A saving faith is a serving faith: A call to care for vulnerable children

November 6, 2017

For much of our life, we have heard the cliché, “Christianity is a relationship, not a religion." Such a statement would make little sense to James the brother of Jesus. In James 1:27, our Lord’s younger brother commended a thoroughly religious life. He wrote, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” Surely James is a faithful guide in our pursuit of Christ. The essence of Christianity must not be reduced to a matter of our personal relationship with Jesus. Jesus made this clear when he stated, “All people will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35).

Love for others is one of the major points in the book of James, which teaches us that a saving faith is a serving faith. Such service is expected of us when it comes to caring for the weak, oppressed, and marginalized in this world. And, as we will see, when we serve the least of these, we are reflecting the heart of God.

What God says about orphans

Throughout the Old Testament, God unequivocally condemned the mistreatment and neglect of the fatherless. The fatherless were without protection or inheritance, which left them susceptible to exploitation. God revealed himself to the Israelites at the God who “executes justice for the fatherless” (Deut. 10:18; Ps. 10:14, 18), who provides food (Deut. 24:19-21, 26:12-13), who acts as a Father (Ps. 68:5), who instructs the covenant people of their obligation to care for the orphan (Isa. 1:17; Jer. 7:6, 22:3; Zech. 7:10), and in whom “the orphan finds mercy” (Hos. 14:3).

A saving faith is a serving faith.

In the New Testament, Jesus paralleled his return to that of a father who does not leave his disciples “as orphans” (John 14:18). God cares for the orphan and the vulnerable. His eye watches over their plight. And he ordains that his people should care for the orphan. Thus, it is impossible to imagine that a person could be considered “godly” without regard for the orphan.

What orphan care entails

What, then, does orphan care entail? In the past, some have assumed that the only way to care for the orphan is through adoption. To be sure, this is certainly the greatest way that God cares for us in our state as spiritual orphans. Believers have “received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’” (Rom. 8:15). God the Father “predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will” (Eph. 1:5). We must not make light of the importance of adoption in orphan care.

However, we must also make sure that we do not narrowly define “orphan care” to mean “adoption.” When the Old Testament speaks of caring for the fatherless in the community, it does not necessarily command adoption. God intended for some of the fatherless to remain among their family members while being supported by members of the covenant community. As the book of Job describes, the righteous were not to take advantage of the vulnerable child or the widow’s plight. They were not to “drive away the donkey of the fatherless” or “take the widow’s ox for a pledge” (Job 24:3). Adoption was not the only option for orphan care in the Old Testament, and it is not the only option in our day.

At times, caring for the orphan will mean adoption. At other times, it will mean providing support for the widow who cannot care for her child and faces the threat of having to give him up for adoption. It was often the case in the Old Testament that a woman’s husband would die and leave her with little legal recourse, and even less financial resources for survival. When a child was added to the equation, the strain became even greater. God expected the Israelites to support the widow and her child (the fatherless) in such a vulnerable state. The terrible situation of the widow and the fatherless did not reduce their dignity in God’s eyes. He intended to “give justice to the weak and the fatherless” while maintaining “the right of the afflicted and the destitute” (Ps. 68:5).

In some modern-day situations, it is possible for a child to remain with their mother or immediate family if they receive a little financial support. In other words, some orphan care should be preventive and proactive. This, of course, is not to dissuade those who feel called to care for orphans through adoption. May it never be! However, not everyone has the resolve or resources for an adoption, and children need to be able to stay with their families wherever possible. We need categories of orphan care that allow all Christians participate in the work.

What orphan care is about

What, then, is orphan care about? Orphan care is about upholding justice for and showing mercy to children who have no family or are threatened with the possibility of losing their family. It is not about the utility or void that the child can fill in your life. Orphan care is not primarily about the satisfaction of your desires for your family. It is about advocating for and supporting the life of those who lack the resources to do so for themselves.

Orphan care is not glamourous. It is not a hashtag. It is not about satisfying a “savior complex.” Orphan care is difficult. It is spiritual. It is warfare. It requires physical, emotional, financial, and social sacrifice. There will be tears. There will be doubts. There will be unanswerable questions. Some days will be a breeze, while others will be a hurricane. Yet, the work is worth it because God has called us to it, and he is worthy!

As believers participate in orphan care, they will realize that the whole process provokes deep introspection. It is hard for a believer to look into the eyes of an orphan or vulnerable child and not see aspects of their former life apart from Christ. We were once vulnerable, exploited, and afraid. We also had attachment issues, fleeing the grace of a loving Father because all we had ever known was brokenness and pain. We too have felt like outsiders, longing for a sense of our name and heritage from a former way of life.

The task of orphan care will feel impossible. Such feelings are intended to drive us to the sufficiency of Christ. In and of ourselves, we are not equipped to care for some of the most vulnerable among us, but in Christ, we are granted the emotional and spiritual resources to practice the pure and undefiled religion that the Father of the fatherless loves to see in his adopted children.

Casey B. Hough

Casey B. Hough (Ph.D., New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary) serves as lead pastor at Copperfield Church in Houston, Texas, and assistant professor of biblical interpretation at a Luther Rice College and Seminary. Casey and his wife, Hannah, have three sons and two daughters. For more ministry resources from Casey, visit his … Read More

Hannah Hough

Hannah is a registered nurse who resides in Houston, Texas, with her family. Her husband, Casey, serves as the lead pastor at Copperfield Church. She is a teacher to their five children. God has graciously brought three children into their family biologically and two children through adoption. Hannah is passionate about … Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24