Money is not a peripheral issue in the Bible. It’s everywhere, and often it’s a matter of life and death. In fact it can be stated even more specifically that credit and debt are central themes of Scripture that demand a response from the Church. Most Christians are familiar with the story in the Old Testament of the Exodus, of God bringing the Israelites out of Egypt. But few are aware that the reason the Israelites were slaves in Egypt in the first place is debt. The Exodus is not just about release from slavery, it’s also about release from debt.

This narrative of God rescuing people from debt slavery becomes a foundational one for Christianity. When Jesus announces his ministry at the start of Luke, he reads the following words from Isaiah:

The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind. To set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of Jubilee.

This kind of talk of freedom for the prisoners, setting the oppressed free and proclaiming Jubilee - an Old Testament tradition of wiping clean debt and returning property - would immediately have been recognised by Jesus’ audience as a reference to the Exodus. As Jesus’ life and death became the foundations of the new Christian faith the theme of redemption, with its distinctly monetary connotations, would be a central one.

In the Old Testament, God saves the Israelites from Egypt and leads them out, a dramatic rescue from debt slavery. But He doesn’t stop there and leave them to get on with their new lives. Instead, He gives them very detailed laws for the use of money, including for example the tradition of Jubilee. Having freed the Israelites from debt slavery, God wanted them to be a people who didn’t use money to make each other slaves again. He wanted them to live with systems and structures that enabled them to use money for their mutual flourishing, and not for enslavement. 

So the activity of God is never limited to one-off acts of liberation. It also flows out into new ways of living and being which enable right relationships with God and with each other. It’s about both mercy and justice.

This has implications for a whole range of issues, but perhaps particularly on the question of money and debt. Many churches across the country are already engaged in providing debt advice to people in desperate circumstances, and this is a ministry that should be celebrated.  But if the church only ever engages in this way, and then sends people back out into a world full of exploitative lenders, unethical banking practices and consumerism hoping for the best then we wouldn't be living up to the full picture of the Gospel.

Theology and Christian tradition have a lot to say about money that can shape how we engage with issues of credit and debt in our communities. That’s why we need a conversation about how we use money and about community finance, which represents a way of doing financial services that echoes these ancient themes.


Scripture continually roots the question of how money is earned and shared in a wider vision of a common life lived faithfully and generously under God. #TOYOURCREDIT is the national voice of a grassroots movement; thousands of local churches and individual christians supporting their credit unions and wider communities through the provision of services that bring freedom from debt and economic justice.


"The church is in a unique position up and down the country. For the credit union movement to be successful and sustainable, and other forms of local finance to develop, we need a bottom-up movement of local organisations working to change the sources of supply. It will take many years—10 to 15 years—but it must start now."
The Most Rev. Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury

The Most Rev. Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury

"Not to share one’s wealth with the poor is to steal from them and take away their livelihood. It is not our own goods which we hold, but theirs."
St John Chrysostom, 4th Century

St John Chrysostom, 4th Century

"I am happy to lay myself open to the charge that the Church is always on about money. I will unashamedly talk about money in church because when I read the Bible I find that it is always on about money. Money,  after all, has always been an instrument of power. The more you have, the more powerful you are; the less you have, the less powerful you are. So it is little wonder that the Bible, which has so much to say about the use and abuse of power, has so much to say about money and how we handle it, both as individuals and as a society.
Archbishop Justin’s recent remarks – on the importance of credit unions, and the need to ‘out-compete’ exploitative lenders like Wonga – have put this issue even more firmly on the map. They have rightly placed the Church at the heart of this struggle for a more just and generous financial system. This is a God-given moment for the Church to think carefully about a theology of money and to propose practical and appropriate ways to inhabit the fiscal landscape.
My prayer is that #TOYOURCREDIT will help us to be more faithful and effective signs of God’s Kingdom, and followers of Christ the Servant King – who came to preach “good news to the poor” and freedom to all who are oppressed."
Rt Revd Adrian Newman, Bishop of Stepney

Rt Revd Adrian Newman, Bishop of Stepney

RESOURCES

 

God and the Moneylenders

by The Centre for Theology and Community

 

Prayer for a world where money matters

by Bishop Adrian Newman

 

Seeing Change Course

by The Centre for Theology and Community