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The ‘Nashville Statement’ on marriage1

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Published: 14 September 2017 (GMT+10)

In late August 2017, 159 prominent evangelical theologians and pastors signed a declaration known as the ‘Nashville Statement’.2 This statement of faith consists of a preamble followed by 14 short affirmations and 14 denials dealing with biblical sexuality—specifically focusing on the subject of homosexuality, gender and marriage. The affirmation/denial format was in the grand tradition of the Chicago Statement of Biblical Inerrancy (1978), with which CMI agrees.

Genders

The Nashville Statement defines marriage as a covenantal, sexual, procreative, lifelong union of one man and one woman, as husband and wife; and sexual intercourse is only permitted within the boundaries of such a marriage. This biblical definition of marriage necessarily excludes homosexual, polygamous, and polyamorous relationships.

The confession affirms that the differences between male and female are divinely ordained by God, since God created Adam and Eve as real people. It goes on to clarify that these differences do not in any way render male and female unequal in dignity and worth. Male and female reproductive structures, as defined by God, are integral for God’s design for self-conception as male and female. As such, the adoption of a homosexual or transgender self-conception is not consistent with the Bible. Similarly, same-sex sexual attraction is not part of the natural goodness of God’s creation, but the result of a fallen world.

‘Attraction’

The confession asserts that Christians who continue to struggle with same-sex attraction may live a rich and fruitful life pleasing to God through faith and repentance in Jesus Christ. All followers of Christ are called to walk in purity. As such, a desire for sexual immorality, whether heterosexual or homosexual, is not a valid justification for sexually immoral behaviour.

However, the grace of God is merciful, transforming, and forgiving. It has the ability to enable a follower of Jesus to put to death sinful desires and to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord. This grace enables sinners to forsake transgender self-conceptions and by divine forbearance to accept the God-ordained link between one’s biological sex and one’s self-conception as male and female. Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, and everyone “who repents of sin and trusts in Christ alone as Savior, Lord, and supreme treasure” will be saved.

There are a number of outstanding statements in this confession. For example, in dealing with the question of biological defects often raised in transgender debates, the Nashville Statement clarifies in article 5 and 6: “We deny that physical anomalies or psychological conditions nullify the God-appointed link between biological sex and self-conception as male or female.” The creed goes on to explain that physical and psychological anomalies do not nullify the male and female distinction. Insofar as it may be known, faithful followers of Jesus Christ should embrace their biological sex.

Such people are acknowledged by the words of Jesus Christ as “eunuchs who were born that way from their mother’s womb” (cf. Matthew 19:12), but even then, they, along with everyone else, are capable of living a fruitful life in joyful obedience to Christ. This addresses the common objection by opponents of biblical sexuality that: “they are born that way“. “Eunuchs who were born from their mother’s womb” refers to those with physical bodily defects that render identification of their sexual organs impossible. It does not refer to those who claim to be ‘transgendered’, and it does not refer to those who claim to have ‘same-sex attraction’. “Even if one is ‘born with same-sex attraction’ (and there are scientific reasons indicating that this is not the case), it is not a valid excuse to ignore biblical morality.

When dealing with those who give approval of transgenderism and homosexuality, the confession explicitly affirms the biblical position that, “It is sinful to approve of homosexual immorality or transgenderism and that such approval constitutes an essential departure from Christian faithfulness and witness.” It continues: “… we deny that the approval of homosexual immorality or transgenderism is a matter of moral indifference about which otherwise faithful Christians should agree to disagree.”3

The Nashville Statement is to be commended for its uncompromising adherence to the Word of God when it comes to this subject matter.

Re-definition of marriage?

Since God is our creator, He owns us and we are accountable and responsible before Him. When God issues a divine command to man, it is good when it is obeyed and evil when it is disobeyed. Sin is defined as lawlessness (1 John 3:4)4, and God himself is the measure of morality.

In other words, the Bible tells us that man is not free to define morality anyway he chooses. Morality is not something subjective, nor is it a man-made construct. Morality only makes sense in the light of God’s commandments. God defines morality, and He will hold all men accountable according to the standards He set. And if we are going to be held accountable to God’s standards, then God alone defines marriage, sexuality, and gender; and we come to know His commandments through His revealed Word—the Bible. (See Gay Marriage: right or wrong? And who decides?)

Man does not, and cannot, redefine sexuality. Since God sets the standard through which all men are accountable to Him, God alone can define morality. Man can only pretend to redefine sexuality. But changing the common usage of a term in our culture does not in any way change God’s standards. In other words, the attempt by some to re-define marriage only serves to pervert and deny the true meaning of marriage. The true definition is that which is declared by God; who is Himself the measure of morality and the measure of truth. God declares marriage in His Word to be a covenantal union between one man and one woman—a reality that has been established from the beginning of creation through the covenantal union of Adam and Eve before God.

Nashville Statement and creation

The repeated emphasis on biblical creation throughout our Statement of Faith provides a strong foundation for understanding biblical sexuality. Marriage is a creation ordinance. God himself establishes, and therefore defines, marriage from the beginning of creation. As a creation ordinance, marriage does not only apply to believers, but also to unbelievers. This is why we recognize the married status of unbelievers who are married. But a true marriage has to be one that aligns with God’s definition. All other attempts at redefining marriage are a perversion of this established truth.

Jesus himself appealed to biblical creation as the basis for his teaching on marriage:

But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.

—Mark 10:6–9

Here Jesus affirmed the historical reality of the creation account in Genesis. In Genesis, the Bible teaches that all mankind descended from a male and female human couple created by God—Adam from the ground and Eve from Adam’s rib—and who were joined by God in a permanent covenantal marriage, from the very beginning of creation. This contradicts evolution and the idea that the universe is billions of years old. God created Adam and Eve from “the beginning of Creation”, not billions years after the beginning, and this was just ~6,000 years ago as recorded in the biblical chronogenealogies.

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Jesus taught that the universe was around ~6,000 years old.

As this timeline above illustrates, any attempt to insert billions of years into the Bible requires placing Adam and Eve at the end, rather than at the beginning of creation. By teaching that Adam and Eve were created at the beginning of creation, Jesus denied that the universe is billions of years old. It follows that any consistent attempt to insert billions of years into Earth’s history requires professing that Jesus got it wrong—but doing this would commit the kenotic heresy.

As Jesus Himself said:

If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things?—John 3:12.

Do you believe Jesus? What does it mean to believe Jesus? Does it not mean that we believe His words—including what He tells us about creation? And does not the Bible teach that all of Scripture is God’s word? Since the Nashville Statement accurately presents God’s word on the subject of biblical sexuality, a denial of the Nashville Statement is in essence, a denial of God and the Bible.

Creation consistency

As we have shown earlier (and as Jesus Himself taught), the created order in Genesis provides the foundation for the doctrine of marriage and biblical sexuality. Even gender itself is established in Genesis 1:27—“Male and female he created them.” Those who reject the historical reality of biblical creation ~6,000 years ago, undermine the words of Christ, and in so doing, undermine the doctrine of biblical inerrancy, and the foundation for biblical marriage and sexuality.

Towards the end of the Nashville Statement, one is greeted by a list of well-known evangelical theologians and pastors who are listed as initial signatories. While the Nashville Statement is consistent with the biblical orthodox position of creation taught throughout history, some of the signatories listed are not actually biblical creationists. Some of the signatories are known for their rejection of a literal six 24-hour day creation, approximately 6,000 years ago. This is most unfortunate. However, there are several Creation magazine interviewees: John MacArthur, Al Mohler, Randy Alcorn, and Rosaria Butterfield.

In Creation 39(3):46–48, 2017, Lita Sanders interviewed Dr Rosaria Butterfield. Dr Butterfield is a former lesbian who has now been transformed by the Gospel. She is now a public speaker, pastor’s wife, and mother. One part of the interview is as follows:

Biblical marriage is a creation ordinance
Rosaria emphasizes the need to approach this issue from the standpoint of a biblical view of creation. “Evangelical Christians only want to talk about the New Testament, and you cannot argue for the sanctity of marriage from the New Testament alone. You must understand biblical marriage as a creation ordinance. … You can’t defend the binarism of male and female and the integrity of the male/female binarism in marriage—which is at the centre of the Gospel, not its margins—without understanding it as a creation ordinance, which you can’t do in the New Testament. So if you’re just a ‘New Testament Christian’, you’re part of the problem … The biblical ground is that there is no such category of personhood as sexual orientation because we believe Genesis 1:27 is true.5

Do not get me wrong, we certainly appreciate the theologians and pastors who have taken the time to make a brave stand for biblical sexuality and marriage. However, quite a significant number of these signatories are not biblical creationists. Some of them hold to the idea of millions of years and other compromised views. But biblical gender and marriage can only consistently be defended by first affirming the truth of biblical creation. Jesus Himself based His teaching on marriage on a historical Adam and Eve pair from whom all humanity descended, and who were made that way from the very beginning of creation. If Jesus was wrong on this point, then His entire teaching collapses, and there no longer remains any basis for biblical sexuality.

In spite of this inconsistency by some of its signatories, we should note that the Nashville Statement itself is consistent with biblical creation, and we commend the authors of this confession for a clear, bold, and concise statement that declares the biblical position on marriage and sexuality. The authors of the statement seem to demonstrate a clear understanding that the doctrine of creation is foundational to understanding biblical marriage and sexuality.

The relevance of the Nashville Statement in a ‘post-truth’ culture

The biblical view of marriage and sexuality is under constant assault by the enemies of the Gospel. Yet, 2 Corinthians 10:5 tells us that Christians should “destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and to take every thought captive to obey Christ”. If we want to be faithful Christians, we cannot sit on the fence or be passive about this issue. All Christians should stand firm upon this biblical teaching.

Is it unpopular in today’s ‘post-truth’ culture to herald biblical marriage and sexuality? Absolutely! But that does not mean we ought to shy from declaring the clear teaching of Scripture. The Bible sets for us many examples where believers are commended for standing firm on truth even when they had to pay the price for it.

The prophet Nathan stood up to the King David by exposing David’s adultery and subsequent murder. Likewise, John the Baptist stood up against the culture of his day and declared God’s word (Matthew 14:3–12). Addressing the subject of sexual immorality and marriage, John declared to Herod the Tetrarch that “It was not lawful” for him to have his brother’s wife. He was imprisoned and later lost his life for proclaiming the truth.

These biblical characters go before us and show us the way to live as faithful Christians today. They show us the importance of affirming biblical sexuality in the face of a culture that is hostile to biblical morality. The historic confessions such as the Westminster Confession of Faith, the Second London Baptist Confession of Faith, and many other major evangelical confessions have similarly affirmed biblical sexuality. The Nashville Statement adds to those historical confessions by specifically addressing the huge confusion surrounding homosexuality and transgenderism. In a culture of political correctness, the Nashville Statement is a breath of fresh air. Its strength lies in its clarity and brevity, and in its straightforward declaration of biblical truth.

Some people claim that the Bible is no longer relevant in a ‘post-truth’ culture. But it is actually the opposite. The Bible is relevant not because it is like the culture. It is relevant precisely because it is trans-cultural and, if necessary, counter-cultural. God’s word speaks into a world devoid of truth. It is a herald, proclaiming truth in a world shrouded with darkness. It is a prophetic voice that beckons, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3:2). The greater the cultural confusion: the greater the need for biblical doctrine and direction. For these reasons, we highly commend the leaders who have added their names as initial signatories of the Nashville Statement.

How should Christians respond?

Some liberal theologians have come forth opposing the Nashville Statement, which is not the first time that compromise on Genesis leads to compromise on marriage. They are not just rejecting the Nashville Statement, they are rejecting the biblical position of marriage and gender, and they are rejecting God Himself. The Apostle Paul warned us, “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.” But Paul did not stop there. He also told Timothy how he should respond: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. (2 Timothy 4:2).

Biblical love involves reproving that which is contrary to God’s law. Love speaks the truth even when it is unpalatable. Love corrects and rebukes; and the willingness to rebuke false doctrine is even listed as one of the qualifications required for eldership! (cf. Titus 1:9) Love hates all that is contrary to good. And since love itself is defined as an attribute of God Himself (cf. 1 John 4:8: God is love), anything that contradicts His teachings and commandments is unloving. Consistent with this definition of biblical love, those who promote homosexuality and transgenderism in the name of ‘love’ are actually unloving. Likewise, one of the most loving things a Christian can do is to warn others of God’s coming wrath (Romans 1:18, 24–27) and to call them to repentance. As Proverbs 27:5-6 explains:

“Better is open rebuke than hidden love. Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy.”

Some others have complained that the Nashville Statement is too focused on sex at the expense of other aspects of Christianity. In response:

First, who is really obsessed about sex, but those who define their whole being according to their sexuality (‘we are gays and lesbians’), then demand that all Christians affirm—on pain of being fined, fired, livelihood destroyed, denied adoption or fostering, or even jailed?

Second, the historic creeds were fundamentally negative statements, refuting a key error of their times. For example, the Nicene Creed refuted the Arian heresy that taught that Jesus was created.

The Nashville Statement in its bold declaration of truth is an expression of love and hope. More than just a declaration of biblical sexuality, the Nashville Statement goes on to affirm the transformative power and grace of God in salvation and sanctification. It speaks of forgiveness of sexual sins and the power of God to enable the believer to put to death their sinful desires and to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord. The Nashville Statement ends with this declaration: “We affirm that Christ Jesus has come into the world to save sinners and that through Christ’s death and resurrection forgiveness of sins and eternal life are available to every person who repents of sin and trusts in Christ alone as Savior, Lord, and supreme treasure. We deny that the Lord’s arm is too short to save or that any sinner is beyond his reach”.6 Or as the Apostle Paul taught:

“Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, … nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, …will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” (1 Corinthians 6:9–11)

Paul includes homosexual behavior as a serious sin. But Christians—including those who were guilty of that—are transformed. They are no longer slaves to sin, but have been forgiven, made a new creation, and have been given a renewed mind that seeks after the things of God. Faithful Christians strive daily to conform their thinking to the mind of Christ. We are not to be conformed to this world but to be transformed by the renewal of our minds. We are no longer to walk as unbelievers do, in the futility of their minds, and who are darkened in their understanding due to their hardness of hearts, and who have given themselves over to sensuality (cf. Ephesians 4:17–19). Instead, we are called to conform our values and our thoughts to the Word of God—to put off our old self, and to be renewed in the spirit of our minds in true righteousness and holiness (cf. Ephesians 4:22-24); being renewed in knowledge after the image of our Creator (cf. Colossians 3:10). We are not to engage in hermeneutical gymnastics, twisting the Word of God to fit our agenda. Instead, we are to approach Scripture with humility, submitting our entire lives, mind, and even moral values to God’s word.

As Jesus sums it up:

“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23).

References and notes

  1. Nashville Statement, cbmw.org, 2017. Return to text.
  2. This figure of 159 refers only to the initial signatories of the declaration and does not include many others who have since added their names to the confession. At the time of writing, the Nashville Statement has listed an additional 89 prominent theologians and pastors in addition to the initial 159. This new figure is selective rather than exhaustive and does not include many others who have added their names as signatories. For more information on the signatories, please refer to: cbmw.org/nashville-statement Return to text.
  3. See Article 10 of the Nashville Statement. Return to text.
  4. Or as The Holman Christian Standard Bible translates: sin is the breaking of law. The King James Bible: sin is the transgression of the law. Return to text.
  5. Cosner, L., Conversation with an unlikely convert: Lita Sanders chats with Dr Rosaria Butterfield, Creation 39(3):46-48, July 2017. Return to text.
  6. See Nashville Statement: Article 14. Return to text.

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