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Lest We Forget

Are Institutional
Orphan Homes Expedient?
James P. Needham


One of the most useful helps in a study of the Bible is an accurate understanding of its teaching concerning expediency. Through the centuries a misunderstanding of such has dealt the church untold misery. Under the guise of expediency every form of innovation has been promoted, and wholesale apostasies developed in the work and worship of the church. Missionary societies and instrumental music were both defended as expedient methods of executing God's commands. Again today from the camps of the innovators the cry of expediency is heard under the same guise in an all out effort to promote organizations and operations of the same nature as those of yesteryear.

What is Expediency?

Webster says expediency means, "Cultivation of, or adherence to, expedient means and methods." Expediency, then, has to do "means and methods " that is, the manner or way in which a given work is accomplished. In short, then, an expedient in religion is the best means or method of executing a divine command when the way to do it is not specified.

Relationship of Law and Expediency

Much confusion arises when men fail to recognize the proper relationship of law and expediency. Trouble arises when men try to make laws of expediencies, or expediencies of laws. Law excludes everything but what specified; expediency includes everything that is right within itself; that which comes within the bounds of the law as a whole. Paul demonstrates this when he says, "All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient ..." (1 Corinthians 6:12). In order for a thing to be expedient then, it must be in harmony with the law generally, and yet, a thing may be in harmony with the general law and be inexpedient due to the results its use may produce. Nothing can be expedient if it violates any principle of the Law as a whole.

Determining What Is Expedient

To be an expedient "means or method" certain scriptural requirements are set forth by Paul. He sets up the following rules by which to determine the expediency of a means or method used in accomplishing a lawful action:

  1. It must come within the bounds of the law.
  2. It must be within the realm of private privilege, or judgment.
  3. It must edify the church.
  4. It must not cause a brother to offend (1 Corinthians 6:12,13; 8:12,13).

Are Institutional Orphan Homes Expedient?

This question is the burden of this article, and we now address ourselves to the task of answering it on the basis of what we have heretofore stated.

Those soliciting contributions to the present institutional orphan homes operated by brethren have contended that they constitute an expedient method for the churches to care for orphans. By this they mean that when churches contribute to such homes they are engaging in a method of executing God's law with reference to orphans which meets with all the qualifications mentioned by Paul (given above). Is this true? We shall see.

  1. When churches contribute to institutional orphan homes they do not engage in a "means or method." The orphan home engages in the "means and methods" and the church supplies the necessary funds therefore. Saying that an orphan home is a “means or method" is like saying that the missionary society is a "means or method." Both employ their own "expediencies" ("means and methods") because they are separate, independent organizations, bodies politic. Therefore, they become substitutes for the church rather than a "means or method" used by the church.

    That this is true we can easily show. According to Paul God is to be glorified "in the church" (Ephesians 3:21). Is the orphan home the church? I've found no promoter or defender thereof who will answer in the affirmative. So, if the orphan home is not the church, and yet the church cares for her orphans through it, then she tries to glorify God through something that is not the church. She tries to do that through another institution which God commanded to be done through her, thus through something which is set up to take her place and do her work.

    Now, admitting, for the sake of argument, that an institutional orphan home is a “means or method” the above observations would prove that it would not be an expedient means or method. Expedients must come within the bounds of law, and the institutional orphan homes violate the law which affirms the all-sufficiency of the church. Contending that substitute institutions are expedients is trying to place a specific, exclusive law in the realm of expediency.

  2. If institutional orphan homes are expedients they must come within the realm of private privilege, or judgment; meaning that one has the liberty to care for orphans in this way or in other ways that are right. The promoters of present day institutional orphan homes have disproved their expedient argument from this standpoint. They do not give their opposition the privilege of choosing from some other method. If one does not agree to do it by “their method” they will brand him as "anti-orphan" thus showing that while they contend for orphan homes as expedients, they really believe them to be exclusive law. They must either cease their expedient argument, or stop condemning those who disagree with them.

  3. If institutional orphan homes are expedient, the employment of them in the care of orphans will edify the church. (1 Corinthians 10:23) "All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not." The word edify means to build up or strengthen. Time has proven that contributing to and contending for institutional orphan homes does everything else but build up or strengthen the church. They are terribly inexpedient from this standpoint. Such have caused more strife, division, confusion and alienation among brethren than any promotion in a hundred years. In almost every community they have caused and are causing wholesale divisions in the assemblies of God's church, leaving them weak and helpless before the onslaught of Satan's servants. How can a "means or method" fraught with such serious and damaging results be expedient?

  4. If institutional orphan homes are expedient their use will not offend good and honest brethren. Yet, we all know that such brethren in almost every church, from which contributions to such institutions are made, are sorely offended, and their consciences violated. The same is true on a brotherhood scale. Some of the oldest, as well as ablest, brethren are offended by benevolent societies presently promoted among the churches. When these brethren either express or seek to express their conscientious scruples on this issue they either are stifled or castigated by the bitter, self-righteous cries of anti, Sommerites, etc. Paul says, "All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any." Those promoting institutional orphan homes are “brought under the power” in their line of thinking. Good brethren are forced to either acquiesce to their high handedness, or flee for liberty elsewhere. If the orphan home societies were mere expedients their promoters would not be willing to force them upon those who honestly and conscientiously dissent to the point of forcing them go elsewhere for conscience sake.

If the benevolent societies among us are mere expedients, will someone prove it by measuring them by the scriptural qualifications set forth by Paul? If they can be harmonized with such qualifications some one should do it, if not they should be renounced in the interest of unity among God’s people.