The Nashville Statement: A Gift and Burden

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Full disclosure: I really don’t like writing about controversial topics.  

I’m sure part of it is my own sinful cowardice.  Part of it is knowing I’m never the most articulate or knowledgeable on any given “hot topic”.  Finally, I’m convinced that most “hot” topics, aren’t that “hot” and usually fizzle out after a few days.  

Yet, when I read The Nashville Statement I felt differently.  

Don’t get me wrong, I still felt a sense of cowardice creep up because I saw how hostile our culture has become to things I believe.  I still don’t think I’m even close to the most articulate or knowledgeable on the topic (this article is the best I’ve seen explaining the heart behind the statement).  What was different, however, was that I don’t believe this topic will fizzle out in a few days.  In my short time working in ministry, issues related to sexuality are the most consistent, most confusing, and most urgently needing clarity.  

So, as a rookie pastor reading this document, I was grateful.  And I don’t say that lightly.  I have friends who experience same-sex attraction.  I’m not under the impression that reading this document was easy for them – even if they agreed with it.  The Nashville Statement addresses topics that are tender, intimate, and for many, packed with pain.

When I read The Nashville Statement, my heart swirled with both gratitude and gravity.  I see it as a gift to hold and a burden to bear.  

The Gift: A Shaping Force, Not a Counseling Script

When I read The Nashville Statement I didn’t see myself reading a script for counseling situations.  I plan to reference it in the future for its precise language and helpful summaries of what I believe Scripture teaches, but I didn’t see it as something to be memorized and quoted to friends who experience same-sex attraction or gender dysphoria.  Yes, the truth is objective, static; but the people I minister to are dynamic and complicated. They need wise application of objective truth to their situation. I don’t envision myself sitting down with friends experiencing same sex attraction and reading them The Nashville Statement verbatim.  It’s not a script to read for every pastoral situation,  and I don’t think the writers of the document intended it to be one.  Instead, I envision it as a foundation I can stand on that provides the nuances that match the complexities of some of the most difficult problems people face.  I’m grateful for the clarity it provides on issues surrounded by confusion for many Christians.  

The Burden: Compelled by Constraints

The deeper effect the statement had on me was how it drove me toward my friends who experience the sins it describes.  Most critiques I have read say The Nashville Statement is a constraining document.  It will lead to even more isolation from Christians toward those in their communities who experience these sexual sins.  I would argue the opposite.  If the truths of The Nashville Statement do not compel me toward loving relationships with my LGBTQ neighbor, I obviously don’t believe what the statement says.  My signature on The Nashville Statement is worthless if it results in me merely signing off on a document.  If I believe that people flourish most when they embrace God’s good design for marriage and sexuality, wouldn’t that compel me into relationships with my LGBTQ neighbor?  I feel the burden of this because I’m often better at articulating the truths of God’s good design and transforming grace, but often struggle to embody them by pursuing relationships with those different from me.  

I believe that Jesus gives the most abundant life (John 10:10).  I believe that when people delight in and obey God’s Word they flourish like fruitful trees (Psalm 1).  I believe that the Bible is God’s revelation of Himself and that it is perfect truth, and when that truth is grasped even by the weakest faith it gives joy, peace, hope, and freedom (Romans 15:13; John 8:32).  

I’m grateful and burdened by The Nashville Statement – that’s why I signed it.  I would encourage Christians to read it.  My prayer is that as the cultural conversation moves on to the next “hot topic”, my heart will not.  My prayer is that I’ll stay close to the truth of God’s life-giving word, and close to those who need it most – starting with myself.


Spencer Harmon is the Senior Pastor at Vine Street Baptist Church and the co-author of Letters to a Romantic: On Dating and Letters to a Romantic: On Engagement(P&R, 2017).

Beware of Lists

by Spencer Harmon
by Spencer Harmon

 

I love lists.  Making them.  Reading them.  Checking things off of them.

There is something that excites me when I read the title, “6 Ways to Read the Bible” or “10 Ways to Pursue Your Wife in the New Year” or “4 Ways Not to Waste Your Singleness” It awakens some faint hope that if I read this article, I might just find the silver bullet.  I might have that great epiphany that changes everything.  And I’m not the only one.  Take a quick look at your Twitter and Facebook feeds, and you will quickly see that one of your friends has probably shared a list.  We want to reach our goals, we want to improve, and we want to change.  And we want all of it quickly.

But for all the good that lists can give us, there is a subtle poison I have noticed in my thinking.  I have developed a “quick fix” mentality.  Best practice replaces conviction; behavior replaces motivation; doing replaces being.  But apples don’t grow on trees that don’t have roots, and our behavior won’t change unless our hearts do first.

The barometer of my life is not my resolves for this year, but my reasons for living.  Our thinking is warped when our goals and lists don’t have the deep roots of conviction nourishing them and giving them life.  Although Jesus calls Christians to specific actions and steps of obedience in this life, he first calls us to believe.  Before we act, we abide.  Roots before fruits.

Don’t settle for a quick fix.  By all means: make the list, and be filled with resolve.  But let your resolve be the overflow of a heart that is rooted and grounded in deep love for Christ and faith in his promises.  Because, as C.S. Lewis said,  “sometimes the longest way around is the shortest way home”

 

Of Sins and Cinemas

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by Spencer Harmon

Iron Man 3.  The Great Gatsby.  Star Trek.  Man of Steel.  The Wolverine.  300.

Within the next three months, you are most likely going to be invited to see one of these movies.  And not only these, a vast array of other highly anticipated summer films.  Your favorite stars, your favorite stories, during your favorite season.  From the ultra-conservative who only watches movies recommended by their pastor, to the movie connoisseur who finds “gospel” even in the most explicit films, the cinema often creates blurry lines for Christians who live in between two worlds. Here are a few categories and cautions to be thinking about as you consider going to the theater for the hottest summer flicks.

Research.  You should never feel victimized by sin at the movie theater.  In our day, there are several resources available to you to aid in making a decision about going to see a movie at the theater.  First, a simple glance at the rating of a movie can save you a lot of heartache.  If the movie is rated R for sexual content and nudity, don’t go.  Is this legalism?  No.  It’s fleeing sexual immorality (1 Corinthians 6:18), and it will help you see God (Matthew 5:8).  Yet, some movies demand more careful thought.  At this point, I always find it helpful to check a movie review site.  You can find sites that offer a Christian perspective, or just the facts.  Either way, you should never walk out of the theater feeling taken advantage of – the resources are available.  Take and use!

Bail.  Sometimes, whether because of neglect or some other outlying circumstance, you will find yourself in the theater when the movie goes downhill.  If the movie is causing you to sin, you should leave.  Walking out of the theater does several things.  First, it tells the truth.  When you leave the theater during a sex scene, you are telling the truth about marriage, sex, covenant love, and purity.  When you leave the theater during uncalled for, excessive, cruel, and unnecessary gore and violence, you are telling the truth about courage, honor, dignity, and human worth.  Second, it provokes conversation.  Why did you leave the theater?  Why do you care so much about what you watch that it would cause you to walk out?  Third, and most importantly, it protects your soul.  We can grieve the Holy Spirit by the things that we do and say (Ephesians 4:30), and we should be striving to keep ourselves in the love of God (Jude 21).  Sometimes, obedience means saying excuse me, sidestepping out of the aisle, and waiting in the lobby of the theater.

Engage.  No matter what you are watching, you should watch movies like a Christian.  There are glorious amounts of truth to be gleaned at the cinema, but horrendous amounts of deceit to be rejected as well.  Ask yourself good questions while watching the film:  What are the makers of this film trying to say to me?  How do the relationships, circumstances, and actions of the characters relate to how the Bible presents life?  Hebrews 5:14 says that mature Christians are those who, “…have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil” Movies present wonderful opportunities to exercise moral discernment.  Don’t watch passively.

Engage Together.  Let movies that you see with friends lead to good discussion.  It is good at times to take a few moments to gawk at incredible special effects in the movies, but if that is all you ever talk about you are missing out on a world of fellowship.  Ask questions in the car on the way not just about things you liked and disliked, but things you agreed with and disagreed with.  Let the movie spur you on to depth.  Movies can lead to conversations about war, marriage, love, hate, relationships, divorce, death, eternity, God, politics, and a million other important life issues.  Engage in these discussions during the summer – let these talks take you late into the night.

Beware of Infiltration.  There is nothing like a steady diet of Hollywood to corrupt your view on beauty, truth, and goodness.  Don’t forget that the Bible says that charm is deceitful and beauty is vain (Proverbs 31:30) when you see nothing but coke-bottle figures, and rough whisked buff tough guys presented as beauty.  Don’t forget that you are called to forgive and show grace (Ephesians 4:32), even though revenge is portrayed as the only way to respond to hurt.  All too easily, Hollywood begins informing your values instead of Scripture.  It rouses your feelings before faith, your passions before principles.

Beware of Saturation.  It seems that during the summer, every Friday holds a new film.  Every film claims to be the film of the year.  And you don’t want to miss out, do you?  Remember that you are called to seek the Lord’s presence (Psalm 105:4), and enjoy his free grace, not gorge on movies.  Sure, enjoy a movie with friends; however, don’t become so saturated with the newest and  latest this summer that the only means of “fellowship” you know is happening in front of movies instead of in real conversation about real life things.

Remember, the aim at the theater is not to please your friends, please yourself, or your pastor.  The aim is to please God and honor him with life.  Holiness happens in the small circumstances. It happens with steps. The thoughtful response, the restrained tongue, and even the intentional watcher of film glorify God.  It’s here that the battles are fought.

The Christian Doubter: An Arsenal of Songs

by Spencer Harmon
by Spencer Harmon

“By day the LORD commands his steadfast love, and at night his song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life” Psalm 42:7

One of the difficult aspects of Christian doubt is reminding yourself of the truth in a moment of paralyzing uncertainty. You know the moment, don’t you? The one where all the Scripture you knew leaves your mind like mist in the morning sun; your trusted friend isn’t around and you’re more alone than you care to admit; you’re trying to pray, but you don’t know how to articulate the struggle in your soul. When things are black as night, what resources has God given us to illuminate the path?

In Psalm 42 David is in deep despair. He crying all the time (v. 3), he’s surrounded by those who reinforce doubt (v. 3), his experiences of God are only memories (v. 4), he’s cast down and in turmoil (v. 5), and feels like he’s drowning (v.7). These are the lowest depths in the deepest valley with no light. And it is here that he tells of a weapon against the darkness: a song.

Songs are shelters in the tempest – a lighthouse in the hurricane. Often times a fortification of hope is built around our fainting hearts by the sturdy truth of hymns, songs or poems. David seems to find great comfort in a song in his dark night of the soul. Interestingly enough, he views this song as a “prayer” Biblical songs are deep reservoirs of prayers for the speechless saint struggling for faith. Here are a few examples of prayers or encouragements found in hymns that the Holy Spirit has used to anchor my soul:

“Jesus, Jesus, how I trust You!
How I’ve proved You o’er and o’er
Jesus, Jesus, precious Jesus!
O for grace to trust You more!”


-Tis So Sweet To Trust In Jesus

“Not the labor of my hands
Can fulfill Thy law’s demands;
Could my zeal no respite know,
Could my tears forever flow,
All for sin could not atone;
Thou must save, and Thou alone.”


-Rock of Ages Cleft for Me

“When Satan tempts me to despair
And tells me of the guilt within,
Upward I look and see You there
Who made an end of all my sin”


-Before The Throne of God Above

“AH, my dear angry Lord,
Since Thou dost love, yet strike;
Cast down, yet help afford;
Sure I will do the like.

I will complain, yet praise;
I will bewail, approve:
And all my sour-sweet days
I will lament, and love.”


-Bitter-Sweet, George Herbert

“How long wilt Thou conceal Thy face?

My God, how long delay?

When shall I feel those heav’nly rays

That chase my fears away?



How long shall my poor laboring soul

Wrestle and toil in vain?

Thy word can all my foes control

And ease my raging pain.”


-How Long Wilt Thou Conceal Thy Face?

These small snippets are ammunition in the trenches as we wait for God; they are an arsenal of words for your stammering tongue. They are a song to keep you through the night. When Israel faced their opponents, often times they faced the bewilderment of their plight with songs of God’s steadfast love (see 2 Chronicles 20:20-30). Let it be so for you. Learn some songs, and sing them with mustard seed faith through the dark.

The Christian Doubter: God’s Electing Balm

by Spencer Harmon
by Spencer Harmon

The undercutting of your assurance can steal the breath from your lungs.  Terrible thoughts can plague your mind like a migraine that won’t go away.  The guilt mounts; the pressure builds; Satan is whispering lies and telling you that you have never truly believed in Jesus; your faith feels like a twig in a hurricane.  During these dark times a tempting thought to think is, “Why would God save a weak person like me?” Even though God knows everything, your weak faith must be a surprise to him. It may feel that you are giving God more than he bargained for at salvation.  You think that there is nothing in you that would attract God’s salvation.

Here’s the thing:  you’re right.

The church is made up of unimpressive vessels who are conduits of foreign power.  Your twig like faith is not very impressive, but if your twig like faith is rooted in the rock of ages, you will endure the storm.  But why?  Why would God sustain a person who seeks to believe in Him, but yet constantly doubts?

The reason God sustains and saves unimpressive Christian doubters is because He has been planning to do so before the world began.  God has elected you.  He has chosen to save you.  And the most glorious thing about God’s election of weak people like you is that it was not based on your strong faith, your stellar religious resume, or your ability to think positively when things go awry.  Election is based on God’s happy delight in saving people, not on your checklist of strong spiritual moments.  God has already told you this in Ephesians 1:4-5 when he says, “…in love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will...”  When considering who to save, God did not consider your unbelieving bouts, but rather his sovereign, smiling purpose to show his grace to an undeserving sinner.

So, the next time the tide swells and you’re barely treading water, know that  you will not sink.  God has been planning to set his love on you for ten billion years and more – he will sustain you.    When the wounds of your doubts cut deep, let his divine election is be a healing balm.  Meditate on the truth of God’s unconditional choice of you.  When you are faithless, he remains faithful.  He cannot deny Himself.  Neither death, nor life, nor doubt, or anything in creation can separate you from the love of Christ.

Babies and Bathwater

by Spencer Harmon

Baptism is a big deal.  When someone becomes a Christian, they are not merely subscribing to a local club that meets on Sundays; rather, a supernatural work of God has taken place.  Christians believe that when someone puts their trust in Jesus their old “self” – with its selfish desires, rebellious disposition toward God, and cold heart – dies, and a new “self” – with a heart inclined to obey God, love his Word, and pursue righteousness – is born.  It is this reality that baptism declares.  Baptism is symbolic – it talks to us and reminds us of these transcendent truths.  It screams out that just as this person is plunged down into these waters that envelop them so their old self has been plunged down into death with Christ; just as they rise out of the water and gasp for air, so their new self has arisen with Christ.

For Protestant Christians, there have been two views as to who should be baptized:  1) those who have professed faith in Christ (credo baptists); and 2) those who have professed faith in Christ and their children (paedo baptists).  I’m a credo baptist.  I don’t think you should baptize babies.

One of the strongest arguments for believer’s baptism can be made from an Old Testament passage:  Jeremiah 31:31-34.  It is here that God Himself delineates through His prophet Jeremiah his “new covenant”  This is God’s new agreement with his people that binds him to treat them in a certain way so long as they keep their end of the bargain.  However, the problem with God’s people over history is that they have never been able to keep their end of the bargain.  They always worship the idol; they always complain in the desert.  But God has a plan – a new covenant.  The newness of this covenant is found in that fact that God promises to give his people a heart that actually wants to keep the law (verse 33).  God promises that everyone will know him in a saving way, and that all of their sins will be forgiven.  God says that this new covenant will not be like “the covenant that I made with [your] fathers” (verse 32).  The newness of the new covenant is found in the fundamental difference between the people of God before and after the coming of Jesus.  Before Christ, the covenant members were those who were born into the people of God – this means that there where people who really loved God in the community, and those that just were among the group, but did not really know the Lord.  After Christ, God’s covenant members are only those who have been regenerated (i.e. given a new heart that truly loves God).

If Jeremiah is interpreted as an announcement of a regenerated covenant community, those who support baptizing infants need to reconsider their view.  For if the covenant community is only those who have been regenerated, then it follows that the mark of the covenant community – baptism – should be limited to this specific group of people.  The new covenant has a new sign and it is reserved for people who have new hearts.

Some Practical Concerns

  1.   It seems inconsistent for a paedo baptist not to include infants in the Lord’s Supper.  If they are seeking to emphasize the continuity of God’s dealings with his people in one overarching covenant, it would seem consistent to include the children of the God’s people in this rite as well.  However, this would pose problems.  First, if children participate in the Lord’s Supper, it seems like this would say something that is not true.  When I take the Lord’s Supper, my pastors say to me, “Spencer, this is the body of Christ broken for you; This is the blood of Christ poured out for you”  But we can’t honestly say this to babies until they make a profession of faith.  Second, babies are incapable of examining their conscience, or confessing sin (one of the things baptism should push a believer towards), so why should they participate in the Lord’s Supper?  Yet infant baptism seems to lead to this.
  2.   Another concern is that church discipline seems to lose its relevance.  If children are included in the people of God by baptism, how do you determine if they are ever not a part of the true covenant community?  If the church is constantly a mixed community of both believers and unbelievers, why would any church discipline a non-Christian from their midst if it has embraced a mixed church?  Some may object that if a paedo baptist church knew that there was an unbeliever in their midst, they would most certainly discipline them.  Yet, for every baby that is baptized, an unbeliever is added to their community.  Why the inconsistency in church discipline?

Conclusion

Baptism is a secondary issue, but not a small issue.  Baptism is the sign of salvation, and how the church understands this sign of salvation matter immensely.  To misunderstand the issue of baptism is to run the risk of false assurance to those baptized as children, and a distortion of a beautiful portrayal of salvation.  Although evangelical Christians ought to keep the main thing the main thing, we ought to openly acknowledge our disagreements over these important issues.  So, let there continue to be conferences; let pastors be together for the gospel, and let evangelicals make coalitions; nevertheless, let there be an open and plain acknowledgement of these distinctive beliefs that make whole denominations form.  For these issues are exceptionally important, and ought to be treated like it.  So, keep the baby, but throw out the bathwater.

 

The Christian Doubter: Too Deep For Words

by Spencer Harmon

Christian doubt makes you feel the waves and breakers of weakness.  If you ever thought you were strong, these seasons of life make you feel like you are on the ocean being tossed back and forth on choppy waters.  What is worse is that on many occasions it becomes hard to articulate exactly what is happening on the ocean.  You need a trained sailor who has navigated the waters, not just someone who has memorized the map.

Yet, like most other troubles in life, even the person who has been most experienced and can empathize most with your situation can fail at understanding the nuances of your doubt.  Someone could listen to you try to articulate your feelings of lostness, darkness, and despair for hours, but you could still walk away with nothing more than sentiments of an empathizer.  No doubt, we need community in our struggle with doubt, but there must be sturdier soil on which to stand.

In these dark days, God intends to use your inarticulate prayers.  In Romans 8:26-27 Paul has words for the weak saint.  He writes,

“Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness.  For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.  And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.”

Have you ever felt these words in your struggle with doubt?  The darkness rolls over your day like a storm from hell, and you get alone to pray – but what do you pray?  How do you pray in accordance with God’s will when you feel in the depths of your soul that this is the worst providence you could experience?  What do you pray for when you know that you don’t know what to pray for?

Dear brothers and sisters, God knows your soul, for he dwells in you through his Holy Spirit.  There is great help in your weakness because your unspeakable groaning is translated into perfect, articulate requests by the Spirit of God.  No, you do not know the will of God in these doubting times.  But the Spirit is interceding for you according to the will of God.  Tom Schreiner writes, “God searches the hearts of believers and finds unutterable longings to conform their lives to the will of God.  The Holy Spirit takes these groanings and presents them to God in articulate form” (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, 446).

And the best news is that in your unutterable prayers of deep weakness, the Spirit prays for you with prayers that will always get a “yes”.  Why?  Because these prayers that the Spirit prays for you is on the same page with the Father.  He never prays imperfect prayers – and all this Spirit wrought power is working in your in your weakest moment.

So, keep praying.  Pray even when you don’t know how.  These bleak moments will be remembered as your most intimate with our father.  When you fail, when your friends fail, and even when your very heart fails – there is an answer for you with God.  In his Word, and through his Spirit.