This document reflects commonly held beliefs based on scripture which have been endorsed by the church's Commission on Doctrinal Purity and the Executive Presbytery.
Does the Bible have anything to say on personal finances such as extended credit? Also, what obligations do Christians have in reimbursement of personal debt?
Though the Bible was written in a culture and society far different from ours today, its principles are timeless and apply to humans everywhere. Some of these guidelines and truths apply to our personal finances and business dealings.
Making income cover all the expenses can be a real challenge, especially for young couples beginning married life. We have to consider the threat of inflation, interest rates on any money we borrow, government decisions affecting the economy, a volatile stock market that impacts everyone, finding and keeping gainful and satisfying employment, family obligations, and insufficient time and money to meet all our expectations and goals.
Most of the items on the above list are beyond the control of the individual person. The only control one has is keeping expenditures within one’s income—in fact, within 90 percent of income, for God has a claim on the 10 percent tithe (see Concerns at the end of this piece). But that is not easy with all the complications and unexpected expenses that come along. Budgeting is a wise practice for making sure that we have a good testimony as Christians. Budgeting can be as simple as not spending any more money than one already has, or keeping weekly and monthly records of income and expenditures to set patterns for future spending.
What about the use of credit cards? Does their use violate Paul’s instruction, "Let no debt remain outstanding" (Rom. 13:8). The context and the remainder of the verse explain Paul’s primary application of the debt statement, "Let no debt remain outstanding except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law." Paul is dealing first of all with our obligation to love one another. But applying the statement to financial debts is appropriate because failing to pay one’s debts is certainly not a demonstration of love.
When a purchase is made by credit card or by a promise to make specified payments over a period of time, there is no debt as long as the buyer makes regular payments according to the agreement. If, however, a payment is not made at the agreed time, the buyer is in debt and would violate Paul’s admonition to owe nothing, especially love. If one cannot meet the terms of the original agreement, the Christian thing to do would be to contact the creditor explaining the problem and asking for a substitute agreement. If that cannot be arranged, the unpaid obligation makes the buyer a debtor.
Installment buying is both bad and good. It can easily be used for luxuries and nonessentials, leaving a person with a debt he cannot repay according to the agreement. However, buying necessities on credit can actually be an investment. Paying rent for years is like pouring water on the ground. It should only be done until one can qualify for a home purchase. If a car is needed for work and other obligations, it too is an appropriate credit purchase. If a credit card is used to purchase nonessentials, it would be wise to pay for those purchases in full each month.
A Christian must be a person of good reputation or "honest report" (Acts 6:3 KJV), one who can be trusted to pay his just debts. The Bible describes one who does not repay his debts as a wicked person: "The wicked borrow and do not repay" (Psalm 37:21). Credit extended for major purchases is usually covered by collateral so that the lender, in case of the buyer's default, takes back the property leaving no debt. Keeping something that one has not paid for according to agreement would be a violation of Christian integrity and a sin.
Jesus seemingly permitted borrowing (Matt. 5:42, Luke 6:35). However, a believer is wise to use credit very carefully. Can the regular payments be handled by the personal or family budget? In the end, we should remember the wise words of the writer of Proverbs: "Do not wear yourself out to get rich; have the wisdom to show restraint" (Prov. 23:4) and "A faithful man will be richly blessed, but one eager to get rich will not go unpunished" (Prov. 28:20). Our attitude in handling money and possessions is all-important.
We live in a society of declining morals and ethics. Bankruptcy and Chapter 11 proceedings are being used by many as a means of avoiding rightful obligations. But just because it has become a way of life for many is no reason for a Christian to follow this pathway. The Christian must live by a higher code.
Another concern relates to finances, credit, debt, and the Christian family. Society has made things that used to be considered luxuries into necessities. The family is forced to have two wage earners in order to pay for the things they feel are needed. But the family and its spiritual growth are far more important than buying bigger and better toys to substitute for the presence of loving parents. Budgeting may call for agreement on what are actually family necessities. The welfare of the children must be the priority consideration in all family decisions. "Children are a heritage of the LORD" (Psa. 127:3 KJV). Neither money nor possessions are more important.
A final concern is the attitude of some Christians who feel they can’t afford to tithe even though they would like to. They plan to contribute to the Lord’s work when finances permit. Or they ask where in the New Testament Christians are required to tithe. This Old Testament acknowledgment that everything we have comes from God is nowhere removed in the New Testament. It is assumed to continue for Jesus commended the Pharisees for their tithing, at the same time He shamed them for not obeying the weightier matters of justice, mercy, and faithfulness (Matt. 23:23). We believe that the road to financial solvency is longer without tithing than it is with tithing. God honors those who make His money the first priority in their budgeting and spending.
The above statement is based upon our common understanding of scriptural teaching.
All Scripture quotations are from the New International Version (NIV) unless otherwise specified.