Some members within our church are memorizing the Westminster Shorter Catechism this summer. I’ve memorized the first 100 and plan to finish the last seven this week! The questions have been very thought provoking, and the proof texts have kept most of the questions solid from attack, though some of the seventeenth century phraseology can be mistakenly interpreted in another light in today’s English.
Two of the questions I found to be particularly thoughtful were that when examining the eighth commandment: “Q. 74: What is required in the eighth commandment? A: The eighth commandment requireth the lawful procuring and furthering the wealth and outward estate of ourselves and others. Q. 75: What is forbidden in the eighth commandment? A: The eighth commandment forbiddeth whatsoever doth, or may, unjustly hinder our own, or our neighbor’s, wealth or outward estate.”
All Christians I’m sure (or at least should) agree that the eighth commandment (“Thou shalt not steal”) forbids us from unlawfully hindering our neighbor’s wealth/estate. Yet the catechism applies it not just to others, but to our own estates as well. The eighth commandment forbids us from hindering our own estate, and therefore we are to be good stewards of all things that God has entrusted into our care. Yet not only good stewards, but also we are required in “all lawful…furthering the wealth…of ourselves”.
Christians do not normally think in these terms, yet here the catechism is instructing that the eighth commandment requires us to do everything we can within moral/civil/lawful means to further our own wealth and outward estate. This can easily be misunderstood as serving mammon, which as Christ says, one “cannot serve God and mammon”. And as Christ says in many other places, it is harder for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God than otherwise. Though the catechism, written in 17th century English, may be hard to understand with this phraseology, yet I think the proof text clears up the meaning: “… but rather let him labour, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth.” Eph. 4:28b. Therefore, all the wealth that we may amass in this life should be to service God’s kingdom, which is the church, and our neighbors both within and without.
Therefore, I believe this catechism to be condemning the view that says all Christians should dispose of all we have, move to a monastery, and spend the rest of our days in rags and babblings. This is not helpful to others, nor ourselves, and is not Christ’s intent for the work of the church. As the Scriptures say, “The earth is the Lord’s, and all its fullness”. Therefore, we are to tend, cultivate, and use all the means that God gives to us, whether wealth, estate, skills, endeavors, etc. for the furtherance of the church and the gospel of Christ.