In response to the mass abandonment of Christ-centered apologetics in the church in modern times, the Cambridge Declaration was issued in 1996 by the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It was a direct response to the declining state of the Evangelical movement in America.
The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals came to be formed a year after David F. Wells authored a book called No Place for Truth or Whatever Happened to Evangelical Theology? in 1993. The book was critically acclaimed by a number of important Evangelical leaders. In 1994 a number of these leaders came together at a conference in Cambridge, Massachusetts out of which the Cambridge Declaration was issued.
Two of the principle players involved were James Montgomery Boice and Michael S. Horton. The list of those gathered included some notable Evangelical leaders: R.C. Sproul, John MacArthur, John Piper, Albert Mohler, Alistair Begg, and many others. The reasons for issuing the Declaration were the following: (ref. Wikipedia – Cambridge Declaration)
- The culture of the modern world (as represented by Postmodernism) is changing the message that the church preaches.
- The erosion of Christian doctrine within the modern church, including the lack of Expository Preaching.
- The increasing influence of Relativism within the church, which has led to an environment where “truth” is subjectively determined, and where church leaders aim to preach only “positive” messages.
- The increasing focus upon man, rather than God, within the church.
- An increasing focus on man’s ability to respond to God’s grace, rather than a focus upon God’s ability to save man.
- A focus on the quantitative and measurable aspects of church growth (which thus links Christian ministry with outward success) rather than the qualitative and spiritual aspects of Biblical ministry.
In a call for a return to historical Evangelicalism, and the truths once proclaimed at the time of the Protestant Reformation, the Cambridge Delaration focused on the five solas which articulate historic Christian truth:
Sola Scriptura: The Erosion of Authority
……………….Scripture alone is the inerrant rule of the church’s life, but the evangelical church today has separated Scripture from its authoritative function. In practice, the church is guided, far too often, by the culture. Therapeutic technique, marketing strategies, and the beat of the entertainment world often have far more to say about what the church wants, how it functions and what it offers, than does the Word of God.
…………………Scripture must take us beyond our perceived needs to our real needs and liberate us from seeing ourselves through the seductive images, cliches, promises and priorities of mass culture. It is only in the light of God’s truth that we understand ourselves aright and see God’s provision for our need. The Bible, therefore, must be taught and preached in the church. Sermons must be expositions of the Bible and its teachings, not expressions of the preacher’s opinions or the ideas of the age. We must settle for nothing less than what God has given.
……………………The work of the Holy Spirit in personal experience cannot be disengaged from Scripture. The Spirit does not speak in ways that are independent of Scripture. Apart from Scripture we would never have known of God’s grace in Christ. The biblical Word, rather than spiritual experience, is the test of truth.
Thesis One: Sola Scriptura
We reaffirm the inerrant Scripture to be the sole source of written divine revelation, which alone can bind the conscience. The Bible alone teaches all that is necessary for our salvation from sin and is the standard by which all Christian behavior must be measured.
We deny that any creed, council or individual may bind a Christian’s conscience, that the Holy Spirit speaks independently of or contrary to what is set forth in the Bible, or that personal spiritual experience can ever be a vehicle of revelation.
Note the key part of this provision: that the Holy Spirit does not speak in ways that are independent of scripture. How clearly we see these kinds of errors in so many churches today, and even more so in the numerous internet ministries which have sprouted up. How quickly could we all see through the fear-mongering false prophets of the internet with this understanding. All the blather spouted by the likes of the internet fear mongers about the Holy Spirit coming to their “specially annointed” prophetic ministries, and passing on information completely outside the realm of what God has revealed to us in scripture, would be exposed for what it is.
No more would we have to see many of our brothers and sisters in Christ get caught up in the snares and traps set by those who would have us believe they receive extra-biblical revelation in their dreams and visions. No more would we be held captive to the daily and weekly broadcasts telling us how much we need to listen to their pronouncements to find out those things God supposedly wants us to know, but somehow left out of his holy scriptures. We would stand as one and renounce the ministers who call themselves Christian, and speak what they tell us is “new revelation.”
Anyone who tells you he had a personal experience that God gave him in order for you to receive revelation or knowledge can be discounted as false and against what the Bible teaches. Following this thesis of the Declaration would give a big “thumbs up” to God’s revelation in the scriptures, and a resounding “thumbs down” to the masquerade of human revelation. It could shut down the heretical dream and vision ministers overnight, and lead them to earn an honest, biblically-based living, refocusing on Christ, and turning the spotlight away from themselves and their relentless pursuit of sensationalism.
Solus Christus: The Erosion of Christ-Centered Faith
……………As evangelical faith becomes secularized, its interests have been blurred with those of the culture. The result is a loss of absolute values, permissive individualism, and a substitution of wholeness for holiness, recovery for repentance, intuition for truth, feeling for belief, chance for providence, and immediate gratification for enduring hope.
Thesis Two: Solus Christus
We reaffirm that our salvation is accomplished by the mediatorial work of the historical Christ alone. His sinless life and substitutionary atonement alone are sufficient for our justification and reconciliation to the Father.
We deny that the gospel is preached if Christ’s substitutionary work is not declared and faith in Christ and his work is not solicited.
Here we see the issue of calling for people to “make a decision” to be saved, without any preaching of the gospel. Often this calling comes after a presentation of some sorts which appeals heavily to the emotions, but says little or nothing about the gospel and does not preach the Atonement. How many ministers talk at length about the doom and calamity to come, inflaming our emotions and fears, without actually saying a word about the gospel? With this filter in place, we can know right away when we are hearing the gospel of man being preached. It is faith in Christ and his work that a true minister will preach, not how to prepare for the next disaster, or worse, attempting to pass on to us on behalf of God the details about where or how that disaster will strike.
Next time any of us are tempted to think of people like the doomsayers of the internet as ministers of the Christian faith, we need pause to reflect whether they are preaching the gospel, or merely whipping up an emotional stir in us. The emotions are a very unreliable guide as to whether we are hearing truth. The wildly emotional rantings of the false teachers are very foreign to how the Holy Spirit actually works in our lives.
This is also relevant to the emotional displays often put forward by neo-Pentecostal preachers and churches, where a fevor pitch is incited, and the implication is made that this indicates the presence of the Spirit. Tongues speaking and prophecy are then given high credentials as people are swept up in the frenzy, convinced that their state of delirium confirms the action of the Spirit.
Sola Gratia: The Erosion of the Gospel
…………….Unwarranted confidence in human ability is a product of fallen human nature. This false confidence now fills the evangelical world; from the self-esteem gospel, to the health and wealth gospel, from those who have transformed the gospel into a product to be sold and sinners into consumers who want to buy, to others who treat Christian faith as being true simply because it works. This silences the doctrine of justification regardless of the official commitments of our churches.
………………..God’s grace in Christ is not merely necessary but is the sole efficient cause of salvation. We confess that human beings are born spiritually dead and are incapable even of cooperating with regenerating grace.
Thesis Three: Sola Gratia
We reaffirm that in salvation we are rescued from God’s wrath by his grace alone. It is the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit that brings us to Christ by releasing us from our bondage to sin and raising us from spiritual death to spiritual life.
We deny that salvation is in any sense a human work. Human methods, techniques or strategies by themselves cannot accomplish this transformation. Faith is not produced by our unregenerated human nature.
In this statement we see that no manner of human manipulative technique can lead anyone to faith, as these techniques are from unregenerated man. Again, as in the examples of Charismatic and Pentecostal churches, and the wild, flamboyant internet ministries of the Rick Wiles-Nathan Leal-Steve Quayle paradigm, we observe that the Holy Spirit simply cannot be summoned through controversy or sensationalism. No amount of internet marketing and grandstanding can lead anyone to salvation.
So many ministries today treat faith as a commodity to be promoted, marketed, and sold. We have all listened to these hour long internet broadcasts which focus on everything from how evil the secular government is, to the latest government conspiracy, and if we just send in our donations, they will be able to continue to channel this badly-needed information to Christians everywhere. When not one word of the gospel has been preached, can we still call this a “Christian” broadcast or ministry?
Sola Fide: The Erosion of the Chief Article
………….Justification is by grace alone through faith alone because of Christ alone. This is the article by which the church stands or falls. Today this article is often ignored, distorted or sometimes even denied by leaders, scholars and pastors who claim to be evangelical.
……………Many in the church growth movement believe that sociological understanding of those in the pew is as important to the success of the gospel as is the biblical truth which is proclaimed. As a result, theological convictions are frequently divorced from the work of the ministry. The marketing orientation in many churches takes this even further, erasing the distinction between the biblical Word and the world, robbing Christ’s cross of its offense, and reducing Christian faith to the principles and methods which bring success to secular corporations.
………………There is no basis for our acceptance before God except in Christ’s saving work, not in our patriotism, churchly devotion or moral decency. The gospel declares what God has done for us in Christ. It is not about what we can do to reach him.
Thesis Four: Sola Fide
We reaffirm that justification is by grace alone through faith alone because of Christ alone. In justification Christ’s righteousness is imputed to us as the only possible satisfaction of God’s perfect justice.
We deny that justification rests on any merit to be found in us, or upon the grounds of an infusion of Christ’s righteousness in us, or that an institution claiming to be a church that denies or condemns sola fide can be recognized as a legitimate church.
Teaching that the gospel is about our moral decency “as a nation”, or our “patriotism” is a perversion of the true gospel. Speculations about presumed future judgments from God upon the nation is not preaching the gospel. A great deal of what we hear on the average Christian internet broadcast falls under this category – little more than a conspiracy-laced brand of neo-patriotism masked as modern day Christianity.
The righteousness imputed to us is what justifies, not the feeble human attempts to gain some appearance of righteous behavior by political moralizing or attempting to reach a Christian moral high ground through condemnation of our political leaders or systems. How many of the internet preacher/gurus today try to turn this government-baiting into their own form of religion?
Soli Deo Gloria: The Erosion of God-Centered Worship
………………Wherever in the church biblical authority has been lost, Christ has been displaced, the gospel has been distorted, or faith has been perverted, it has always been for one reason: our interests have displaced God’s and we are doing his work in our way. The loss of God’s centrality in the life of today’s church is common and lamentable. It is this loss that allows us to transform worship into entertainment, gospel preaching into marketing, believing into technique, being good into feeling good about ourselves, and faithfulness into being successful. As a result, God, Christ and the Bible have come to mean too little to us and rest too inconsequentially upon us.
……………….God does not exist to satisfy human ambitions, cravings, the appetite for consumption, or our own private spiritual interests. We must focus on God in our worship, rather than the satisfaction of our personal needs. God is sovereign in worship; we are not. Our concern must be for God’s kingdom, not our own empires, popularity or success.
Thesis Five: Soli Deo Gloria
We reaffirm that because salvation is of God and has been accomplished by God, it is for God’s glory and that we must glorify him always. We must live our entire lives before the face of God, under the authority of God and for his glory alone.
We deny that we can properly glorify God if our worship is confused with entertainment, if we neglect either Law or Gospel in our preaching, or if self-improvement, self-esteem or self-fulfillment are allowed to become alternatives to the gospel.
If a ministry is centered around its own success, popularity, and fulfillment, and teaching these things to others, then God’s interests are being displaced by our own worldly ambitions. The false preachers are always exhorting their listeners to help them expand their empires, and this is said to be “for the Kingdom.” But can we afford to blur the distinction between true gospel preaching and what amounts to little more than self-promotion and marketing techniques?
I recall not long ago one of the internet ministers insisted that the Kingdom of God would be greatly glorified and expanded if his listeners would send him financial support so that he could build a “state of the art 24-hour Christian broadcasting network.” Here we see his own spiritual interests expressed in the human appetite for personal consumption and cravings to satisfy human ambition, replacing God’s interests. We must not try to do God’s work our own way. We must not allow worship to be transformed into entertainment, and preaching into marketing. We cannot build secular kingdoms that have any lasting impact because they are built on worldly ambition.
We will end with the closing comments of the Cambridge Declaration, which powerfully sum up the call for a return to historical evangelicalism. Since the church has travelled even further adrift in the time since the passing of this declaration in 1996, all concerned ministers should have a serious look at implementing the provisions contained herein.
A Call To Repentance and Reformation
The faithfulness of the evangelical church in the past contrasts sharply with its unfaithfulness in the present. Earlier in this century, evangelical churches sustained a remarkable missionary endeavor, and built many religious institutions to serve the cause of biblical truth and Christ’s kingdom. That was a time when Christian behavior and expectations were markedly different from those in the culture. Today they often are not. The evangelical world today is losing its biblical fidelity, moral compass and missionary zeal.
We repent of our worldliness. We have been influenced by the “gospels” of our secular culture, which are no gospels. We have weakened the church by our own lack of serious repentance, our blindness to the sins in ourselves which we see so clearly in others, and our inexcusable failure to adequately tell others about God’s saving work in Jesus Christ.
We also earnestly call back erring professing evangelicals who have deviated from God’s Word in the matters discussed in this Declaration. This includes those who declare that there is hope of eternal life apart from explicit faith in Jesus Christ, who claim that those who reject Christ in this life will be annihilated rather than endure the just judgment of God through eternal suffering, or who claim that evangelicals and Roman Catholics are one in Jesus Christ even where the biblical doctrine of justification is not believed.
The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals asks all Christians to give consideration to implementing this Declaration in the church’s worship, ministry, policies, life and evangelism.
For Christ’s sake. Amen.
The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals Executive Council (1996):
Dr. John Armstrong
The Rev. Alistair Begg
Dr. James M. Boice
Dr. W. Robert Godfrey
Dr. John D. Hannah
Dr. Michael S. Horton
Mrs. Rosemary Jensen
Dr. R. Albert Mohler, Jr.
Dr. Robert M. Norris
Dr. R.C. Sproul
Dr. Gene Edward Veith
Dr. David Wells
Dr. Luder Whitlock
Dr. J.A.O. Preus, III
All blessings in Christ