Christian Ethics

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Christian Ethics

Christians and Jews share a common heritage in the religion of the scriptures that Christianity calls the "Old Testament" and Jews call the "Torah." Christianity interprets the rules of the Torah in the light of the lief and teaching of Jesus Christ. 

Jesus is the ultimate figure of authority in Christianity because he is God incarnate (God made man) and man who understood what it was to be human. 

The Decalogue (10 Commandments) are negative (do not) categorical and absolute. After 1000 years of following the Torah, religious officials's hade developed a system of obeying the law that made the law more important than people. The NT upholds the significance of the OT law but corrects the oral law that had evolved. Jesus said "Do not think that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets. I ahev not come to abolish but to fulfill." Matt 5:17

Jesus was more concerned with demonstrating compassion through upholding the law - e.g. the woman caught in adultery 

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Christian Ethics

The Sermon on the Mount is seen by many as the NT equivalent of the Decalogue. It takes place on a mount to emphasise the authority of Jesus' teaching. It updates the Torah through the beautitudes to a set of positive commands that will lead to rewards 

"Happy are the pure in heart - they will see God."

Jesus teaches that God's law can not be fulfilled by just obeying negative commands. He emphasises positive commands and apply compassion - for example: "do not commit adultery" v "but i tell you that anyone who looks lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart."

It is also demonstrated in the telling of the parable of the Good Samaritan Christian Ethics is more demanding then just conforming to negative laws. 

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Christian sources of Authority for Morality

Sources of authority for Christian morality in terms of emphasis from one Christian demoniation to another 

  • The authority of the Scriptures which are regarded as being inspired by God - often seen as most important to Protestants
  • The authority of human reason particulary as used when applyin a Natural Law basis for morality 
  • The authority of our conscience as given by God 
  • The authority of the direct inspiration of the Holy Spirit as particularly seen in the Charismatic movement 
  • The authority of the Church which is believed to be inspired by the Holy Spirit. For Roman Catholics this particular includes pronouncements for the Pope
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Diversity of Opinion of Sources of Authority

Scripture - although all Christians believe if it is the word of God, it can be interpreted very differently. There are those who take each word literally (fundamentalists) and will reject ideas such as Evolution and wholly endorse the Genesis story of creation instead. Others will interpret the word more conservatively and some very liberally believing that very little of the scriptures are the actual words of Jesus for example. Problems with using scripture:

  • Contradictions occur - the Old and New Testament differ on law regarding issues such as war and peace and marriage. Even the NT contradicts itself on the usse of marriage
  • Clarity of answers is often lacking. There is no clear moral guidance on some modern issues such as cloning and genetic engineering as they are not mentioned in the Bible. Applying laws such as "love thy neighbour as yourself" may not adequately guide a Christian to the right decision in this case. Many of Jesus words can be interpreted differently. 
  • Context is ignored - often phrases are taken from the Bible in an abstract way to prove a point with little or no regard for the passage it is in and other important background information 
  • Culture is very different to the one of the Bible's - Jesus himself intended his words to be true in all cases in today's very different world or was he speaking within the culture of his time?
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Diversity of Opinion of Sources of Authority

Reason - Some see this as God given for example Aquinas and it allows us to work out for ourselves what God's purpose is for humanity. Combined with Scripture it can aid humans effectively in their pursuit of the good life. However others see it as part of our "fallen" nature and therefore of limited value. Reason can be nothing more than human wull rather than God's will.

Conscience - some see this as directl the voice of God, others see it as a facility to reason to the truth having been implanted by God but it is also open to erroneous decisions. Some Christians dismiss it completely in relation to God and see it from a sociological or psychological viewpoint. 

Holy Spirit - can we be sure we are being inspired by God rather than man's own desires? Some Christians see it as dangerous when being used solely as the source of authority 

The authority of the Church - some see seeking authority from the Pope and the Church authorities as being too lacking in inspiration from God and too absolutists in its laws, demoting the personal relationship that individuals have with God 

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Main ethical principles of Christianity

  • God created humans in his image and life is therefore sacred
  • Human have time on earth to grow in the likeness of God 
  • All humans have God given purpose
  • All humans are equal 
  • Humans have been given freedom and responsibilities 
  • Freedom has led to ignorance and sin in the world and these destroy our relationship with God
  • A core belief is our responsibility to love your neighbour as yourself. This includes the poor and weak in society, recognising that God is in everyone that you meet
  • Another core belief is that you should love God and follow his laws as revealed by Jesus and in the scriptures. 
  • The life of a Christian will be judged and their efforts will be rewared or punished accordingly 
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Absolutivity and Relativity and Jesus

Jesus set aside the detailed requirements of the law in the interest of an expression of love or compassion in particular situations - "Do you think I have come to abolish the law or the prophets? I have not come to abolish the law but to fulfill them." Matt 5:17 

  • Here Jesus argues for the absolute authority of the law, implying that the law sets down an absolute moral code which cannot be compromised. It is universal and prohibits actions regardless of what the circumstances or consequences might be, 
  • Absolute examples of Jesus - "In the same way, a woman who divorces her husband and marries another man commits adultery" Mark 10 and "Do not take revenge on someone who wrongs you." Matt 
  • However there are incidents when Jesus is said to go against the law - Jesus ate from the cornfields on the Sabbath which was condemned as work and he healed a man with the paralysed hand in the synagogue on the Sabbath. In these incidents Jesus recognises a "higher love" - agape. Jesus compromised the law so that a better end could be achieved, implying a relativest approach to law - it is acceptable to disobey the law when circumstances permit it. When questioned about the authority of the law regarding the rules of the Sabbath Jesus replied - "man was not made for the Sabbath, the Sabbath was made for man."
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Absolutivity and Relativity and Jesus

When questioned about the two most important commandments Jesus replies - 

"Love the Lord with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength." 

"Love thy neighbour as yourself." 

Jesus has effectively summed up the Decalogue into two positive demands - implying that the law is relative to circumstances and can be made to fit these two basic principles. 

Jesus it seems has replaced the entire of the Torah with the single directive which is known as the Golden rule - "do unto others as you would have them done unto you." 

Jesus upheld the authority of the Law but taught that the law is subjective to humanity and is there for the service of human beings. Thus Jesus could be regarded as a relativist and an absolutist. 

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