PAYING AND RECEIVING INTEREST
"Who shall sojourn in Your tent? Who shall dwell on Your holy mountain?" He "who lends not his money at usury and accepts no bribe against the innocent." Psalm 15:1, 5
Every culture and time has its blind spots. Even the Church often walks in darkness because it has conformed to the world rather than transformed by the Spirit (Rm 12:2). Throughout history God's people have been blind to the evils of slavery, racism, corruption, and war. What are the blind spots of the 20th century American Christian? One of them may be the sinfulness of paying and receiving interest.
The Scriptures condemn interest in a number of passages (Ex 22:24; Ps 15:5; Prv 28:8, Ez 18:13,17; 22:12; Dt 23:20). Some try to dismiss these passages because they are from the Old Testament. However, Jesus did not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it (Mt 5:17). The New Testament never waters down the Old but challenges us to much greater commitment (Mt 5: 22, 28, 32, 34, 35, 44). Jesus calls us not only to renounce interest on a loan but even to loan without expecting repayment (Lk 6:35). We are commanded to do unto others as we would have them do unto us (Mt 7:12). This probably means that we should not exact interest even from foreigners, as was permitted in the Old Testament. There is not a shred of Biblical evidence that the prohibition against interest is no longer in effect.
The Church has applied these Biblical prohibitions of paying and taking interest by virulently condemning this practice for centuries. Only in recent times has the Church accepted the payment and taking of interest. This change in the Church's pastoral practice is presumably based on the questionable assumption that the nature of money has changed. However, the Church has made no official statement announcing or explaining her change regarding involving the Church in this matter of interest. We are left to decide ourselves on the legitimacy of paying and taking interest.
What are we to do? G. K. Chesterton has said that the matter of interest is the major issue of the twentieth century. How are we to apply in our lives the frequent and clear Biblical prohibitions of paying and taking interest? Does the Church's centuries-old condemnation of interest apply today?
We may be afraid to let the Holy Spirit teach us about interest because our entire economy is socked into the interest system. We may be afraid of the repercussions of rejecting the monolithic economic system. However, we should be more afraid of staying in this system, because it is built on the sands of sin and therefore sure to fall (see Mt 7:26).
Interest automatically makes the rich richer and the poor poorer. This makes the world financial situation unstable. Impoverished countries are doomed to progressively deteriorating poverty and human degradation because of our wholesale disobedience of God's commandment against interest. Scripture tells us that at the very end of time we will not be allowed to buy or sell anything unless we have the mark of the beast, that is, unless we have sold out to the system (Rv 13:16-17). Interest may be the core of that perverse economic system at the world's end.
Jesus calls us to lose our lives so that we may really save them (Lk 9:24).
We must deny ourselves to be His disciples and not pawns of the kingdom of
darkness (Lk 9:23). The commandment against interest is difficult, but more
importantly it is an opportunity to live the life of ever increasing faith, to
recognize the necessity of Christian community, and to bring justice into an
oppressive, oppressed, and war-torn world.