Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
September 4, 1958
NUMBER 18, PAGE 1,12-13a

Scriptural, Historical, And Sociological Testimony Concerning

Christianity And The Proper Care Of Widows And Orphans

Robert Atkinson, Hattiesburg, Mississippi

The recognition of an issue or a problem which is of such magnitude that it threatens to divide the people of God will cause those who are truly Christian to earnestly seek a solution by earnestly seeking the truth. This involves the gathering of data and subjecting it to a critical interpretation. But fact-gathering and critical thinking, to be of value in a study, must avoid premature conclusions, the temptation to ignore adverse evidence, and personal prejudice. Moreover, the decrees and conclusions of highly-regarded teachers and preachers, scholars and authorities, will be carefully evaluated but certainly not blindly accepted; the data, facts, will be allowed to speak for themselves.

All of the essential data for solving problems related to the church of Christ are to be found in the Bible. God has built the church according to a pattern (Heb. 8:5-13), and Christians are complete in Christ, that is, in the church, which is His body (Col. 2:9,10; 1:18). God's Word is truth (John 17:17b), and it is still true that those who speak where the Bible speaks and are silent where the Bible is silent, abide in truth. Jesus said, "If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." (John 8:31b,32) Thus, it is not the purpose of this study to attempt to show the Bible to be true, with regard to the church and benevolent works by showing that historical facts support it. The Bible is true and cannot be overthrown by the mere contradictions of history if they should occur (which they very seldom do), for history is but man's fallible and sometimes faulty statements and interpretations of events; nor does it need support from secular history. Neither is it the purpose of this study to attempt to prove a point, a position, or a side, on the basis of historical evidence. It is the purpose of this study to show conclusively the harmony that exists among the facts gathered from Scripture, history and sociology with regard to Christianity and the proper care of widows and orphans. We observe the Lord's Supper each Lord's Day on the basis of the authority of God's word (John 16:13; Acts 20:7). Nonetheless, it is interesting and useful to read from the so-called church fathers and from secular historians their testimony that such was the practice of the early church. We find it easy to prove from the Bible that the Roman Catholic Church is not the church which Christ built. (Matt. 16:18; Acts 2) The same is true of other denominations. But it is interesting and useful to trace the historical development of the denominations when studying them. This study is conducted in a similar way and with similar purposes.

An attempt has been made to do research with complete objectivity. The researcher is not to blame that many social workers and historians wrote like "The Guardian Crowd" or "Guardian Angels" as some would put it. The researcher has believed for many years that the position held and advocated by the Gospel Guardian on the current issues was the scriptural one and therefore the right one, but he was as amazed as any to see how completely the testimony of history and sociology harmonized with scriptural testimony. In justice to the authorities quoted, their tone and material could not be altered, even if they do sound like "Guardian Boys" and thus, become subject to the scorn and ridicule of the institutionally-minded among us.

1. Is It True, As Some Allege, That The Church Is Its Own "Missionary Society" But Not Its Own Benevolent Society? Can The Church Care For Orphans And Widows Or Must It Create Other Institutions To Do So?

"And in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplied, there arose a murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration. Then the twelve called the multitude of the disciples unto them, and said, it is not reason that we should leave the word of God, and serve tables. Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business. But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word. And the saying pleased the whole multitude: and they chose . . . Whom they set before the apostles: and when they had prayed, they laid their hands on them." Acts 6:1-6

"If any man or woman that believeth have widows, let them relieve them, and let not the church be charged; that it may relieve them that are widows indeed." I Tim. 5:16

". . . the well-to-do and willing among the Christians present in the congregation give as they choose and the collection is then deposited with the president (presiding elder, RA) for the assistance of orphans, widows, those who were in want owing to sickness or any other cause, those who were in prison and strangers who were on a journey." (Justin, Apology, Ch. 67)

" . (the contributions) are expended upon no banquets or drinking bouts or useless eating houses, but on feeding and burying poor people, on behalf of boys and girls who have neither parents nor money, in support of old folk unable now to go about . . . so long as their distress is for the sake of God's fellowship and they themselves entitled to maintenance by their confession." (Tertullian, Apology)

"The Church in the first three centuries systematically encouraged benevolence and organized through the church officials relief for those who were in need . . . The organized relief was in addition to the general aims of which I have just spoken, providing also for the support of widows and orphans . . . 'from the very first the president (Elder, RA) appears to have had practically an absolute control over the donations but the deacons also had to handle them as effective agents' (Harnack, Expansion of Christianity, Vol. I, P. 186) . . . It is because of this heavy responsibility in the administration of funds that throughout early Christian literature, the bishops and the deacons are required to be 'not lovers of money.' ". . . As the monasteries developed, they took an ever increasing part in the relief of the poor." (John Lewis Gillin, Poverty And Dependency. "Development Of The Relief Of The Poor," (New York: The Century Company, 1926), pp. 154,155.

Dr. Gillin was Professor of Sociology in the University of Wisconsin when he wrote POVERTY AND DEPENDENCY. The book is well-documented throughout and was widely used as a textbook for college students. The eminent Scottish historian, Lecky, was the source of many facts concerning benevolent work among the early Christians.

Another authority on social services for children, Emma Octavia Lundberg, in discussing the origin of child-care institutions, says:

". . . the foundling hospitals, asylums, and other types of institutions for destitute or abandoned children, which had long been in existence in certain countries of Europe, were the prototypes of many of the child-caring institutions established in this country during the early years.1"

In her footnote, she says, "As early as the sixth century religious orders in Europe had begun to provide asylums for abandoned children, to combat the barbaric practices of infanticide which prevailed in the Dark Ages of history. See: The Child In Human Progress, by George Henry Payne, G. G. Putnam's Sons, New York. 1916." (Emma Octavia Lundberg, Unto The Least Of These, 1947, pp. 51,52.)

Another authoritative declaration which shows that for centuries the church cared for orphans without establishing other institutions follows:

"The responsibility of the community for the care of orphans was recognized by the early Christians and collections to raise funds were taken among the members of congregations. Later (emphasis mine, RA) church charity provided for the establishment of orphan asylums as well as for the care of orphans in monasteries." (Funk & Wagnall's Universal Standard Encyclopedia, Under "Orphan," p. 6351)

"The first institutions for the care of children were foundling homes established by the Roman Catholic Church during the Middle Ages as a deterrent to infanticide by destitute parents." (Funk & Wagnall's Universal Standard Encyclopedia, Under "Orphanage", p. 6351.)

All of the testimony shows that for six centuries the church did function as a benevolent society and did care for the needy without establishing human institutions. It is by the authority of the Roman Catholic Church, not the Bible, that brethren are committing the work of the church to human institutions. If the organ, introduced into the worship by the Catholic Church about 166 A. D. was not simply an acceptable way, or means or method of worshipping God but was an innovation, it is difficult to see why human institutions introduced into the work of the church by the Catholic Church in the sixth century would not be an innovation. If the first is not just an aid but is an addition, so is the other.

II.: Is The Child-Care Institution Simply The Natural Home Restored?

The natural or God-established home consisted of a male and a female who were to become one flesh, be fruitful, and multiply and replenish the earth (Gen. 1:27,28; 2:24; Matt. 19:5). Husbands were to love their wives and wives were to reverence and submit to their husbands (Eph. 5:22-33). Children born to the union of a male and female became a part of the family and were to obey their parents, that is, their father and mother (Eph. 6:1,2). The institutional orphan-home in no wise fits the pattern of the scriptural or "natural" home, so it could not be that home "restored." Those who can see the home as God made it in a child-care institution should have no trouble seeing the church as Jesus made it in a denomination.

An Authority On Child Care Declares:

"Since the institution is a group of unrelated children living together in the care of a group of unrelated adults, it is different from a family home in such essentials of the family unit as individual care and unique relatedness of its members." (Henrietta L. Gordon, "Foster Care For Children," Social Work Year Book, 1949, p. 212.)

III. Does Institutional Child-Care Provide For The Needs Of The Whole Child?

The Lord's wisdom provided for a more intimate relationship:

"And, ye fathers. provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord." (Eph. 6:4)

"Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right." (Eph. 6:1)

Man, through social research, has discovered that institutions housing large numbers of dependent children are not the best answer to the problem of dependent children. Research has shown that the closer gone comes to the type of care God planned, the better developed and happier the children are. Once again, through experience and research covering many years, man has only succeeded in confirming the revealed wisdom of God. Brethren who really love children would do well to heed such wisdom.

"Progressive administrators accept the specialized function of the institution and no longer try to make it simulate a family group. They know that the best administered and staffed institutions cannot take the place of a family group, regardless of how devoted the staff, how small the unit, and how diversified in age the children under care are. The following principles are guides to the administrators of institutions: (1) institutional care, while especially helpful for certain children (as a temporary measure, it will be shown, to help certain types such as children starved for affection and in need of special help in overcoming personality problems so they may enter into "vital new emotional relationships in foster homes;' RA) is undesirable for others. (2) Children who live in institutions have the same needs that all children have, plus the need for help with the problems which make this type of care necessary for them. (3) Institutional care alone is not sufficient for any child throughout the entire period of his childhood, and placement in an institution should not be continued beyond two or three years at most. (Emphasis mine, RA) The choice between foster family and institutional care must be determined by the individual needs of each child, and based on such factors as age and social and emotional conditions. Although this principle has been accepted quite universally, its practice lags behind in many parts of this country." (Henrietta L. Gordon, "Foster Care For Children," Social Work Year Book, 1949, p. 213.)

"The day is past when a child-caring institution can feel that its responsibility is fulfilled when it accepts a child for care. Service to dependent children is now understood to include service to the child's family in order that the home may be conserved for the child." (Dr. Carstens of Child Welfare League, as quoted in Unto The Least Of These.) In addition, he states, "The first step in any child-welfare program should be to make available to every family in which there are needy children such assistance as may be required to conserve the home."

Noting that most children in orphan homes had a near living relative, the state welfare commissions have investigated the alternatives of supplying relief to the family without a breadwinner or placing the children in an institution. The findings conclusively show that it costs less or no more to support the mother or near relatives, and keep the family together, than to send the children to an institution, and the children were happier and better cared for (See "The Century Of Promise," in Unto The Least Of These.) It is obvious that with only about 10,000 true orphans in the U. S., if Christian individuals would begin in reality "to visit", instead of attempting to do so the easy way by sending a child or children to an institution after tearing them from their loved ones, child-caring institutions would be almost abolished and our society and children would be the better for it.

"In recent years, governmental authorities have tended to favor foster home care with State assistance over institutional care, as a result of growing criticism of the effects of institutional regimentation on the personalities of children.

"In recent years the- emphasis has shifted to care in foster homes and to provision by the state for financial assistance in the form of pensions paid to widowed mothers." (Fund & Wagnall's Universal Standard Encyclopedia, p. 6351)

IV. An Interesting Paragraph From An Authority On Social Work.

"Should the church do directly the charitable work of its people as we know, the Jewish synagogue and the Catholic churches organize their own agencies for the dependent among their own people. Is this a proper function of a Protestant church or of a Church Federation? Many churches have set up denominational orphanages, homes for the aged, and institutions for the defective. Is this their most valuable contribution to social work among the dependent and defective: The history of these institutions seems to indicate that there is a question about it. Can the church not do a greater work by inspiring and educating its individual members as to the proper ideas in the care of dependents and in the prevention of poverty than in direct work with the dependent classes? While it may be true that the churches may develop certain agencies and institutions where they do not exist in the community for direct care of the dependent and the defective, experience seems to indicate that the church can do very much better if it functions in educating its individual members so that they may serve as intelligent members of the existing social agencies and bring to those agencies the religious fervor and sympathy characteristic of churches. Religion does not necessarily supply social technique or sound sociological principles. It does supply human sympathy and the driving power for the amelioration of the lot of the distressed." (Gillin, Poverty And Dependence, p. 701).

The doctor's Social Gospel principles are unsound, but note that even though he holds to Social Gospel concepts of the church he is quite clear in stating that the record of church-built institutions is not what it should be. Indeed, his plea for individual interest and action sounds almost "Hobbyish." He would have no cause for complaint if Christian individuals would truly "visit" the fatherless and widows and accept the church as the institution by which God accomplishes His work.

(Those who are inclined to challenge the validity of any of the statements in this article are urged to check the references and do further research. It will be found that the statements from historical and sociological sources are accurate, representative, and factual. The author knows this to be true because he has consulted many more sources than he has quoted from. The scriptural testimony comes from only one source, but it is undeniably accurate, factual and fully representative of the will of God.)