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Question #58

Does the church believe in debt free members?

Does the church of Christ believe in debt free members? If so, then why doesn’t the church do what some other churches are doing and that is pick one person in the congregation and pay off their debts so that they can give more back to the church, and keep doing this until all the members are debt free?

The Answer:

First, let me observe that the real issue is not what the church teaches, but what the New Testament teaches. I shall address the question on that basis. There is nothing in the New Testament that requires church members to be debt free. Some may think that Romans 13:8 is such a reference. Paul is not forbidding the Christian to buy on credit. In fact, Paul either had an account or was willing to open an account with Philemon for Onesimus’ sake. Certainly the Christian ought not to indebt himself for that which he cannot pay. To fail to pay a just debt is to steal just as surely as taking it with a gun. Paul is merely using hyperbole – overstating the negative (owe no man anything) to emphasize the positive (love one another). He used the same method in 1 Cor. 13. He did not require Christians to bestow all of their goods to feed the poor. Neither did he require them to burn their bodies. He did emphasize the duty to love.

The church is forbidden to pay the debt of some, even to the point of not permitting them to eat. 2 Thess. 3:10. Love doesn’t support the lazy; it teaches them to work. As a practical matter, I question the premise that the church would have more funds if all members were debt free. It certainly would be less able to spread the gospel while it was spending its funds on freeing members from debt. Even if it did so, how could such be done fairly when some members live frugally within their means while others live far beyond their means? Would not the frugal be punished for their frugality while the profligate would be rewarded for their profligacy? Finally, if the profligate had their debts paid, what assurance could there be that they would not fall right back into the same bad practice and need to be bailed out a second and a third and a fourth time, ad infinitum?

One last observation is in order. None of the above says that when a faithful Christian who has lived within his means gets into difficulty in this day and age because he has been “downsized,” or because of unexpected illness, or other misfortune not of his own making, his brethren should not help him. They should. When the brother so helped gets back on his feet, he should live without luxuries for himself so that if he is able, he can repay the church for its assistance.

God's Plan of Salvation

You must hear the gospel and then understand and recognize that you are lost without Jesus Christ no matter who you are and no matter what your background is. The Bible tells us that “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) Before you can be saved, you must understand that you are lost and that the only way to be saved is by obedience to the gospel of Jesus Christ. (2 Thessalonians 1:8) Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” (John 14:6) “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12) "So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God." (Romans 10:17)

You must believe and have faith in God because “without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6) But neither belief alone nor faith alone is sufficient to save. (James 2:19; James 2:24; Matthew 7:21)

You must repent of your sins. (Acts 3:19) But repentance alone is not enough. The so-called “Sinner’s Prayer” that you hear so much about today from denominational preachers does not appear anywhere in the Bible. Indeed, nowhere in the Bible was anyone ever told to pray the “Sinner’s Prayer” to be saved. By contrast, there are numerous examples showing that prayer alone does not save. Saul, for example, prayed following his meeting with Jesus on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:11), but Saul was still in his sins when Ananias met him three days later (Acts 22:16). Cornelius prayed to God always, and yet there was something else he needed to do to be saved (Acts 10:2, 6, 33, 48). If prayer alone did not save Saul or Cornelius, prayer alone will not save you. You must obey the gospel. (2 Thess. 1:8)

You must confess that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. (Romans 10:9-10) Note that you do NOT need to make Jesus “Lord of your life.” Why? Because Jesus is already Lord of your life whether or not you have obeyed his gospel. Indeed, we obey him, not to make him Lord, but because he already is Lord. (Acts 2:36) Also, no one in the Bible was ever told to just “accept Jesus as your personal savior.” We must confess that Jesus is the Son of God, but, as with faith and repentance, confession alone does not save. (Matthew 7:21)

Having believed, repented, and confessed that Jesus is the Son of God, you must be baptized for the remission of your sins. (Acts 2:38) It is at this point (and not before) that your sins are forgiven. (Acts 22:16) It is impossible to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ without teaching the absolute necessity of baptism for salvation. (Acts 8:35-36; Romans 6:3-4; 1 Peter 3:21) Anyone who responds to the question in Acts 2:37 with an answer that contradicts Acts 2:38 is NOT proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ!

Once you are saved, God adds you to his church and writes your name in the Book of Life. (Acts 2:47; Philippians 4:3) To continue in God’s grace, you must continue to serve God faithfully until death. Unless they remain faithful, those who are in God’s grace will fall from grace, and those whose names are in the Book of Life will have their names blotted out of that book. (Revelation 2:10; Revelation 3:5; Galatians 5:4)