Treasures on earth?

In our modern culture there seems to be an expectation that people should seek to buy property. There is a sense in which one should buy a house, wait for its value to increase and then sell it in order to move into a bigger property. It is on this basis that the recent credit crunch was portrayed as an utter disaster. Mortgage lenders restricted lending and the value of property dropped. Many are now struggling to get a foot on the property ladder, those who already own houses are concerned that their property value has severely decreased and ultimately that they have lost money.


This culture seems to have found its way into the Church. There is an expectation, even amongst Christians, that one would naturally seek to get a foot on the property ladder and even move into bigger property as the value increases. Many show their bias towards this thinking by referring to renting as ‘dead money’ but buying as ‘an investment.’ Some even seek to spiritualise the decision by claiming that buying a house is ‘good stewardship.’ However, how far can we say that this is really true?


Of course, if we are offered the choice between owning or renting a house, both houses having minimal differences and the cost being identitical, it is perfectly reasonable for us to buy. However, how often is this the case? In reality, to buy a home we must firstly save up a sizeable deposit, then take out a mortgage often 4 or 5 times our yearly salary and then pay interest on top of the value borrowed for 25-35 years. When one factors in the costs of maintenance and building insurance on top of this the price of buying a property is mammoth. Can we justify this amount of money as Christians?


The first point to consider is that the money spent on our property benefits only ourselves. When we tie up considerable sums in owning property we tie up money that could otherwise be directed to Christian work. If we rented, instead of bought, how much more money would we have available to give to the church, missions and evangelistic outreach?


We must also consider our motives for buying a house. Some cite the need to own property in order to provide for their old age. Jesus told us, however, not to worry about tomorrow (Mat 6:25-34) and not to store up treasures on earth (Mat 6:19). If we are concerned about the future and are sinking vast sums into our homes as a result we are failing to heed Jesus’ command. Some buy into the culture of getting larger and larger properties. This, however, runs contrary to the parable of the rich fool (Lk 12:16-22). Indeed, how much more would we have to give to the Lord’s work if we did not tie our money up in our homes? Moreover, is it right for us to put our money into our home in the hope that it will increase in value so that we can get a larger one? It seems that the teaching of the Bible is clear on these points.


It is also possible to argue that taking out a mortgage is a form of gambling. Many people find themselves in dire financial straits because they have calculated the affordability of a mortgage based on current rates of interest but, when interest rates change, they are unable to maintain payments. People gamble that the rate of inflation will stay low enough for them to afford mortgage repyaments. Not only is there risk involved in taking out a mortgage but the stakes with which we are playing could not be higher. Ultimately, this could run into the tens of thousands.


We must also consider how much more difficult it is to answer God’s call when we are tied into property. To be called to overseas mission or into the pastorate in another part of the country is all the harder to follow when we first have to concern ourselves with selling our house. In fact, it is quite conceiveable that many would consider themselves unable to answer the call if they could not first find a buyer for their home. How skewed our logic becomes! The call of God becomes second to the sale of our property.


This skewed logic runs deeper. Some in the Church argue that going into debt is wrong. Nevertheless, where their mortgage is concerned they have a blindspot. They encourage people to take out sizeable mortgages on the one hand whilst sneering at the use of a small overdraft facility or loan on the other. Such a view is hugely inconsistent! It is almost as if a mortgage is, by some token, not considered debt despite the mammoth sums involved. If we do not believe mortgages are wrong then we cannot suggest that these other types of loan are wrong. If we insist that loans are wrong then we must equally insist mortgages are wrong. We cannot have it both ways and yet because of the property culture we seek to make it so.


So, can we as Christians really justify buying houses? It may be possible, in certain circumstances, to say that it is justifiable. Nevertheless, we must conclude that a worldly culture has infiltrated the church. Instead of relying on God we rely on our investment for the future. Instead of giving from the first of what we have, when our salary initially comes in, we give from what is left over, when we’ve made our mortgage payments. Is this the culture we should have adopted in the church or should we seriously reconsider whether it is right for us to buy our own home?

4 comments

  1. Totally with you on this one Steve, it's been running about my head for a while now but I haven't had the chance to sit down and think it through that much. I think I'll lean quite heavily on your views presented here if I ever get into any discussion on the point.

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