Reflections on Fathering an Adopted Son

CBMW

I recently had the privilege of sharing part of our adoption story at The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood website. My post was focused on “Fathering an Adopted Son”. Here is the conclusion:

I count our adoption as a great privilege and stewardship granted by God. When we celebrate birthdays, watch movies as a family, and wrestle like superheroes I am reminded of the beauty of adoption that brought us together as a family. This child who was once an orphan now loves me and calls me daddy. When I look at him I don’t see our differences, I see my son. The first time I held him as a baby in the agency house on a hillside in Africa, I fell in love with him. As we stood in front of the judge in Addis Ababa and she pronounced that we were his parents, I felt the weight of the profound task of fatherhood.  Though I am not a perfect father, here are two things I do know: God providentially arranged for Solomon to be in our family, and I am called to continue the Christian heritage passed unto me by my own father – both in gospel word, and kingdom deed.

Through our adoption I have learned many things about fatherhood, and more importantly, many things about the gospel. My prayer is that our story would encourage all who read it.

Kathryn Joyce, Orphan Care, and the Southern Baptist Convention

Introduction

I thought it would be helpful to provide some context to the discussion on adoption and orphan care in light of Kathryn Joyce’s recent comments on NPR related to her new book The Child Catchers. Joyce does raise legitimate concerns about orphan care and adoption systems in her article, though she is a little too inflammatory and cynical in her diagnosis. Joyce rightly observes that we live in a fallen and broken world. However, broken systems do not dismantle our call to care for neglected children. Christians are also broken people saved by the grace of God. We still see through a glass dimly. There are times when we could have addressed these issues with more wisdom. My concern here is that Joyce is a little off the mark in discerning our motivation behind orphan care.

As for Southern Baptists…

In this post I can only offer one opinion from a specific sector of the evangelical world, namely, the Southern Baptist Convention. Also, I am only going to respond to part of her observation about the evangelical world of adoption. I have not read the book. But, in the interview she argues that;

“Evangelicals felt that they had kind of unfairly lost a claim to the good works side of Christianity, the social gospel, the helping the poor,” she tells Fresh Air‘s Dave Davies, “and so they wanted a way to get back into doing something for poor people’s rights, and adoption and orphan care came about as something that, I think, they could really invest themselves into without challenging or changing their stances on the other social issues that they care about.”

To be fair, evangelicals have picked up involvement in adoption and orphan care in recent history. But the reason for doing so is not because adoption and orphan care are simple social causes that we can jump on without challenging or changing our stances on the other social issues. The impetus behind the movement is rooted in the resurgence of conservative theology. In June of 2009 the SBC overwhelmingly passed a resolution proposed by Russell D. Moore promoting adoption and orphan care, which in part reads:

That we encourage local churches to champion the evangelism of and ministry to orphans around the world, and to seek out ways to energize Southern Baptists behind this mission.[1]

Interestingly, orphan care has long been a part of Southern Baptist life. Since our very beginning, Southern Baptists have taken the call to orphan care as a divine mandate. In 1845 the Southern Baptist Convention was formed with two cooperative ministries and one agenda. The two ministries were the Foreign Mission Board (Now the International Mission Board) and the Domestic Mission Board (Now the North American Mission Board). The initial agenda of the Convention was simple; to combine the efforts of autonomous churches for one sacred effort, namely, the proclamation of the gospel and the demonstration of Jesus kingdom. One phrase in the original constitution of the SBC reflects this clearly:

“It shall be the design of this convention to promote Foreign and Domestic Missions, and other important objects connected with the redeemer’s kingdom.”[2]

While orphan care fell under the banner of ‘other important objects’, it was important none the less. The foundation for such social ministries came from the desire to provide gospel signs amid the rubble of a broken world.[3]

Adoption in Early Southern Baptist Theology

“Baptists have long been considered a ‘people of the Book.’ Various Baptist confessions demonstrate the way in which the Bible is viewed as the Word of God and is, therefore, authoritative for the faith and practice of every believer and church”.[4] In the larger framework of evangelical Christianity, Southern Baptists have not always been known for their contributions to theology. As one historian put it, Southern Baptists “have been more active than contemplative; they have produced more doers than thinkers”.[5]

Yet searching the work of early Southern Baptist theologians provides a glimpse into the importance of the biblical doctrine of adoption. Baptist Theologian John L. Dagg opens his discussion on the theology of adoption by explaining it as it is practiced among men: “an individual receiving the son of another into his family, and conferring upon him the same privileges and advantages, as if he were his own son.”[6] Unlike Northern Baptist theologian Augustus Strong, who placed adoption as a sub-category of justification[7], Dagg argued that the theological truth of adoption is a blessing that rises higher than justification because in its relational aspects adoption secures the love of God, the discipline of God, and believers are made heirs of God.

The relational aspect of the doctrine of adoption is further described by Southern Baptist James Petigru Boyce, who wrote that “the sonship ascribed to the believer in Christ, is best understood by considering its gracious origin, its peculiar nature, and the wondrous blessing which it confers.”[8] Boyce noted that one experiences a “closer and more endearing relation to God” because of one’s adoption through Christ. Like today, the stunning reality of one’s adoption in Christ was most likely the theological motivation for the early Southern Baptist’s orphan care endeavors.

Orphan Care in Early Southern Baptist History

If one takes a close look at the denomination’s history they will find that Southern Baptists organized several orphanages across the southern states dating back to the 1860’s, most of which ministered to Civil War orphans. The correspondence of the Domestic Mission Board’s secretary, W.S. Webb, concerning the situation of orphans in Mississippi following the Civil War enables us to see the importance of orphan care in our early history as a convention. Historian Keith Harper notes that Webb “estimated that there were some 5,000 to 10,000 orphans in the state and some 50,000 Baptists whom he chided for neglecting Biblical commands to care for the poor and needy”.[9] Ignoring the call to care for orphans, argued Webb, “would mark [Southern Baptists] with a pusillanimity that would deserve contempt from the world.”[10] While Webb’s challenge went unheeded by some of his specific audience, there were Southern Baptists who took up the call for orphan care. Harper writes:

Southern Baptist orphanages tried to provide the best possible medical care and education for their children. They also tried to provide a homelike atmosphere that gave orphaned children, in addition to mere shelter, a sense of stability in community.[11]

Beyond that, Baptists were influential in developing orphan care systems such as the ‘cottage plan’ orphanage (placing children in self-sustaining cottages with a housemother), the ‘placing out system’ (a forerunner to modern foster care), and even the ‘apprenticeship model’ (placing children in specific homes for training in an industrial trade or framing skills) throughout the American south. Even today state children’s homes continue to be a part of  the Southern Baptist convention’s care for domestic orphans.

What Now?

There is a rich history behind the efforts of orphan care in the Southern Baptist Convention. Though we are currently separated from the founding efforts recalled above by over a century, Southern Baptists still have a divine mandate and a social situation that calls us to care for the orphans. It is interesting to note, as one historian posits, that the controversies of the 1970’s and 1980’s between the conservatives and moderates over the authority of the Bible was more closely tied to the abortion issue, thus the sanctity of human life, than many Southern Baptists realize.[12] However, there seems to be little evidence of an adoption and orphan care movement during this period.

Perhaps this was due to the hesitation among conservatives towards social endeavors as an implication of the moderate’s drift towards a theologically bankrupt social agenda. Even still, there has always been a desire among Southern Baptists to seek the welfare of the city[13] and to love one’s neighbor[14] as a sign accompanying the proclamation of the gospel, even if we haven’t gone about engaging these issues in the wisest way. Nevertheless, the divine mandate is still before us. The specific call pertaining to orphan care is well reflected in our current denominational summary of faith, The Baptist Faith and Message:

We should work to provide for the orphaned, the needy, the abused, the aged, the helpless, and the sick. We should speak on behalf of the unborn and contend for the sanctity of all human life from conception to natural death.[15]

Since its conception, the Southern Baptist Convention has out grown its name. Our gospel efforts reach far beyond the southern states of North America. Moreover, there is still an orphan crisis. Immediate indigenous situations (like the civil war) are no longer the sole source of the orphan crisis. Globalization has flattened our distance from third world poverty, the AIDS epidemic, and unwanted pregnancies.

Conclusion

The Southern Baptist Convention is the largest protestant 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]

I am thankful for the resurgence in connecting our orthodoxy to orthopraxy. Like our early Southern Baptist theologians, are regaining 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. May we be faithful and fruitful in advocating for the poor, marginalized, abandoned, and fatherless.[18]

Continue reading “Kathryn Joyce, Orphan Care, and the Southern Baptist Convention”

Kermit Gosnell and His Shop of Abortion Horrors

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Below is the full text of a post written by my friend Trevin Wax titled 8 Reasons for the Media Blackout on Kermit Gosnell

On Twitter and FaceBook today, #Gosnellis trending. The reason for the social media buzz is the strange silence of the mainstream media regarding one of the most gruesome murder trials in American history.

To put the Kermit Gosnell trial in perspective, consider other famous cases of child-killing. From Susan Smith toAndrea Yates, and most recently the horror of Newtown, we are accustomed to 24/7 news coverage of these types of tragedies.

Not so with Dr. Gosnell.

Here are the reasons why:

1. The Gosnell case involves an abortionist.

Whenever we see news stories about abortion, the abortionist must be portrayed as a victim of hate and intolerance, not a perpetrator of violence. But it is impossible to spin this story in a way that keeps “abortionist” separate from testimony about dead women and children.

2. The Gosnell case involves an unregulated abortion clinic.

Whenever we see news stories about abortion, the clinic must be portrayed as a “refuge” for women in distress, not a “house of horrors” where women are taken advantage of. But it is impossible to spin this story in a way that keeps “abortion clinic” away from negative connotations.

3. The Gosnell case involves protestors who, for years, stood outside 3801 Lancaster and prayed, warning people about what was taking place inside.

Whenever we see news stories about abortion, the protestors must be portrayed as agitators and extremists, not peaceful people who urge mothers to treasure the miracle inside them. But it is impossible to spin this story in a way that keeps the abortion protestors from looking like heroes.

4. The Gosnell case involves gruesome details about living, viable babies having their spinal cords “snipped” outside the womb.

Whenever we see news stories about abortion, the details of an abortion procedure are to be avoided. But it is impossible to spin this story in a way that keeps people from asking why such violent killing is unjust moments after birth, yet acceptable at any other time during the pregnancy.

5. The Gosnell case raises the question of human rights.

Whenever we see news stories about abortion, the discussion must always be framed in terms of a woman’s “reproductive rights,” not a baby’s “human rights.” But it is impossible to spin this story in a way that keeps people from asking why “reproductive rights” should trump “human rights” – or why a doctor devoted to “reproductive rights” would (without any apparent twinge of conscience) violate human rights so egregiously.

6. The Gosnell case involves the regulation of abortion clinics.

Whenever we see news stories about abortion, the clinic must be portrayed as under siege from anti-abortion extremists. But it is impossible to spin this story in a way that will keep people from pushing for policy change and further regulation of Planned Parenthood and other abortion clinics.

7. The Gosnell case exposes the disproportionate number of abortion clinics in inner cities and the disproportionate number of abortions among minority groups.

Whenever we see news stories about abortion, the discussion must be framed in terms of providing “access” for low-income, minority women. But it is impossible to spin this story in a way that keeps people from wondering if perhaps some abortion providers are “targeting” low-income, minority women.

8. The Gosnell case competes with recent stories about states enacting broad laws banning many abortions.

Whenever we see news stories about abortion, the choice of coverage must focus on the threat to a woman’s “right to choose.” But it is impossible to spin this story in a way that will keep Americans from joining together to enact more common-sense regulation of late-term abortions.

Lord, have mercy on us.

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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Introduction

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.

Invitation

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