We are in the middle of what many call a movement in the church when it comes to caring for the fatherless. This is really exciting but we can’t forget that it’s only been within the last 3-4 years that things have started to really move. I can’t help but look at the church and how for so many years it abdicated its role in caring for the poor and fatherless. That blame falls on the men leading our churches.
But, thankfully, this is changing! I want to share a few reasons I see why this is changing and why men are beginning to step up in the church.
1.) Men are realizing that loving and caring for the fatherless is not just for our crazy wives but it is at the very heart of biblical Christianity and their identity as Christians.
We adopt and fight for the cause of the vulnerable and orphaned not because we are rescuers or saviors. No, we do this because we are the rescued. We do this because we were once in the most vulnerable of states in need of reconciliation with our Father and He reconciled and redeemed us by adoption as His very sons and daughters. And in this way, the gospel uniquely portrays, compels, and ultimately sustains our movement towards the fatherless. The church is God’s great multi-racial adopted family
J.I. Packer in his classic book, Knowing God, puts it this way:
If you want to judge how well a person understands Christianity, find out what he makes of the thought of being God’s child, and having God as His father, if this is not the thought that prompts and controls his worship and prayers and his whole outlook on life, it means that he does not understand Christianity very well at all.
Paul said it this way:
In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved (Ephesians 1:3ff).
2.) Men are realizing that caring for the fatherless is part of the very nature of God Himself.
Psalm 68:5-6 says:
“Father of the fatherless and protector of widows is God in his holy habitation. God settles the solitary in a home.”
In Scripture, the names of God carry great significance. They reveal to us who God is: His character, His works, His relationship with us, His very glory. Therefore, the fact that God aligns himself by name to the fatherless tells us God’s love for the fatherless is an essential part of who He is and what He does. In other words, God’s love and practical care of the orphan is part of His very nature and therefore part of His very infinite glory.
I love what Charles Spurgeon says:
“To this day and for ever, God is, and will be, the peculiar guardian of the defenseless. He is the President of Orphanages, the Protector of Widows. He is so glorious that he rides on the heavens, but so compassionate that he remembers the poor of the earth. How zealously ought his church to cherish those who are here marked out as Jehovah’s especial charge. Does he not here in effect say, “Feed my lambs”? Blessed duty, it shall be our privilege to make this one of our life’s dearest objects.”
In this world there are over 145-200 million orphans worldwide in need of family and God is by nature passionate about this. If this is God’s nature it must also be the nature of His son’s and daughters. You cannot call yourself God’s child without having His character.
3.) Men are realizing that caring for the fatherless makes the gospel visible in our world
Nowhere else is God’s power, mercy, and justice made more visible than when He unleashes it for the good of the most powerless and weak, and there are hardly any more vulnerable in our world than orphans. Since the good news of the gospel is that when “we were still weak” (Romans 5:6), God came to us in Christ, orphan care provides us with a unique opportunity to model and demonstrate God’s kindness on the horizontal plane.
Biblically, adoption and orphan care are not primarily something we do because we are infertile or want to meet a great need. Rather, they are very tangible demonstrations and pictures of the Gospel—of God’s adoption of us—put on display for the world to see and therefore to glorify God.
Think about what adoption and care for the fatherless do: they provide a visible demonstration of the Gospel. Reunification to the adoption of children serve as a window into Christ’s rescue of sinners and reconciliation of sons. Our care for the fatherless displays Gospel-justice. Our efforts to fight for the vulnerble children of our world displays God’s patient, persistent pursuit and sovereign choice of us. Adoption displays God’s heart for rescuing a people from every nation, tribe, and tongue.
Because of what God has done for us in Christ, adoption and orphan care are signs that God’s kingdom and rule do exist in our world and will one day reign.
Men around our world are stepping up in amazing ways to the biblical reality that our care for the fatherless is part of the very mission God has called us too in our world.
May it continue!
Chartering unknown waters, we’ve understandably sailed cautiously through the history of the doctrine of adoption in the early church. We’ve ventured as far as it’s been safe to go among the Greek Fathers, and have navigated our way through the unclear waters of transition, arriving now at out brief consideration of the Latin Fathers. Doubtless, the exploration has limited interest currently, but the more we discover about adoption in the church Fathers the quicker the theological shipping lanes can open up.
In the invaluable Hendrickson collection of Ante-Nicene Fathers, the first Latin writings we encounter are those of Tertullian, Municius Felix and Commodianus. We restrict our comments to Tertullian’s almost 900 pages, since the brief extant writings of Municius and Commodianus are not relevant here.
Tertullian burst onto the scene in Carthage, North Africa, in 197 AD with the publication of his Apology. His ”angrier imitation of Justin Martyr’s [Apology]” began ”a spate of eloquent, witty and argumentative tracts on doctrines and morals.” (Williston Walker, A History of the Christian Church). Known for his seminal systematic expression of the doctrine of the Trinity, Tertullian expressed in his tracts ~ especially Apology, Against Praxeas, The Shows, On Repentance, Against Marcion, Against Hermogenes, and On the Flesh of Christ ~ the apologetic significance of the Fatherhood of God. Adoption, by contrast, is mentioned explicitly on but three occasions. Yet these references combine with related themes to suggest a coherent understanding of the doctrine ~ one that is sensitive to the exegesis of Scripture.
Although Tertullian views the Father as, fundamentally, the divine Creator of the universe, he also views him as the source of the believer’s redemption. While this belief led him to read the Father into the more general language of the Old Testament ~ consequently appearing to flatten out somewhat the redemptive-historical unfolding of the Trinity ~ Tertullian is nevertheless clear that the Father is disclosed to us supremely in the person and work of his divine Son.
Although the Father has always been such to his Son, he was first our Judge. Adoption explains how God is now Father to his people. Historically, the Jews were adopted first ~ an observation Tertullian gleans from the elder brother in the parable of the prodigal son. Yet believing Jews and Gentiles share the same adoption. Each believer experiences the change of relationship through revelation of the truth, confession of our errors, and pardon of the innumerable sins of our past life. Repentance, Tertullian explains with somewhat less exactitude than the later Protestant reformers, “is the price at which the Lord has determined to award pardon: He proposes the redemption of release from pardon at this compensating exchange of repentance.”
Assumptions of a meritorious repentance are countered by Tertullian’s belief that Christ came to redeem us. ”He came in humility, in human form, and passible, even up to the period of his passion; being himself likewise made, through all [stages of suffering] a victim for us all.” Those redeemed by such sufferings are in turn adopted (Gal. 4:5). This adoption they’re assured of by the gift of the Holy Spirit. He enables us to cry out, “Abba, Father,” telling us thereby that we’re no longer slaves. We’ve been freed from charging ourselves with “past thefts and desertions.”
The Son hates those who refuse obedience to the Father. They’ve been raised up as children of disobedience by the prince of the power of the air (cf. Eph. 2:1-3). These children of wrath have no ability of themselves to become ”sons of peace.” They need not only a new standing (adoption) but a new nature (the new birth).
Although not all claims to adoption are authentic, those truly adopted have become ”more worthier” relations of Jesus than the unbelieving relatives he possessed while on earth (Matt. 12:46-50). For through adoption a spiritual family has been formed, as was prophesied under the Old Covenant (Is. 43:6). This “worthier brotherhood” is significant for Christian witness to Jesus. “We are,” says Tertullian, “a body knit together as such by a common religious profession, by unity of discipline, and by the bond of a common hope.” Yet, fear (of God), joy, grief, and suffering are also common. We share as brothers ”a common Spirit from a common Lord and Father.”
If God is our Father who, then, is our mother? She is the church who cares for the family of God. We arise from baptism in the house of our mother, calling on Father that his specialities of grace and distributions of gifts may be given us. These provisions come to us through Lady mother ~ ”from her bountiful breasts and each brother out of his private means.” Of particular concern to Tertullian was the meeting of the bodily needs of the imprisoned “martyrs designate.” If Father could meet these through his church, then surely he could meet all those of the adopted. Through mother’s provisions we all eventually arrive at heaven. After all, it’s our Father’s permanent home to which the family is headed.
Conrad Mbewe, the pastor of Kabwata Reformed Baptist Church in Lusaka, Zambia, Africa, recently returned home from a visit to the United States. While here, he was surprised to learn how popular the adoption of African children has become in the United States. I found his thoughts about the practice of international adoption and the Westerner’s view of the African context very helpful. His blog post provides a necessary corrective to our sometimes blind enthusiasm. That’s not to say that we should not adopt internationally. This is to say, though, that when we do adopt from African countries, we should do so in a way that serves our African brothers and sisters in Christ and takes their cultural context into account—in a way that doesn’t value our desires and culture over theirs. We also need to remember that international adoption will never be the solution to the global orphan crisis, nor should it be. Rather, international adoption is one small component of a multi-faceted and complex solution. If there is a major component to a solution to the global orphan crisis, I’m convinced it is a gospel-centered movement of indigenous, in-country adoption and orphan care. Our primary focus as American Christians, then, should be to humbly come alongside our African brothers and sisters in Christ to work toward this end. There is so much that I probably should write about this now, but if I did, you would never get to reading Pastor Conrad Mbewe’s very helpful thoughts. Consider this post a conversation starter:
I have just returned from the USA. One of the major changes that I have observed from my earliest days of visiting that nation (i.e. from the late 1990s) is just how many families there are excited about and actually adopting African children. Whereas this phenomenon is not new, it has certainly grown exponentially. What I found rather surprising, however, was the lack of knowledge and appreciation of the African extended family system. So, although I initially set up this blog in order to give my church a peep into the outside world, I thought of writing a blog to inform the West about what is common knowledge back home. Whereas to the Western mind, an orphan, having lost both father and mother, is destined to either be adopted or spend the rest of his or her childhood days in an orphanage, to an African mind, the child still has many fathers and mothers, and consequently many homes to live in. Let me explain. (I apologise in advance for the unusual length of this blog).
In Africa, south of the Sahara, we have a system that is foreign to the social life of people in the West. It is popularly known as the extended family system. It goes something like this. My biological father’s brothers are also my fathers and my biological mother’s sisters are also my mothers. If your mind has processed that, let me add a little more. The wives of my biological father’s brothers are my mothers and the husbands of my biological mother’s sisters are my fathers . . . Often we speak in terms of ba tata mwaiche (younger father) and ba tata mukalamba (older father) when referring to the younger and older brothers of our fathers and ba mayo mwaiche (younger mother) and ba mayo mukalamba (older mother) when referring to the younger and older sisters of our mothers. However, it is not uncommon, especially when one is talking to a foreigner from the West for us to simply say in English “my father” when in the strictest sense we are referring to an uncle.
Read Pastor Conrad Mbewe’s entire blog post. It’s worth reading the comment section as well.
Today, around the country, churches of all denominations are taking serious God’s call to care for the fatherless and starting orphan care and adoption ministries. This is very exciting – for the sake of the gospel, for the sake of the millions of children that are waiting for a family, and for these churches!
Many of these churches are asking how they can serve the fatherless most effectively?
The best advice I can give is to not simply start an orphan care/adoption “ministry” but aim to see an orphan care/adoption culture established. What do I mean by that? It may be semantics but I see a difference that has great implications:
Think of these statements in regards to other “ministries” that we find in our churches – evangelism, prayer, mercy. The extent to which these gospel-activities are seen as “ministries” or “programs”, as they so often are, they often struggle. I find churches that are most effective at evangelism are those churches that see evangelism as a non-negotiable for every member and have created a culture in which every member by virtue of their involvement in the church community is caught up into the activity of reaching the lost. I think the same ought to be true for orphan care/adoption.
The greatest thing you can do to establish a culture of adoption/orphan care in your church is to be gripped by the reality that adoption is central to God’s great story of our redemption and the renewal of creation. The church is God’s great trans-racial adoptive family. As the gospel takes root in our hearts and we recognize that adoption is central to the heart and mission of God it also becomes something we care about. We will naturally begin to reflect our vertical adoption in our horizontal efforts. This is the foundation for creating a culture that believes that every Christian is called to care for the fatherless in some way.
It is important to note that not everyone is called to adopt but everyone is called to do something. The question for each Christian and each church is not “Should I care for orphans?” The question is “How can I care for orphans?” That may mean dedicating your efforts to family preservation, family reunification, supporting indigenous adoption movements, foster care, mentoring, and so many other ways to care for the fatherless.
One church that has create an adoption culture is Ashland Avenue Baptist Church in Lexington, KY. They have committed to do all they can to adopt as many orphans from around the world as possible. Here is a statement from their website:
“Every member of the AABC family is challenged to be apart of rescuing children from around the world, by giving, praying, and adopting. Our commitment to adoption flows from our commitment to the gospel. All who know the grace of God found only in Jesus Christ, have been adopted by God. It only makes sense that those of us who have been adopted in this way display such grace in the world through a radical commitment to adoption.”
Would your church commit to the same? Imagine the potential if thousands of churches aimed for cultures in which the gospel led to this kind of radical commitment to do all we can care for the fatherless. May God continue to move in our hearts and the heart of His church!
[*Note: You do not need to register for our October 4-5 national conference in order to register for and attend this October 3 pre-conference event in Louisville, KY.]
If your life as a Christian has become at all routine or you simply wish to be freshly amazed by the transformative love of the Father for you, we invite you to join us for this wonderful pre-conference event with Mike Reeves (author of Delighting in the Trinity):
This pre-conference event will overflow with the heart-winning news of the triune God who is love. Clear, accessible and compelling, Mike’s sessions will provide stunning vistas of how the Father’s eternal love for his Son has become unimaginably good news for us. If your life as a Christian has become at all routine or you simply wish to be freshly amazed by the transformative love of the Trinity for you, join Mike for this wonderful pre-conference event.
Mike is Head of Theology for UCCF, a fellowship that seeks to make Jesus known throughout the universities and colleges of the UK. He was formerly an associate minister at All Souls Church, Langham Place, London, and holds a doctorate in systematic theology from King’s College London. He has written a number of books, including Delighting in the Trinity: An Introduction to the Christian Faith and The Unquenchable Flame: Discovering the Heart of the Reformation. He is married to Bethan, and together they have two daughters.
As Justin Taylor of the blog “Between Two Worlds” recently wrote, “There are few teachers I would rather listen to, either on historical theology or theology. He combines deep learning with a very engaging and accessible style.”
Live in the Story pre-conference event details:
Date: October 3, 2013
Time: 1:00pm to 4:30pm
Cost: $20 per person (includes copy of Mike Reeves’ book Delighting in the Trinity)
Target Audience: Open to everyone. It is not necessary to attend the October 4-5 T4A NatCon in order to attend this pre-conference event.
While rediscovering Seth Godin’s 2010 blog post, “The power of sync,” I again thought about its relevance to gatherings like our upcoming national conference in Louisville. Why have 100s of people gather together to explore the Story of Redemption for the sake of the fatherless? Because nothing creates “the power of sync” like the power of God — the Gospel!
Check out Seth Godin’s brief post. While reading it, think about its implications for our conference’s October 4-5 gathering at Southern Seminary. Imagine the impact 100s of people can have upon the global orphan crisis when they are synced together by their growing understanding of the Bible’s Story of Redemption and its implications not only for the why but also for the how they do what they do. Seth writes:
100 people doing something at the same time has far more power than 300 people doing it over time.
We unconsciously amplify the power of coordination when we consider the impact of actions. If there’s a thousand people waiting outside of a store, we instantly believe we’re seeing a phenomenon.
While the internet makes it easier than ever to spread ideas, it makes it far more compelling to coordinate actions.
If everyone in your weekly meeting drops a pencil at precisely 12:03, you’ll notice.
Registration for our October 4-5 national conference at Southern Seminary in Louisville is now open! We’d love to have you join us as we explore The Story that Changes Everything—for Us and the Fatherless. Learn more.
Download the PDF version of the Breakout Sessions listed according to their Story-Tracks.
Every adoptive parent I’ve ever met is very interested in listening to adult adoptees reflect upon their adoptive and post-adoptive experience. That interest in one of the primary reasons that I purchased Black Baby White Hands: A View from the Crib 5 years ago. Adoptive parents really want to know better how to love, equip, and disciple our children.
So, I was very excited to learn that Sharon Lyon is begin a series of adult adoptee interviews over at her blog. When I heard that Sharon’s first interview was with T4A’s very own Nemili Johnson, I was even more exited. The interview is lengthy, but most certainly worth the time investment to read it.
Below are the questions to which Nemili provides some very insightful answers. I found Nemili’s answer to question 12 to be especially insightful: “Do you think being adopted has affected your ability to love or receive love?” I was not expecting that answer she gave. Visit Sharon’s blog to read the entire interview.
*This is a guest post by Micah Jelinek, a Branch Librarian and Faculty at Moody Theological Seminary, Plymouth, Michigan. He provides leadership in the area of orphan care and other social involvement issues at Oak Pointe Church | Milford. Download a PDF version of Micah’s post.
Open your mouth for those who have no voice,
for the rights of all who are destitute and defenseless.
Open your mouth, judge righteously in accordance with God’s views,
defend the rights of the poor and needy.
-Proverbs 31:8-9 (a pastor’s translation)
Open your mouth….
These are words that make the air heavy, encircle the mind, and carry a sorrow-filled longing for justice.
Words that press down on your shoulders and produce a soft-spoken yet sure resolve to be that voice, that righteous judge, that defender.
And they are the sort of words that explain why we are having this discussion about adoption, the orphan crisis, social justice, and the theology that surrounds it and bears it forward.
I was glad last week when Dan began writing a series about the future cosmic solution to the orphan crisis and unethical adoption in particular, with the obvious application to injustice in general. I was glad because the church needs a well parsed theology of mission, so as to sensitively guide the church towards best practices as its communities engage in the complex work of proclaiming the gospel and bringing justice to a world filled with injustices.
Good theology, when it is embraced by its hearers, leads to good practice. At least that’s what I’ve been told. A good theology of Adoption, then, should lead to the good practice of feet-on-the-ground, skin-in-the-game involvement in mission, and more central to our focus here: integral mission (I’ll define this term shortly). This has been part of Together for Adoption’s mission: passing on a robust theology of Adoption so that the church might mobilize herself for the good of vulnerable and orphaned children whether through family reunification, family preservation, adoption, or a variety of other methods.
I was somewhat confused, then, when the critique was voiced that Dan had forgotten to address broader social justice issues as a result of an underdeveloped theology of justice. Dan’s focus was more narrowly focused on orphan care, but I intend to broaden the discussion by suggesting that Adoption informs our calling and involvement in bringing justice to a multitude of injustices.
First, however, we must clear up some confusion about evangelicals and social responsibility, or what Michael Funderburk calls “the old dichotomy” of proclamation and social involvement.
Funderburk’s critique, while perhaps correct in the sense that some evangelicals and evangelical churches have not embraced social responsibility, does not account for the large number of evangelicals who have been concerned with social responsibility since the mid to late 60s.
The Grand Rapids Report, in particular, was an evangelical embrace of social responsibility, and affirmed social activity as: a consequence of evangelism, a bridge to evangelism, and a partner of evangelism; thus “social action, then, can precede, accompany and follow evangelism.” Tim Chester further sharpened the relationship between proclamation and social action by noting that: (1) Evangelism and social action are distinct activities; (2) Proclamation is central; (3) Evangelism and social action are inseparable (please see Dr Chester’s excellent work in Good News to the Poor, 2004, 59-71; the US edition drops 31 July 2013).
Evangelical emphasis on social action did not end in 1982 with the Grand Rapids Report, it remained a central concern of evangelical development agencies and churches alike. In 1999, one such example of evangelical concern formed: The Micah Network, that later drafted “The Micah Declaration on Integral Mission.” Integral mission being: “the proclamation and demonstration of the gospel” wherein “our proclamation has social consequences as we call people to love and repentance in all areas of life. And our social involvement has evangelistic consequences as we bear witness to the transforming grace of Jesus Christ…The grace of God is the heartbeat of integral mission. As recipients of undeserved love we are to show grace, generosity and inclusiveness. Grace redefines justice as not merely honouring a contract, but helping the disadvantaged”. We might even say: Adoption redefines justice as not merely honouring a contract, but helping the disadvantaged.
Yet, as Graham Gordon noted in 2003, “Christians are still extremely wary of any talk of involvement in issues of social justice,” and some espouse, among other responses to social involvement, “that this world is in decay and is heading for total destruction, so there is little point working to make it better. Redemption is limited to the personal sphere…that the kingdom of God is limited to the future, and is not being worked out in our current world.”
However, the theology behind Together for Adoption’s work certainly does not fall into this category of fatalistic eschatology, which Dan has already rebuffed. It falls instead under what we see in Romans 8:23: an optimistic eschatology wherein all of creation eagerly awaits the time when the kingdom becomes a fully realized reality and we will be revealed as the Adopted children of God. Until that time, Christ works for us, in us and through us towards making the hope-filled future of God’s kingdom tangible to our world. (more…)
In this blog series, all lowercase occurrences of the word “adoption” refer to the practice of families adopting children. All uppercase occurrences (“Adoption”) refer to God’s work of Adoption within redemptive-history. Series synopsis: While lowercase “adoption” presents a cosmetic solution to the global orphan crisis, uppercase “Adoption” presents a cosmic solution. Read Part 1. Part 2. Part 3. Part 4. Also, I appreciate Jen Hatmaker’s willingness to address this controversial issue on her blog (here and here).
Adoption is so important to Scripture’s story of redemption that Dr. David Garner argues that the Apostle Paul’s use of Adoption (Eph. 1:3-6; Rom. 9:4; Gal. 4:4-6, Rom. 8:14-15, 23) gives us strong warrant to speak of “redemptive history as Adoptive history, where in the unfolding of the Father’s revelation he carries out his Adoptive-historical plan for his fallen created sons” (Adoption in Christ [Ph.D. diss., Westminster Theological Seminary, 2002], 248; emphasis mine).
God’s work of Adoption within human history, therefore, is a drama of cosmic proportions. From Adoption’s pre-temporal foundation in the love of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Eph. 1:3-6) to its climactic consummation in the New Heavens and New Earth (Rom. 8:23), Adoption is God’s comprehensive redemptive activity to free the created order from its bondage to decay, once and for all time (see Rom. 8:18-23).
What is often missed when looking at Paul’s Adoption texts is the strong Exodus imagery that surrounds the three occurrences of Adoption in Paul’s letter to the Romans (Rom. 8:15, 23; 9:4). God’s deliverance of Israel out of Egyptian bondage is the echoing story behind the cosmic story of Adoption in Romans 8. We find Exodus imagery all throughout this great chapter: “set you free” (v. 2); “led by the Spirit of God” (v. 14; cf. Exo. 13:21); “the spirit of slavery” (v. 15); “subjected to futility” (v. 20); “will be set free” (v. 21); “bondage to corruption” (v. 21); “obtain the freedom” (v. 21); “groaning together” (v. 22; cf. Exo. 2:23); “redemption” (v. 23); and “firstborn” (v. 29; cf. Exo. 4:22). The evidence is overwhelmingly compelling: God intends for us to understand his work of Adoption as his redemptive-activity to free us and all of creation from every effect of the Fall, as far as the curse is found!
How should the climax of Adoptive-history as told in Romans 8 inform our understanding of James 1:27 (“to visit orphans and widows in their affliction”)?
The story of the Bible is the story of God visiting us in our affliction, like he once visited Israel (Exo. 4:31), in order to deliver us from it.
So, how should this play out with James1:27? To visit orphans and widows in their affliction means that we work hard for orphan prevention through family reunification and preservation, and when reunification is not possible, we actively support indigenous adoption efforts. For some children, though, adoption becomes the way we “visit” them.
This blog post was adapted from an article I originally wrote for the JOURNAL OF CHRISTIAN LEGAL THOUGHT.
More to come in Part 6.
In this blog series, all lowercase occurrences of the word “adoption” refer to the practice of families adopting children. All uppercase occurrences (“Adoption”) refer to God’s work of Adoption within redemptive-history. Series synopsis: While lowercase “adoption” presents a cosmetic solution to the global orphan crisis, uppercase “Adoption” presents a cosmic solution. Read Part 1. Read Part 2. Read Part 3. Also, I appreciate Jen Hatmaker’s willingness to address this controversial issue on her blog (here and here).
“What is,” you ask, “the eschatological fatalism which Michael Funderburk detects in my theology and writing?”
Here’s his answer (see paragraph four in his blog post): “[B]ecause man is so sinful and because the brokenness of the world can only be ‘fixed’ by God’s supernatural power, then we might as well just accept the status quo as we wait for Jesus to come back and fix everything. This is God’s ‘cosmic solution’ to the brokenness we see all around us–including unethical adoption and child trafficking.”
Before I address his specific interpretation of what I mean and don’t mean, let me allow myself to speak for myself from the very post with which he interacts:
“You see, small stories rarely provide glorious endings when the plot of those stories is driven by “cosmetic” scripts rather than cosmic ones. All of us want ‘happy endings’ for orphaned and vulnerable children, but stories that find their origin ‘under the sun’ (Ecclesiastes 1:14) can’t and don’t transform life ‘under the sun.’ But the Story being written from ‘above the sun’ by the Son will climax with the renewal of all things. One day everything sad will come untrue for us and the fatherless. C.S. Lewis brilliantly wrote:
‘If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were precisely those who thought most of the next. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this”’ (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity; emphasis mine).
“If we really desire to reform domestic and international adoption ethics in the present world, let’s follow the wisdom of Lewis and be a people who think most of the next one” (quotation and emphasis mine).
That quotation from my part 3 article was written from the perspective of eschatological optimism not eschatological fatalism. Yes, the world is getting worse, yet in spite of its worsening condition, the Gospel continues to triumph and incrementally increase its covering of the world as the waters cover the seas (think Habakkuk 2:14).
But although there are no comprehensive solutions to be found from life “under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:3), we are united to the Son who came to us from “above the sun” (Galatians 4:4). As Life itself, he and he alone “is making all things new,” comprehensively (Revelation 21:5).
The Story being written from “above the sun” by the Son, which is the Story in which we amazingly are participants, will certainly climax with the renewal of all things. That’s pure optimism; and it should empower our activism in the issues of social justice in the here and now and also for the foreseeable future!
Union with Christ Makes All the Difference
Too often we Christians think primarily in terms of our efforts to find solutions rather than primarily in terms of what Jesus is doing: “Behold, I lam making all things new” (Rev. 21:5). Did you notice that I used the word “primarily” and not “only”? Very few Christians think only in these terms, but many of us are daily tempted to think primarily in these terms.
The reality of our union with Christ means that we as Christians do “in his name,” we never do independently from him. Our union with Christ is indissoluble and unceasing. There is never the smallest fraction of a fraction of a second when we are not living and moving and having our being in union with Jesus. For the believer, union with Jesus is everything.
A while back, I read that “wherever Christ is, there is the church and her ministry.” Sometimes, though, we operate under the assumption that wherever the church is, there is Christ and his ministry. At first glance, we may not see much of a difference between these two ways of putting it. We may even think that we’re just playing the semantics game. But often underneath the second way of putting it hides the ugly notion that we are the ones who set the ministry agenda, not Jesus.
A New Better Way of Thinking
In an attempt to borrow from the above concept, I’d like to suggest that in light of the believer’s union with Christ, wherever Christ is, there is the Christian and his or her ministry. As the book of Hebrews teaches, Jesus is the resurrected and ascended Minister. He not only purifies and cleanses our service as Christians, but he also leads it. Because of who Jesus is and what he has done as our resurrected High Priest, he has gathered us up into union with himself. The Spirit of adoption unites us to Christ by faith! The upshot of this is that what Jesus does now, we do. Jesus ministers for us and in our place, and because we are in union with him, we participate in his ministry.
The reality of this astounding truth both humbles and energizes us at the same time. It humbles us because we’re reminded that orphan care is not our ministry. If it were our ministry, we’d be in trouble because we really don’t serve orphans all that well. But since we’re in union with God’s appointed Leader of orphan ministry (or any God-ordained ministry for that matter), Jesus gathers up all that we do “in his name” for orphans into himself, purifies, cleanses, and transforms it, so that all we do for orphans really matters and has eternal significance. Now that’s humbling — in a very good way!
But this truth also energizes us for the same reasons it humbles us. Since, rightly understood, orphan care is primarily the ministry of Jesus, what we do to care for and be a voice for orphans really, really matters. It matters, really matters, eternally. Even when we are not “on our game” when serving orphans, Jesus takes our five loaves and two fish (i.e., whatever he has gifted us with) and multiplies them exponentially. When we care for orphans, it’s never just us, or even primarily us. It’s Jesus! Now that’s energizing!
If anything will encourage and empower us to serve orphans over the long haul, it will be a deeper understanding and appreciation of our union with Jesus.
More to come in Part 5.
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