Friday, February 27, 2009

Is it OK for Christians to live on credit?

Had a very strange conversation (as "CJ") on another blog recently. The topic was how exorbitant credit card fees are, and I responded that at least for Christians we shouldn't operate on credit at all. "Owe no man any thing," said Paul in Romans 13:8. I found myself immediately embroiled in an argument with the Christians there, four or five altogether I believe.

Is it really such a foreign idea that Christians ought not to operate on credit? I thought I might get some guilty apologetic Yes-buts but instead I got out-and-out disagreement.

I do know it is a very foreign idea to many Christians though. I know that most people own their houses on mortgages, also pay for their cars in monthly installments, and that many church buildings are in fact mortgaged. It's always FELT wrong to me but because nobody objects, or few object, I don't say anything either.

The oddest part of that conversation was someone's suggesting that we can't avoid credit because we pay our utilites on credit. I was flummoxed by that one at first but eventually got my mind back and realized, No we don't! Just because we pay monthly doesn't mean we're buying our utilities on credit. Utilities are something that we use over time, and we pay for the amount we used at the end of the month. We get a month's worth of use and at the end of the month we pay for it. We pay at the end because we can't know in advance how much we're going to use, but at that point if we pay it on time we're paid up -- no loan, no credit involved. A mortgaged house and a car loan are a different thing altogether. We are paying on a total amount over many years because we are unable to pay for it outright. With utilities we pay for what we just received. With a house and car, no, we are not going to have paid for them for years though we received them already -- utilities are a matter of time of use, a house is a material thing we have or don't have.

I couldn't get that difference across to anybody. And then they also seemed to miss the point about not being able to afford it or pay for it outright, even just to entertain it for discussion's sake. We are so used to thinking in terms of monthly payments on mortgages we forget it's a loan, we forget we owe for the item we're paying on. They do think of it in the same way they think of utilities payments. They figure that since they can meet their monthly payments there's no problem, it's not as if they've contracted for something they're unable to pay, forgetting that they are unable to pay the whole price outright and that's why it's on loan.

I'm not yet completely sure just how radical to be on this subject, but the conversation was instructive about how much is taken for granted by Christians about the ways of the world. My FEELING is to go as radical as possible and say, no, it IS the world's ways and it IS owing when we should not, and if we cannot afford something outright we have no business buying it at all. But I'm going to have to give it further thought. The reason the radical position appeals to me, however, is that it would mark Christians as truly "not of this world" to live like that, as we're supposed to live. Otherwise we're just living like everybody else and making no impact for the Kingdom of God in the area of money.

Christians in our time in the West seem to expect to be comfortable in this world. We're not SUPPOSED to be comfortable in this world. Our comfort is to come from out of this world.