Revisiting The Nashville Statement

A few of weeks ago I posted a blog about The Nashville Statement, and got a host of feedback from people, both those who loved what I wrote and those who thought I’d committed the unpardonable sin. It sad how angry Christians can get just by reading a different point of view. Here’s some of what I learned in the ensuing conversation on that blog, by email and on my Facebook Page:

1. Most people really get it, at least those on my blog and Facebook feeds. There’s a growing number of people who are accepting the fact that we are living in a post-Christian culture and we will not impact it by trying to force our morality on people who don’t know the God we know. Attempting to do so in a pluralistic society only makes you look arrogant and weakens your voice. This is why even people who agree with your moral stands grow weary of your need to tell everyone else how to live their lives. We are looking for better language and approaches to help people discover who God is so that they will want to follow his ways.

2. Those who put morals first have little appreciation how arrogant their tactics appear and how that destroys any opportunity to impact the culture. Most of them think as long as you’re speaking truth you cannot be guilty of arrogance. However, Merriam Webster defines arrogance as, “an attitude of superiority manifested in an overbearing manner.” I don’t know a better definition of what I read in The Statement and what I hear from many of the so-called Bible teachers behind it. Their air of superiority makes me cringe, even though I’m in agreement with much of what they believe.

Truth can be spoken with gentleness and humility that opens doors, or with superiority that closes them. That’s why the more truth you think you know, the more humility you will need to let Jesus cultivate in your heart. There is more written in Scripture against arrogance than there are sexual sins, and that arrogance is a major deterrent to effective communication. Though Jesus had all truth he was never accused of arrogance, because humility and compassion set his course as he engaged people. And it probably helped that he didn’t write columns for the Jerusalem Post or Lifestream for that matter.

3. There is a great divide in evangelicalism between those who think we need more Law to bring people to repentance, and those think Jesus superseded that approach in his Incarnation. Is it by guilt or by goodness that the Spirit leads the lost to repentance? The problem is so many of them were won by guilt, but that only worked because they had a religious upbringing. Those without it won’t find guilt a helpful course to finding God.

They are also divided on whether human effort can conform to God’s standards, or whether God does the transforming as we invite him to live in us. I know those behind the Nashville Statement would claim only God has the power to change hearts, but their demands for other people’s compliance with their morality would suggest otherwise.

4. People really hate being within 500 feet of the ‘P’ word. And yet so much of the public perception of Christianity is more analogous to how Jesus saw the Pharisees rather than how the crowds saw Jesus. I see much of that in me in my first forty years and have even joked about needing a Pharisectomy because I was more concerned about people following the rules than knowing him.

Some even accused me of name-calling those they consider to be great theologians. I wrote (very carefully I might add) that “it seems that the Pharisees met….” I admit it’s a small distinction but nonetheless a critical one. I don’t know how these people treat others around them, but many are known beyond their borders as those who care more about rules than people. Being a Pharisee in the first century wasn’t a pejorative, except to Jesus. They were the best-read theologians of the day, the rule makers and the busybodies who made sure others followed them as well under penalty of death. They were proud of their station and even young Saul aspired to be a “Pharisee of Pharisees.” What I meant by correlating their actions to those of the Pharisees was that they seem to demonstrate more concern for sexual rules than they do for love and compassion of those Jesus saw as “harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”

5. For too many the Statement has already become what I said it would—a litmus test. If you’re not wearing the “Nashville” pin on your lapel, some will accuse you of being soft on morality. They seem incapable of understanding that you can be committed to the moral claims of Scripture and at the same time not want to use civic law to discriminate against those who do not yet know the God we know.

6. People who categorically state the Bible teaches anything about being transgendered aren’t being honest with the fact that it never mentions it. There’s one verse about not wearing clothing of the opposite gender in Deuteronomy, but that is a very different application and one that is alongside other instructions God gave Israel that we don’t follow today. I realize many prefer a simpler world where everyone falls in line with what makes them comfortable, but it ignores the deep struggle and suffering that goes on in the transgendered soul. The conclusions made in The Statement are at best an extrapolation of Scripture and must be held suspect while showing compassion for those who for whatever reason in deep conflict with their anatomical gender.

7. Where is the compassion among evangelicals for people who, through no fault of their own, struggle with affections and desires outside of Scripture’s moral window. If the New Testament is true, none of us have the power to change ourselves without the redemptive power of Jesus at work in us. It’s the love and goodness of God that begins to make inroads into our hearts so that we begin to care about his will and his power to change our rebel hearts. People will beat a path to your door when you show them you care. If you treat people with contempt you become an impediment to the Gospel finding its way to them.

8. The best comment I received about this wondered if the reason conservative Protestants are so enamored with civic law, is because they refused to write a book of common order to spell out their view of morality as previous groups had done. Instead, they substituted civic law as their vehicle of morality and have had a painful time adjusting to their loss of influence as societies became more secular. They see civic law as their moral code and are frustrated when it no longer reflects their preferences in matters of sexuality and gender identity. They seem unable to understand that when you enforce theological views with the penalty of the state you become an oppressor and an advocate for discrimination.

That’s how Christianity lost its hold on the public debate as the wider culture concluded that freedom of conscience took precedence over theological demands, especially if those violating those demands weren’t a detriment to society and weren’t otherwise infringing on the rights of others. Thus, gay marriage and transgendered issues are being resolved as a freedom of conscience issue by the culture rather than a theological one, as they should by a secular state. Christianity always loses its vitality when it is enforced under the penalty of law. The life of God is freely given and can only be freely received.

9. Some have suggested that The Nashville Statement was not intended as a volley in the culture wars, but to draw a line of theological purity to exclude those pastors, authors, and denominations that advocate for the theological acceptance of homosexuality. That may be true, but the way they released it in the secular press would argue otherwise, and the fact that they did not host a wider conversation but stuck to a very narrow segment of evangelicalism would undermine that hope. The controversy it caused, as much by its process as its conclusions, shows that no one can in selective isolation compose an edict and have any hope that it will clear the air or bring the church together. The age of presumed gatekeepers has long since vanished.

10. As a culture we are losing our appreciation for nuance and assume that people can fit into one of two pre-determined camps. In our last election, we could either vote for the party who wanted to give amnesty to all undocumented aliens, or to the one who wanted to deport them all. No one was willing to negotiate the difficult space between those two extremes and find a more nuanced and just solution tailored to the circumstances of different people. The same is true of sexuality. You have to push biblical morality on everyone or the authenticity of your faith is suspect. Conversely people think your fidelity to Scripture will make it impossible for you to love those who don’t believe it. I reject both extremes. It is possible to disagree on moral issues and still be able to treat each other with compassion and respect, by protect the freedom of everyone’s right of conscience.

I hope we find a different conversation, both within Christianity about matters of morality and with the world in a way that opens the door for people to discover the Gospel, not slams it shut in their face before they ever have a chance to know how deeply loved they are by God.

24 thoughts on “Revisiting The Nashville Statement”

  1. I confess I have a strong bent toward judging people who don’t conform to my standard of morality. And even as I do so, I hear in my spirit to “judge the sin .. not the sinner”. I have not led a morally straight life, either and I have no right to criticize anyone else. I need to read and re-read your blogs until Father embeds it deep inside me. I, too, need a Phariseectomy. Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Wayne. I know they are from Father.

    I keep picturing the scene in “The Shack” where Mac is confronted by Wisdom and is challenged to choose which of his children he would sentence to Hell. Ouch!

    1. Love your heart here, Carol. Pharisectomies are not a brief procedure nor are they painless. Wrapping our hearts around our Father’s passion for what’s true, while at the same time embracing his abiding compassion for those that are lost in sin is definitely a work of the Spirit.

  2. Wayne I love your spirit and the way you are able to put into words the things that I feel are true but can’t quite verbalize. Keep on loving and doing what you do Wayne. You are a bright light in a very dark world and one that has the potential to help others see the true light of Jesus.

  3. I could not agree more that to impose our views on others is putting condemnation before love. Cannot God speak for themselves to individual hearts! Also, I am guilty in the past of not recognizing that literature is interpretation. We cannot claim our views of God according to the Bible dogmatically. Biblical scholars have opposing views on the same passage. To imply our interpretation is God’s comes off as arrogance and unloving in my opinion.

  4. One would think that, by now, we could look back upon Geneva or Jamestown as cautionary tales of the utter folly of letting the “church” be in charge. However, it seems too many still think of them with a wistful sigh, pining for the “good old days.” These are smart guys – have they learned nothing?

  5. Re: First paragraph…. “different point of view”. Amazing, isn’t it? Been there. We be “heretics”, ” Anti Bible” “…Of the Devil.” etc etc. especially when we disputed “eternal damnation”. sigh. Oh well.

  6. Wayne, I am totally in agreement with you on this matter. While I try to keep an open mind and heart toward all Believers, in the Box or out of the Box, I find religiosity in both camps regardless of where they meet. I am currently involved with a few other disciples working and praying to bring Jesus into our public arena in a greater way, including politics, business and our public school system. I have a real strong impulse from Poppa to help our youth find purpose in their lives, a passion for something other than phones and electronic games and drugs. Yes, I want to bring them into the Kingdom, but believe I have a better chance at that by befriending them, loving them and praying for the Spirit to give me opportunity to share my Lord with them. Thank you for your ministry and perhaps we can do another podcast somewhere down the line.

  7. I really love your post. I needed it. I know I can be so arrogant. But I do love the clarity of your point that Father wants to be in relationship with us not to write us some laws and then punish us when we fall short. I thank God for your posts. I don’t go to church anymore and your posts feel like true fellowship

  8. In complete agreement. Wise words. The world needs a Saviour not more rules. He will write His law on our hearts.

  9. “Christianity always loses its vitality when it is enforced under the penalty of law”.

    Christianity isn’t Christianity (whatever christianity even means or is, since Jesus never gave a team name to “as I have loved you, so love each other”) when it’s en-FORCE-d, period. “Everything the Father has taught me I have revealed to you…I no longer call you servants, I call you friends.” This new thing that Jesus reveals is (an invitation) given to free-thinking grown-ups who have been told everything; a total departure from the old ways of enforcing rules for children who were given information on a need to know basis and who have little to no understanding.

  10. Excellent, timely teaching that so well expresses Father’s heart. Thanks for addressing an issue that divides the body and distracts from what really matters. It seems that many Christians have placed their identity in the tree of the knowledge of good and evil rather than in Christ alone. The teaching you’ve done here can certainly be a wake-up call for all who have ears to hear.

  11. MEMO
    TO: The Evangelical Church in the USA
    From: The Apostle Paul
    RE: Leave the gays alone. Read what I wrote in 1 Corinthians chapter 5

    Loved Ones:.

    Please follow my clear instructions in 1 Corinthians chapter 5. This is the case of the church goer who was sleeping with his father’s wife. I made it clear in my letter: immorality is not to be allowed to florish in the church. But OUTSIDE of the church, you have no business judging someone who is NOT in the church. See verse 12: “What business of it of mine to judge those outside the church?”.

    Leave the gays alone!

  12. I haven’t read this Nashville statement but one thing I noticed is that no one has bothered to address another sexual sin, Adultery. the Christian community needs to look at its own self about that. Maybe the Nashville congress can add an amendment to it about that. Maybe because it is so prevalent in the Christian church they may not want to. It seems that particular sin, which has to do with morality does it not, isn’t as grievous as homosexuality & transgender yet it is one of the 10 commandments. Oh, what about greed. You have all these multi-millionaire evangelist with their own jet airplanes which they say they need to go preach the gospel, while others in this country and even in the church are going hungry, that must not be as grievous as the other two. I think the brother who stated earlier what the Apostle Paul said in 1 Corinthians 5:9, has got a good point, 12What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? 13God will judge those outside.
    Maybe the Body of Christ should start thinking about grace & mercy more and follow our Master Jesus Christ instead of pointing the finger at the sinners, (remember 3 more fingers are pointing back at you). He ate supper with a lot of drunkards, whores and greedy people didn’t he? It’s about His Kingdom not yours and His will is to be patient, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. 2 Peter 3:9. Father has got this, don’t worry. Just be salt & light and watch what happens.

  13. I haven’t had any exposure to the Nashville statement, but there were some things you said here that really spoke to me personally. Some verses that have kept hitting to the heart for me lately: “The one who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to know, but whoever loves is known by God.”, and there is another verse that says if I think I’m wise, then it might be better if I knew what it is to be a fool that God might reveal a better kind of wisdom.

    That’s why I loved what you said that “the more truth you think you know, the more humility you will need to let Jesus cultivate in your heart.” I guess when it comes down to it, I’m really wanting to be set free from that need to be right, because there really is something better.

    I’ve seen a lot in my life that at first God reveals something, and then it slowly becomes a dogma over time. It’s like I lose sight of how the Spirit first revealed things in my heart, and I lose confidence that He can do the same for other people. My confidence so easily shifts from His power to speak in a life giving way, and the truth hardens in my heart as I try to formalize what He taught me into knowledge of “the letter” that kills rather than knowing the Spirit who gives life.

    Anyway, I don’t mean to go on too much, I’ve just been hit that there is so much more than just been right, and what you wrote spoke into that. I also loved the question that you put: “Is it by guilt or by goodness that the Spirit leads the lost to repentance?”

  14. Hey Wayne, hope you are well! I hope you will enjoy this following music video as much as I have today (even if you aren’t a big music fan haha).

    1. Not only music here but COUNTRY music! There ought to be a warning on this stuff. 🙂

      But I do like the message. Except I think ALL people can be changed by the power fo the cross. That’s the biggest failure of Christianity in our time, we have emptied the cross of its power and have made it just a philosophy where people are left to change themselves (which cannot work for anything substantial) and then people lose hope that Father’s love is as transforming as it is.

      1. That’s tough love my friend, haha. Now I know for sure what to get you for Christmas. Yeah I think ALL CAN be changed today by the power of the cross (although I’m not sure how to put that power into words anymore), and some are changed today. Maybe the power of the cross has been marginalized by a misrepresentation of the message of the cross in the first place. I don’t think people generally look at the heart, or Spirit, of it all. Commonly stated, “Jesus died on the cross to pay for my sins if I accept and invite him IN, thus satisfying Gods wrath toward sin, now I’m seen by God, (though scarlet), white as snow, off to heaven I go!” End of story. After spending a bunch of time reading what God spoke through the prophets and observing the life of Jesus, the conversations and interactions he had with a wide range of groups and individuals, I see it much differently now. I see it now as Father giving us a gift we thought we required in order to find peace with him, which was never required by him in the first place, which makes the GIFT far more greater than if he had required it in the first place. Humanity, OT religious leaders, priests, etc, seem to place a very high regard on atonement and sacrifices for pleasing God, yet I don’t see that from God via the prophets and especially not by Jesus. I believe (I think haha) it was our stumbling block, not His. I can’t see that God’s requirements for relationship with him and what pleases him has never changed, before, during, or after the incarnation, and the gift of the message of the cross (Micah6:6-8, Psalm40:6, Isa58, Jer22:15.16, etc, etc). Am I off base here Wayne? In your own words, (ok, not your words but small words I’ll understand ha) what’s your take on the message of the cross, and how is that we have emptied the cross of its power? Thanks Wayne.

        1. No I don’t think you’re off base here, though I’m not sure all that you mean by the words. What I meant by emptying the cross of its power is that we just turned it into another religious moment form which we drive a set of principles out of which we are supposed to try to live a better life. Jesus died as you said, not just to meet some set of requirements for something, but to destroy the dividing wall between us and God so that every day I can wake up inside a relationship of affection with him. When that becomes real, my life will begin to transform from the inside. Change in me comes by his work in me out of that growing relationship of trust. So, yes, the cross does change us because it allows us to know him and in the knowing of him my life is changed. We have too many people who believe “the message of the cross” who are not in that process of transformation, so that they still live out of their brokenness instead of letting his life flow in them.

  15. Yes, that makes sense. As a dad who has been involved with my children from babes to adulthood something in my thinking has changed and I’m really looking at things these days from a very practical, no boxes or formulas, rituals or duties, perspective; simply a relationship between a father (created in the image of God) and a child-and what a father wants for his kids, using progressive and differing action and language that each will understand as they grow and mature and take responsibility for their lives. I guess now what I find to be a bit mysterious is the use and understanding of theological styled language or words being used to describe something as natural and practical as what I now see as the simplicity and honesty of a relationship between a father and his children. My only concern is that I have now possibly taken things to a point of comfort and “familiarity” that may be unintentionally lacking a more scripted “reverence”, as I was taught and also taught within the institution known as the church. The longer I go the more I’m convinced that the cross and Jesus dying was not just in order to meet some requirements or any requirements for that matter…I don’t think the requirements were Gods…ever, as Micah clearly stated, “He has shown you, O man, what is good (required)… .” I know you’ve said that you thought that God gave them a religion to win them out of, but from what I have read and what I think I believe, I very much doubt it was his idea (at least not according to the prophets). This is my stumbling block, not what Jesus said or what any of the prophets spoke, but of the customs and rituals, and sacrifices, etc, instituted by religious leaders which formed a religion, which were attributed to God. They seem to totally fly in the face of what Jesus and the prophets spoke, and curiously enough the religious leaders killed them…all. I think the requirement for atonement was spun out there by human pride, paying my way (there are no free rides), and Father let it be…for a time, like us wanting the law, like wanting a king, etc. I know the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, and I don’t believe it foolish at all, but a beautiful revelation of a completely compassionate father, jealous, desperate to reveal his true nature to his kids, showing just how easy it is to be loved by him and to love him in a natural and personal way (John4:1-37). Which I believe is the “heresy” which killed him, since God would never do and say such things (tongue in cheek), proving him an imposter. A statement indeed, the pinnacle of what he had always been saying, but not new. By his stripes we are healed. Healed of what? Healed of believing we needed to pay our admission in order to get into fathers house and receive his good graces. “I will go so far as to die in order to show you that I don’t require, guilt, shame, sacrifices, rituals, duty, feasts, festivals, offerings.” Was the premeditated point of it all, death on a cross, while also proving eternal security by resurrection? Or was the death on a Roman cross, the consequence for standing up to and debunking humanity’s corrupted religious ways in contrast to personal freedom, expression, and the way, the truth, and the real life? Maybe it seems like I’m splitting hairs or flirting with heresy etc, but I ask because I want to simplify the language of the message if possible as most people I meet and befriend and call me dad, can’t make sense of the christian message by the language we are fluent in from childhood. There’s still much for me to work through that is for sure, and these days I know so much less than what I was sure I knew. I’m looking forward to our next face to face, to hash these things out off the record where the doc. police aren’t patrolling, although I’m certain I’ve crossed a line or two today haha. If they ask, don’t tell them where I live! (not that they could find it anyway) Thanks Commish!

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