By Bob Hiller –
Are folks still talking about all those important theological statements being made by America’s most popular Christian conference speakers? OK, that is a bit of a snarky opening sentence, but what’d you expect from my blog? Though perhaps not as earth shattering as Twitter has made them out to be, the Nashville Statement and the Denver Statement are pretty serious business. Never heard of them? Well, I hadn’t either until last Thursday, by which time, they had taken the social media world by storm There I was, delighting in a Guinness at the local pub, when my brother pastor asks me, “Why haven’t folks taken a strong stand against the Denver Statement?” Being a native of colorful Colorado (God’s favorite state, I’m sure), and awaiting the final preseason game for my beloved Broncos, I thought perhaps someone from the old Orange and Blue had brashly predicted a Super Bowl victory.
Alas, no, my friend informed me. The Denver Statement was a series of theses organized by the infamous Nadia Bolz-Weber and her Denver based church in response to the Nashville Statement, another series of theses written by The Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW). The CBMW is a virtual “Who’s Who in the Zoo” of conservative evangelicals. Their Nashville Statement is a series of 14 theses that at once affirm the orthodox, biblical views on sexuality and marriage while denying the secularized distortion of human sexuality. The Denver Statement goes point-by-point against everything the CBMW statement says. It basically affirms all expressions of sexuality as being pleasing to God. (I am aware of how grossly inadequate these summaries are, but again, this is a blog, and you have places to be!)
So, I went to social media (something I’ve been trying to avoid more of lately) and saw that the lines had been drawn. Pick your team! Sign the petition and show where you stand. Signing one of these petitions is basically presented to you as your Martin Luther moment. Make your confession, or you are denying your Lord before man, and you know how that will turn out (Matthew 10:32-33)! What’s the matter? Are you ashamed of God’s Word?
Now, this got me thinking. I’m the sort of guy who doesn’t like being told what to do, especially when someone makes the demands with such eschatologically crucial implications. Well, at least, I don’t like it when such commands come from Facebook (I have no choice if the command comes from Jesus…). So, I wondered, do I have to sign one of these petitions? I mean, I agree with the Nashville Statement as far as I’ve read it. But does me signing it or not signing it actually matter? What will it accomplish? Will it help my congregation know where I stand? Why don’t they just ask me instead of scrolling through a bunch of names they don’t know? What about those who did sign it? Has this changed how they preach? Do they actually preach what they are signing, or do they think their signing of this petition is a sort of moment of confessional bravery and now they’re off the hook for more action? I mean, I cannot stand what Bolz-Weber wrote, but at least she did so in the context of her congregation where it clearly flows from what she preaches. (If you read that last statement as an endorsement of Bolz-Weber’s theology, it wasn’t).
I guess what I’m getting at here is simply this: Confessions don’t mean anything unless you act on them. Consider the NFL players who publicly speak out for the No More campaign. This is a campaign that takes a stand against domestic violence and sexual abuse. From what I can tell, it is a wonderful organization. The NFL does have a lot of bad press these days when it comes to domestic abuse, so it is encouraging to see players taking a stand. But how firm is the stance? I mean, it is one thing to do a public service announcement. But how much does that accomplish? Does an abuser see his favorite player on the commercial and then change his ways? Do such public statements actually help players stop beating their girlfriends? If these players really wanted to take a stand, they need to put action behind their public conviction. Refuse to play until, say, Ezekiel Elliot’s suspension is upheld. Make public statements against teammates by name. Or better still, turn in abusers to the authorities, and do everything in your power (and that money you make gives you such power) to help the victims recover and the abuser change. In other words, just because you’ve made a public statement doesn’t mean you’ve done anything real.
The other day, I was reading through the signatures of the men who made Luther’s Smalcald Articles their confession (Like I said, I’m trying to stay off of social media. What else am I going to do?). I was caught by the signature of one Conrad Figenbotz, who wrote, “I, Conrad Figenbotz, for the glory of God subscribe that I have thus believed and am still preaching and firmly believing as above” (italics mine). Our old homie Pastor Figenbotz gets what it means to confess. He knew his job wasn’t done by signing Luther’s confession. That signature meant nothing if it didn’t stand for what he was doing in his congregation. That signature meant he was putting his life on the line and Jesus into people’s ears. There was risk involved in this signature. There was love for God and God’s people in this signature. The signature flowed from the preaching of the Word. The signature didn’t matter without the preaching!
I hope my point this week is an obvious one. Don’t think you’ve accomplished anything if you’ve signed a statement. Ultimately and practically, such a signature makes no difference unless you are actually doing something in your church about these issues. It is no good to say you believe LGBTQ people need to hear the Law and the Gospel until you are actually speaking Law and Gospel to people in the LGBTQ community. Don’t stand up and make a PSA about how right you are on biblical sexuality until you are actually helping people engaged in the battle with the devil, the world, and their own sexually distorted flesh. Making statements at and about those sinners over there isn’t preaching the Law or the Gospel; it is grandstanding. The church is not about preaching “at them” but about preaching Law and Gospel “for you.”
Statements like this are fine, but inadequate. We are free to sign or not to sign. But what we are not free to do is keep God’s Word about human sexuality out of our congregations. We are not free to tell sinners they are okay or ignore their sin, nor are we free to break bruised reeds and snuff out smoldering wicks. We withhold the Gospel on peril of hell. Until we realize that it is our job to bring God’s actual Word to actual sinners while tangibly loving them and suffering alongside them in their pain, our statements are just PSA announcements that don’t really do anything real.