Reprinted with permission from No-Debt Living Newsletter, copyright 2000 No-Debt Living. Written by Robert Frank, the editor of No-Debt Living Newsletter, providing financial and time-management news with a Christian perspective.

A newly married couple facing several thousand dollars of credit card debt were recently advised by their pastor to declare bankruptcy. The well-intentioned pastor, it seems, told the couple that the first few years of marriage are difficult, and that they would have a better chance of building a successful marriage if they could begin with a clean financial slate.

The bride groom's father, a No-Debt Living Newsletter subscriber, wrote our office and said he didn't feel right contradicting the pastor's advice, but was not sure that bankruptcy was the best approach for his children to take. He wanted to know what we thought.

Without mentioning any names, I'd like to respond to this question openly because the principle applies to a multitude of credit card users, parents and church leaders.

Pledging your name
When this couple (or anyone for that matter) uses their credit card to make a purchase, they, in essence, have entered into a contract with the merchant and their credit card company to pay for the item(s) charged. In short, when they sign their name on the bottom of a sales slip, they have pledged "on their name" to pay for those items.

Proverbs 22:1 tells us: A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold. By declaring bankruptcy, this young couple will have lost the treasure of their good name and their word.

They may have had their debts wiped away, but the cost of their action is much more severe than a few thousand dollars of debt. Is not the dignity of their family name worth more than that? It is almost as foolish as Esau selling his birthright to Jacob for a bowl of stew.

Numbers 30:1-2 goes a step further, however. This is what the Lord commands: When a man makes a vow to the Lord or takes an oath to obligate himself by a pledge, he must not break his word but must do everything he said.

Psalms 37:21 states clearly: The wicked borrows money and does not repay.

Matthew 5:37, Jesus warned strongly against taking oaths and concluded by saying: Simply let your "Yes" be "Yes" and your "No" be "No"; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.

In other words, if you promise to pay for something, pay for it.

Parents' and church's roles
Today, however, we have created a society in which credit card debt and bankruptcy is easy and commonplace. In addition, most offenders have lost, or have learned to ignore, all sense of responsibility and obligation. They show little concern or remorse for the business people and consumers who must absorb and make up for their financial blunders.

According to The Consumer Federation of America, revolving consumer credit card debt has been rising steadily for many the years. The average revolving debt for nearly 60 million households is $6,000 to $7,000.

Not surprisingly, bankruptcy rates also are astronomical.

Most people do not set out to get themselves into deep debt or to declare bankruptcy. Often times, it is a result of ignorance, poor planning, uncooperative creditors or circumstances that are beyond that person's control (such as medical catastrophes). In most cases, though, bankruptcy can be avoided and those debts can be paid off.

Even when bankruptcy is unavoidable, people can go to their creditors and let them know that they intend to pay off their debts over time. If they will do this in faith, the Lord will honor their effort.

Here's the bottom line: When believers declare bankruptcy and/or do not repay their debts, they damage their witness, and reinforce an image among business people that many Christians don't pay their bills. In short, they bring shame to their own name and the name of the Lord.

Parents and churches would do themselves a great service by teaching their children and their members how to manage their finances in a godly, responsible way.

Lessons and rewards
If the couple mentioned above can learn this lesson now and pay off their debts, they will have learned an enormous lesson at an early age and still be way ahead of most people. If, on the other hand, they declare bankruptcy and run out from under this situation, they will have missed a great spiritual and financial learning opportunity.

Let me explain how:
  • First, it is an opportunity to learn that God is sovereign, even in our finances. Did not the Lord allow this couple to get where they are? Is He not able to provide for their financial, spiritual and marital needs as they work their way out of it?

  • Second, it is an opportunity for them to learn about the power of prayer and to see God's faithful hand of provision in their lives. An article in a past issue of No-Debt Living described how one couple, through God's provision, overcame $250,000 of debt in less than seven years.

  • Third, it is an opportunity for them to learn how to draw priorities and to budget, as well as how to control their credit card.

  • Fourth, it is an opportunity to build character and strength into their marriage by enduring a test and working together as a team.

  • Fifth, it is an opportunity for them to work with a group of people or a person from their church regarding godly financial management. This also will allow them to begin building family bonds and relationships within their church and to recognize that their church is like an extended family.
Any one of these lessons is worth more than the few thousand dollars of debt they are facing. Plus, these experiences will help qualify them to counsel and possibly teach on this subject at a later date. At the very least, it will provide them with an opportunity to be a witness to others.

Furthermore, if their pastor and his elders or deacons would develop and encourage a Christian financial planning program within that church, it would be a great service to hundreds of people, providing strength not only to individuals, but families, marriages and the entire body.

A wide variety of programs, videos, workbooks, studies and tapes developed by organizations like Christian Financial Concepts, Crown Ministries, Ron Blue and others are readily available to make this process easier. (See www.nodebtnews.com for a menu of ideas.)

A father's lesson
Don't misunderstand, I'm not condemning everyone who declares bankruptcy. Despite what lawyers say, it's not an easy path and there are many hidden minefields. I know, my father who was a generous, loving and delightful man, declared bankruptcy late in his life and it had a devastating effect on his career, marriage and friendships. In fact, his bankruptcy and lack of financial acumen is part of what led me to begin this newsletter.

Credit cards were one of the major causes of my father's financial undoing. He didn't know how to control them and he didn't know how to operate under a budget. So despite his strong income and his joy for life, his lack of financial wisdom and discipline caught up with him.

Had he known and followed the principles outlined in the Bible, that unfortunate chapter of his life could have been avoided.

My hope is that No-Debt Living Newsletter, Crosswalk.com and other worthy ministries will stimulate parents and local churches to provide the financial training their children and members need, so that the name of Christ will be held in high esteem, even among business people. My prayer is that this training will also help marriages to flourish both spiritually and financially, so they can provide blessings back to the church and community.

To this end, I hope that you will talk with your pastor and encourage him to begin such a program in your church. In fact, the Lord may be leading you to spearhead that effort or at least pray for and support its success.

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