Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Don't Let Nashville Tell You Who You Are

(Disclaimer: I am already an outspoken critic of CBMW and the Danvers Statement. I wish that there had been this much of a response to this as there has been to the new Nashville Statement. Please visit the FreeCWC Channel on Vimeo or YouTube for more. CBMW sows the ideological seeds that foster domestic abuse of women. What will the Nashville Statement foster?)

There's a great phrase in the first Matrix film when the protagonist ponders his life before he figured out what the real world looked like. He asks what it means if he liked the noodles at a restaurant that was only computer code in a program that created a dream. His companion says that it means that he still had a unique identity, and even the deception of a dream could not tell him or make him who he really was. It was the part of himself that was wholly his own.

I love that phrase, because I grew up thinking that I had to live out a life script written by another. Though shaped by the script in both positive and negative ways, what others expected of me or how others defined me didn't make me who I am. “The Matrix cannot tell you who you are.”

Inside Out

At least in my life, there seems to be no dearth of sources that will tell you who and what you are or should be. Isn't it curious that we don't ever seem to measure up, just as we are at that moment? Most people don't know who they are nor are they aware of what they feel so that they can know what they want. It's easier to have someone give you all of the answers. Pretending is easy. Knowing yourself honestly is painfully hard work. You have to live from the inside out and pay the price for it up front.

Holy from the Outside In

Christians aren't much different when it comes to getting to know who they are, who God is, and how they fit into the grand scheme of things. Another of my favorite books says that people will basically do about anything so that someone else steps in to give them miracle, mystery, and authority. We don't have to make the hard decisions and thus feel free from consequences if we are just pins on someone else's map. They do mysterious miracles by feeding us.

It's just an illusion, however. Authority doesn't always come with responsibility, but we pretend that the guy giving the orders is responsible for what we do. We find out later that we were not innocent cogs in someone else's wheel in a machine. Oh, the pain when we see that we were our own moral agents who did nothing but follow instructions! What happens when that machine commits unspeakable wrongs?

Wearing the signs of that inward change can be feigned (and that isn't always a bad thing because we are creatures of habit and our habits are good). Discipline involves learning, we learn by practice, and all of the goodness in one's heart needs a channel in which to flow to be shaped and mastered. Discipline with all of it's rules becomes our schoolmaster. Those of us who can walk once learned the skill from the inside out, but we needed guidance and protection (and restraint for our own wellbeing) until we could master it.

We are also creatures given to taking the cues of outward signs as evidence of inward change. Though it's hard to know oneself and be disciplined, harder still is the wisdom to be able to tell who is honest, through and through, from those who pretend that they are pure by donning the signs.

Sheepskin Patterns

The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW) is an organization that may have started as an interdenominational effort to help Christians channel their desire to be good Christians when it came to gender related behavior. That was how it was billed in the beginning, but it soon revealed itself to be less of a forum of sober people discussing how to resist sin and more of a purveyor of indoctrination and publisher of sheepskin patterns. Rather quickly, the authoritarian element took over, and some even left the effort because it was not authoritarian enough. And with expert knowledge of sheep, though still beyond my ability to fathom, the effort grew. It became yet another tool to dominate sheep as opposed to lovingly guiding and protecting them. They became masters at selling sheepskins, even to sheep.

They've published lists of rules of proper behavior for women – pages and pages of specific acceptable tasks that women my fulfill in a church. They've established that women are the derivative image of God and a secondary creature when compared to men. They've stated that a husband is responsible for making his wife sinless and acts as her spiritual intermediary because she can't even be her own moral agent. They've established that a person's sexuality is an indelible aspect of spiritual identity that continues after death. They've stated that marriage is permanent, and a wife will serve her husband in heaven. And those who reject the idea that Jesus lacks the authority to hear and answer prayer – an intermediary who runs home to His master Father to discern and act -- are labeled as false teachers and heretics who worship a false God. (They came up with the idea that the mystery of the Trinity is a model for marriage, but women become suffering servants who hang on the marriage cross for eternity without hope of a resurrection. Jesus became the wife in their model.)

The Pharisees fell into the same trap. To guard the right from the wrong and to save people from themselves, they came up with their own long list of more rules to protect the rules. The whole point of worshiping God (which results in good behavior) became lost in efforts that I'm sure started out as good ones. If you do what the Pharisees want, they take care of the hard work and the consequences for you so that you are free. You need only play by the rules.

The Nashville Statement

Having conquered the challenge of telling men and women how to be proper men and women with the Danvers Statement, CBMW has now created one aimed at the specifics of all that which falls outside of a heterosexual marriage. As I read it, though I have enjoyed heterosexual marriage to one husband for the better part of thirty years, even I don't measure up to the ideal established in the new Nashville Statement. I also noted the carefully worded statements that refer to men and women separately, because there is a vast difference between who they are eternally and indelibly and incorrigibly per the pontifications of CBMW.

There was one glimmer of hope in this grand statement with which I agree. I think that they should have started with the Article that concluded the statement and then quit while they were ahead:

Article 14

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.

The Unbalance of Spiritual Abusive Systems

There are two primary things, and some would argue three, that Scripture sets forth as necessary for God to save a soul from condemnation and the consequences of sin. One needs to believe in their heart that Jesus is the Messiah as they put their faith in Him. Thereafter, a confession in that belief must follow. Some would also argue that the act of obedience of baptism is the first outward sign of inward change of conversion.

All that happens afterwards is a part of the mystery of the work that the Holy Spirit does to make a person “set apart” for God (the process of making someone holy). In Hebrew, the word is even closer to the meaning of what it is to be married, and some rabbis say that it is acceptable that to be redeemed by God is tantamount to being married to Him. The wisest and most learned scholar in the New Testament, Saul Paulus who is known as the Apostle Paul, said that this process is very much a mystery. Any analogy made between marriage partners and God's identity speaks to how God Himself laid down His life and paid the penalty for our sins – to make us holy (set apart for only Him). God who is wholly holy "marries us" by making us pure by laying down His own life for us.  (Read more HERE and HERE.)

David Henke's model of Spiritual Abuse notes that a marker of this error is a lack of balance between the main and plain message of Scripture and special interest topics that become a hobby horse and the whole of the focus of one's spiritual life. Or perhaps for some, the special topics eclipse the message of Christ. CBMW epitomizes this lack of balance by making gender rules on par with the core of the Christian experience and essential belief. The means becomes the end for them, and the sinner's union with God through the sacrifice of the Cross and the power of the Resurrection that follows becomes secondary to the lists of rules about gender. It claims a type of holiness but denies God's power. It demands the donning of the outward signs of holiness while grossly neglecting the source of holiness.

God is Deeper Still

CBMW claims to hold out the roadmaps for Christian holiness – to be set apart only for God. Though it once may have hoped to encourage Christian discipline as a means of cooperating with the Holy Spirit's work in humankind, it just became little more than a list of more rules. It also takes us back to Eden as our spiritual birthplace as opposed to the foot of the Cross of Christ – the place and the moment where we put our faith in Jesus to save us from our sins and ourselves.

But yet, I am encouraged and pray that this Article 14 will come to pass in the lives of those who wrote and signed the Nashville Statement. If no one is beyond God's reach, than there is hope for all of us. I hope and pray that it becomes CBMW's own undoing – that the seeds of hope that they sewed into the statement will grow, and at least for some, perhaps they will see that the endpoint that they penned is the starting point. I love how Corrie ten Boom stated it – that there is no pit so deep that God is not deeper still.

Christians should encourage one another to be set apart for God by living in the right way while resisting the wrong. But there is such a fine and yet profound difference between inward change which manifests as goodness from the feigned and empty process of following laws to appear holy. They have put the cart before the horse, and they end up going nowhere.

If there is hope for all of the people who bring them disdain and disgust, there is hope for them, too. For all of those who were involved with this new Nashville Statement, may they come to see the inward change that they hope will soak in from the outside. May they find who they are and who they are in Christ. That begins NOT with a list of articles of conduct but with being filled to overflowing with love in their inner selves so that it splashes over into how they live.

Neither the Nashville Statement nor the Danvers Statement can tell you who you are. Don't let them do it. Begin with what Paul said to preach –
Christ crucified. That brings about inward change which shines outward to change how we live. We live by the Law of Love to lay hold to that which Jesus gained for us, not in dreams of recapturing Eden past.

Further Reading and Responses: