James 1:27 and the Orphan Home

by Jimmy Mickells

When I obeyed the gospel in 1974, the issue of church supported orphan homes had been debated among brethren for a good number of years. This subject, along with a discussion of colleges being supported from the treasury of the church, had already caused a great division among the Lord’s people. It was very apparent that the discussions on this matter had caused bitterness, anger, and animosity among those who once had been good friends and fellow-workers for the cause of Christ. Much of the controversy surrounded what James taught in chapter 1 and verse 27. Does this verse authorize a church to build, maintain, or support an orphan’s home from its treasury?

Is this a responsibility that is placed upon an individual or is James speaking about the collective action of a church? Notice the text around this verse. In verse 19, every man is to be swift to hear; verse 20, he speaks of the wrath of man. In verse 21, one is to receive the implanted word which will save his soul; verses 22-25, the writer instructs an individual to be doers of the word and not hears only, etc. In verse 26, James uses several personal pronouns, he, his and his in teaching about one’s religion. Then in verse 27, instruction is given to keep “oneself” unspotted from the world. It seems evident that the individual is addressed in these verses and not the church.

Do we, as individuals, have a responsibility toward orphans and widows? Absolutely! The word “visit” is defined as “to look upon or after, to inspect, examine with the eyes; in order to see how he is, i.e. to visit, go to see one; the poor and afflicted” (Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, p. 242). Those who oppose the church supporting such institutions have often been labeled as orphan haters, etc. Such is not the case at all. If we are going to be what the Lord would have us to be, then as one sees a need, has an opportunity, then they have a responsibility.

If one really believes the most effective way to care for orphan children is through an orphan home, rather than dividing the church, why not just send your individual funds to help aid such facilities? You have every right to use your money this way. It seems to me that the best way to care for these children is to provide a permanent home for them through adoption. If you are too old to provide such care for a child, then use your funds to help someone who can. I have asked a number of people through the years that have children, if something happen to both parents, would they want their children placed in an orphan’s home or would they want them adopted? The answer that I have always received is that they would want adoption. I wonder if the state knew this when they got out of the orphan home business years ago?

I have been told that the orphan home issue was nothing more than a smoke screen to get the colleges in the budget of the local church. I’m not sure if such is the case, but one thing I do know, one man made the statement that the colleges and orphan homes either stood or fell together. He was right! There is not authority for either one. I was given, what seemed to be a sermon, which was going to show that the church could support a college from its treasury. I read it with great interest, yet I never did see one single verse from the Scriptures that would even hint that such is authorized by God. Where would one find such permission in the word of God?

This whole issue makes me wonder if one is really as concerned about these children as they claim or are they simply trying to shirk their duties toward those in need? Does one think that they can drop a few dollars in the collection plate on Sunday and that relieves them of all other financial obligations they have toward the poor and needy? Why not do that which is best for the children? I remember back in the 80’s, one of local news stations in Nashville, reported that a bank in Lewisburg had over a quarter of a million dollars in an account that had been contributed to the Spring Hill Orphans Home by churches of Christ. It was doing those children absolutely no good. I was told that many of the churches that had been giving to this orphan home stopped once they learned of this abuse.

May the Lord help us all too simply follow the pattern that is given us in the New Testament for the work of His church. May we not be guilty of adding anything to nor taking anything from His written and revealed will (Galatians 1:6-9; Revelation 22:18,19).