The Westminster Larger Catechism was composed three and a half centuries ago. And yet it continues to speak the truth on economic matters to those who have ears to hear it.

To those engaged in business, to those with wealth, to those who deal with commerce and trade, to Wall Street “fat cats,” Westminster has this to say:

  • God calls you “by all just and lawful means, to procure, preserve, and further the wealth and outward estate of others, as well as our own.” (WLC 141). You must look out for more than just yourself.
  • You must abstain from: “theft, robbery, man-stealing, and receiving anything that is stolen; fraudulent dealing, false weights and measures, removing landmarks, injustice and unfaithfulness in contracts between man and man, or in matters of trust; oppression, extortion, usury, bribery, vexatious lawsuits, unjust enclosures and depredation; engrossing commodities to enhance the price; unlawful callings, and all other unjust or sinful ways of taking or withholding from our neighbor what belongs to him” (WLC 142). Cheating others is always wrong, even when it may be legal.
  • You ought never to be engaged in defrauding the weak, but instead should be “comforting and succoring the distressed, and protecting and defending the innocent” (WLC 135). Look at the aged, the ignorant, and the disadvantaged as objects of special pity not as opportunities for special profits.

In short, the Westminster Divines would have you be honest and just in all your dealings and look out for the well being of others, not just your own.

And to those engaged in protest, to those angry with the “haves” in our society, to the disaffected Americans occupying Wall Street and the young people occupying cities everywhere in the world, Westminster has this to say:

  • God calls us “by all just and lawful means, to procure, preserve, and further the wealth and outward estate of others, as well as our own” (WLC 141). It is no sin to further one’s wealth by just and lawful means.
  • You must abstain from: “envying at the prosperity of others; as likewise idleness, prodigality, wasteful gaming; and all other ways whereby we do unduly prejudice our own outward estate, and defrauding ourselves of the due use and comfort of that estate which God hath given us” (WLC 142). Laziness, envy, and licentiousness are sins just as much as greed and oppression.
  • God also prohibits “speaking untruth, lying, slandering, backbiting, detracting, talebearing, whispering, scoffing, reviling, rash, harsh, and partial censuring; misconstructing intentions, words, and actions; flattering, vainglorious boasting, thinking or speaking too highly or too meanly of ourselves or others; denying the gifts and graces of God” (WLC 145). Make sure your words are accurate, fair, and do not assume the worst about those you dislike. Bankers are made in the image of God too.

Praise God for the Ten Commandments and the church’s catechisms which expound them. It’s amazing how the truth always manages to be relevant.

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Comments:


29 thoughts on “What Hath Westminster to Do With Wall Street (And Its Occupiers)?”

  1. John Thomson says:

    But is Westminster saying this to unbelievers? More pertinently, is the NT saying this to unbelievers? I am not questioning whether unbelievers ought not live in such a way, I am questioning whether Scripture seeks to urge Kingdom values on those who do not profess to be Christians.

    The nearest I can see is when OT prophets speak out against the sins of the nations (or Paul speaking out against the sins of Agrippa). In both cases the message is a call to repentance or face judgement; the focus is evangelistic rather than moralistic. When I hear mere moralism urged on unbelievers without it being in a gospel context I am dismayed. I fear it is easier to do and less likely to be subjected to ridicule. But it is not (IMO)the biblical way.

  2. John says:

    Don’t be silly. Everyone knows that you can’t build wealth without being a money-grubbing capitalist whore. It’s much more righteous to be a money-grubbing socialist whore.

  3. John Murphy says:

    I believe that the general philosophy behind Occupy Wall Street is that these people ARE NOT gaining their money by “just and lawful means” and that no authority is willing to hold them to account, and it is the only recourse the little people (us) have. A little bit of research on the (frankly immoral) way that Wall Street operates seems to me to bear this out. [Do some reading on Jon Corzine and the failure of MF Global as a good (exposed) example - http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/01/opinion/corzine-crashes-like-its-2008.html ].

  4. There’s a blatant double standard in the United States. Even though the occupied movements are loosely tied together, they have a multitude of messages. One of them is simple:

    You rob a bank.. You get in trouble.. but if the banks rob you, they get off scot-free.

    I’ve never endorsed the idea of hand outs. We should work for our success. I feel like the occupiers are blaming the big banks for their bad financial choices.

  5. Jay Beerley says:

    John, a vast majority of people do not really concern themselves with how rich people got their money. They just want some of it. Like the signs at these rallies state, they want FREE college and FREE healthcare. That does not excuse the actions of Wall Street. We should certainly be calling them to repentance. But sloth and entitlement are not the ways towards a better solution.

  6. Brian MacArevey says:

    I am not sure why we would jump to the conclusion that the occupiers are either envious, slanderous or lazy…on what basis are we making these assumptions? While I am not necessarily advocating for socialism, I think we need to be careful that we do not equate capitalism with the economic policy of Jesus or the only suitable economic system in the kingdom of God. Jesus, after all, was no capitalist…he advocated on behalf of the poor and the oppressed (you know, those lazy, slanderous, envious sinners whom the people of God ignored in favor of the Roman empire).

  7. Doyle says:

    Brian – and where did you get your assumption that captialists do not advocate on behalf of the poor and the oppressed?

    It may be eye-opening to you – but some people can be both!

  8. Chris E says:

    The merits of their arguments are somewhat separate from whether the occupiers are envious/slanderous/lazy etc. This is Rev DeYoung’s first post on the financial crisis, and in it he takes potshots at the opposition – his case might be on firmer ground had he chosen to condemn the other side for the last couple of years.

    Secondly, I don’t see that redistributive taxation is ruled out by scripture, so whether a Christian holds to this or not is a matter of Christian liberty. Throwing labels like ‘socialist’ around is not particularly helpful.

  9. Brian MacArevey says:

    Doyle,

    My point was that capitalism (by nature) is biased towards the wealthy and I am persuaded that Jesus was (for the most part) biased towards the poor. While I would agree with you that capitalists can and do contribute financially and otherwise to the poor, I am not persuaded that this alone goes far enough. After all, the Temple establishment in Jerusalem at the time of Jesus had the tithing system and most assuredly provided for the poor in these ways. Even the Roman empire, in Jesus’ day, was not foreign to acts of benevolence towards the poor. Still, Jesus rebuked both the Jews and the Romans for their treatment of the poor and the outcast despite the claims of these groups, both of whom presented themselves and their economic systems as beneficial for all of humanity; including the poor. Apparently it is possible for economic systems to be so corrupt that even the benevolent acts of those within the system can rightly be viewed (at least according to Jesus, I presume) as hypocrisy.

  10. Megan says:

    @Chris E: actually, the Old Testament advocated a rather drastic form of wealth redistribution: The Year of Jubilee, a nationwide debt forgiveness program which would amount to a bailout not only of the banks but of the 99 percent as well. I understand some economists have even advanced a similar idea: one of the reasons the economy is so stagnant is that so many people are carrying a heavy burden of debt. A large amount of debt forgiveness would go a long way to stimulate the economy.

    Gleaning was another biblical welfare program, ultimately a 10 percent tax to provide for the welfare of the poor. If you look at the U.S. budget, the vast majority goes to the military and the elderly. After Clinton’s welfare reform, I doubt expenditures for poverty programs like Medicaid and food stamps are anywhere close to 10 percent. Yet, there’s no suggestion in the Bible that people like Ruth were socialists, or that they were lazy, covetous or entitled.

    Jesus, too, in one of his parables, praised the shrewd servant who reduced the amount of debt owed to his master. By contrast, most of the big banks today tend to push for foreclosure, often going to great lengths to avoid modifying mortgages.

  11. Ben says:

    Jesus did not have a home to lay his head. Peter and John did not have gold or silver to give to the paralyzed man. Paul worked so that he could give his ministry away free of charge. George Mueller feed orphans free of charge, even though he sold all he had. I do not see a debate of systems, I see a personal argument with my heart. After all, as Wesley said, the last thing to be converted is the wallet.

  12. Brian MacArevey says:

    @Megan: Well said.

  13. Jim Plagge says:

    As a point of interest, the following numbers aren’t exact but they are close….about 35% of the federal budget goes to Social Security and Medicare (some of which goes to elderly who are poor, some to elderly who are not poor), 21% goes to Medicaid and other safety net programs, and 20%to defense spending.

    And this banker thanks you for agreeing that we are made in the image of God….well, most of us anyway.

  14. Paul says:

    Kevin,

    You know perfectly well that usury in the Bible and in the 17th Century WCF was not defined as “loan sharking”. It was defined as charging a rate of interest greater than zero.

    Feel free to think that the Bible is outdated and wrong about this. But please have the guts to come out and say that you think the Bible is wrong. Don’t redefine Biblical words to mean something they don’t mean just so you can claim you agree with the Bible when the fact is that you don’t.

  15. Doyle says:

    Brian,

    Capitalism (by nature) is biased towards the wealthy? Wrong again. Do you just make this stuff up to try to bolster your point?

    Capitalism (by nature) is biased towards hard workers and those willing to take a risk to better themselves and their families. These people are also some of the most generous people that I know.

    Those that advocate for government coercion to force you to pay taxes at the point of a gun (try not paying your taxes and you’ll find out what I mean) to redistribute wealth is not a biblical position at all. It may make you feel better to take others money and give it to someone else, but don’t confuse that with God’s Word.

    Megan,

    Religious people like you that create a radical left wing Jesus to fit with your political ideology is unfortunately all too common with the religious elite of our day. It’s sad.

  16. Andrew says:

    John…

    Here is Westminster’s view of the law as explained by the Larger Catechism. Notice the application to regenerate and unregenerate men. Also notice the continuity with God’s revealed will given at creation.

    Q. 91. What is the duty which God requireth of man?

    A. The duty which God requireth of man, is obedience to his revealed will.[397]

    Q. 92. What did God at first reveal unto man as the rule of his obedience?

    A. The rule of obedience revealed to Adam in the estate of innocence, and to all mankind in him, besides a special command not to eat of the fruit of the tree knowledge of good and evil, was the moral law.[398]

    Q. 93. What is the moral law?

    A. The moral law is the declaration of the will of God to mankind, directing and binding every one to personal, perfect, and perpetual conformity and obedience thereunto, in the frame and disposition of the whole man, soul and body,[399] and in performance of all those duties of holiness and righteousness which he oweth to God and man:[400] promising life upon the fulfilling, and threatening death upon the breach of it.[401]

    Q. 94. Is there any use of the moral law to man since the fall?

    A. Although no man, since the fall, can attain to righteousness and life by the moral law:[402] yet there is great use thereof, as well common to all men, as peculiar either to the unregenerate, or the regenerate.[403]

    Q. 95. Of what use is the moral law to all men?

    A. The moral law is of use to all men, to inform them of the holy nature and the will of God,[404] and of their duty, binding them to walk accordingly;[405] to convince them of their disability to keep it, and of the sinful pollution of their nature, hearts, and lives:[406] to humble them in the sense of their sin and misery,[407] and thereby help them to a clearer sight of the need they have of Christ,[408] and of the perfection of his obedience.[409]

    Q. 96. What particular use is there of the moral law to unregenerate men?

    A. The moral law is of use to unregenerate men, to awaken their consciences to flee from wrath to come,[410] and to drive them to Christ;[411] or, upon their continuance in the estate and way of sin, to leave them inexcusable,[412] and under the curse thereof.[413]

    Q. 97. What special use is there of the moral law to the regenerate?

    A. Although they that are regenerate, and believe in Christ, be delivered from the moral law as a covenant of works,[414] so as thereby they are neither justified[415] nor condemned;[416] yet, besides the general uses thereof common to them with all men, it is of special use, to show them how much they are bound to Christ for his fulfilling it, and enduring the curse thereof in their stead, and for their good;[417] and thereby to provoke them to more thankfulness,[418] and to express the same in their greater care to conform themselves thereunto as the rule of their obedience.[419]

    Q. 98. Where is the moral law summarily comprehended?

    A. The moral law is summarily comprehended in the ten commandments, which were delivered by the voice of God upon Mount Sinai, and written by him in two tables of stone;[420] and are recorded in the twentieth chapter of Exodus. The four first commandments containing our duty to God, and the other six our duty to man.[421]

    Here is Deut 4:5-8, “5See, I have taught you statutes and rules, as the LORD my God commanded me, that you should do them in the land that you are entering to take possession of it. 6 Keep them and do them, for that will be your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’ 7For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the LORD our God is to us, whenever we call upon him? 8And what great nation is there, that has statutes and rules so righteous as all this law that I set before you today?”

  17. John says:

    Thanks for the post Kevin. As someone who works on Wall Street, but is also angry about a lot of things that have happened on Wall Street over the past few years, I think it is important to draw the situation back to scripture.

    For what its worth, all of us who work for Wall Street firms at not “fat cats”, and many of us are devoted Christians trying to make an impact for Christ in a dark place. Wall Street plays an important role in society as it is, but transparency and truth must be present in all that we do or things can go wrong in a hurry.

  18. Kevin DeYoung says:

    A couple quick comments. 1) I want to make clear that I do not think all those who work on Wall Street are fat cats or that all those protesting are envious and licentious. I’m sure there are devoted Christians in both groups who do not agree with the excesses in each group. I quoted Westminister because I think it can help all of us see our sins and not just the other guy’s (and be fair with our critiques). Sorry for any confusion about the intended target of the quotes. 2) The point about my gloss on usury (as loan-sharking) is fair (even if overstated). While I think a good case can be made that Westminster (or the Bible for that matter) would not have objected to every kind of loan, that is a point that should be demonstrated, not inserted as a gloss without further comment. I’ll remove it. Maybe I’ll make the larger point in a future post.

  19. Taylor says:

    *this is an aside, but i think pertinent*

    A quick historical survey of capitalism tells us that our system is not innately more beneficial to the working poor. Our oppression simply comes in different forms.

    One concern I have with the current state of society is that it is easy to mask difficulties of the poor with modern amenities and assume that the rich are bringing the poor up alonside them.

    We think the because the industrial revolution is over all the kinks have been worked out of capitalism. And opinion writers have statistics and appliances to point at to prove this. The unfortunate reality is that while most apartments come with a refrigerator, and I can buy a televison and microwave from the Salvation Army for less than 50 bucks, 90% appliance ownership is not an accurate picture of wealth. It isn’t an accurate pictue of who can pay for heat and whether or not food takes precedence over electricity. And it doesn’t tell us how many people are working 60-80 hours a week to pay for gas to go to the SA and pick up their new toys.

    While liberals may need to realize that handouts aren’t the solution (not that they are the only ones – entrepreneurial incentives anyone?), we as conservatives need to realize that justice isn’t as simple as everyone getting what he earns according to our system either.

    (sorry Mr. D, that was probably longer than the Jedi way allows)

  20. John Thomson says:

    Andrew

    Laying aside the question of what the Law is, it does seem as if the thrust of even the Westminster confession presents its use in an evangelistic way. I have no doubt that the works of the law written on the heart (the knowledge of good and evil) make men unregenerate responsible. My point is that the church is called to preach moral failure in the context of a call to repentance and faith. We are called to gospel proclamation not to be moral policemen.

    The Law as such was given to a covenant people. The Deuteronomy quotation is explicitly to a covenant people. The writer makes clear that these laws are to Israel and not to the nations who serve other gods and not ‘the Lord our God’. America is not a covenant people. She is not a redeemed people. The church is, but not the nation. We cannot use injunctions to Israel as injunctions to America. The NT counterpart to OT Israel is the NT church.

    Scripture does not appeal to unregenerate people to live morally. It calls them to repentance and faith. Paul explicitly says:

    1Cor 5:9-13 (ESV)
    I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people- not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler-not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.”

  21. Chris E says:

    Doyle –

    “Those that advocate for government coercion to force you to pay taxes at the point of a gun”

    There are plenty of instances in the OT where kings made a compulsory levy and were not condemned for doing so. Similarly both St Paul and Jesus had ample opportunity to protest against taxes collected with the implicit threat of force (try not paying your taxes in the Roman Empire). So what you are advocating for has very little scriptural support and is best left up to individual conscience.

    It’s interesting though that you – presumably – subscribe to soteriological grace, but economic pelagianism. If you were born blind, in the 13th century and on a mountain in Tibet what would your ability to better yourself consist of?

  22. John Thomson says:

    Chris E

    I don’t believe Scripture approves (or for that matter disapproves) either capitalism or socialism as such. Where either exploits or acts unjustly this is a different matter. I say this because my point is apolitical.

    I believe the reason neither Jesus nor Paul protest against taxes (even abusive ones) is not because they approve the tax but because addressing such issues is not the mission of the church in this stage of the kingdom. The concern of both is righteousness in the Kingdom not in the world. Indeed in John 17 Jesus expressly says his prayer and concern is not for the world but those who have been given to him out of the world.

    Of course, believers in the world will live godly lives and seek to act in ways that benefit society. They will seek to support good and will not associate with what is evil. However, they will not attempt either formally (through church preaching and corporate church activities) to be the world’s moral policeman. They will always make clear that Christians, like their Lord, are not about judging the world but saving the world through the gospel.

  23. Doyle says:

    Chris E -

    Do I subscribe to economic pelagianism?

    Paul in his second letter to the Thessalonians said, “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.” How’s that for economic pelagianism! (You may want to read the entire chapter of 2 Thessalonians 3)

    I’ll gladly stand side by side with the Apostle Paul to accept your presumed accusation.

  24. Brian MacArevey says:

    Doyle,

    You have set up a straw man. You are reading way too much into what I wrote and finding things that are not there.

    Ultimately, I disagree with your assumption that hard work and intelligent risk alone guarantee success in Western capitalist society. It seems to me that this is an overly simplistic view of the way things work in a capitalist system. Equal opportunity is a myth. I will assume from here on out that our disagreements are far too substantial to discuss in this comment thread (although Megan made some fine biblical points above that are helpful IMHO). I just hope you are not assuming that the bible teaches capitalism (and I am not saying that it teaches against every aspect of it either, to be clear). My main point throughout all of this was that capitalism (like every other economic system) must be challenged and looked at in light of the cross. If we consider capitalism to be THE biblical system, then we will not do this, and I believe that we will remain blind to the ways in which it actually serves to oppress the very people whom Jesus came to save. We should care if those whom Jesus loves are being crushed under the weight of our capitalist system and the very least, we should be careful to listen to those who critique capitalism from the margins instead of immediately labeling them lazy or envious. Perhaps they will enlighten us to the ways in which we have been blinded by the power of sin?

  25. Jimmy says:

    Unless I’m mistaken, capitalism is not about greediness, etc, it’s a way of being together ( I.e. An economy) in which the means of production are owned privately. The question is whether this is a better way to seek the common good than economies in which the means of production are owned publicly. There is such a thing as compassionate capitalism. There are also compassionate socialisms. One would think that a Calvinist would be wary of all human systems. IMHO the best one could say is that one system comes closer than another to reflecting the lords prayer that God’s will be done on earth as in heaven.

  26. Chris E says:

    Doyle –

    And yet strangely we don’t find St Paul speaking against accepting the Annona in his letter to the Romans. Paul also doesn’t say that working hard will always enable people to better their situation, neither does he preclude our responsibility to those less fortunate than us.

    John Thompson -

    “I don’t believe Scripture approves (or for that matter disapproves) either capitalism or socialism as such. Where either exploits or acts unjustly this is a different matter. I say this because my point is apolitical. ”

    Exactly, my point was such things should be left to Christian liberty. It’s not appropriate to make Christianity into a matter of party politics.

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Kevin DeYoung


Kevin DeYoung is senior pastor of University Reformed Church (RCA) in East Lansing, Michigan, near Michigan State University. He and his wife Trisha have six young children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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