There have not been many times over the last twenty years in the PCA General Assembly when I had no idea how a crucial vote was going to turn out. Late last Thursday night (or was it Friday morning?), the GA's vote on the Nashville Statement was one of them. The Nashville Statement was produced by the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood to address questions regarding gender identity and homosexuality that are contested in our culture. In my opinion, this vote was a watershed in the PCA regarding whether our ethos will be shaped by cultural pressures or by the Word of God. How relieved I was when the vote came in, a substantial majority of the assembly approving the Bible's teaching on human sexuality as reflected in the Nashville Statement.
Let me offer four reasons why I think the General Assembly's approval was important. I will outline these briefly, hoping to provide fuller explanations in the future:
- The teaching of God's Word brings blessing and healing. There were undoubtedly a number of reasons why a minority of commissioners voted against the Nashville Statement (NS). The most frequently cited reason was that it would cause harm to those struggling with same sex attraction (SSA) if the PCA declared the NS a faithful and useful summary of Scripture. Very few argued that the NS was in error. What they argued instead was that by setting forth such teaching, the PCA would bring emotional harm to those struggling with homosexual desires. Yet surely the PCA is not ready to abandon its core principle that the truths of God's Word bring light and life. Moreover, the ministers who will provide tender, loving ministry to those struggling with SSA need biblical clarity on contested matters. Despite the distorted descriptions made of the NS during the debate, its greatest commendation occurred when Ruling Elder Mel Duncan simply read it. The biblical positions set forth in the NS will help us to speak the truth in love, providing careful ministry to those in need, which is why so many Christians struggling with SSA have signed and endorsed it, such as Christopher Yuan, Rosaria Butterfield, and Sam Alberry.
- The teaching of God's Word is needed when new cultural challenges impact the church. Another argument made against the NS during and after the GA debate was that we have no need directly to address the issues related to homosexuality and gender confusion. After all, it is said, we already have the Westminster Standards. Yet the Westminster divines scarcely imagined a culture in which homosexuality would be as aggressively celebrated and promoted as in our society. It is because we face new challenges that the proposed alternative to the NS was the PCA's own study committee, the support for which renders suspect the argument that the Westminster Standards provide sufficient clarity on our cultural context.
- The teaching of God's Word corrects error. The motion to support the NS was a response to the Revoice conference that emerged in 2018. While Revoice has provided different versions of its teaching, some better than others, the spreading of error has threatened the health of our denomination. These errors were replete in the GA speeches offered against the NS. One error is the confusion of sinful desire and temptation. SSA was consistently referred to as a temptation, under the notion that temptation is not sin. But as James 1:14-15 so clearly states it, temptation is the suffering imposed by inducements to sin whereas desire is the disordered affection and will that desires to embrace the temptation. Several anti-NS speeches during the debate compared SSA to medical challenges such as cancer, avoiding the truth that SSA involves a sinful aspect that mere disease does not. Another error concerns whether a Christian may wholesomely embrace a sin category as part of his or her core Christian identity. In short, is "gay Christian" a biblically faithful core conception? Despite denials that Revoice endorses "gay Christian," TE Greg Johnson assailed Article VII of the NS during his moving speech, the point of which is to "deny that adopting a homosexual or trans-gender self-conception is consistent with God's holy purposes in creation and redemption." (See 1 Cor. 6:11). Another speaker in the GA gave the frequently heard accusation that Revoice critics tell us simply "to pray the gay away." This is a disingenuous misrepresentation of our concerns. More alarming, however, is the disdain shown for the power of God to heal and deliver through the mighty resource of prayer. Revoice critics know that wrestling with SSA involves more than prayer and that this complicated issue has no easy answers. Yet dealing with SSA surely involves much prayer, and a believing hope in the power of God to deliver from sin and its effects. The scorning of prayer and God's power to deliver is a source of great alarm.
- The teaching of God's Word brings spiritual unity. As I pointed out in my GA speech, the Revoice movement has greatly disturbed the peace and unity of the PCA. The way to bring unity and peace is to speak the truths of God's Word. This was greatly needed at this year's GA and I am profoundly grateful for the assembly's wisdom in supporting the NS. Moreover, as was established in the debate over remaining in the NAE, the PCA should seek to stand in unity with other evangelical bodies. I shudder to think what would have been the effect within the PCA and in our relationship with other conservative denominations if the Christianity Today headline had been reversed the morning after GA, saying that the PCA had approved Revoice over the Nashville Statement. In my opinion, the result would have been a convulsion of division that may well have led to the splitting of the PCA. I thank our Lord that the assembly took the opposite approach, supporting the NS's exposition of truth as a basis of unity, peace, and a shared vision of ministry for our denomination.