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Saturday, March 16, 2013

Usury – Walther's Theses (Part 1)

[2017-02-04: See follow-up note at bottom]
A question has been raised with me privately about the subject of "usury" ...  implying the larger matter of whether Christian teaching against it is really true or is it to be overlooked, even discarded.  After all, we are led to believe by the great centers of learning today that the borrowing of money at interest can be good for the economy, and so the money lenders are justified in their activities.
Before going further, the definition of "usury" has changed over the years.  The Encyclopedia Britannica says this explicitly of the topic of "usury":
In Old English law, the taking of any compensation whatsoever was termed usury. With the expansion of trade in the 13th century, however, the demand for credit increased, necessitating a modification in the definition of the term. Usury then was applied to exorbitant or unconscionable interest rates.
A recent USA Today article highlighted this issue, reporting that now older Americans are dipping heavily into credit card debt:
Last year, the low- and middle-income 50-plus population had an average credit card balance of $8,278, compared with the younger generation's balance of $6,258...
This seemed a bit surprising since it might be thought that the older generation would be a little more wise than the younger generation on heavy borrowing... and its subsequent heavy interest payments.  This explains why my credit card companies provide their cards absolutely free of charge, including online management, free monthly mailed statements, and even cash back... as much as 5% money back.  How can they afford to do this for "free"?  Because this is all paid for by all of us with an average debt of $8,278... and paying interest for it.  Older (and younger) Americans are paying a huge load of interest to not only provide income to the money lenders, but also for my "free" and "cash back" credit card service.  It also pays for a tremendous amount of advertising... wherever we turn, we are bombarded with advertising to borrow money by "financial institutions".

In 1866, C.F.W. Walther wrote an extensive article (39 pages) on "Usury" in the journal Lehre und Wehre (volume 12, pages 325 – 363).  Apparently this subject was in question even in his day (Imagine that!).  And the topic of "Usury" he spoke about was not the modern "modification in the definition of the term", but rather the true definition – "the taking of any compensation whatsoever", or "the taking of interest".
For this Part 1, I present the first page of Walther's essay (in dark blue font).

(contribution from C.F.W. W.) [Walther]
Theses on Usury.
1.  When the Apostle says: "I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet." (Romans 7:7), we thus see that man in the light of reason, not only knows nothing about the Gospel (Romans 16:25-26), but even without the revelation of Scripture cannot recognize the spiritual meaning of the law.
Formula of Concord: "As to the revelation of sin, because the veil of Moses hangs before the eyes of all men as long as they hear the bare preaching of the Law, and nothing concerning Christ, and therefore do not learn from the Law to perceive their sins aright, but either become presumptuous hypocrites [who swell with the opinion of their own righteousness] as the Pharisees, or despair like Judas, Christ takes the Law into His hands, and explains it spiritually, Matt. 5:21ff ; Romans 7:14. And thus the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all sinners [Romans 1:18], how great it is; by this means they are directed [sent back] to the Law, and then first learn from it to know aright their sins-a knowledge which Moses never could have forced out of them." (Epitome, Article 5, paragraph 7(8)).
2.  Usury is according to God's Word a mortal sin that if committed knowingly, excludes from the kingdom of God. Psalm 15, Ezekiel 18:13, 17; 22:12.
Psalm 15:1 – "Lord, who shall abide in thy tabernacle? who shall dwell in thy holy hill?"  Psalm 15:5 – "He that putteth not out his money to usury, nor taketh reward against the innocent. He that doeth these things shall never be moved."  Ezekiel 18:13 – "Hath given forth upon usury, and hath taken increase: shall he then live? he shall not live: he hath done all these abominations; he shall surely die; his blood shall be upon him."  Ezekiel 18:17 – "That hath taken off his hand from the poor, that hath not received usury nor increase, hath executed my judgments, hath walked in my statutes; he shall not die for the iniquity of his father, he shall surely live." Ezekiel 22:12 – "In thee have they taken gifts to shed blood; thou hast taken usury and increase, and thou hast greedily gained of thy neighbours by extortion, and hast forgotten me, saith the Lord God."
3.  So little proves that usury is not a sin because the Israelites were allowed to profit from strangers with impunity (Deuteronomy 23:19-20), so little does it prove that divorce is not a sin except for the case of fornication (Matthew 19:7-9) because the Israelites were allowed to divorce their wives with impunity for the sake of the hardness of their hearts (Deuteronomy 24:1).
---------------  End of Part 1 ---------  Part 2 is next  ------------------------------

Oops... looks like our modern way of thinking isn't in line with God's Word which calls usury "a mortal sin if committed knowingly".  Hmmm... looks like I need to pay attention to God's Word instead of listening to the world for wisdom.  OK, I will trust C.F.W. Walther (and Luther) to present the true Christian, spiritual teaching on this subject and so I plan to continue the work of translating Walther's long essay.
Because this will necessarily take a long time to do 39 pages, I will provide a Table of Contents with links to navigate this series.
------------Table of Contents------------------------------------
Part 1 – Preface; LuW pg 325: Theses 1 - 3
Part 2 –

[2017-02-04: This project never completed but a short definitive answer was given by Franz Pieper in this later blog post of August 25, 2015.]

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