Indebtedness and Sin?

n the United States, several Christian ministries that focus on financial stewardship teach that Christians should strive to eliminate debt. Broadly speaking, they assert that the Biblical record strongly discourages indebtedness because it limits the freedom of the Christian to fulfill God’s plan. These ministries suggest Christians should strive to pay cash for purchases (avoid credit cards), live below one’s means, and pay down debt as quickly as possible. Additionally, they strongly encourage tithing arguing that it is an important part of our service to Christ. So what could be wrong with these ministries?

In one sense, absolutely nothing. These ministries have helped thousands of people put their financial house in order. The fact is, indebtedness can be a reflection of greed of needing to consume more than can be sustained by the means God has provided. But there is another side, perhaps an unintended side effect of these ministries. Sometimes adherents to their doctrine of debt-free-living, begin to think of debt as a form of sin and therefore radically change their lives to pay down debt and/alternatively establish a nest egg.

Let me be clear, debt is not a blessing. If Christians can reasonably avoid it, great. But I should point out that debt in Biblical times was not the same kind of burden as debt is today. The economy in the ancient world was agriculturally based. One couldn’t count on next  years crop being good enough to pay off this year’s debt as bad weather can destroy the entire crop. In addition, protections for bankruptcy didn’t exist. When you were broke, you lost everything; even your children could be sold into slavery.

I recently heard a sermon where the minister commented on the get rid of debt idea. He said something that I found quite thought provoking. He said, we need to be careful that our desire to eliminate debt is not a cover for our own greed. Where we accumulate and accumulate so as to protect ourselves from ever having to go into debt. Also sometimes the desire to be debt free eliminates our ability to spend money to help the weak now.  He argued that if we really believed in getting debt free then we should be able to do so in about two months. All we have to do is sell the house and downsize, sell the car and downsize etc. etc.

I think his point is well put. As in all things, we should strive for balance which is why we must pray for wisdom (cf. James 1). Ask yourself, is your debt crushing you? weakening you? or is it completely manageable with a reasonable review of your life situation? If changes are in order, change them. Then proceed to live accordingly as you serve God.

Stephen M. Vantassel is a tutor at Theology at Kings Evangelical Divinity School

Copyright 2009 Stephen M. Vantassel

  1. Hello stephen, A propos of nothing at all,I once sat through a long sermon at the end of which the preacher claimed to have ‘proved beyond any doubt’ that JC was a capitalist! He was a DD; he should have used his time and captive congregation better. Nevermind, he made some of us laugh and has long since gone to his reward! Peter

  2. You seem to be shocked at such a statement, if I am reading you correctly. I guess I would need to ask what your definition of capitalism is as it would appear that Jesus had no problem with the disciples making money (capitalism) as small businessmen selling fish.

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