Posted On October 19, 2018

The Father of the Fatherless

by | Oct 19, 2018 | series, Theology

The divide between the conservative evangelical and the liberal social gospel-ite is undeniably deep; and one of the major fault lines is the how the two groups deal with the needy. In the leftist social gospel camp the issues of the needy are over emphasized and the fervor overwrought. The pursuit of good is out of balance compared to the pursuit of truth. These days, in addition to ministries like foster care, that movement has even begun to pursue leftist political ideas. It makes many friends that are no friend of Christ.

Talk with anyone in that camp and soon enough they’re probably repeating democrat slogans and parroting left wing talking points. Certainly they’re defining the Gospel and Christianity as a meals on wheels program directed by some women in priest collars. To that person, the church exists to provide a warm place for the homeless to sleep and a kitchen from which to serve free soup. The Bibles are for decoration, I think.

The conservatives, on the other hand, are the people of theology and Scripture. We’re the ones who realize it actually matters what people believe, not just that their bellies are full or their bed is warm. The Bible is at the center of who we are. We try to lay up our treasure in heaven and relentlessly follow God. We try to remember the most important thing is and always will be His glory.

As an old friend once told me, “You can tell if a Christian is a liberal or a conservative by their reaction to Jonathan Edwards or Paul Washer. The liberal is appalled anyone would ever speak of people like that; the conservative knows those men are speaking about him.” Our hearts soar when we hear John Piper tell us that God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him. Our minds sing as MacArthur patiently unfolds the same truths again and again as if we’re hearing them for the first time. We’re the people of Sola Scriptura — the church of Soli Deo Gloria.

It should come as no surprise that I condemn the social gospel and leftist Christianity. Truth is the most important thing, and any worldview that emphasizes doing good without objectively defining good is hollow. It’s a bankrupt theology to believe that any theology is valid so long as people are helped. There really is a God and that God really does have a moral framework. There is right and wrong, and there is a right way and wrong way to serve that God. Anything preached that undermines those principles for the sake of doing good or welcoming diversity amounts to a false gospel.

Why, then, are those of us who have those principles rightly as the priority largely under represented in the care of the needy? I believe it is because we spend much time emphasizing the principles, and too little time extrapolating what those principles mean in real and practical way.

For example, when it comes to salvation, we’re rightly passionate to point out that sinners need to hear the Gospel, repent of their sins, and trust Christ for salvation. But try to organize an evangelistic endeavor and you quickly find that our passion for the belief does not translate into a passion for the work. We rightly believe that we must make it top priority in our life to understand God’s word. Yet our Sunday School classes and Bible studies are not as well attended as our sermons. Similarly, we rightly understand that orphans are best cared for in a home with a godly Mom and Dad. But sadly, uncommon in our circles are the churches with even one foster family and rare are those with more.

Creative Commons via Max Pixel

So, it is to the people of Sola Scriptura, to the church of Soli Deo Gloria, that I appeal today. Foster Care rightly and properly belongs to us. It is the duty, generally, of Christians to take upon themselves. It honors God; and it is part of pure and undefiled religion before Him. I make no claim to the originality of these thoughts. I don’t expect you to accept my opinion in the name of diversity or inclusion. Rather, I appeal to you from Scripture which reveals the character of our God and His commands to His beloved elect. I hope to show that caring for orphans through foster care should not merely be the domain of a special class of believers. Not relegated as a special calling, but rather as a true expression of the Christian faith held in common by all who trust in Christ alone for salvation.

Placing the cause of the orphan alongside the cause of the stranger and widow, God commands his people to take special care of orphans at least 12 times in the Pentateuch alone. God associates care for orphans with a promise to bless His people (Deu 14:28-29). There are warnings against afflicting them (Exo 22:22-24). God exhorts Israel to include them in family celebrations and holidays (Deu 16:10-14). He makes provision for their non-tangible and tangible needs; primarily through our own efforts and resources (Deu 24:17-22). God even reminds us of His provision outside of the Pentateuch by exhorting us to protect their property (Pro 23:10).

God’s character is on display again and again in the special way God remembers and provides for orphans. He even draws out this point for us in Deuteronomy 10:17-18:

[17] “For the LORD your God is the God of gods and the Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God who does not show partiality nor take a bribe. [18] “He executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and shows His love for the alien by giving him food and clothing. {Deu 10:17-18 NASB}

As Christians we understand the Law is a schoolmaster to bring us to Christ (Gal 3:24). We know that we cannot keep the law. We don’t appeal, like Pharisees, to our law-keeping to obtain right standing before God. So why examine the law? It is not to find a path to heaven. It is because, having found the path, we want to know the principles that God reveals as He applies them specifically to Israel. In the case of orphans (and widows, etc.), God’s principles are not only that they shouldn’t be neglected — God’s principles are ALSO that it is the job of His people to see to their care.

But it’s more than simply a job, caring for orphans should be something we earnestly desire to do. The Bible shows us that, for Him, care for orphans is not an obligation to fulfill, but something He earnestly desires to do. It should pour out of us just as it pours out of Him. It should be common among us. This ministry should be part of what defines us in the minds of the world. Caring for orphans shouldn’t just be something we do, but something that matters deeply to us. This mimics our God.

In fact, it’s endemic to His identity, and a large part of the way God defines Himself to His people. David, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirt, calls God “the Father of the fatherless” (Psa 68:4-5). Psalm 146 also reminds us of God’s protection of these precious people (Psm 146:9). In fact, this aspect of God’s character was so evident that it became a part of Jeremiah’s ministry. He condemns a rebellious people for a myriad of sins, and mentions their hatred of orphans specifically. God sees these things, including the lack of care for orphans, as an affront against HIM (Jer 5:28-29).

Remember that Jeremiah’s ministry came on the heels of Isaiah’s. Isaiah exhorted Israel to righteousness by, among other things, caring for orphans (Isa 1:17). Isaiah also laid out the sinful tendencies of the people (in particular the rulers) saying, among other things, that orphans are oppressed in the land (Isa 1:23).  Hosea recognized God’s care for orphans too. He used it as an illustration of how Israel could trust God and return to Him. Hosea reminds Israel that the same God to whom they would (and should) return is the tenderhearted God who loves orphans (Hos 14:3).

In God’s system, orphans aren’t tokens to signal our virtue and impress our God, they’re people we’re called to love and whose care has been entrusted to us as God’s people. One may say that these were all instructions to Israel, and that’s both true and meaningless. In the Old Testament, Israel’s relationship with God included a healthy dose of care for orphans. If the character of God does not change, the principles that spring from that character do not change either.

We, the people of Sola Scriptura and the church of Soli Deo Gloria, rightly desire to reflect and mimic our Lord at every turn. We must then strive for a complete reflection. To attempt to reflect the character and priorities of God without a place for orphans in our life is like looking at our face in the mirror and seeing a face with only one eye. It may still bear a strong resemblance, but it is by no means complete.

Moreover, it is not merely our reflection of God that is incomplete, but it is also our worship. We’ve not looked much at the New Testament so far simply because it says very little about orphans. It does exhort the Church to remember the needy and widows who share a strong connection to orphans in the Old Testament. Yet, specific instructions regarding the care for orphans (and children in general) are lacking. There is, of course, one glaring exception: James 1:27.

In the next installment of this series, we will dive into James 1:27 and discover how it applies to the church today.

See all posts in this series

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