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Topic: The Nashville Statement

Symposium: Not a culture war document but a church document (Denny Burk)

August 28, 2018
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[Editor’s note: This post is part of a symposium on the one-year anniversary of the Nashville Statement, which was released by the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood on August 25, 2017 after a meeting in Nashville hosted by the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.]

It always surprises people when I tell them that the Nashville Statement was never intended to be a culture war document but a church document. In other words, the statement stakes out no public policy positions nor does it advocate for any particular piece of legislation or political program. Rather, it was drafted by churchmen from a variety of evangelical traditions who aim to catechize God’s people about their “personal and physical design as male and female.”

Why would God’s people need such instruction? Last summer, the Pew Research Center released a survey showing a dramatic shift in attitudes among evangelicals concerning gay marriage. The study revealed a widening difference of opinion between older and younger evangelicals. According to Pew, nearly half of white millennial evangelicals now approve of gay marriage.

The Pew survey confirms a trend that many of us leading churches have already observed anecdotally to be true. A rising generation of self-described evangelicals no longer believes what the church has always believed about the nature of marriage and about God’s special design of male and female. These issues of sexual morality and personal identity have always been central to the Christian faith, yet now they are being abandoned by some even within the evangelical movement.

That is why the Nashville Statement is not so much a manifesto aimed at the world but a confession aimed at our ourselves. Long before anyone was debating gay marriage, there was a softening of marriage norms among evangelical Christians. Many evangelical congregations and ministries have acquiesced to divorce culture, pornography use, sexual immorality, and lack of church discipline. These previous compromises are why gay marriage is having such a soft landing in many congregations today. The pump was already primed for this latest stage of the sexual revolution.

Because of this erosion of evangelical integrity on issue of sexual morality, it was past time for evangelicals to get their own house in order. Evangelicals needed to recover and reassert what Christ’s church has always believed. And that is why we drafted the Nashville Statement when we did.

Our aim has always been to serve Christ’s church by pointing God’s people to what the Bible teaches about sexuality and gender. These are such contested issues in our time, but they shouldn’t be among God’s people. We need to stand firm and together for the truth of what God has revealed to us. The Nashville Statement is a vehicle for doing just that.

Since last year, evangelical churches and ministries have been discovering the Nashville Statement and using it to express their own convictions about sexuality and gender. At least three state Baptist conventions approved resolutions affirming the substance of the statement. The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary adopted the Nashville Statement last Fall as a confessional standard. Cedarville University did the same just this last Spring. We are grateful for this kind of institutional buy-in over the last year. We are hoping and praying for even more in the years to come.

We are indeed persuaded that faithfulness in our generation means declaring once again the true story of the world and of our place in it—particularly as male and female. To that end, I would reaffirm now what we said last year in the preamble:

We believe that God’s design for his creation and his way of salvation serve to bring him the greatest glory and bring us the greatest good. God’s good plan provides us with the greatest freedom. Jesus said he came that we might have life and have it in overflowing measure. He is for us and not against us. Therefore, 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.

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