Over the past couple of decades, there has been a revival of concern for orphaned and vulnerable children within evangelical churches and among evangelical believers. The role of adoption as a means to care for orphaned and vulnerable children has stirred a great deal of conversation and introspection as the church wrestles with the biblical mandate to care for orphans.
The central question is, “Is adoption a viable piece of the church’s gospel-based plan to fulfill God’s call to care for orphaned and vulnerable children?” I believe the simple answer is yes for a number of reasons.
1. God Tells His People to Care for Orphans
Throughout the unfolding story of Scripture, God’s call to care for vulnerable people is central to putting His character as a just redeemer on display for the world. Beginning in the Pentateuch, God is direct in His instruction to Israel to care for orphans because He is sovereign and He “executes justice for the fatherless . . .” through them (Deut 10:18). God’s instruction to Israel is grounded in the truth that they were once not a people, having no identity or inheritance, but God chose them out of all the peoples of the world and made them His people and an instrument of His redemption. God adopted Israel.
God calls Israel to reflect His redemptive work and His just nature to the rest of the world by doing tangible acts of mercy to defend and provide for voiceless and vulnerable people, including orphans. When Israel is faithful to this work, they are pointing forward to a day when God will provide for the adoption of people into the family of God through the work of Jesus. When Israel is unfaithful to this work, they are deceiving the world by presenting a broken picture of God and His plan for redemption. It’s little wonder, then, that the book of James makes orphan care a litmus test for true religion:
Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. (James 1:27)
It is fair to say that adoption itself is not an orphan care strategy that is explicitly mandated in the Scripture, but there can be no doubt as to the strong tie between adoption as an orphan care strategy and God’s redemptive plan for the world. In adoption we see a picture of God choosing to give a hope and a future inheritance to those who were not a people before His covenant to them.
2. Adoption is a Biblical Theme
Although adoption may not be lined out as an orphan care strategy in the Scriptures, adoption is a strong theme in the gospel narrative. Most significant is Paul’s direct use of adoption as a means to explain our being grafted in to the family of God through Jesus. Paul is quick to point out that our being brought into the family of God through Christ is an adoption that grants us the irrevocable position as full sons and heirs to the kingdom of God (Gal 4:1–7).
In presenting adoption this way, Paul affirms adoption as a good thing and even a gospel thing. While we never want to stretch our adoption of children to equate to God’s adoption of us into His family, we do want to acknowledge that earthly adoptions by Christians certainly open the door to conversations about the grace and mercy of God and His adopting grace.
3. Children Need Permanence
In Psalm 68, King David declares, “Father of the fatherless and protector of widows is God in his holy habitation. God settles the solitary in a home…” (Ps 68:5–6a). David recognizes that the stability and safety of a family is the best environment for a child to flourish physically, emotionally, socially, and spiritually. Consistently, research has confirmed this notion. Adoption places a child into a family, and the family is God’s primary instrument of both nurture and discipleship (Deut 6:4–9).
Unfortunately, in the past, some within the Christian community have taken a simplistic view that the orphan crisis is an adoption problem, and if only more Christians would adopt then we would eliminate the world’s orphan problem. This is simply not the case, and the prevalence of this thinking in the church has caused a backlash in some circles. As a result, some have looked down upon adoption as if it were an invalid approach to orphan care. Adoption is not the only option for family and permanency for orphaned children, but it is the best option for some. As the church, we must continue to seek to settle the solitary both into the restored homes of their birth when possible and into stable homes through adoption when restoration is not possible.
4. Satan Hates Children
It can be tempting to see the struggle of adoption in purely earthly terms. In reality, adoption brings us to a battle of epic proportions that is being waged not just here but in the heavenlies. In his book Adopted for Life, Russell Moore states,
Whether through political machinations such as those of Pharaoh and Herod, through military conquests in which bloodthirsty armies rip babies from pregnant mothers’ wombs (Amos 1:13), or through the more “routine” seeming family disintegration and family chaos, children are always hurt. Human history is riddled with their corpses.
Bluntly, children are under attack perpetually from the powers of darkness in this present age because of the hope they represent. They are the future of the church, born into this world with an opportunity to know and follow Jesus and to fulfill the Great Commission, extending the fame of Jesus to every corner of this world. As children are killed, abused, and ignored, Satan wins a victory in the potential that will go unrealized. As children are warehoused in institutions away from the love and nurture of a family and left to disintegrate, children are kept from the safety and security of families, the best incubators for Christian discipleship. As followers of Jesus, adoption is a way to right this unspeakable wrong. Adoption is a tangible way to love in the pattern of Jesus by giving to a child the gift of knowing Jesus through our families.
The spiritual warfare around Christian adoption is intense and varied because the enemy fiercely fights the redemption of children. Attacks come on one front from wolves that seek to keep children as orphans and profit from their vulnerability. On another front, the assault against vulnerable children comes from people who have a vested interest in the perpetuation of a broken child welfare system that provides gain to the victimizers and oppresses the victims. As followers of Jesus, we are sent into this fight as emissaries of the Father to the fatherless, and we must prepare ourselves for battle against the forces that would keep children vulnerable and estranged. Only through the power of the Spirit can we protect and defend children adequately through adoption. Adoption, while beautiful, is also hard, and we must cling to the strength and victory found ultimately in Jesus if our children (and we) are to prevail.
Our adoption of children grants us the privilege of carrying a personal story that cannot help but point to the rescue and redemption that we have found in Christ and that testifies to the worth and dignity of every child created in the image of God. The adoption of a child is wonderful way for a family to extend the love that has been shown to them through Christ and to affirm the Creator in whose image every child is fashioned. During this National Adoption Month, let us celebrate the adopting grace of Christ that has given us all life, and let us as the church of the Lord Jesus extend the mercy and grace of God to vulnerable children through the great gift of adoption.
Russell Moore, Adopted for Life, 63.