New Book: Orphan Justice by Johnny Carr

Congratulations to my friend Johnny Carr! On March 1st his book Orphan Justice will be released. In this valuable and needed book Carr calls the church to move from talking about orphan care to actually doing something about it. Here is Russell Moore‘s endorsement;

“No one has stood more at the forefront of the evangelical orphan care movement than Johnny Carr. He prophetically calls the church to care for orphans by combating racism, trafficking, poverty, and abortion.”

Orphan JusticeIn Orphan Justice Carr explores the orphan care and adoption movement in the U.S., and discusses the role of the church worldwide in meeting the needs of orphaned and vulnerable children. Moreover, Carr helps the reader understand the connections between social justice and biblically based orphan care. All this is done with an aim to provide the reader with practical steps to getting involved and making a difference today.

I highly recommend Orphan Justice to anyone interested in doing something about the global orphan crisis.

The Beauty of Our Adoption into God’s Family

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In his classic work Knowing God, J.I. Packer poses and answers a very simple, yet profound question that gets to the heart of our faith. He writes:

“What is a Christian? The question can be answered in many ways, but the richest answer I know is that a Christian is one who has God as Father…[He continues] If you want to judge how well a person understands Christianity, find out how much he makes of the thought of being God’s child, and having God as his Father.”[1]

Now, within this room we have various experiences concerning fatherhood; experiences that will influence how you approach the topic of fatherhood. Some of us have had wonderful fathers and see that God is like that, only more so. Some of us would say: my father disappointed me over and over. But, I pray, you will see that God is very different. Some of you in this room have never known what it is to have a father on earth. Hopefully, after considering the doctrine of adoption you can have a renewed thankfulness to God that you have a Father in heaven. In many ways the doctrine of adoption is one of the great theological categories that has been ignored in recent church history. For this reason, I would suspect that many Christians have at best a weak sense of their own sonship. Or, as puritan pastor Thomas Manton said, “years may transpire before the believer who is adopted by God may know that he is adopted, have a deep sense of feeling of it.”[2] Perhaps far too many people experience a relationship with Father God that seems somewhat remote and distant, failing to realize the intimacy and freedom we have in the gospel.

A Story of Adoption

I will always remember the moment that Laura and I received Selamu into our care. We were in the city of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Our driver came and picked us up from the guest house we were staying in and drove us through the city into the hills and up to a gated house. It was a house full of orphaned children and infants. Laura and I stood outside the gate while one of the agency case workers went inside, walked up to the second floor, and picked Selamu up out of his crib. He was in a room with about 6 other babies. Over the next few moments we could hear all of the women behind the gates kissing on and saying goodbye to little Selamu. Our worker opened the gate, walked out into the street, and handed us our son, Solomon. For what would happen next, I was woefully unprepared.

We turned and got back into the van. We got situated. Laura was holding Solomon. And as the van pulled off, Solomon started screaming and crying frantically. This little child had no clue what was going on. We were pulling baby Solomon away from everything he had ever known. But after a few minutes, he reached his little arms around Laura’s neck and tightened his grip, holding on for dear life. Sure, Solomon was holding on to Laura, but what really mattered, was Laura who was holding on to Solomon. And Laura and I knew where we were going. We also knew that he was our son. It’s been a year now since Solomon was placed in our arms and the stranger the he wrapped his little baby arms around in that frightening moment in a van in Ethiopia, he now knows as “mommy.” That is the beginning of Solomon’s story with us. There is also a beginning to our story as a people.

A Biblical Theology of Adoption

If we start at the very beginning of creation, you know that God lovingly creates Adam and Eve. They were created in the image of God and thus were the living images of God on earth. Adam bore a relationship to God much like a child to a parent, begotten by the Father. Yet when Adam and Eve sin and break fellowship with God, they are cast out of God’s presence and away from his care. In essence, Adam and Eve orphaned the whole human race. Yet, we are not merely orphans, our plight is much worse, we were orphaned into slavery under sin.[3]

Ever since then, the human race has not intimately known the love of the Father in the purest sense. And yet, even though the relationship was broken at the fall, very quickly we see the adoptive love of God. Several generations later God chooses Abraham and proclaims, through your offspring I will make you a Father of a mighty nation, a nation that will be a blessing to the whole world. As the story continues, people are fruitful and multiply. Out of the many nations there is one nation that is small and weak, from the seed of Abraham, Israel. God adopts Israel as “son” through a covenant relationship, and redeems Israel from slavery. Several times in the Old Testament God calls Israel “my son.”[4] The imagery is that of a tender and loving father raising his child, disciplining his child, and showing mercy to his child.[5] Out of Israel God raises a King, David, to whom God promises “I will be a Father to him, and he shall be my son to me,” speaking of David’s offspring.[6]

Seen here, the promise made to Abraham is set by the adoption of Israel, narrowed by the lineage of David, and fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Jesus is the true son of God that will succeed where God’s first son, Adam, failed. Jesus is the one who is from the family of Abraham who will be the blessing to all nations. Jesus is the one from the royal lineage of David who will reign on the throne forever. Now “adoption is never used of Jesus because he had always been a son of God by nature, and unlike us, he does not need to be adopted…into a new relationship with God as Father.”[7] But we do. Our first parents orphaned us. In the New Testament it is very clear that when you repent of your sinfulness and place your faith in Christ, you are adopted.  You are brought into the family of God. As Paul writes in Galatians 3:26, “…in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.” As Children of God we find our identity from the Father, our intimacy from the Father, our imperative from the Father, and our inheritance from the Father.

Galatians 4:1-7

[1] I mean that the heir, as long as he is a child, is no different from a slave, though he is the owner of everything, [2] but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by his father. [3] In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world. [4] But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, [5] to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.

[6] And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” [7] So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.

Our Identity from the Father (4:6a)

You often hear people say things like “all people are children of God”. However, “the idea that all are children of God is not found in the Bible anywhere.”[8] Now, there is a sense in which all human beings are God’s offspring by virtue of being made in his image,[9] but the language that Paul uses here in verse 6 reveals a much deeper kind of relationship. The Greek verb translated adopt literally means “to place as a son.” According to Paul, sonship to God is a gift of grace.[10] It is not a natural, but an adoptive sonship.[11] We are made sons through the work of the unique son of God, Jesus Christ, because he came, as we just read in verse 5, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. So the gift of sonship to God becomes ours not through being born, but being born again. As John 1:12-13 tells us,

But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

Do you see why this is important? What we see in verse 6 is a declarative statement: “You are sons!”[12]  In the ancient world, if we were to look at adoption from a legal context, most cases would be that a “wealthy childless man might take into his family a slave youth who thus, by a great stroke of fortune, ceased to be a slave and became a son or an heir.”[13] Slaves are bound to work for their master; sons are free to serve the Father. Either we are serving our flesh, and we are slaves to sin, or we are serving our Father, and we are slaves to righteousness. So, the “image of adoption [here] is a particularly well chosen one because it illustrates, in a way nothing else can, the nature of our relationship to God in Christ. As an adopted child is not the natural offspring of his adopted parents, but neither is his/her presence in the household an accident. His parents have deliberately chosen him and made him a member of their family. [That child is brought into the family by an] act of will that is sealed in love and self-sacrifice.”[14]

There is such assurance and security in the Father’s love for us because adoption is a declaration God makes about us. It is irreversible, dependent entirely upon his gracious choice, in which he says:  ‘You are my son, today I have brought you into my family.’”[15] So we have absolute security and stability in the family of God. We see that our identity is found in our position before God. We have been made sons. “Just as a child does not worry about getting fired for disobeying the rules…so we know that God’s affection for us is deep”[16] and abiding. If adoption is about anything, it is about belonging, a belonging where God as Father pulls you into his loving household and declares you are mine! This should give us a secure identity in who we are. We are the children of God. There is no need to define ourselves because we are not our own creators. The creator alone has the right to define his creation. Our identity is something given to us from the father. So, if our identity is set, how do we experience our identity?  “God the Father sent the Son in order that believers might have the position of sons and He sent the Son in order that believers might have the experience of the same reality.”[17]

Our Intimacy with the Father (4:6b)

Some pastors and theologians have argued that adoption is the highest privilege that the gospel offers, namely because of its relational context. Consider it this way, “…in a court of law a person may be acquitted by the judge of all charges against him; but this acquittal does not make the person a member of the judge’s family.”[18] So, yes – when God justifies us and forgives us of sin, he also gives us the identity as a child of God, but “he [also] sends his Spirit that we might have an experience of sonship.”[19] Interestingly enough, ancient “adoptions required a witness of the transaction.”[20] Paul is arguing that the Spirit gives witness to our adoption in Christ. The Spirit of God confirms and authenticates. He gives us a deep-seated persuasion of our identity as sons and daughters of the living God.[21] How does the Christian experience this security of relationship with God the father? Paul suggests that one of the ways a Christian experiences this reality is through prayer. In verse 6 the verb “cry out” denotes a loud or earnest cry.[22] Based on the construction of the Greek it seems that it “…is the Spirit who cries out to God the Father on behalf of the believer,” or better yet, through the believer.[23] It is the indwelling Spirit of God that teaches the believer to come to God as Abba.[24]

Not too long ago, Laura and I were sitting in our driveway as Solomon was outside playing. All of the sudden, Solomon let out a glass shattering scream, the kind of scream that every parent dreads. Within seconds, he was in my arms – whimpering and shaking. Oh, by the way, he had seen a worm. Dads know these moments all too well. Children can remember these moments also. When the thunder and lightning is too loud. When the child falls and gets hurt. When your child wakes up from a nightmare. Who do they cry out for?

The word ‘Abba’ is “an Aramaic expression that may have been derived originally from the first syllables uttered by an infant.”[25] It is the term of familial intimacy, endearment, used by children towards their Fathers. Moreover, Abba is the term that Jesus, the unique son of God, himself used[26] in addressing God.[27] I think “…something of shock is implied in using this word as an address for God Almighty, the maker of heaven and earth…The sense of awe and holy wonder that accompanied the praying”[28] in this manner. It’s almost as if when saying Abba, one is to experience the joy of sonship, a feeling that God was drawing him into an almost frightening intimacy.[29]

We do not serve a distant God. There is free access to our loving Father through Jesus Christ. Our adoption is the basis of Christian prayer. The Father is always accessible to his children and is never too preoccupied to listen to what they have to say. Because of the personal nature of the relationship, prayer should be free and bold. Most of the time, children do not prepare speeches to their parents. There is a spontaneity and freedom to express themselves transparently because of the security of the relationship. When Solomon talks to me it is not mechanical or even formal, it’s warm and free. And trust me, the boy likes to talk. Even though he can formulate well-articulated sentences, he feels secure enough to just ramble – because he knows I care. Just as a child calls out automatically to the nearby daddy when there is a problem or a question, so shall we, as children of God, call on our heavenly Father.  Just as a child does not doubt the security and openness of daddy’s strong arms, so we, as God’s children, have an overwhelming boldness and certainty in our Father’s loving care.

Far too much we stand back “at a distance [and are] very formal; but the little child comes running in, rushing right in, [and grabs ahold of his father]. The child has a right that no-one else has…it is instinctive.”[30] Perhaps we should “imitate the…child who is not afraid to ask his parents for [things openly], because he knows he can count completely on their love.”[31] We are free to take our problems and desires to him without fear of being ignored or rejected. We also know that the Father will answer us according to our best interest. See, this is a total experience, embracing every aspect of our lives and filling us with the joy of knowing that we are loved, and that we can rest in his presence knowing that we are safe in his everlasting arms. Moreover, we have a new authority over sin and the evil one, our adoption removes the fear that is at the root of much of our disobedience.

Our Imperative from the Father (4:7a)

God’s purpose was both to redeem and adopt; not just to rescue from slavery, but turn slaves into sons. No longer are believer’s “relationships determined by…race, rank, or role.”[32] They are secure in the family of God. Now, “in the ancient world family membership was the primary context of social, religious, economic and political security and fulfillment. To move from one family system to another was an event of life changing importance.”[33] By implication, when brought into a new family – new expectations were placed on you as a son or daughter. So what is Paul saying when he argues that we are no longer slaves but sons? In verse 3 he argues that all of orphaned humanity is enslaved to the “elementary principles of the world.” In other words, we are enslaved to the broken and evil worldly philosophies, legalistic ethical systems, and distorted freedoms of the flesh. When you were enslaved to these things you worked for them. They held you in bondage, you did their bidding.

Essentially, as sons and daughters of Eve you are born into a family of orphans who by their very nature are enslaved to the depraved systems of the world. Therefore, it is quite natural to act as one far from God. But something happens when one is adopted into the family of God. See, adoption brings with it benefits as well as responsibilities of family membership.[34] When an orphaned child is placed into a new family, “the adopted child inherits a new family narrative and is expected to live and act in accordance with that story and its ancestral heritage.”[35] As believers we have all been given the status as God’s sons[36], and thus have been granted the freedom and power to use sonship responsibly. Just because God adopts you freely by his grace, it does not mean that you can abuse his grace and behave anyway you want. Remember Romans 6:1-2:

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! Paul also writes in Ephesians 5:1; Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

“If the church is the family of God’s adopted sons and daughters, then it is they more than all people in earth who ought to reflect and mirror”[37] a likeness of God before the watching world. “As witnesses to his grace and beneficiaries of his love”[38] we are to respond in worshipful obedience. In Matthew 5, Jesus teaches that children of the Father are called to reflect their family likeness in their conduct. How we behave, what we say, and the things we do all advertise who we are.

Consider Solomon. Solomon loves to please Laura and I. He is a picky eater, and by picky he always wants cookies and candy for dinner, much like his father. Not too long ago Laura made his dinner and he would not touch his peas. I didn’t get it. He has eaten peas before, and told us how much he liked them. But there in that moment he decided that he didn’t want them. Once he realized that Laura and I wanted him to eat his peas because they are good for him and because it would make us happy, he ate them with joy. He even said “Daddy, Mommy, watch me!” Solomon’s obedience does not make him more of a son, but he loves for us to delight in his loving obedience. His obedience is nothing more than trusting us; that we know what’s best for him.

What motivates us to live like a son of God? I think Jonathan Edwards was very wise when he argued that the root of all human action is the affections. “By affections he meant something deeper than feelings. He saw them as the fundamental loves and hates of the whole person.”[39] The affections are the source from which our behaviors flow. If the love of the Father will not make a child delight in him, and delight in pleasing him, what will?[40] We are not to behave as slaves, but as sons. If we are children of God, there should be a family resemblance. We should take great delight in living in a way that pleases the Father. And when we don’t, his love also allows us to accept the Father’s discipline and change accordingly.

In Paul’s world, royal children had to undergo extra training and discipline which other children escape, in order to fit them for their high destiny. It is the same with us as children of the King of Kings. The clue to understanding the Father’s discipline is to remember that in our lives you are being trained for what awaits you; you are being molded into the image of Christ.[41]

Our Inheritance from the Father (4:7b)

In the time Paul wrote this letter, it was the firstborn who inherited the Father’s “estate,” and it was his right to determine how much each of his brothers and sisters would get. In Colossians we read that Jesus is the image of God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible…all things were created through him and for him.[42]In this way, Christ, as firstborn, holds all the rights to His Father’s kingdom. He owns everything! Everything was created for him. What does Christ do for us as fellow children of the living God? He lovingly and graciously makes us co-heirs with him.

Being in Christ makes one a son of God and thus an heir of God. How often do we reflect on this glorious truth? When one is adopted in Christ, they cease to be a slave and receive all the legal and financial privileges within the Father’s estate as a result of God’s grace.[43]This is why Peter writes in his first epistle, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”[44]How often do we set our hope on the grace that is to come when Jesus returns? When Jesus returns he will overwhelm us with his grace. As the Father’s beloved children we will enter into our inheritance and that of our co-heir, Jesus Christ. In the new heavens and the new earth God will be fully ours to enjoy and be satisfied forever. But for now, it is clear that our sonship is just beginning. It is evident in the Bible that although believers already experience an official status as sonship in Christ through the Spirit…such sonship has not been revealed publically to the cosmos.[45] As Paul writes in Romans 8:15ff,

 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ.

Church, there will come a time when our sonship is declared climactically through the resurrection of our bodies.[46] Just as we read in 1 John 3:1-3:

Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.

There will be a day when our status as children of God is evident to all creation; a day when we experience our sonship in purity and fullness, much like what our first parents experienced in the presence of God before the fall. Why do we allow our lives to be so dominated by our problems, temptations, and sins? Why do we often forget what lies ahead? Why can’t we, like Paul, proclaim For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. I pray that God would teach us to look upward and forward to our final adoption. This is not merely a possibility or likelihood, but a guaranteed certainty, a promised inheritance. Since Jesus rose from the grave this promise was made secure. As we look forward we long for the experience of heaven, a family gathering. On that day a great host of the redeemed meet will together in face-to-face fellowship with the Father-God and Jesus. If you are a believer, and so an adopted child, this should satisfy you completely beyond anything in this world.[47]

Continue reading “The Beauty of Our Adoption into God’s Family”

The History of Adoption and Orphan Care in the Southern Baptist Convention

I recently had the privilege of writing a blog post for Together for Adoption on “Adoption, Orphan Care, and the Southern Baptist Convention“. Over the past few months T4A has been working with several Southern Baptist pastors/theologians and The North American Mission Board to develop a partnership that would equip and encourage Southern Baptists to heed the call of orphan care. One of the developments out of this collaborative effort is a panel discussion at the Annual Southern Baptist Convention in June with Russell Moore, Johnny Carr, Tony Merida, and David Platt, click here for more information. In the T4A blog post I explore the early history of the SBC as it relates to adoption and orphan care and conclude with this:

The Southern Baptist Convention is the largest denomination in the United States, with over 44,000 churches in all fifty states, and is now more than 160 years old. If the Church is truly, as Merida and Morton argue, the most powerful force in the world, then we must not remain silent or still.[16] As for the Southern Baptist Convention specifically, according to historian Nathan Finn, the strength and longevity of the convention is evidence that, “…autonomous churches believe that they can accomplish more when they work together than they can as individual congregations.”[17] Imagine what it would look like if the churches in the Southern Baptist Convention developed a passion to minister to the orphans in their own cities and throughout the world. This author is not arguing for another institutional structure to be added to the already bloated convention, but a movement within our own tribe that heeds the call to care for the orphan. Now is the time for resurgence in connecting our orthodoxy to orthopraxy. Like our early Southern Baptist theologians, we need to regain a sense of God’s heart for the helpless. Moreover, we need to consider the model of early Southern Baptists who saw their mission in terms of both evangelization and social outreach to the less fortunate. My hope is that the partnership between Together for Adoption and Southern Baptists will be fruitful in advocating for the poor, marginalized, abandoned, and fatherless.[18]

I encourage you to read the whole thing. You can click here for the blog post, and click here for a PDF of the article. Also, if you plan on being at the Southern Baptist Convention in New Orleans this year come to the breakfast and panel discussion. Here is the official event page.

Adoption & Orphan Care Panel Discussion and Breakfast at the Southern Baptist Convention in New Orleans, LA.


On June 20th, 2012, join Russell Moore, Johnny Carr, Tony Merida, and David Platt for a breakfast and panel discussion on Adoption & Orphan Care in the SBC. The gospel of Jesus Christ calls our families and churches to be at the forefront of the adoption and orphan care movement close to home and around the world. This panel discussion will address the theological foundation and practical calling that we as pastors, church leaders, and members have to care for the fatherless. Breakfast will begin at 7am and the panel discussion will start promptly at 7:15am.

This event is being sponsored by The North American Mission Board and Together for Adoption. Also, thanks to Tandem Creative for donating the promotional graphics.

The Panel

Russell Moore (Ph.D., The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is Dean of the School of Theology; Senior Vice President for Academic Administration; Professor of Christian Theology and Ethics at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is also a pastor, author of nine books, including Adopted for Life, and numerous articles. [@drmoore]

Tony Merida (Ph.D., New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary) is the lead pastor of Imago Dei Church, Raleigh, NC. He also serves as Associate Professor of Preaching at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is the author of several books including Orphanology. [@tonymerida]

Johnny Carr is National Director of Church Partnerships for Bethany Christian Services, America’s largest adoption agency. As a conference speaker and orphan care advocate to denominations and national religious associations, he has been able to speak in venues such as the Catalyst Conference and at Saddleback Church. Prior to coming to Bethany, Johnny was a Pastor of Ministry and Leadership Development at Hillcrest Baptist Church in Pensacola, Florida. [@johnwcarr ]

David Platt (Ph.D., New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary) is head pastor of The Church at Brook Hills, Birmingham, Alabama. Platt is the author of the New York Times Best Seller Radical and the follow-up book, Radical Together. [@plattdavid]

Free Books!

 Thanks to Cruciform Press the first 200 people will receive Reclaiming Adoption by Dan Cruver. Dan Cruver and his co-authors (John Piper, Scotty Smith, Richard Phillips, Jason Kovacs) are convinced that if Christians learn to first think about their adoption by God, and only then about the adoption of children, they will enjoy deeper communion with the God who is love, and experience greater missional engagement with the pain and suffering of this world. That’s what this book is about. What the orphan, the stranger, and the marginalized in our world need most is churches that are filled with Christians who live daily in the reality of God’s delight in them. Reclaiming Adoption can transform the way you view and live in this world for the glory of God and the good of our world’s most needy.

 Thanks to New Hope Publishers the first 200 people will also receive Orphanology by Tony Merida and Rick Morton. Orphanology unveils the grassroots movement that’s engaged in a comprehensive response to serve hundreds of millions of orphans and “functionally parentless” children. You’ll see a breadth of ways to care with biblical perspective and reasons why we must. Heartwarming, personal stories and vivid illustrations from a growing network of families, churches, and organizations that cross cultures show how to respond to God’s mandate. Discover how to adopt, assist orphans in transition, engage in foster care, partner with faith-based fostering agencies, and become orphan hosts. Along with their families’ adoption stories, Merida and Morton give steps for action and features on churches doing orphan ministry, faith-based children’s homes, orphanhosting groups, and other resources.

Crossway Books has also donated 200 copies of Russell Moore‘s book Adopted for Life. Dr. Moore gives a stirring call to Christian families and churches to be a people who care for orphans, not just in word, but in deed. The gospel of Jesus Christ-the good news that through Jesus we have been adopted as sons and daughters into God’s family-means that Christians ought to be at the forefront of the adoption of orphans in North America and around the world. Moore does not shy away from this call in Adopted for Life, a popular-level, practical manifesto for Christians to adopt children and to help equip other Christian families to do the same. He shows that adoption is not just about couples who want children-or who want more children. It is about an entire culture within evangelicalism, a culture that sees adoption as part of the Great Commission mandate and as a sign of the gospel itself. Moore, who adopted two boys from Russia and has spoken widely on the subject, writes for couples considering adoption, families who have adopted children, and pastors who wish to encourage adoption.

Tell us you are coming and help us spread the word by clicking here: Adoption & Orphan Care in the SBC

Being a Church That Cares for the Orphan

This post is an edited manuscript of the breakout session I led at Together for Adoption‘s regional conference in Winston-Salem on April 28th, 2012.


“I remember the first time I walked into a church building and was struck by the number of families with adopted children. Even though I have multiple friends who were adopted, until that moment I had never seriously thought about adoption or the plight of the orphan. But there in the lobby were all these parents with children of different races. It was the first time adoption had been so visible to me. Clearly there was something different about this church. What was it?”[1]

It may not be a stretch to assume that the picture presented in this paragraph is what you desire for your local church, a place where the beauty of adoption is on full display through your church family. It has been rightly said that “The church of Christ is the most powerful force in the world.”[2] And when a church is engaged in orphan care the world is given a taste of the power of the gospel and a picture of the kingdom of God. Considering the power of the church and her call to provide a picture of God’s new society to a broken world, I believe it is important to develop a culture of orphan care “…where the spirit of God’s heart for the fatherless permeates the church with unmistakable power and clarity.”[3].

The Theological Motivation for Orphan Care

J.I. Packer once responded to the question “what is a Christian?” as follows: “…the richest answer I know is that a Christian is one who has God as Father.”[4] In fact, Packer argues that adoption is “the highest privilege that the gospel offers.”[5] What a powerful statement. This theological truth undergirds and empowers the whole enterprise of orphan care in the church.

First, we adopt and care for the orphan because God adopted us in Christ when we were spiritual orphans. As the people of God, we have been called and have received unmerited grace from God, who we now call Father. The good news of the gospel is that we, who were once spiritual orphans, have now been brought into the family of God as sons and daughters. Therefore, the gospel becomes our motivation to demonstrate what God has done for us vertically on a horizontal plain to the poor and neglected. “Apart from the gospel, the call for every church member to care for orphans makes no sense.”[6] It is apparent all throughout redemptive history that “God loves and defends those with the least economic and social power, and so should we . . . [He is] a God on the side of the powerless, and of justice for the poor.”[7] Orphan care provides the church a unique opportunity to model God’s care to the world around us.

Second, God has a passion for his glory to fill the earth[8], to be seen and delighted in by people from every tribe, tongue, and nation.[9] “The glory of God is made known most clearly through the church declaring and demonstrating the gospel.”[10] “The heart of the gospel moves the church to mission and deeds of mercy which have always been part of the Christian mission.”[11] This is clearly seen in the words of Jesus: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself”.[12] The love of our neighbor compels us to care for the orphan, for they are our weakest and most needy neighbors.

Lastly, our hope of the end transforms our vision of the present. In one of his last books before his death, pastor theologian John Stott argued this point so clearly: “The church is supposed to be God’s new society, the living embodiment of the gospel, a sign of the kingdom of God, a demonstration of what human community looks like when it comes under his gracious rule.”[13] The church anticipates the day, in the new heavens and new earth, when the very word orphan will be wiped from the human vocabulary. There will be no orphans, no orphanages, only the family of God. If the church is to be a sign of that day, should she not provide a glimpse of kingdom values here and now? One of the most moving pictures of adoption I have read was by Oxford theologian Alister McGrath.

“Adoption is about being wanted. It is about belonging. These are deeply emotive themes, which resonate with the cares and concerns of many in our increasingly fractured society. To be adopted is to be invited into a loving and caring environment. Adoption celebrates the privilege of invitation, in which the outsider is welcomed into the fold of faith and love.”[14]

Is this not also a picture of the local church as Christ envisioned it to be? The family of God should welcome with open arms people of every tribe and language and people and nation.”[15] One of the most powerful ways to put the vision on display is by concrete example. Our teaching on orphan care should be clearly explained, yes, but it should also be demonstrated in life. We mirror this familial unity before a watching world. As God called the Israelites, “seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile.”[16]

The Call to the Local Church for Orphan Care

We tend to romanticize the early church, though a quick read through the New Testament letters will show us that they, like us, were a group of broken sinners dependent on God’s grace. With that caveat I will say that the early church did cause quite a fuss when they cared for the orphans in the Greco-Roman world. As one sociologist noted:

“. . . Christianity served as a revitalization movement that arose in response to the misery, chaos, fear, and brutality of life in the urban Greco-Roman world . . . Christianity revitalized life in Greco-Roman cities by providing new norms and new kinds of social relationships able to cope with many urgent problems . . . To cities filled with orphans and widows, Christianity provided a new and expanded sense of family.”[17] The societal situation called for someone to take care of the orphans and the church responded. In that time; “It was common to expose an unwanted infant out-of-doors where it could, in principle, be taken up by someone who wished to rear it, but where it typically fell victim to the elements or to animals or birds. Not only was the exposure of infants a very common practice, it was justified by law and advocated by philosophers.”[18] It was the church who tracked the voices of crying infants in the streets at night, pulled them from the community garbage yards, brought them in, nourished them, and raised them as their own.

John Piper once said of missions, but I believe it applies to orphan care as well, that the church has three possible responses: go [adopt, foster, care for the orphan], send [support spiritually, materially, and financially others who do it], or be disobedient.[19] One must realize that some in your church family will adopt, some will foster. Some have been blessed monetarily and will be able to finance adoptions. There are some people in your congregation who will intentionally pray and provide other means of support to adoptive families. Some will go overseas and give their lives to orphans and the gospel. No matter what it looks like for each church, or even each member, the current orphan crisis calls for a response from the Church.

The Situation that the Church can Minister in

According to statistics there are roughly 163 million orphans globally.[20] In the United States alone there are more than 500,000 children in the U.S. foster care system. About 130,000 of them have been legally deemed orphans and are thus available to be adopted. From numbers alone I would argue that American churches could clean out the foster care system. I would even argue that Christians should be the one’s leading the movement of orphan care. Unfortunately, this has not been the case. In a recent survey, 52% of couples indicated they would turn to their local church for advice on adoption.[21] However, couples were twice as likely to turn to their local book store than to their church for help dealing with post-adoption issues.[22] Why is it important the Church lead the orphan care movement?

First, First, Christian families enable orphans to become a part of a unique family environment. According to early childhood development expert Karyn Purvis, one third of post institutionalized children transition seamlessly into their new families. Another third bring moderate concerns, while the latter third come into the family with such trauma histories that they carry potential damage to the family unit and it requires a strong intact marriage and family to maintain stability.[23] The church has a wonderful opportunity to transform the lives of orphans by providing them with what they need most – “a family, temporary or permanent, that will be committed to their welfare in every way possible, emotionally, physically, and spiritually.”[24] Orphan care advocates must acknowledge that orphan care is a lifelong process and a commitment to families should be consistent regardless of what may come. While orphan care is beautiful, it is also difficult. While engaging in ministering to the orphans and their forever families, “. . . honestly consider the needs, realities, and dynamics of these families as they expand. As the ministries grow the need for various support systems also increases because the culture of the church is evolving.”[25]

Second, our culture needs to see the unity of the family of God. Robert Peterson argues that “at a time when many predicted that bigotry would be a thing of the past, sadly, it is still very much alive. This does not bode well for an America that will be marked by even greater racial, economic, and age diversity in the years ahead.”[26] Furthermore, “because our age is characterized by bigotry, loneliness, and insecurity, we who live in it need the unity of the family of God, the fellowship of a heavenly Father, and the security that comes from knowing the Son of God.”[27] Even greater, “Our common family tie explains the wonderful phenomenon that every Christian experiences . . . language, culture and education may all be different, but a common bond . . . unites us as members of the same family. We have the same Father, the same Elder Brother.”[28]

Practical Steps to being a church that Cares for the Orphan

“Just as each church develops its own distinctive identity in terms of worship and fellowship, churches need to facilitate and support an environment of both adoption and caring for the orphans that is uniquely their own.”[29] Many people rely on the pastors or the more visible leaders to champion the orphan care ministry to the extent that it either rises or falls based on their leadership. I submit these words to you for consideration: “If you cannot move the culture of your church from the top down, be encouraged that many churches have had their cultures transformed by one couple or one person stepping out in radical, patient, and persistent faith.”[30] The ideal situation is that a church would have both pastors and congregants who are committed to orphan care ministry. Here are a few suggestions that may or may not apply to your context. As the church gathered and scattered:

  1. Pray about orphan care in public and in private.
  2. Develop study groups and fellowship gatherings to discuss orphan care.
  3. Host and support events that bring awareness to orphan care.
  4. Celebrate stories from within your church related to orphan care.
  5. Simply support orphan care ministries with passion.
  6. Ask your church to set aside Orphan Sunday once a year.
  7. When teaching call people’s attention to the need for orphan care, specifically as one speaks on general subjects such as: loving ones neighbors, missions, caring for the poor, hospitality, or the family. [31]
  8. Consider contacting an international orphanage that is not open to adoptions, you may be able to support them by sending teams to love and care for the kids, perhaps even build a facility.
  9. Gather with other churches and leaders in your community and start a conversation about orphan care.
  10. Connect with churches and organizations already engaged in orphan care in your area.
  11. Talk with your local department of social services and ask how you and your church family can help relieve the orphan crisis in your area.
  12. Consider doing something to fight child trafficking.

Concluding Thought

What I have learned most through orphan care, especially in the adoption of our son, is that God’s grace in adopting me as his son is so beautifully moving. Many times you will find that one of the side effects of engaging in orphan care is that your sensitivity to the theology of adoption becomes heightened, especially in prayerfully reading God’s word. I agree with Puritan minister Thomas Manton who once proclaimed “all of God’s children have the spirit of adoption in the effects, though not in the sense of feeling it.[32] He adds, but “the mature child of God . . . grows in the consciousness of his adoption and assurance through Word and Spirit”.[33] Every time I look at my own son, I am overcome with love for him and reminded of God’s love for me. As I read Scripture now and come across the words – orphan, son, father, adoption – I am stirred deep within my soul. My prayer is that so many others would experience this joy.

Continue reading “Being a Church That Cares for the Orphan”

Registration is Open for the “Together for Adoption Regional Conference” in N.C.

Register now

Each year Together for Adoption offers several 1-day conferences in various regions of the county. The hope is that attendees will leave these regional events with a deeper sense of God’s adopting love and a better understanding of how to love and care for orphaned and vulnerable children in tangible ways. This conference is not just for those who are considering adoption/fostering, in the process of adoption/fostering, or have already adopted/fostered. The approach is to consider what our adoption in Christ is and to explore its implications for Christian living, orphan and foster care, and adoption.

Registration for the Together for Adoption Regional Conference near Winston-Salem NC, April 28th, is now open. The conference will be hosted at Calvary Baptist Church (West Campus), see link for directionsRegistration is only $29 per person, and it will be well worth it. As for lodging, T4A has negotiated special agreements with these two area hotels. Here is what you can look forward to at the conference.

Conference Schedule:

8:00am – Doors Open (Check-in & Registration)
9:00am – Main Session 1The God Who is a Father to the Fatherless | Dan Cruver
10:30 am – Breakout Session 1

  1. Orphan Care 101 – John Raymer
  2. Foster Care 101 – Tamarian McIntyre
  3. Adoption 101 – Jim Woodward
  4. Orphan Care & Grassroots Movements – Chris Marlow
  5. Transracial Adoption – Jena Penner
  6. Adopting Older Children – Jodi Jackson Tucker
  7. Worship and Social Justice – Jake France
  8. How to Choose an Adoption Agency – Lifeline

11:30 am – Lunch & Networking
1:00 pm – Main Session 2Eating at the King’s Table | Burk Parsons
2:00 pm – Breakout Session 2

  1. Being a Church That Cares for the Orphan – Matt Capps
  2. After Adoption: Unique Challenges & Joys – Shelly Roberts (ABBA Fund)
  3. Funding Your Adoption – Dwain Gullion (ABBA Fund)
  4. Trafficking and the Orphan – Michael Vinson (HopeChest)
  5. Special Needs Adoption – Nikki Esquivel
  6. HIV / AIDS Orphan Care and Adoptions – Deanna Jones (Project Hopeful)
  7. Foster Care as a Demonstration of the Gospel: Reconciliation and Adoption – Jon Bolin
  8. Singles and Adoption – Jason Cornwell

3:15 pm – Main Session 3What Makes God Excited (Ephesians 1:1-10) | Jason Cornwell
4:15pm – Close & Networking

– Here is more information about the Main Session Speakers –

Dan Cruver 

 Before founding and directing Together for Adoption, Dan was a college professor of Bible and Theology. He has also served as a pastor of family ministries. As one who has been adopted by God and has adopted two children, Dan founded Together for Adoption to equip churches and educate Christians theologically about orphan care and horizontal adoption. Dan regularly writes and speaks about the Gospel and its implications for earthly adoption and the care of orphans. Dan is the editor and primary author of Reclaiming Adoption: Missional Living Through the Rediscovery of Abba Father, wrote the foreword to Heirs with Christ: The Puritans on Adoption by Dr. Joel Beeke and is a regular contributor to The Gospel Coalition Blog.

Burke Parsons 

 Burk Parsons serves as associate pastor at Saint Andrew’s, and he is editor of Tabletalk magazine. He holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in biblical studies from Trinity College and the Master of Divinity degree from Reformed Theological Seminary, where he is also completing his Doctor of Ministry degree. He speaks regularly at various conferences and schools in the United States and abroad and has contributed to various books and journals. He is author of the forthcoming booklet Why Do We Have Creeds? . He is editor of the books Assured by God: Living in the Fullness of God’s Grace and John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine, and Doxology .

Jason Cornwell 

 Jason is a resident of Greenville, SC, where he assists Pastor Brian Habig and the other elders at Downtown Presbyterian Church (PCA). Originally from Western PA, Jason holds a Bachelor of Science in Music Education and a Master of Arts in Biblical Studies. He earned his Master of Divinity degree from Reformed Theological Seminary-Charlotte in 2006 and is the author of Gospel Quality. Jason has been heavily involved with all four of the Together For Adoption Conferences.

Register now

Together for Adoption Regional Conference in N.C.

I am looking forward to being a part of this conference on adoption! If you are considering adoption, in the process of adoption, or have already adopted, I strongly encourage you to make attending the Together for Adoption regional conference a priority. Laura and I attended the Together for Adoption National Conference in 2009 where we were greatly encouraged and equipped for the unique blessings and challenges of adoption. Here is a blurb from the T4A website:

“The Together for Adoption regional conference will be held at Calvary (West Campus) near Winston-Salem, North Carolina on Saturday, April 28th. The primary objective for all of our conferences (both regional & national) is to magnify the adopting grace of God the Father in Christ Jesus and to mobilize the church for global orphan care. If you live in the Southeast, we hope you will join us and a great group of exhibitors for our first regional conference.

Registration is $39 per person. Online registration will in February.

Worship will be led by Kaleb Scharmahorn (listen to Kaleb’s worship band’s new CD).

Conference Schedule:

8:00am – Doors Open (Check-in & Registration)
9:00am – Main Session 1
The God Who is a Father to the Fatherless | Dan Cruver
10:30 am – Breakout Session 1
11:30 am – Lunch & Networking
1:00 pm – Main Session 2
The Church that Cares for the Fatherless | Jason Cornwell
2:00 pm – Breakout Session 2
3:15 pm – Main Session 3
Eating at the King’s Table | Burke Parsons
4:15pm – Close & Networking

More details are forthcoming.”

Don’t miss out on this opportunity!

One Year Ago Today Solomon Became Our Son

One year ago today Laura and I pulled up to our adoption agency’s foster home on the side of a hill in Ethiopia. We had come to receive a baby boy named Selamu into our family. I will never forget it. We stood outside the gate of the home while a worker for our agency went inside to bring him out.

So, we just stood there and waited in the street.

I can still hear the sounds of the children playing and talking on the other side of the wall. I can still hear the sound and the women saying goodbye to Selamu. These were the women who had cared for him since he arrived.

When the gate opened our worker stepped out holding Selamu, walked over and handed us our son.

Solomon had nothing with him but the clothing he was wearing. But that was all he needed.

When we got back into the van to leave the orphanage Solomon started crying. He was scared. He did not know where we were going. He did not know who we were. But in his fear, he did one of the most moving things I have ever witnessed.

He reached his little arms around his forever mommy’s neck, placed his head on her chest, stopped crying and held on.

In that moment he experienced the love and assurance of adoption. He was our son, and we became his mommy and daddy. We are so thankful for what God has done. Solly is truly a gift of God. A blessing.

– Happy Gotcha Day –

Introducing Our Son Solomon

I would like to introduce you to our son Solomon Capps. This morning we met with the judge who handles all the adoption cases in Ethiopia, and she declared that “from this point on, Solomon will be your son”.

This picture was taken a few hours ago. Until today we were unable to post any pictures of him. He is a beautiful baby boy and we are so thankful that God has placed him in our home to love and raise. We want to thank each of you for your prayer and support.

Adoption Update – We have a son!

We received a very important phone call yesterday – I’ll let Laura explain:

Ahhh!! We got our call today!! It still feels like a dream and hasn’t really set in yet. Here is how it happened:

So I was at work and it was after 2pm. I was thinking that since Gladney hadn’t called yet that we were not going to get our call today because they were having an Ethiopian conference call for families this afternoon. So I figured our caseworker would be busy preparing for that conference call. So I went on with my day.  I was across the hall from my office and I heard my phone ring, but I didn’t make it in time. Before I could see who it was it started ringing again and I saw the famous 817 area code.  I immediately started shaking and my heart was about to beat out of my chest. I answered and Kristin, our caseworker, told me she had our referral ready for us. All I could say was Oh my gosh like a million times. I told her that Matt and I wanted to be together for the call and could call her back in 30 minutes once we met up.

So I called Matt and he did not believe me that Kristin had actually called me. After several seconds of telling him I was not joking and that this really was the call, we agreed to meet at his work to hear about our referral after he went home to pick up the video camera. I left work and went straight to his office. Once we got the camera and computer all set up we called Kristin back. She sent us our email and we saw the cutest, I mean cutest baby boy ever! God has truly blessed us.

He is 7 months old and has the biggest brown eyes and chubby cheeks. He is just amazing! He is described to be very social, smiles easily and loves attention. I can’t wait to get my hands on him. We have decided to call him Solomon.

So for all of you who are not in the adoption community, you may be asking what is next. Well now we wait some more. They are busy getting Solomon’s papers ready and in order and will then submit them to the Ethiopian court system. In Ethiopia the court system closes down for the rainy season sometime in August and opens back up in November. Once we receive a court date we will travel over to Ethiopia for the court date and then come back to the US. Upon passing court we will then travel back to Ethiopia and bring Solomon home. We hope to have him home around November. Please continue to pray for us as now that we have seen his face it will be hard to be patient and wait for a court date.By the way we are not allowed to post any pictures of him until he is officially ours.

To follow our adoption journey and process please see Laura’s blog The Cappsters for updates. Thank you for all the prayers and support, we are so thankful and cannot wait to meet our son Solomon.