A great difference lies between alternative living and eccentric living. As citizens in the kingdom of God we want to live in a way that demonstrates a genuine “third way” without veering off into eccentric overreactions. Living under the financial blessing of God, without adequate fleshly explanations for the provision, is such an alternative.
“Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you’” (Heb. 13:5-6).
In asking whether debt for a church is sin, let us begin with a couple of disclaimers. When this question is asked in this context, it reveals many assumptions about the nature of sin and financial responsibility. If someone were to splay his fingers on a concrete sidewalk so that he could whack each one with a hammer, we might try to stop him. But what if he asked, pointedly, “Would it be a sin to do it?” the answer would have to be, “Not necessarily.” To answer the question this way shows that debt is not neutral. In Scripture, debt is always something to be avoided if prudent.
That said, in the first place borrowing entrammels.
“The Lord will open to you His good treasure, the heavens, to give the rain to your land in its season, and to bless all the work of your hand. You shall lend to many nations, but you shall not borrow. And the Lord will make you the head and not the tail; you shall be above only, and not be beneath, if you heed the commandments of the Lord your God, which I command you today, and are careful to observe them” (Dt. 28:13-14).
Debt is described here as servitude. Part of the reason debt seems so ordinary to us is that we are accustomed to our servitude.
The blessing is not under our control. We must learn to seek it from God’s hand. The commandments do belong to us.
We need to be jealous for the liberties and prerogatives of the church. Being in a position of servitude is not necessarily wrong for an individual, although it should obviously be avoided when possible. But Christians must learn jealousy when it comes to the Church of Christ. “The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower is servant to the lender” (Prov.22:7).
Second, borrowing mutes the testimony of the church.
“Now it shall come to pass, if you diligently obey the voice of the Lord your God, to observe carefully all His commandments which I command you today, that the Lord your God will set you high above all nations of the earth. . . The Lord will establish you as a holy people to Himself, just as He has sworn to you, if you keep the commandments of the Lord your God and walk in His ways. Then all peoples of the earth shall see that you are called by the name of the Lord, and they shall be afraid of you. And the Lord will grant you plenty of goods, in the fruit of your body, in the increase of your livestock, and in the produce of your ground, in the land of which the Lord swore to your fathers to give you (Dt. 28:1, 9-11).
We bear the name of Christ. The world is looking at what we do. Are we going to build the kingdom in the same way that a man might build a shopping mall? Run a thought experiment—what would the unbelievers say if . . .?
Third, borrowing presumes on the future.
“Come now, you who say, Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a dty, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit’; whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. Instead you ought to say, If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that/ But now you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil” (James 4:13-16).
The issue here is attitude, and attitude in the area of finances. In the area of finances, who wants to be the proud vapor?
Last, borrowing can mean discontent.
“Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, I will never leave you nor forsake you. ‘So we may boldly say: The Lord is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?’” (Heb. 13:5-6).
When a church is making such financial decisions, are they doing so from a world of contentment? The Lord promised to be with Israel as they invaded Canaan, and not with them as they stood around grumbling in the wilderness. Move on in, contented warriors, trusting God for His provision.