Over the last few weeks within Christian circles a new document was posted online and began to be circulated and talked about on blog posts among pastors and other students of theology. Many big named pastors and scholars signed there names to it and have decreed it almost an anathema not to sign. With such strong endorsements and even partial condemnations against those who are reluctant to sign (many for very biblical and spiritual reasons) this document seems to be one of the most important reflections of Christian orthodoxy, exploring the depths of Scripture to come up with a true reflection of the state of who God is and a defense of orthodoxy, right?
Now today I don’t wish to bash this statement. It is on its face value a solid statement, dealing with human sexuality and the position of the church. However I would like to ask some questions about it.
First the teaching here is not new so is not necessary.
The Baptist Faith and message deals with these topics to a fair enough degree and is the standard for Southern Baptist Churches. The Westminster standards, the set rule of guidance for theology in conservative Presbyterian church, also address these issues to a degree and both these guiding documents root their discussion and application within Scripture. Throughout history we have guiding documents like these written by great men who in studying the Scriptures point us to these very truths from the Word of God, so that we may study the text they derived their theology from and see for ourselves the nature of their decisions. The Nashville Statement itself bears no Scriptural markers (in that there is neither proof text nor discussion to aid in its application).
Second on whose authority are we submitting to in signing this document?
With the last two references above we see standards of theology that are accepted in two of the major conservative portions of the evangelical world: Southern Baptists and conservative Presbyterians, and many of those baptist churches may even submit to the second London or even New Hampshire confessions. In either case, by submitting to those guiding documents of faith and practice, we place ourselves under their authority in so much as they point us to Scripture and to a proper understanding of God as revealed. These documents address these issues at least in principle as part of a robust theology, not a 14 point over arching rule. The Baptist Faith and Message and the Westminster standards were labored over by appointed and trusted leaders to study the Scripture and speak on behalf of their respected churches. As much as I respect a lot of the men and women who are apart of the CBMW they are a para church organization, with no theological authority or need to answer to anyone, as was seen in the debate over the ESS. It would be as if the Publicans posted a statement of faith and other evangelicals demanded that you sign it to be a true orthodox Christian. As much as I love these guys and trust them, we have churches and Elders who job that is at its core.
Third who is this statement for, the church or the world?
While reading the statement I was struck by the question “Who are they writing to in this statement?” When the Chicago statement on inerrancy came out in the early 20th century it was part of an extremely long debate within the church about the Bible and its authority. It was a discussion of what it meant to be part of the church, and it was intended to be a standard about how the Bible speaks of itself and how we respond to it. However with the Nashville Statement I am no so sure as to its audience. Is this written for the church to examine its members and deal with theses issues as sin that needs to be dealt with like Paul did with the sexual Immorality in Corinth (1 Cor. 5). If that is the case then again this seems a bit out of place in its direction as historically orthodox churches will continue to repudiate these things, in so far as repentance is lacking, within the church. Or is this for the world to be reminded once again they are sinful, at which point I would also appeal to Paul in 1 Corinthians 5 who tells us that he doesn’t attack the world for their sin, because God has already done so, and they know it. Is this just another way for us as Christians to keep seeing other people as no longer made in the image of God and in need of a savior. Everyone needs Jesus the only one who changes souls not us continually making them seem less than human. We all walked according to the desire of the flesh before we knew God, let us not forget that. This final point is why I am most concerned about who the audience is for this statement. The final three points seem to be reminders of the need of the Gospel for salvation rather than a reminder to believers of their identity in Christ and the hope that the gospel grounds them in a reality that is already theirs in Christ.
Now again as I said the substance of the statement is fine at face value, but as with anything that comes out claiming to speak for all of Conservative Christendom we must be discerning and question, not to cause problems but to understand, and a website that opens to a giant ‘Sign Here’ button above the statement rather than after, also tends to lend itself to a bit of a pause as to the full nature and purpose for this new document. At the end of the day whether you sign it or not, I hope your congregations and brothers and sisters in Christ know where you stand on the truth of the Gospel and the reality that sexual immorality in the church needs to be dealt with pastorally. As pastors we deal with real people everyday whose lives matter and who struggle with sinful lust and desires. We experience life with people who need to be told the truth of Scripture and pointed to the cross and their identity in Him. Let us be Ministers of the Gospel.
So whatever you do let your life in Christ be an example of Holiness and repentance. Let your words echo the gospel and orthodoxy, and as such look for the same in your fellow ministers who labor alongside you calling men and women to repentance and a life of faith in the salvific work of Christ.