The Nashville Statement: A Test of Orthodoxy?
When the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW) released the Nashville Statement on biblical sexuality, there were immediate responses from almost every quarter. Reactions ranged from wholehearted endorsement to begrudging acceptance to outright rejection. Many of those who rejected the Nashville Statement have done so because they disagree with the content of the Nashville Statement--those who support or defend issues such as homosexual marriage, transgenderism, and homosexuality. It is not surprising that they would be strongly against the Nashville Statement.
Most who strongly supported and quickly signed the Nashville Statement are those who share CBMW's concerns over the wholesale rejection of biblical sexual ethics. They recognize that there is a need to speak up regarding what the Bible teaches on sexuality. And given the strong push in our country, and even in our churches, to reject the Bible's teachings on sexuality and to embrace the world's approach of "anything goes," I believe that there is a great need for strong, biblical teaching on sexuality.
There has also been a significant amount of pushback by some who share the concerns addressed in the Nashville Statement but who disagree with various aspects of the statement. Some are concerned about what CBMW means by "divinely ordained differences between male and female." Considering what CBMW has taught since its inception regarding male and female roles of authority and submission and the connection they have made with authority and submission in the Trinity, it's a reasonable concern to have.
After the Trinity debate last summer, the official answer from CBMW was that to be a complementarian one only needed to uphold the Danvers Statement and that it was not necessary to hold to the Nicene teaching on the Trinity. Such a position appears to make the Danvers Statement more essential for complementarianism than Nicene orthodoxy. That is a very rocky foundation and a legitimate concern for many who have not signed the Nashville Statement.
Another concern has been raised over the use of "procreative" describing marriage in the Nashville Statement. Again, because of the well-known teachings of CBMW and its authors on the topic of marriage and procreation, it's reasonable to ask exactly what they meant.
Others have expressed concern over the timing and usefulness of the new statement. They are concerned about the pastoral implications of such a statement. Will the Nashville Statement help or hinder efforts to reach and share the gospel with those in the LGBT+ community? Certainly it's true that the Bible's teachings on sexuality will be challenging and even offensive to many, but does the Nashville Statement add clarity or generate more heat than light? These are valid questions.
There have been a number of other concerns raised. Even some of those who signed the statement have addressed the reservations they have with the Nashville Statement. But in the push to defend the statement and to encourage others to sign it, there have been a number of articles that appear to make support of the Nashville Statement a test of orthodoxy.
In one article, an individual who supported the Nashville Statement comparea the Nashville Statement to separating the sheep from the goats. Another claims that to reject the statement is to reject the Bible. Yet another author stated that he had not seen anyone who supports historic Christianity that was opposed to the Nashville Statement. One defender wrote questioning the faith of those who disagree. These are serious claims to make and dangerous ones too.
As Christians and as the church, we must stand strong for what the Bible teaches, in all aspects of life. But we should be careful not to bind the conscience of other believers. The Nashville Statement, for however good it might be, is not the Bible. It is also not part of the confessional standards of my denomination. As such, even if it were a perfectly accurate representation of what the Bible teaches, I would not be required to sign it. Given the many valid concerns that faithful, honest believers have regarding the Nashville Statement, we should be very cautious about making support of it a test of orthodoxy.
As the Westminster Confession of Faith states:
"All synods or councils, since the apostles' times, whether general or particular, may err; and many have erred. Therefore they are not to be made the rule of faith, or practice; but to be used as a help in both" (WCF 31.4).
The Nashville Statement might be helpful, but it is not "the rule of faith, or practice." It is not on par with the Nicene, Apostles', or Athanasian creeds which the Christian church has accepted as representing the fundamental aspects of Christianity. Opposing or supporting the Nashville Statement is not necessarily a proof of heresy or orthodoxy. This is especially true considering that some signatories of the Nashville Statement continue to hold to beliefs about the Trinity that are contrary to the ecumenical creeds.
In expressing my concern over aspects of the Nashville Statement, some friends who were supportive of it told me that they felt they needed to sign it because they had to do something to show support for biblical sexual ethics. Others said that the statement might not be perfect but no one else was doing anything. While I understand and share their desire to stand for the truth, especially in the face of such opposition today, there is danger in being too quick to act.
In the wake of Hurricane Harvey, we've seen many well-meaning people and organizations wanting to just "do something" to help. Sometimes it is useful. People are donating time, money, and resources that are dearly needed. Other times it's not so useful. A friend shared a story about an organization that donated a crate of limes. What are we going to do with limes right now? I'm not sure.
In making a stand for the Bible in our society today, we need to be careful and measured in our actions. I'm not opposed to making new statements that respond to challenges to biblical orthodoxy. Such statements may be necessary. But I would like to recommend that first we consider whether or not we're recreating the wheel.
As one writer pointed out, the Westminster Standards already address the very issues that CBMW attempts to cover with the Nashville Statement. Consider these excerpts:
On the creation of man:
"After God had made all other creatures, he created man male and female; formed the body of the man of the dust of the ground, and the woman of the rib of the man, endued them with living, reasonable, and immortal souls; made them after his own image, in knowledge, righteousness, and holiness; having the law of God written in their hearts, and power to fulfill it, and dominion over the creatures; yet subject to fall" (WLC 17).
On marriage and divorce:
"Marriage is to be between one man and one woman: neither is it lawful for any man to have more than one wife, nor for any woman to have more than one husband, at the same time" (WCF 24.1).
"Marriage was ordained for the mutual help of husband and wife, for the increase of mankind with a legitimate issue, and of the Church with an holy seed; and for preventing of uncleanness" (WCF 24.2).
"Although the corruption of man be such as is apt to study arguments unduly to put asunder those whom God has joined together in marriage: yet, nothing but adultery, or such wilful desertion as can no way be remedied by the Church, or civil magistrate, is cause sufficient of dissolving the bond of marriage: wherein, a public and orderly course of proceeding is to be observed; and the persons concerned in it not left to their own wills, and discretion, in their own case" (WCF 24.6).
"The sins forbidden in the seventh commandment, besides the neglect of the duties required, are, adultery, fornication, rape, incest, sodomy, and all unnatural lusts; all unclean imaginations, thoughts, purposes, and affections; all corrupt or filthy communications, or listening thereunto; wanton looks, impudent or light behaviour, immodest apparel; prohibiting of lawful, and dispensing with unlawful marriages; allowing, tolerating, keeping of stews, and resorting to them; entangling vows of single life, undue delay of marriage, having more wives or husbands than one at the same time; unjust divorce, or desertion; idleness, gluttony, drunkenness, unchaste company; lascivious songs, books, pictures, dancings, stage plays; and all other provocations to, or acts of uncleanness, either in ourselves or others" (WLC 139).
What the Nashville Statement attempts to say has already been said and, in my opinion, said better by the authors of our historic Reformed confessions. Instead of a new statement, what we need as believers, especially those of us in confessional churches, is to teach the Scriptures and catechize our congregations so that we are well-equipped to answer the many challenges made to biblical orthodoxy. When society asks, "Did God really say?," we will be ready to respond.
I do not object to my brothers and sisters in Christ who have signed the Nashville Statement. They have done what they thought best. I share their desire to make a strong stand for biblical sexual ethics. I pray more Christians will be willing to stand firm on the truth of the Bible. We can expect the opposition to become increasingly fierce. I simply ask that in defending our decisions to sign or not to sign the Nashville Statement, we do not make either a test of orthodoxy.