Sources of Christian Morality

Sources Go Beyond the Ten Commandments
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Focusing on any one Christian source to determine what is right or wrong often does not clearly resolve a particular moral dilemma. Instead, Christians can address different situations more effectively when they derive their morality from a variety of sources, such as the Bible, the Holy Spirit, church doctrine, and local authority.

1 The Bible

For Protestants, the Bible is the key foundation for determining what is right and wrong, even though all Christians acknowledge the book as a source. Depending on their religious tradition, Christians may approach the Bible holistically to determine what it says, or they may simply look to the New Testament, the Gospels or particular passages. Regardless of the focus, Christians acknowledge the Bible as the Word of God, and as a fundamental way to discern God's will about what is right and wrong.

2 Holy Spirit

Christians also see the Holy Spirit as playing a key role in determining what is ethical. For Pentecostals, for instance, the inward movement of the Holy Spirit is a principal way of governing behavior and understanding what is consistent with Christian faith. Even if a particular Christian tradition does not emphasize the Holy Spirit's role as much as other traditions, they will generally include it in the guiding of human thoughts and reason as well as in the interpretation of the Bible. Either way, the Holy Spirit introduces the present activity of God in helping Christians understand how they should conduct themselves.

3 Doctrine

Doctrine provides an understanding of the Christian faith that may not be directly found in the sources explored so far. A Christian's tradition may have carefully codified doctrine, such as Presbyterian Confessions. Alternatively, doctrine can be implicit in the acts of the church. However found, these doctrines may provide moral guidance in a particular situation but are more likely to provide principles that can be applied to each situation to determine how to judge that situation. Another factor that influences the use of doctrine as a source is whether Christians can use personal conscience to go against established doctrine.

4 Local Authority

There are times that the Bible, the Holy Spirit and doctrine do not provide a moral answer for a particular situation. At this point, worshippers may turn to local authority figures -- teachers, officials, family or other Christians they know. While local authority is secondary to the sources discussed in the first three sections, for many, it is a stronger influence because people have more exposure to teaching and discussion among local Christians than to doctrine and focused Bible study. However, Christians should exercise care when when placing stock in the values of the local community to ensure that God's will is being discerned. But when engaged appropriately, the people Christians are closest to can teach them how to seek and determine God's will.

Based in New York City, Christopher L. Smith has been writing since the 1998 publication of "Honest Talk About Serious Mental Illness." Smith brings professional experience in education, religion/spirituality and mental health, including as a licensed marriage and family therapist. Among Smith's graduate degrees is a M.Div. from Yale.