I’ve invited several people to write “guest blog posts” for this blog. There are several reasons for this: 1) To offer different perspectives. 2) To generate even more discussion and conversation between blogs. 3) To introduce other bloggers to my readers.
(If you are interested in writing a guest blog post, please contact me at aknox[at]sebts[dot]com.)
Adoption is a hot topic in the church, both the adoption of orphan children and the doctrine of the adoption of believers by God as Father. For example, taking its cue from the Together for the Gospel conferences, a group has started holding a series of conferences called Together for Adoption led in part by Dr. Russell Moore who is a leading voice for the adoption of orphan children in evangelical circles. I think this focus on the adoption of orphans is by and large a healthy movement in the church and a sign of taking James 1:27 seriously.
While I love the adoption of orphans and really anything to do with caring for them, for purposes of this post I want to look at adoption from a soteriological standpoint, i.e. the adoption of believers into the family of God. One of the weaknesses that I have discovered over the last year or two in my own understanding of adoption is that I and many others have focused almost exclusively on the theology of adoption and how it impacts us positionally: we were once outside of the family of God and now we are in. What I gave little thought to was how this precious doctrine should impact how we function as the church. In fact few of the most eloquent expositors of the doctrine of adoption seem especially troubled by the splintering of the adopted family of God beyond perfunctory lip-service.
This is due in large part to how we view adoption, because adoption is often seen as an individual doctrine. Because I have been born-again, I have been adopted into the family of God. That is absolutely and wonderfully true but the implications of adoption for the Church go beyond a bunch of individuals who all became part of the family of God. Not only are we now in the family of God, likewise the rest of the church is also adopted into His family. In spite of what our culture teaches, Presbyterians, Baptists, Methodists and Mennonites are all part of the same church. We are not merely a group of people who associate with one another voluntarily based on class, race, political affiliation or any of a myriad of other factors. We are a family, just as real as a “biological” family and perhaps more so given the eternal nature of this adopted family of God. Christ was pretty blunt that we would be united together as a new family and that in fact this reality would cause schism in many cases with our earthly family. Given this reality, why do we seem so willing to accept artificial barriers between us and other members of our adopted family?
Imagine a family in your church made up entirely of adopted children. What if those children divided themselves up into subgroups and while they would affirm members of the other subgroups as brothers and sisters, in practice they would have virtually nothing to do with one another? They don’t sit together, they don’t drive to and from church together, they eat after church meals separately. How would we view that family? Probably as dysfunctional or messed up but in the “real world” that is precisely how we treat the vast majority of our adopted brothers and sisters.
One of the big culprits in this splintering is the way we have elevated the local church to an unhealthy place of prominence. Don’t get me wrong, local groups of believers gathering together is a Biblical and healthy practice. What I am speaking of is the almost idolatrous way that we have elevated the local church system with each local church becoming both a focal point of life and a divider of the people of God. We were not adopted into a local church. We were adopted in the church of God, the family of God with God as Father and Jesus Christ as the Head. Unfortunately the local church system has been used to erect what are assumed to be protective walls between believers, walls that keep believers from associating and being in community with one another. If you think your local church is doing you a favor by “shielding” you from other Christians who disagree with you on secondary issues, allow me to burst your bubble. The more walls and barriers your local church puts between you and other believers, the less Biblical that local church is. That may sound harsh but I am afraid it is true. If one local church erects barriers between its members and members of another local church that believes almost identically, what is truly being promoted is not orthodoxy but rather the self-preservation of that local church organization. No matter how orthodox the other teachings of that local church might be, in one area at least it is working at odds with God’s design for the church. Local churches should encourage and facilitate fellowship and cooperation among Christians, not hamper it.
I firmly hold to the doctrine that those who are adopted by God are chosen, predestined as His elect if you will, from before time began. I am not looking to pick a fight over predestination and election here but I do want to point out the ramifications of that doctrine. If God chose me in His sovereignty, He also chose every other Christian and made us all part of the same family and did so in His perfect wisdom. I don’t think God made a mistake in adopting any Christian. That reality must impact how we live in community with the other members of our family or it makes adoption nothing more than a topic for theology conferences. The solution to this problem has nothing to do with seeking some sort of manmade hierarchical authority that we all are accountable to or superficial one-off events that do nothing to foster community. It has everything to do with intentionally breaking down the barriers between believers. Those barriers have the weight of centuries of tradition propping them up and they will not come tumbling down unless the adopted family of God makes it a priority to start chipping away at those walls and rejecting those traditions that keep us apart from others that God has called and adopted into our family. If we do any less we are telling the God who accepted us that we question His judgment in choosing our adopted siblings and that isn’t a conversation that I am interested in having with Him!
What questions or comments do you have for Arthur after reading his post?