The Westminster Statement (or Why the Nashville Statement is Unnecessary)
What is the Nashville Statement
Yesterday (August 29, 2017) the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood issued a document called the Nashville Statement. This document contained a preamble, fourteen articles (consisting of both affirmations and denials), and comes with an initial list of over 150 signatories that reads like a who’s who list of the biggest names in conservative Christianity. This statement is similar in its format and intention as the Christology Statement that Ligonier Ministries released in 2016 (and subsequently revised in 2017).
The following morning, Dr. R Albert Mohler discussed the Nashville Statement (of which he is one of the signatories) on his podcast. One of the main themes of Dr. Mohler’s discussion was that in unclear times such as this, the Church must speak with clarity on controversial subjects (with the implication that the Church has not already spoken with clarity). While I don’t disagree with him in principle, there are several elements of this motivation that I find questionable.
Unlike my concerns with the Ligonier Christology Statement, I don’t have any theological concerns or critiques to make about the Nashville Statement itself. Apart from the fact that it comes in the backdrop of the Eternal Functional Subordination of the Son theology which is prominent within CBMW, the individual articles are reasonable expressions of the orthodox biblical teaching on human sexuality and gender.
However, I have two main concerns with this statement. First, does CBMW, or even the collection of signatories, represent the Church speaking? Second, the related axes of whether or not the Nashville Statement is clear and whether or not the Church has not already spoken clearly.
The Nashville Statement is not the Church Speaking
As I also remarked in my comments on the Christology Statement. A parachurch organization is not a Church. It does not speak with the authority of the Church, and it cannot fulfill the obligations of the Church. The same is true when speaking of a non-ecclesiastical coalition of Christians, even Christians who are leaders in the Church. To put it bluntly, CBMW isn’t a Church, and the more than 150 signatories are not a Church.
The prescribed vehicle for the Church to speak is the pulpit. The prescribed time for the Church to speak is the Lord’s Day. The prescribed representative to speak on behalf of the Church is the ordained Elders who are tasked with speaking from the pulpit on the Lord’s Day. This may seem pedantic, but the fact of the matter is that the only time that the Church speaks prophetically (that is, when she speaks the words of God, on behalf of God, in the presence of God, and with God’s authority), is when the Scriptures are exposited and preached in the gathering of God’s people. To issue a statement like the Nashville Statement in such a way is not only not to speak as the Church, but in point of fact undercuts the authoritative speech of the Church on such subjects.
The Nashville Statement does not Speak Clearly from the Scriptures
One thing that is conspicuously missing from the Nashville Statement is any sort of Biblical proof-texting. As I said, I think the theological veracity of the 14 articles is just fine. However, due to the lack of any scriptural support, it lacks any sort of scriptural clarity. Christians are not only to speak clearly but to speak clearly from scripture. There are all sorts of allusions to the Bible, and all sorts of discussion about the image of God and God’s design for creation, however apart from actual biblical citations this statement carries no authority whatsoever for anyone. I don’t want to speculate about the reasons for leaving out scriptural citations, but their absence certainly is felt. Why should I take the statements expressed in this statement over any other private opinions of men? Apart from explicit scriptural proof, there is no reason to. Why should we expect the unregenerate world to listen to what these men have to say if they are not explicitly grounded in the transcended word of God?
The Church has already Clearly Said Everything the Nashville Statement Says
Nothing that is said in the Nashville Statement is new. The Church has been teaching the same thing on the same subjects for millennia. There is not a single signatory who would deny that statement. Why are we reinventing the wheel and allowing nonauthoritative, nonecclesiastical, and piecemeal collection of Christians (many of whom we would disagree with on significant theological subjects) determine and pronounce what the Christian Church believes… when we already have authoritative confessional documents which more clearly say the same thing.
As you might have guessed from the title of this post, my contention is that given the existence of the Westminster Confession of Faith, the Nashville Statement is unnecessary. While it is true that the Nashville Statement contains more specificity than the Westminster Confession does, particularly in relation to issues of Biology and Transgenderism, the fact remains that the positive statements regarding human anthropology directly address these issues, albeit broadly.
Rather than produce a redundant and non-authoritative statement, why not simply do what Christians have been doing for thousands of years. Exposit the scripture, exposit our subordinate standards, and apply the theological truths contained therein to the congregation by the vibrant preaching of the word by those whom God gave to the Church to train and equip them for every good work?
As I commented in my post on the Ligonier Christology statement, I doubt very much that any of the signatories intend to supplant or replace the authority of the Church or the authoritative documents of the Church with this statement. However, in practice that is exactly what happens. When I was in seminary, we didn’t read the Westminster Confession on the nature and authority of Scripture… we read the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. There are congregations out there who don’t read the Nicene Creed together on the Lord’s Day, but they do recite the Ligonier Christology Statement. My fear is that rather than turning to our time-tested ecclesiastical formulations on human sexuality (or even updating and expanding them), people will turn to the Nashville Statement instead.