Monday, December 26, 2022

Anonymous Asks (229)

“Is it wrong for a Christian husband and wife to have separate bank accounts?”

Modern banking practices such as accepting deposits and transferring funds didn’t emerge until the late sixteenth century. As such, we can hardly expect the Bible to address the subject of bank accounts.

As usual with such questions, this one comes down to motivation.

Reflecting God’s Design

When two people unite in marriage, the Bible teaches they become “one flesh”. That is to say, the unity created by Christian marriage is something greater than the sum of its parts. I have written about that at length here.

Our Christian parents, grandparents and great-grandparents realized couples united in purpose tended to actualize the “one flesh” doctrine most effectively (though they probably didn’t put it quite so technically). To work together harmoniously for the glory of Christ is to live out God’s intended design for marriage.

At their best, these folks sought to reflect this great spiritual reality by establishing conventions like the wife taking the husband’s last name, sharing the same bed and, yes, sharing a bank account, of which the man was usually in charge, given the common practices at that time in history. In general, Christian men took responsibility for everything external to the household, while Christian women (who, for the most part, did not work outside the home), usually managed the household operating on a budget that was either imposed top-down by Father, or sometimes agreed upon together.

Some conventions established in previous centuries helped remind couples of their spiritual unity and moved families toward the godly aspirations shared by both partners. Others, at times, frustrated them and put the wife at unnecessary risk.

Unnecessary Risk

What do I mean by that? Well, in Canada the average life expectancy of a wife is four years greater than that of her husband. In 2021, that was 84 to 80. At other times in history and at other places in the world, that gap in life expectancy has been even greater. Further, with first marriages at least, the average husband is two years older than his wife, meaning that a Christian wife in Canada can generally expect to outlive her husband by six years or more. Where the gap in ages is larger, the life expectancy issue looms larger as well. At 30 and 38, that may not matter. At 86 and 94, it definitely does.

This being the case, a husband whose wife is uninvolved in the family’s finances (whether by his choice or her lack of interest) allows a situation to develop where at some point he will probably leave her behind without a clue as to how to care for herself and with no idea how to manage the family’s financial affairs, especially if he dies suddenly. Is that the most loving thing he can do for her? The question answers itself. If they have children who can step up at that point and care for their mother, there may be no problem. But what if the children are unsaved, are poor money managers, or are not in agreement about how to counsel Mom? What if there are no children nearby to help out? I have seen this happen many times with older families, and it’s not pretty. It is very hard for an older woman to suddenly assume a role for which she has never been trained and has not practiced.

That’s not an argument for separate bank accounts, but it is an argument for both parties being aware of how money is being spent week to week, for being familiar with the process of paying bills, for being comfortable with handling a household budget, and for both having signing authority over everything they own at all times.

The “Household Manager”

In fact, both Old and New Testament give us reason to think a godly wife handling money is not an outrageous idea. The Old Testament gives us the much-maligned Proverbs 31 wife, whom I have spent many hours trying to rehabilitate with modern evangelicals after the beating she has taken from feminists like Rachel Held Evans. This lady is an industrious, hard working self-starter who “considers a field and buys it”, and who engages in profitable merchandise, presumably without running every dotting of an “I” or crossing of a “T” past her husband. The New Testament gives us the Christian wife as household manager [oikodespoteĊ]. Wherever responsibility is delegated in scripture, authority accompanies it. A wife who tries to manage her household without the necessary financial resources and understanding of how money works is operating blind, and that is not advantageous to either wife or husband.

As I mentioned at the outset, the issue comes down to motivation. Why have separate accounts? Well, if I trust my wife and want to equip her for the future while helping her to serve God according to her own conscience, I will maximize her freedom in financial matters, including managing her own bank account, spending and investments. One of the beauties of marriage is that it allows a couple who love each other and are working together harmoniously in the service of Christ to take on different roles in the same ongoing enterprise without feeling the need to duplicate one another’s responsibilities.

Sharing Responsibility

As a manager in the corporate world, I can tell you there is nothing more satisfying than to be able to delegate a matter to a competent subordinate and never have to worry about it again. Why should I micromanage someone I trust, or do work myself that they can do instead? That’s failing to make use of all the resources God has given me on the job.

The same applies in the home. A separate bank account with the intention of more efficiently serving Christ is a fine idea.

On the other hand, if I am pushing the idea of separate bank accounts so that my wife doesn’t notice I’m drinking away my paycheck, or if she’s pushing the idea of separate bank accounts so I can’t see she’s addicted to useless knick knacks from Amazon, these are definitely less constructive reasons to divide up financial responsibilities.

The wife should always remain accountable to the greater “one flesh” unity in Christ, as should the husband.

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