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Guest Blogger: Adoption lived out in the church

Posted by on Jun 6, 2011 in guest blogger, unity | 8 comments

Guest Blogger: Adoption lived out in the church

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.)

Today’s post was written by Arthur from “The Voice of One Crying Out in Suburbia.” You can also follow Arthur on Twitter and Facebook.

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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!

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What questions or comments do you have for Arthur after reading his post?


8 Comments

Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 6-6-2011

    Arthur,

    Well said. But, now what?

    For one thing, if we were having a long discussion over coffee (or beer), we might start by listing what we consider the barriers among the saints in our cities. I’d ask and consider further if what we initially come up with were the real barriers, or is there something deeper/hidden/different behind the facade? What REALLY divides us?

    Personally, I’m not convinced theological issues are the real sticking point. They may be a tool, but they hardly seem the motivations for most (few can explain the positions they advocate adequately, nor have most thought through questions raised by these positions). They may be passionate about the issues, but they are not knowledgeable about them. It seems their fervor may have a different source.

    As humans, we might also wonder why there are things that divide humanity, things like rascism, class, power, position, wealth and education. Frankly, the sources of these difficult issues may likely be the same root causes of division we will discover within the church, minus the veneer of god-speak to make our divisions and fightings and competitions seem noble.

    Real solutions are likely to be profoundly harder to live out than they are to list. Society has aptly demonstrated they are not capable of solving the divisions that ravage people. For that matter, so have we Christians.

  2. 6-6-2011

    Art

    In some ways I am not sure it is even that complex. Given how shallow most relationships in the church are, do you think people are really consciously finding ways to divide themselves? Or is it just convenience, tradition and inertia that moves us?

  3. 6-6-2011

    Art and Arthur,

    Do you think part of the problem is that Christians see “adoption” as something that doesn’t really affect their lives or their relationships with others? If so, how do we help them understand otherwise?

    -Alan

  4. 6-6-2011

    Arthur

    No, as you suggest, it doesn’t seem like people are picking a fight for the sake of fighting. Division is the result for most of us, not what we start out to develop. I think everyone on both sides of divisions and wars would claim their cause just, and motives pure.

    Sure, these can be causes. But are they root causes? Are we to be addressing convenience, tradition and inertia? Or should we ask why do people lapse into convenience mode? Why do people not question their traditions? I guess I’m thinking that if we don’t know why we have and perpetuate divisions we won’t have an answer to solving them.

    Maybe it is simple: People are lazy. Maybe it is complex: people have been wounded and have fears and have hopes and we have been twisted inward in our love for ourselves and our clinging to life and are to be pitied. James 4:1-4 points to something darker than laziness and less noble than wounded, struggling humanity.

    At any rate, divisions, whether in the church or in society at large, like the poor, are always with us. I’m not sure something that prevalent and persistent can be as simple as it might seem.

    Alan,

    Can we teach away division by teaching about the basis for unity? Is ignorance about what unity means or even of the basis for unity (whether in the doctrine of Adoption, or in the example of our Lord outlined in Phil 2) among the root causes? And if so, who will listen? How will we gain a hearing? How will we tell these truths?

  5. 6-6-2011

    Art,

    I asked you first. :)

    My answer would be by example… for gaining a hearing and teaching the truths. Unity can’t be taught with words alone.

    -Alan

  6. 6-6-2011

    Well, so you did. Then, yes, ignorance probably does contribute to division and I think Arthur lays out a strong case that our Adoption into the family of God has foundational implications for unity and acceptance of one another.

    I also share Arthur’s conviction that the solution “has everything to do with intentionally breaking down the barriers between believers.” What still perplexes me is what those barriers are and then how to “break them down.”

    Things like traditions only seem to be the excuse to me, and not the barriers themselves. Maybe part of the solution is exposing these, and maybe part of the solution is teaching by both words and example, but I think we have to go yet deeper to find, and address, the entire root system.

    Maybe the main root is our own pride and self-glory and maybe one of the key ways this is exposed is in our divisiveness and competitiveness.

  7. 6-6-2011

    Art,

    I think ignorance is part of it. But, I know many people who admit that all Christians are brothers and sisters having been adopted by God, but then do not live as brothers and sisters. Ignorance doesn’t account for that. I’m sure that some of those have been led astray (especially when it comes to understanding unity and fellowship, etc.).

    If our adoption and unity are in Jesus Christ and only Jesus Christ (and I think it is), then he is where I would start. Anything and anyone (include myself, my ideology, my church, my anything) that takes his place as center will necessarily result in lack of unity.

    -Alan

  8. 6-7-2011

    Alan,

    Didn’t you realize that anyone who doesn’t dot your “I’s” and cross your “T’s” as you do may be subversive?

    What would the spiritual policemen do if we decided that the one foundation for our faith was trust in the finished work of Jesus Christ?

    Besides, whoever heard of a family which loved one another, and accepted one another, as their Father does?