Part 2: The Neglect of Heavenly Adoption (read part 1 here)
If adoption is first heavenly (i.e., vertical) before it is earthly (i.e., horizontal), why do we Christians so often think of earthly adoption before we think of heavenly adoption? Why do we think horizontally before we think vertically? I think one reason for this is the neglect of the doctrine of adoption in the history of the church. In his massive, 2,600-page work The Creeds of Christendom, the church historian Philip Schaff only includes six creeds that contain a section on adoption because they are the only ones he could find while scouring almost 1,900 years of church history.
The early church was primarily concerned, and rightly so, with the doctrines of the Trinity and of Christ because those doctrines were being attacked within the church. The Reformation and post-Reformation church necessarily focused on defending the doctrine of justification. These battles were all essential for the church to fight in the defense of Christian truth, but unintentionally they resulted in the church’s failure to develop thoroughly Scripture’s teaching on heavenly adoption.
One of the consequences of this neglect is that heavenly adoption is not on the radar of the Christian community’s consciousness as it should be. To overstate it slightly, when heavenly adoption should be a part of the Christian’s functional vocabulary, it isn’t. As a result, not only do Christians tend to think first about earthly adoption when they hear the word adoption, but also their thinking and attitudes toward the earthly practice of adoption are largely not informed and shaped by Scripture’s teaching concerning our heavenly adoption.
Fortunately, God seems to be awakening the church to the importance of the doctrine of adoption—an importance that is established by the central, God-ordained role it plays within the Bible’s unfolding story of redemption. We will begin exploring adoption’s role within redemptive-history in part 3.