His death, the crowds praised Jesus during His triumphal entry into Jerusalem because they believed He was heading into the city to set up His Kingdom by force. Surely this was the King they and their ancestors had anticipated for so long and He had finally come to save His people from oppressive and corrupt rule of men.

But those same people who praised Him one day cursed Him the next when He submitted Himself to the cruelty of the Jewish and Roman authorities. He did not fight back, and neither did He open His mouth in defense (Isaiah 53:7). What went wrong? How had they misunderstood the prophecies of a powerful Messiah?

Perhaps they ignored the part about the "humble King mounted on a donkey." Or perhaps they didn't understand its meaning. In Bible times, kings who rode donkeys came in peace while kings who rode horses came for war. It was no accident that Jesus rode a donkey for His triumphal entry into Jerusalem at the conclusion of His first appearance on earth. His first mission was to establish peace between God and man by destroying the power of sin. This was the greater victory, requiring His humble surrender to death on a cross so that He might conquer His Kingdom in the Spirit, not in the flesh.

It's no different in the Church age today. We are to follow His example of winning the Kingdom peacefully through the Spirit, not outwardly by the flesh. In Ephesians 6:12, Paul said, "For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places." And again in 1 Cor. 10:4: "For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses."

Jesus promoted the Gospel: The New Testament teaches that the true Church is the "body of Christ." In this age, I believe we are to imitate and even magnify His work in bodily form—to submit ourselves to the rule of this world for a time in order to establish the work of the Spirit. What is this work of the Spirit?

Jesus did not round up twelve disciples and tell them to crusade against all the unfair and heathen laws and practices going on around them, of which there were plenty. On the contrary, all of His time and energy during His mission on earth was put into that one thing: Proclaiming the Good News of the Kingdom.

Throughout His recorded life, Jesus fully promoted peaceful interaction with those who ruled over Him in the flesh. He willingly paid His taxes, and when Peter cut off the ear of the high priest's slave the night of His betrayal, Jesus said, "Put your sword back into its place; for all those who take up the sword shall perish by the sword…" (Matt. 26:52).

In Romans 12:17-21, Paul continued the teachings and examples of Jesus: "Never pay back evil for evil to anyone…If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men…Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good."

Jesus recognized earthly authority as established by God: The night of Jesus' betrayal (when Peter cut off the guard's ear), He challenged Peter's violent resistance, "…the cup which the Father has given Me, shall I not drink it?" (Jn. 18:11). Peter looked at the forceful arrest through eyes of the flesh and he was ready to fight. Jesus looked at the arrest as a divine appointment for a greater good, and He peacefully submitted to this sovereignly orchestrated event (see another similar example in Matt. 16:21-23).

The Manhattan Declaration states: "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."

This statement is a frightening affront to the sovereign workings of God in our lives and our times. If we don't understand God's ultimate power and sovereignty, and the way He establishes and uses all people—including earthly rulers and authorities—to accomplish His greater purposes (see Isaiah 46:9-10), this truth will create a stumbling block and potentially put us in a state of defiance against God's will for us. Romans 12:1-2 could not be any clearer on this point:

"Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves" (see also Daniel 2:20-22, 37; John 19:10-11; 1 Peter 2:13-17).

Jesus Promoted Personal Holiness and Devotion: Throughout the Bible, God exhorts His children to "come out and be separate" from the pagan practices of unbelievers and society around them. Surely while living at peace with men and rulers, we also must remain set apart. I believe this is more about inner devotion and obedience to God at a personal level which could be in agreement with the basic premise of TMD (sanctity of life and God-ordained marriage), but not about outward defiance through heavy-handed or belligerent crusading as promoted by TMD. In Romans 2:29, Paul taught about the meaning of truly being set apart from the world: "But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God."

So how would living a set apart life look like in our society today? Certainly it is right for a believing physician to quietly refuse to perform an abortion. But acting out by picketing or even rioting outside an abortion clinic in protest is not what we see demonstrated or promoted in the New Testament. In the same way, I believe Jesus would not have us crusading against the world over issues such as same-sex marriage, but showing the way to true life and peace by demonstrating His love to homosexuals through caring relationships. Why? Because we will never win the world to the Father by standing against them. We will win the world the same way Jesus did—by befriending them and standing with them in their pain, and by coming alongside them with unconditional love and patient tolerance.

Remember that Jesus didn't speak out against the world or even against the unbelieving rulers who opposed Him. In fact, the only people He criticized were the hypocrites—those who professed belief but lived in disobedience, unbelief, and hypocrisy. As to the world, Jesus lived, worked, and witnessed among them. He was known as "the friend of sinners."

As far as I know, there is not one instance in the New Testament where God commanded or justified civil disobedience in defiance of governmental authority. You will only find godly people attempting to win the Kingdom by the Spirit, and not by force. You will find that believers are commanded to make every attempt to live in peace with all.

Make no mistake, the next time Jesus comes to earth, He will be riding a horse to make war with His enemies. But until then, we have been commanded to wait for Him in peace.

Julie Ferwerda is the author of The Perfect Fit: Piecing Together True Love, and has written for publications such as Marriage Partnership, Focus on the Family, and Discipleship Journal. Find out more:

Original publication date: December 21, 2009