In its General Assembly last week the PCA voted to commend the Nashville Statment as a Faithful and Biblical summary of Christan teaching on human sexuality. I have many reasons why I believe this was a mistake and I will outline those in brief over the next few days.
First of all, the PCA simply has no need to take up the Nashville Statement at all and should’ve simply ignored it.
Let us imagine that once upon a time an inter-denominational group of Evangelical leaders met in a major US city to craft a ‘Statement’ consisting of affirmations and denials issued to defend a robust Biblical and Evangelical position concerning a major article of Faith that was under threat from an opposing and growing liberalizing cultural and theological consensus.
No need to imagine it. It happened.
Nashville in 2016?
No. Chicago. 1978. “The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy” was penned and published there and then. Google it if you like.
Among the signatories: RC Sproul, JI Packer, Francis Schaeffer, and James Montgomery Boice. That’s a strong group of leaders… indeed leaders beloved by the vast majority of PCA ministers and members, all valiant in what was then referred to by Harold Lindsell as ‘the Battle for the Bible’.
One might suppose that the PCA would’ve commended it, or insisted on some action to recognize it. Nope. Didn’t happen. Between 1978 and 2019, the Chicago Statement doesn’t even show up in ANY PCA records, with the exception of a brief reference to it in a minor judicial action. That’s it. It was never addressed by the General Assembly.
Why? There was no need to do so. The PCA is governed by its Constitution, which includes not only the Book of Church Order but also the Westminster Standards: the Confession of Faith, together with the Westminster Larger and Shorter Catechisms. Westminster was deemed clear and sufficient in regard to matters of stating what we believe.
I believe it still is… or at least should be!
The Standards need not be the last word on every matter but they are a sufficient official word on these sorts of issues.
The Nashville Statment, whatever strengths it may offer to some, is superfluous to the churches of the PCA; there is no need for the PCA to adopt, affirm, commend or act in any way on this statement any more than there was a need to affirm or adopt or commend the Chicago Statement. The Westminster Standards are not lacking in clarity on these matters, nor is our Book of Church Order.
The Nashville Statement adds nothing new to the theological understanding of our churches. It may well do so for independent churches that lack Confessional Standards, but that is not the case in the PCA. It is theologically redundant in the PCA.
Even if one agrees with every jot and tittle of the Nashville Statment it would be unwise to act on it in some kind of official way. We might just as well have commended some new book, recently published, or some sermon recently preached; either might be very good but neither should be the focus of General Assembly.
The Nashville Statement should most assuredly be one of the documents addressed by the Study Committee on Human Sexuality that the Assembly also voted to create. That is its proper place.
The notion that we should act officially on such documents then led to the late-night debate over yet further documents some Presbyteries wished to commend – a night marked by some of the most frightful speeches on the floor of an Assembly I’ve ever witnessed, one leading directly to a protest the following day, which I gladly signed.
The 2019 General Assembly would’ve done better to stay the course of silence on such documents, following the example of previous Assemblies. It did not do so. And that is cause for sadness.
I think I should add here at the end of this first post that I have addressed ecclesiastical action rather than personal action. I have very good friends and colleagues who are signatories to the Nashville Statement and it’s altogether fitting that ministers and others do sign such Statements if indeed they wish to endorse them. My point has to do with the ecclesiastical action of one particular denomination rather than the individual actions of particular ministers.
Next: What the Nashville Statement Doesn’t Say
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