Thoughts on the Nashville Statement

Thoughts on the Nashville Statement

A Complementarian parachurch group, the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW), recently published a statement of affirmations and denials regarding biblical sexuality, The Nashville Statement. This brief post will express my thoughts on the statement itself, as well as the manner in which it was put forward.

Praise for the Nashville Statement

Despite the criticisms below, I truly believe God is using this statement for his own glory and the good of his church. The statement itself affirms many fundamental biblical truths, such as marriage being between one man and one woman; the rejection of extra-marital intercourse, homosexual and polygamous acts and relationships; that there are “divinely ordained differences between male and female” and that we should identify as our God given biological sex; that sexual desires, not just actions, can be sinful; that “the approval of homosexual immorality or transgenderism” is not a matter of moral indifference; that sexual sin can be forgiven by the grace of God in Christ; that “transgender self-conceptions” can be forsaken by the grace of God.

These may seem like basic Christian beliefs, and one may question the need for such obvious statements, but the fact is that these things are either not so obvious for many professing Christians today, or even outright denied by them.

Many conservative evangelicals find themselves in churches and communities where affirming the biblical teaching on sexuality is difficult, the Nashville Statement gives them something to point to and use for starting conversations on this emotionally charged topic. Perhaps evangelical churches will even adopt it or formulate new statements to make it clear what their church believes about this issue.

Progressive, LGBT-affirming, apostate so-called Christians quickly wrote a rebuttal, the Denver Statement, and many have taken their virtue signaling to Twitter. These reactions vindicate the need for the Nashville Statement and demonstrates the truth of the following scripture: “For there must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you” (1 Corinthians 11:19). The reaction to Nashville Statement has revealed how many tares have been sneakily sewn among the wheat (Mat. 13:24-30).

“It is God’s purpose to permit heresies, and to overrule them for this end: that his graces may the more shine forth, and that even heresies (contrary to the intentions of Satan and heretics) may make manifest who are approved.” [1]

Unbelievers and “Progressive” so-called Christians alike have joined together in condemnation. “Hatred of religion often produces mutual harmony among wicked men, so that those who formerly had nothing in common unite together to extinguish the name of God.” [2]

Shortcomings of the Nashville Statement

While we can affirm the good things in the Nashville Statement, and the good consequences of it, we should not ignore its shortcomings and unbiblical mode of its authorship. The following criticisms are offered not for the sake of negativity, but because biblical Ecclesiology is crucial to our submission to the Headship of Christ and his blessing of the church’s ministry, and because there is still significant division over certain ethical issues even among those who could sign the Nashville Statement in good conscience.

Church Authority

We will first consider the way in which the Nashville Statement was made.

The Preamble states the purpose that “in the hope of serving Christ’s church and witnessing publicly to the good purposes of God for human sexuality revealed in Christian Scripture, we offer the following affirmations and denials.” This seems to be intended to be consultative rather than authoritative, however the public and formal witness of the church is to be led by the ministers of Christ, who have been ordained as stewards of the mysteries (i.e. doctrines) of God (1 Cor. 4:1), not by other man-made institutions such as parachurch organizations.

The Bible teaches that it is the job of the ministers and elders of the visible church to determine controversies of faith and cases of conscience according to the rule of Scripture alone. Christ gave the keys of the kingdom to his church officers in their capacity as officers, he did not give such authority to parachurch organizations. CBMW is not a synod, parachurch ministries have no place usurping the work of the ministry by producing formal statements of faith. [3]

“It belongeth to synods and councils, ministerially, to determine controversies of faith, and cases of conscience; to set down rules and directions for the better ordering of the public worship of God, and government of his Church; to receive complaints in cases of maladministration, and authoritatively to determine the same: which decrees and determinations, if consonant to the Word of God, are to be received with reverence and submission, not only for their agreement with the Word, but also for the power whereby they are made, as being an ordinance of God, appointed thereunto in his Word (Mat. 18:17-20; Acts 15:15, 19, 24, 27-31; 16:4).” (Westminster Confession of Faith 31.3).

The Nashville Statement was produced by people who hold different ecclesiological views so we won’t belabor this point. However, one would think that even those who hold certain beliefs about church associations would consider it more preferable for statements like this to be written in such contexts.

Additionally, most of the issues in the statement are already addressed more precisely and clearly by our confessional standards; e.g. see this document which compares the Nashville Statement with the Westminster Standards. Certainly transgenderism and homosexuality were not notorious controversies when the Reformed confessions were written, so modern churches should still specifically address modern errors. And many of them have done that. For example, here is the RPCNA’s statement on The Gospel and Sexual Orientation (pdf here, p. 85 ff); the PCA’s statements on homosexuality; the RPCUS, PCA, and OPC have likewise adopted resolutions concerning same-sex marriage; many more could be added.

Precision and Clarity

Lastly, we will consider the shortcomings of the statement itself.

The statement is silent about many related issues like unlawful divorce, pornography, In Vitro Fertilization, the use of abortifacents, dating around without the intent to marry, etc. Additionally, the affirmation of God’s design for marriage being, in part, procreative, seems to call for some level of discussion about contraception, but this is missing also. This is surely a much more prevalent issue within the church than homosexuality, as one author intuitively pointed out, “This is interesting because I have many friends and Christians I know that are on birth control that are married and don’t want to have kids…” [3] The nature of CBMW as a parachurch organization means that crucial ethical pronouncements on divorce must always be absent from such statements since they must be broad enough to encompass the erroneous “Permanence of Marriage Movement” and a variety of other views.

The way that marriage’s meaning and nature is framed in Article 1 could potentially run the risk of sanctioning the notion of marriage as a sacrament, something which seems to be gaining ground amongst evangelicals. The statement about marriage being “a covenant made before God” rather than a “mere human contract” is worrisome without some clarification in an age where the civil and public aspect of marriage is poorly understood by many in the visible church. Again, the Westminster Standards are much clearer on this.

Third, Matthew Lee Anderson makes an excellent point about the problems with Article 2:

“Article 2 affirms that “God’s revealed will for all people is chastity outside marriage and fidelity within marriage.” The denial makes it clear that the statement is focused on who one’s sexual desires and actions are ordered toward, namely, one’s spouse or non-spouse.

“Yet God’s revealed will is for chastity within marriage as well. There are more forms of wrongdoing in the sphere of sexuality than directing one’s sexual desire toward a third party. It is possible to reduce a spouse to an instrument of one’s pleasure, or to engage in intrinsically wrong acts together. If the narrow scope of the document’s denials were accompanied by a robust affirmation of the possibility of such wrongdoing within marriage itself, I’d be more sympathetic to it. But it does not. Such an oversight could be justified by appealing to the document’s minimalist approach. But even if that mitigates the problem, the statement still only offers a truncated, narrow form of the virtues in the realm of sex and marriage to which all Christians are called.”

This is more significant than many realize, edgy preachers have asserted that all manner of unspeakable acts are lawful as long as its between married couples. Many Christians hold this false belief and there is a desperate need for biblical clarity and church discipline on this topic.

Fourth, Article 8 is true at face value, but as an unqualified statement it allows all sorts of perverted views to slide by. It fails to affirm that corruption of nature is liable to guilt in addition to actual transgressions. Something like this should be added to it:

“We affirm that people who experience sexual attraction for the same sex may live a rich and fruitful life, pleasing to God through faith in Jesus Christ, as they, like all Christians, walk in purity of life, including repentance from all unnatural lusts and unclean imaginations, thoughts, purposes, and affections and a turn toward chastity in body, mind, affections, words, and behavior.

This would prevent the associated denial from being interpreted as allowing the belief that Same Sex Attraction (SSA) is not in fact sinful, but is merely a “sign of brokenness” similar to feelings of grief or sadness, or as one proponent put it, that having SSA is being “born in a broken condition… that does not represent flourishing” similar to being born blind or having a disease.

Article 14 states, “Forgiveness of sins and eternal life are available to every person who repents of sin and trusts in Christ alone.” The term “available” here is strange. Repenting of sin and trusting in Christ alone is the very means by which the sinner avails himself of the forgiveness of sins and eternal life. This article would be much better if stated like this: “Forgiveness of sins and eternal life are given to every person who repents of sin and trusts in Christ alone.

Perhaps there are additional shortcomings that could be noted, but this will suffice for now. If the Nashville Statement had been developed as part of a church council or synod, these types of objections could be debated and discussed. Instead, CBMW published it after having just a handful of people look at it and now they are committed. Instead of putting forth a rough draft to be edited, now they can’t go back. 

I pray that God uses the Nashville Statement for his own glory and the good of his people, but there is still much reforming to do in doctrine and practice in this area within the church as well as outside of it.



[1] George Gillespie, The Biblical Definition of Heresy.

[2] John Calvin, commentary on Luke 23:12

[3] The reader is encouraged to listen to this podcast episode: The Parachurch Problem by Sinners and Saints Radio

[4] See here for our series on contraception:

Contraception pt. 1: Abortifacients, Health Risks, Societal Factors

Contraception pt. 2: Dominion and the Purposes of Marriage

Contraception pt. 3: Barrenness, the Elderly, the Rhythm Method

Contraception pt. 4: Onanism

 

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4 thoughts on “Thoughts on the Nashville Statement

  1. I agree with much of this. However, just some thoughts… you say the document is consultative and yet is not supported by formal ecclesiastical authority. Does that mean that theologians from different churches cannot join together and, say, simply write a book on a topic? A synod is not needed I hope for every theological book or pamphlet! Perhaps you prefer they not use the word “statement”? Further, you say that the church needs more teaching on sexual relations WITHIN marriage and yet refer to the unspeakable acts. Isn’t that part of the problem? With being salacious, aren’t frank conversations missing from the teaching of the church?

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  2. That you opened this article by acknowledging the good things about the Nashville Statement, I appreciated very much (it’s easy to critique and criticize without seeing the good and you did well by putting forth the good along with your criticisms). At the end of the article you included a good reminder that we should all be praying for God to use the “Nashville Statement for His own Glory and the good of His people”. Thank you for this!

    A few observations. You criticized the making of the Nashville Statement because the CBMW is a parachurch ministry. To support this criticism you cited one obscure passage of scripture (1 Cor. 4:1) and the WCF. That the WCF is not the inspired & inerrant Holy Scripture, and is only correct insofar as it accurately portrays what is taught in Holy Scripture, I will not belabor here. However I will point out that the CBMW is in fact a “Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood” (https://cbmw.org/about/council-members/). If it “belongeth to synods and councils” the CBMW is indeed a council of pastors and believers.

    As your next paragraphs point out (in that the RPCNA, RPCUS, PCA, and OPC each have their own statements) there is no one supreme church council. Thus it is my opinion that the council of BMW serves as an excellent platform for the world to see pastors from many denominations agree that God’s word is clear on particular subjects. The Nashville Statement may not be exhaustive for each individual church denomination but it is a good starting point for believers and unbelievers to learn what the Bible teaches.

    It is true that the Nashville Statement is silent about many issues (unlawful divorce, pornography, contraception, etc.). But the main thrust of the Statement is directed towards gender identity and sexual relations. Sure, there are other issues (even related ones) within churches but these were not what the Statement set out to address.

    You did not include any citations or proof to support your statement “…crucial ethical pronouncements on divorce must always be absent from such statements since the must be broad enough to encompass the erroneous Permanence of Marriage Movement and a variety of other views”. Even if what you said were true it would not detract from the fact that many denominations and conservative evangelicals can agree on what was said in the Nashville Statement. We can and should discuss secondary differences and make our own denominational statements. But does that mean we shouldn’t have a statement that we can all agree on as a unified front?

    You argued that Article 1 could sanction marriage as a sacrament but I do not see that in the language. Even if what you say were so it is something that other statements (like the WCF) already clarify (as you pointed out).

    As to Article 2, “chastity” in the common parlance means refraining from sexual intercourse and “fidelity” includes all sexual faithfulness. As Matthew Lee Anderson pointed out, the Nashville Statement has a minimalistic approach. For sure there is more depth to discuss but that is beyond the scope of this particular Statement. What the Statement does say, though, leaves little space for wiggle room (as the public outrage is attesting). This ties in to article 8. Even your suggested addition would need much more exposition (eg. What are unnatural lusts and unclean imaginations? What does chastity in body, mind, etc. look like?).

    You seemed to say that SSA was sin in and of itself. I’m still wrestling with whether or not it is inherently sinful to have same sex attraction. Is being attracted to the same sex really a sin in and of itself or is it a reminder of our fallenness? Wouldn’t the former be like saying it is a sin for one to be tempted? Is it sinful for one to be attracted to the opposite sex until they are married or is it just sinful to lust? That same sex attraction is not part of God’s good creation (and is therefore a bad result of the fall), we and the Nashville Statement agree.

    Article 14, I agree with you that “given” is what happens when we repent and trust in Christ alone. Perhaps “given” would be better. Or perhaps they said “available” because they assume they are talking to unbelievers who have not repented and trusted in Christ (so forgiveness and eternal life are available if they would avail themselves by repenting and believing).

    As to your second to last paragraph, for sure there are shortcomings in the Statement (there are shortcomings in all documents written by man). Again, as I have argued, it was developed by a church council (one of many denominations). Who says that the CBMW published it without debate, discussion, and the putting forth of a rough draft? Also, why couldn’t they make changes now (I think that it would be great it they would include Bible citations someday)?

    In closing, I would like to thank you for taking the time to read this lengthy reply. Let us (me included) avoid foolish controversies and agree in the Lord (Titus 3:9 & Phil. 4:2). Again, thank you so much for the reminder to pray! I had gotten stuck in the rut of thinking that boldness and clever arguments will make the difference. It was good to be reminded that God is the one who wills and works.
    SDG

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    1. Brett, I truly appreciate you taking the time to read this and your well thought out reply. Let me address a few of your more significant points.

      You said, “CBMW is indeed a council of pastors and believers.”

      CBMW is not a church council or synod. A few of them may be pastors of local churches but CBMW is not an assembly of the institutional church where ordained pastors and elders as representatives of local churches determine controversies of faith and cases of conscience whose decision is authoritative (insofar as it conforms to Scripture) due to it being an official act of the church that Christ gave to his ministers (c.f. verses cited above). CBMW has women (who are incapable of being ministers) and non-ordained men, and their actions are not done in the capacity of church officers convened.

      “Even your suggested addition would need much more exposition (eg. What are unnatural lusts and unclean imaginations? What does chastity in body, mind, etc. look like?).”

      This is another reason why the church, as the church, should do things like this because they can teach these things in more detail from the local church. I pulled those things straight from the Westminster Larger Catechism that was produced by a church assembly and is used by Presbyterian churches for instruction. The Scripture verses from where they got those ideas are also cited. I encourage you to check it out, it is very exhaustive and one of the most excellent tools available for Christians to study the basic doctrines of Scripture: http://TheWestminsterStandard.com

      “Is being attracted to the same sex really a sin in and of itself or is it a reminder of our fallenness?”

      Yes it is. Please check this out: https://purelypresbyterian.com/2017/07/10/is-same-sex-attraction-sinful/

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