Christian moral principles C/B grade summary notes


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  • Christian moral principles come from the combination of bible, church and reason (Catholic view)
  • Apostolic succession
  • Jesus gave authority to Peter and his disciples – to spread the faith ‘go and make disciples of all nations’. 
  • When he said this, the Bible didn’t exist yet – so clearly his disciples had to create their own teachings and the catechism of the catholic church says ‘what they had learned’ from Jesus. 
  • When they died, the disciples passed on their role to new people – creating a succession which has led to the current Catholic church. 
  • The Catholic Church thus feels entitled to create ‘sacred tradition’ – its own teachings, which they view as equally authoritative to the Bible. The line of Peter refers to the unbroken line of Popes from Peter to the current one.
  • Church equal to the Bible as a source of christian moral principles, because both come from God.
  • Reason refers to the use of natural law ethics (reason is how we know the primary precepts and figure out how to apply them). The Catholic Church uses natural law ethics.

Evaluation: Luther’s protestant Critique

  • Luther claimed that the catholic Church was corrupt – inventing false doctrines like purgatory purely for the sake of getting money from christians – sale of indulgences. 
  • Luther said that purgatory was ‘fabricated by goblins’. 
  • Luther concluded that the Church had failed in its duty to spread the message of Jesus. 
  • No human or human organisation can be equal to the bible. 
  • We could add to Luther that the Catholic Church has engaged in many other immoral acts – the crusades, the alliance with Hitler, the paedophile priest scandal.

Optional Counter to Luther: 

  • The Catholic Church has apologised for its mistakes and accepts it is only human and will make mistakes. 
  • The issue is, Jesus would have surely known that the Church he gave authority to would make mistakes, and yet he still gave his disciples that authority. 
  • No human like Luther has the right to undo what Jesus has created. 


  • Christian moral principles come directly and only from God – sola scriptura (protestant view)
  • This is the view that the Bible is superior in authority to the Church. 
  • The church can make teachings, but those teachings must be subject to correction by the Bible – this is the crucial difference to catholicism. 
  • Luther said ‘a simple laymen armed with scripture is greater than the mightiest Pope without it’
  • The Bible alone is the ultimate source of authority. Better to have the Bible than the greatest Pope.
  • Luther’s view was that humans didn’t need the Church to mediate between them and Christ. Everyone can read the Bible, we can’t give authority to the Church to interpret it for us. 
  • He also said that everyone is a priest in protestantism – ‘the priesthood of all believers’ – because he rejected the idea that we need the Church to provide priests who alone can do services like the Eucharist etc.
  • We don’t need the Church – we only need the Bible. Protestants have Churches, but they only preach the Bible. 


  • Sola scriptura is not in the bible. 
  • The Bible does say that it is authoritative (It says it is ‘god-breathed’), but it makes no comment about whether it is the sole ultimate authority. 
  • In fact, there seems to be a lot of biblical evidence supporting the apostolic succession! Suggesting actually the Church also has authority. 
  • So it’s not good logic to claim to believe in the bible alone, when the Bible itself doesn’t even say to do that
  • Furthermore, it was the Catholic Church that decided on which books would be included in the bible, in the 4th century. 
  • So again, it makes no sense to say you don’t trust the Catholic Church and you only trust the Bible – since, in trusting the Bible, you are automatically trusting the Catholic Church that was responsible for deciding on which books were Biblical canon (the set official list). 


  • Christian moral principles have to be figured out by individual Christians in a moral situation (Fletcher’s situation ethics)
  • Fletcher thought the main theme of the bible was love – Christian ethics reduces completely to doing whatever has the most loving outcome. 
  • This means it is up to individual Christians to decide what is morally right in their situation (autonomy). 
  • Every situation will be different. There are no intrinsically right or wrong actions, it depends on whether in a situation an action maximises agape or not.
  • Fletcher’s rejection of legalism & antinomianism


  • Fletcher ignores most commands in the Bible – it’s not really valid Christian ethics therefore.
  • E.g. the Bible says thou shalt not kill, but Fletcher thinks it’s fine to kill people if it has a loving outcome.

Fletcher responds: 

  • we have three options with the bible:
  • Take it literally (which is impossible)  
  • View it as needing interpretation (which leads to everyone having their own interpretation). 
  • Fletcher’s option is that he concludes that we can’t follow the Bible as a perfect set list of ‘legalistic’ commands. The best Christians can do is follow the most important theme of the bible – which is Agape. 
  • He says we have to take bible as containing ‘suggestions’ and ‘paradigms’ (themes).