Lending money with interest (or usury) is not simply condemned by the church; it is unambiguously and clearly prohibited by the Holy Scriptures. Deuteronomy, for one thing, gives us a very specific instruction: “You shall not charge interest on loans to your brother, interest on money, interest on food, interest on anything that is lent for interest.” (Deut. 23:19). Prophet Ezekiel also mentions usury as one of the things that are abominable in the eyes of the Lord: “He eats at the mountain shrines. He defiles his neighbor’s wife. He oppresses the poor and needy. He commits robbery. He does not return what he took in pledge. He looks to the idols. He does detestable things. He lends at interest and takes a profit.” (Ezek. 18: 11-13). So the Church in her rejection of usury relies on no less than God’s command.
Essentially, this is nothing more or less than a prohibition for Christians to lend money at interest. The explanation for it is as simple as the prohibition itself. The benefit of giving money at interest is always earned on another person. However, it is not that which makes it bad. If Scripture forbade us to make money on our neighbor, trade would also be forbidden by it. Meanwhile, the Bible is quite ok with fair trade. “The LORD detests dishonest scales, but accurate weights find favor with him.” (Proverbs 11: 1) The thing is that borrowing money is usually a coerced choice. People make it when they are in trouble or wish to help their loved ones in a difficult situation. Of course, there are also other factors bringing people in the debt pit. For example, money may be needed to expand business or to invest in a lucrative offer. Sin can also lead to debts: everyone knows situations when gambling, addictions or even mere laziness lead people into debt. It is for a reason that Christ puts borrowers, in fact, on the same level with beggars, commanding to give to the latter and not to turn away from the former. (Matt. 5:42). So, the one who gives money at interest earns either on someone else’s misfortune, or on someone else’s difficulty, or on someone else’s weakness. From a Gospel perspective, a vulnerable person should be helped. More precisely, a Christian MUST help someone who needs help. In this context, to lend is to show mercy, that is, to help your neighbor and to bring benefit to your soul. However, trying to make money on someone who is in a difficult situation is immoral and sinful. This is why the church condemns usury.
Now let’s deal with the bank deposit. A person putting money into a savings account knows that accrued interest will be added to it over time. On the one hand, such income does not cost any labor; on the other hand, unless you have several million in your account, this profit is rather a small “bonus” than a considerable income. Are we lending money to someone when we make a deposit? Definitely not. We give money to the bank for safekeeping. Yes, the bank can use this money (which is why we are paid the interest), but we get it back instantly when we wish. Christ even uses banking in His parable of the talents (Matt. 25: 14-30) where the master, going on a journey, instructs his slaves to make use of his money in order to get a profit from it. As you know, the only slave who was condemned in this parable was the one hiding the money away, for fear of risking it, and returning it later with zero profit. Since the Lord Himself mentions depositing money with bankers in a parable, we can hardly condemn the owner of a savings account whose profit is not on anyone’s misfortune or weakness.
Making a bank deposit does not contain usury, and there is no sin in opening a savings account. The condemnation of usury by both Scripture and the church does not apply to either bank deposits or their owners.
Translated by The Catalogue of Good Deeds