Orphan care is not a new idea. Instagram is a new idea, but the call to care for orphans is an old, biblical idea (cf., Ex 22:22; Ps 146:9; Isa 1:17; Jam 1:27). In recent years, however, it seems that the orphan care movement has taken off in new places. We hear of more and more couples are adopting in the church (though we must mention that adoptions are on the decline presently). More churches are starting orphan care ministries and providing financial assistance than before. Leaders are hosting orphan care conferences. Writers are promoting orphan care in books. Why now?
Perhaps people are more aware of the need today due to technology and globalization. Another factor is the influence of notable figures that are adopting children and caring for orphans. Further, as more people in the church get exposed to adopted children – as they play with them, teach them, and treat them as a member of the community – this exposure often compels them to consider adoption. I often say that if you meet an orphan, your life will be changed.
But I think there’s a deeper reason for this “new” trend.
My wife and I adopted four children from Ukraine, and one from Ethiopia. We never intended to adopt so many. We went to Ukraine planning to adopt one or maybe two children, but came back with four! When a local Ukrainian newspaper interviewed me about this, they asked the obvious question, “Why?” I said, “The short answer is: Jesus.” I went on to explain how the doctrine of adoption has impacted us. Sure, we were motivated to adopt by meeting other adopted children (my sister has five adopted children from Ethiopia), and by considering the staggering statistics. But that was not our greatest reason.
It wasn’t infertility either. We were motivated by theology, not biology.
This theological trend in the orphan care movement encourages me. In previous years, the only time one heard of adoption was when a couple who could not have “their own kids,” were considering adoption. It was always plan B, and never a plan A. I don’t want to imply that infertility is a bad reason to adopt; I simply want to encourage others to see adoption through a God-centered, gospel lens first. God’s adoption of us was never plan B. It was always plan A (Eph 1:4-5). That should affect us.
And indeed this gospel perspective is transforming people. The doctrine of adoption is changing lives, families, and churches. I want to encourage you to keep teaching on it – through the pulpit, groups, songs, prayers, books, video, websites, etc. Why?
It’s the “Cinderella of Pauline doctrines.”
When I preach on adoption at youth camps, collegiate events, or in the church, I constantly hear this: “I have never heard a sermon on adoption.” We have neglected it in sermons and for the most part in theology books and classes. What a tragedy to neglect such a doctrine that inspires worship and hope.
It’s a unifying doctrine.
The more and more I consider the implications of adoption, and try to unfold the texts where Paul explicitly mentions the word “adoption” (Eph 1:5; Gal. 4:5; Rom 8:15, 23; 9:4), or how other writers teach on it, without using the term specifically, the more I see how many truths are connected to this gospel truth. It’s an organizing concept that helps us understand the Christian life better. When I teach on adoption, I can teach on the Trinity, pointing out how the Father administered adoption, the Son accomplished it, and the Spirit applies it to our hearts (Gal. 4:7); on Christian identity, explaining our union with Christ (Eph 1:4-6); on sanctification, describing the new attitude we have toward sin (Rom 8:11-14), and how God is conforming us to the image of our elder brother (Rom 8:29); on assurance, describing that the Spirit confirms our adoption (Rom 8:16); on the church, emphasizing how the church is a family, made up of brothers and sisters from different races and cultures (Rom 8:12-17); on God’s sovereign grace, exulting in the One who chose us out of sheer mercy not our merit (Eph 1:5); on the obedience and cross work of Christ, who purchased us through his blood (Gal. 4:5); on the Holy Spirit’s work, who enables us to cry “Abba Father” (8:15; Gal. 4:6); on eschatology, showing how we “groan” and “wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (Rom 8:23), and as we look forward to our inheritance (Gal. 4:7; Rom 8:17). I could go on. The doctrine of adoption is a tree with many branches. We should rest under this tree and marvel at it God’s grace.
It’s a pastoral doctrine.
As you make application in such sermons, it’s amazing how you can apply the gospel to people’s hearts. Adoption brings assurance to the insecure, grace to the outcasts, peace to the anxious, and hopes to hopeless.
It’s a practical doctrine.
I often say that Ephesians 5:1 goes with Ephesians 1:5. In 1:5, Paul teaches us about our adoption in Christ, then in 5:1 he says, “Imitate God, as beloved children.” As those who have been adopted by God, we are to imitate him by reflecting God’s adopting love. Does that mean everyone should adopt children? Not necessarily. While I wish more evangelicals would consider adoption, adoption is one of many ways to “care for orphans in their affliction” (James 1:27). All of the orphaned children in the world are not available for adoption, so we have to think about various ways to care for orphans. But the simple application is clear: imitate God. While every Christian will not adopt, every Christian is called to demonstrate the love of God to a broken world.
It’s an evangelistic doctrine.
It’s evangelistic in that adoption provides us with a wonderful way to explain the gospel to people. It’s also evangelistic in that it provides a vivid way to illustrate the gospel to people. While the gospel is an announcement, and must always be spoken, our life and deeds are important. Our actions are extremely significant in bearing witness to the good news. Along with this idea, more and more churches are beginning to see that when you do orphan care, you have more opportunities to do evangelism. Often, I hear people say that if you encourage orphan care, people won’t do evangelism. I disagree. People who don’t evangelize are simply being disobedient, not because they love orphans too much. Besides, who says you have to shut your mouth when you care for orphans? I would also argue that we aren’t doing orphan care completely if we don’t speak the gospel. For what these children need more than anything is Jesus. Further, I have found that I have more opportunities to speak the gospel because of our family’s adoption, of our church’s emphasis on adoption, and because this ministry takes me places I would otherwise never be, giving me an opportunity to give the reason for the hope that is in me.
It’s a devotional doctrine.
In J.I. Packer’s Knowing God he says, “Adoption is the highest privilege that the gospel offers.” Yes. Adoption is privilege. When you consider the love of Abba in this way, it leads you into prayer and heart-felt worship. I think this understanding of God’s grace is leading people to adore God, which is then leading them to gladly reorient their lives for the sake of the orphan and the glory of God.
So I’m encouraged by this “new” trend. I pray that this gospel focus will remain at the heart of the movement because the gospel is of first importance. People are learning the good news as we teach and model adoption. Couples are being motivated by grace. And adoptive parents are sustained through the difficult parenting days by this same glorious gospel.