Churches, Banks And Interest

By Hoyt H. Houchen

Under the caption, “May a Church Draw Interest on Its Money?” brother Daniel Holloway takes issue with my reply to this question which appeared in the January 29, 1981 issue of Guardian of Truth.

Banks are now offering their customers a rate of interest on checking accounts. Obviously, a current issue is before us and, before concluding that it is unscriptural for churches to receive interest because it is equivalent to unscriptural schemes to raise money, we need to study several aspects. As brother Holloway’s objections are examined, I appreciate this opportunity to present some considerations, in addition to those which appeared in my answer column of January 29, 1981.

We all agree that the primary and sacred purpose of the church is to preach the gospel. The world is to be evangelized now – the need is urgent, and this work can only be accomplished by each local church doing its work to its fullest capacity, utilizing its resources to its maximum. Churches are not to accumulate money except for emergencies and contingencies which prudence demands that we not ignore. Churches are not to build up nest eggs, but rather they are to use the Lord’s money to the fullest extent to do the Lord’s work. The motive of the church is not to make money on its resources (assets) but to fully expedite its sacred purpose.

Economics is relevant to a correct understanding of our question. A most important concept which is intrinsically involved in this discussion is the time value of money. To illustrate this concept, which would you prefer, a thousand dollars now, or a thousand dollars ten years from now? The answer is obvious. One thousand dollars now is more valuable because your proper use of it increases its value over the ten years. This concept (the time value of money) is the principle involved in Matt. 25:27. The parable of the talents is not a command, example of implication of anything relating to the subject except to teach this principle. The Lord recognized the time value of money. This parable teaches us to be responsible for the maximum use of our abilities. This is the very substance of stewardship. The good steward will make the best use of what is entrusted to him. This question is now in order. Can we encourage the maximum utilization of our collective abilities and, at the same time, ignore the maximum use of our collective funds which are stored up for contingencies and emergencies (1 Cor. 16:1, 2)? We all recognize the church’s sacred mission; therefore, we should do all we can to fully expedite it.

Brother Holloway fails to make a distinction between church promoted schemes to raise money (bazaars, rummage sales, or speculative investments that could lose money) and a church receiving interest on funds it already has in a checking account. There is a vast difference in these money raising schemes and a church accepting an interest rate from the bank. This is what our brother fails to see. This rate of interest is guaranteed by the very entity that prints the paper and establishes that the paper is legal tender. This eliminates speculation – it is guaranteed!

Furthermore, our brother cannot accept the idea of a church receiving interest on money it already has in the checking account, but he approves of a church selling its property (old meeting house, preacher’s house, equipment, etc.) at fair market value, realizing a substantial gain. Is this consistent?

It appears that brother Holloway has a real problem: How to fully utilize the resources of the church to fulfil its divine mission, and at the same time, ignore the time value of the money (Matt. 25:27). While all of us should be concerned about the influence anything wrong may have on a congregation, we should also be very concerned that we do not exert our influence upon a congregation to lose its money. It is not the business of elders to make money for the church but it is their responsibility to not lose money.

I appreciate the fine attitude of brother Holloway and I can somewhat sympathize with him, because at one time, I occupied the same position that he does on the question considered; but, we must not bind where God has not bound. Also we must avoid extremes, like the young preacher I was told about who objected to the church selling the preacher’s house for more than the church paid for it many years ago. Perhaps he wanted to buy it for himself!

(Editor’s Note: I appreciate the fine attitude manifested by these two brethren in this discussion. I would like to add one thought for consideration to this discussion. We recognize that when a man makes an interest free loan to the church that he has made a donation to that church. We also recognize that the money which we deposit in a bank is used by that bank to make loans. When a church deposits several thousand dollars into an account (as is done, for example, when a church is saving to purchase a property), the bank uses that money to make loans. The church is making an interest free loan to that bank if it does not receive interest on that money. Brother Holloway states that he is opposed to a church making money in some way other than the first day of the week contribution and is, therefore, opposed to churches which draw interest on their accounts. I want to know if he is opposed to a church making a donation to a bank, a secular business institution. That is exactly what has occurred when a church has $20,000 – 30,000 on deposit in a non-interest bearing account. It seems to me that brother Holloway’s position would force him to take the position that a church could deposit its money only in a safety deposit box and draw money from that box each time it needed some of the money.)

Guardian of Truth XXV: 18, p. 282
April 30, 1981