Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
April 21, 1955
NUMBER 49, PAGE 9-10a

Caring For Orphans

Bill Fling, Napa, California

We have our head in a dream barrel if we are pretending that the brotherhood is not disturbed over the problem of caring for orphans. It has caused many of us to lose sleep, fearing it will split the church — but praying that it will not. The only thing to do with this problem is to think it out, to study it through from every angle; but we must never ignore it or leave it to prejudice. As we study and pray, here are some thoughts that may prove helpful. They are the results of several years' reading of everything I could find in our papers and in the New Testament.

I. THE PROBLEM WE FACE is the result of the following pattern of reasoning:

  1. "We are all agreed on the fact that the care of the fatherless is a responsibility of the church." (Gayle Oler, Gospel Guardian, 4-23-53.) "Most of my brethren admit, however, that it (the care of orphan children) is a work of the church." (G. K. Wallace, Gospel Guardian, 5-24-51.) "It is also right for the church to provide homes for widows and orphans to care for them." (George Stephenson ACC Lectures, 1954 and Gospel Advocate, 9-2-54.)
  2. But the New Testament does not tell us exactly how to carry out this responsibility. "How to go about fulfilling this duty is the question that has called for much discussion." (Cleon Lyles, Firm Foundation, 7-13-54.)
  3. From these two premises a number of conclusions are drawn:
    1. All orphans should be adopted into homes or placed in foster homes of church members.
    2. Orphans should be (could be) placed in institutional homes governed by a board of directors from various congregations and receive funds from numerous church treasuries.
    3. Orphans should be (could be) placed in homes under the direct supervision of a local eldership and which receives funds from various church treasuries.
    4. Orphans should be taken care of by the local church itself under the oversight, of the local elders, either in a house purchased for the purpose or in a professional child-care home.

Facing the problem, we ask ourselves three questions in the order of their importance. Is premise number one correct? Is premise number two true? If they are found to be right, how many of the conclusions are logical and valid?

II. SOME PRELIMINARY CONSIDERATIONS should be observed before attempting to settle these three questions. These are vital to any question which pertains to the work of the church.

  1. There is a difference between the church and the church member. One brick is not the building, it is just part of the building. One finger is not the body, it is just a member of the body. And one Christian is not the church, he is just a member of the church, simply an individual Christian. So we must always distinguish between what is the work of the church and what is the work of the individual Christian. Some things may be both the responsibility of the church and of the individual, such as teaching God's word. But many passages that apply to personal Christian living cannot properly be applied to the congregation.
  2. Everything a Christian does DOES NOT need to be done "through the church." Now this does not mean that what a Christian does will not reflect on the church. Neither does it mean we can glorify God OUT of the church. (Eph. 3:21.) It does mean that many of my individual Christian duties can be performed without going through the congregation or the elders. "Husbands, love your wives" is commanded, but it is not the "work of the church" or a congregational activity. In 1 Timothy 5:8 we are told to provide for our own house, including the needy widows. And in verse 16 it refers to these widows and says "let not the church be charged." I cannot care for my widowed mother "through the church"; the church is commanded to stay out of the work which is my exclusive responsibility.

III. NOW WHO IS RESPONSIBLE FOR WHAT? Let us consider the major premise. Is it true that the care of the fatherless is a responsibility of the church? Some of us may be ready to say "yes" and pass on, but we are studying the problem through; so we will consider what the New Testament says. If the Lord has not charged the church with this responsibility, the major premise is false. And if it is false, the minor premise and the conclusions will be useless. Obviously it would be superfluous to discuss HOW to do that which God has not even charged the church with doing.

In the concordance we find there is only one scripture in the entire New Testament that mentions orphans or fatherless children. It is James 1:27 which reads as follows: "Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this: To visit the fatherless and Widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world." Now is this passage speaking to the church as the church, or to the individual member of the church? The context clearly shows this to be a personal duty, for the one addressed is to "keep himself unspotted from the world." The word "himself" (singular), refers back to verse 26, speaking of the man who seems to be religious and the man whose religion is vain. We see, then, that this passage teaches individual responsibility and not church responsibility.

Galatians 6:10 is frequently brought up in connection with this problem. It says, "As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith." The' context leads us to conclude that this, too, is an obligation for the individual Christian. Verse 5 teaches "every man shall bear his own burden" and verse 8 speaks of the man who sows to the spirit reaping everlasting life. Then verse 10 says "therefore," referring back to bearing our own burden and sowing to the Spirit, not being "weary in well doing." As a Christian I should use every opportunity to do good unto all men, especially fellow saints.

The judgment scene of Matthew 25:31-46 is occasionally used to impress upon the churches the consequences of not supporting the orphan homes. We need only to mention that in this scene the Lord is judging individuals, not churches. The judgment is always single file and personal.

I have not found, in my study, any passage that charges the church as the church with this responsibility of caring for orphans. Now there may be such a passage, but I have not as yet found it.

There are, however, passages to show that the church does have some obligations in the field of benevolence. These reveal that the church helped the "needy saints," but I have not observed one verse that would lead me to believe that the church ever extended aid to non-Christians. In the Jerusalem church distribution was made to those in "need" (Acts 4:35) and some of the Grecian widows were neglected. (See Acts 6.) In Acts 11:29 the church in Antioch sent "relief unto the brethren which dwelt in Judea." It pleased the churches of Macedonia and Achaia "to make a certain contribution for the poor saints" which were at Jerusalem (Rom. 15:26, 27) and the treasuries of the churches were used for this work. (1 Cor. 16:1, 2; 2 Cor. 8, 9.)

The ONE example of the church being responsible for a permanent benevolent program was that for widows "indeed." (1 Tim. 5.) If every needy widow could be enrolled, why did Paul lay down such stringent qualifications? Because widows in emergency were not widows "indeed." Paul stresses individual Christian responsibility for those not "widows indeed." (verse 8.)

How, then, does this relate to the care of homeless children? Since there is no example of the New Testament church overseeing a permanent child care program for "the fatherless," there is no reason to assume that such is the work of the church. If we cannot add to the worship of the New Testament, how can we add to the work of the New Testament church? We would prohibit the use of instrumental music in the worship on the grounds that there is no scriptural precedent for it. We need to be as consistent concerning the work of the church as we are the worship of the church.

One brother said recently "there is a great opportunity for some church to direct a work where babies and perhaps unwed mothers are helped and the babies are adopted into Christian homes." (Firm Foundation, 6-29-54.) Surely this would be a good work, but could such a program be "the work of the church"? If so, on what grounds? Could some church oversee a "Church of Christ Hospital"? NOT WITHOUT A SCRIPTURAL PRECEDENT, of course, and there is none. Individual Christians can do these fine things, but "by what authority" do we make it the work of the church?

One of the first questions that comes to our minds when this truth is sensed, is "what would we do with `our' orphan homes?"

IV. LET'S KEEP THE ORPHAN HOMES! Why not? Nearly all the children that go into these homes are taught the Bible and become Christians. If these homes are caring for children who would not receive this training otherwise, then let them continue. Is there any scriptural way this can be done? Yes.

Let us put what we have learned into the form of a syllogism:

  1. The care of the fatherless is the responsibility of Christian individuals.
  2. There are fatherless children in our present orphan homes.
  3. Therefore, these children are the responsibility of individual Christians.

If we, as individuals, can build and support our Christian colleges, we can also support the orphan homes. This is, of course, provided that they be separate and apart from the church, operated by a board of Christian directors. These homes would receive no "contributions" from church treasuries, but would be supported by Christians and interested civic groups. (The homes would not suffer, because many of the wealthy are now leaving substantial estates in their wills to the homes, and this practice should increase when Christians realize their help is needed.) THIS WOULD NOT BE AN INSTITUTION DOING THE WORK OF THE CHURCH. IT WOULD BE INDIVIDUAL CHRISTIANS USING THIS MEDIUM TO HELP THEM FULFILL THEIR PERSONAL OBLIGATIONS.

Many of us have lost sleep over this problem, fearing it would eventually split the church. These observations have been made after careful study and prayer, and they seem to me to be a right and scriptural answer which could keep the church "of the same mind and the same judgment." We could unite on this program, if it is proven to be scriptural. We have told the sects that we can all be united on the Bible, now let's prove it.

Peace is pleasant; unity is vital; but being scriptural is supreme.