The Christian Bible contains a wide variety of laws and guidance covering a substantial range of topics.

Modern Christians do not attempt to follow all of the laws and teaching. Some points are contentious, such as women priests and same-sex relationships (at the time of writing, there are various news articles covering the Church of England debating those specific topics), whilst other points are widely accepted.

Precisely which laws and teachings are followed varies between the denominations.

How do modern Christians decide which laws and teachings to adhere to and which to discard?

  • Try with Patristic and Protestant Reformation. – Mauro ALLEGRANZA Feb 18 '16 at 9:44
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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because this belongs on Christianity.SE. – user2953 Feb 18 '16 at 10:35
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    As it stands, this question is too broad for Christianity.SE as well. – bruised reed Feb 18 '16 at 11:40
  • @Keelan. I'll make a feeble case not to close. Like physics, often discussed here, theology was a traditional part of metaphysics. While the question does verge on church history, sociology, and theology, per se, it is really meta-theological, because it asks how decisions are made, presumably from outside the doctrines and denominations of the religion itself. But, well, your case is probably stronger... – Nelson Alexander Feb 18 '16 at 14:59
  • Even if questions on Christian Church history and the like were on topic here, this question is opinion based, as different Christians hold different answers (the role of the Pope, Ecumenical Councils, the early Church Fathers, local bishops, local pastors, individual conscience, and local custom all play a role of differing amounts to different Christians). Since each of those is also a very large topic on which entire books were about, if this question was on topic and not opinion based, it would be too broad. – James Kingsbery Feb 19 '16 at 22:47

This question is off topic here, but I happen to know the answer. Early Christian thinkers divided the laws and commands of the Old Testament into three categories: the moral, the civil and the ceremonial. Moral commands are those expressing general rules about conduct "thou shalt not commit adultery" and these remain in force, even under Christianity. The civil commands were the laws of the nation of Israel that God set up for their good in their particular place and time. The command to release all debts every seven years is an example. These do not remain in effect, since the Chrostian kingdoms were conscious of themselves living in a new time and a new place and needing therefore new laws adapted to their situation---although analogies could be drawn between civil laws of the Old Testament to justify new policies. See the debates about the divine right of kings. Finally the ceremonial laws of the OT were those having to do specifically with the priestly sacrificial system of the OT, like laws describing which garments the Levites were supposed to wear. These laws don't remain in effect, for Chrisitians, precisely because that sacrificial system has been abolished and replace with the Church, with a new set of customs and ceremonies, such as the Eucharist.

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  • That's a clear answer from a systematic point of view. - Now concerning real life: Do you think that a general answer is possible? There are nearly 2 billion people who classify as Christians. They belong to a variety of Christian churches. I would expect that at most those rules are retained by nearly all Christians in a given country which conform to the law of the country in question. – Jo Wehler Feb 18 '16 at 14:39
  • @JoWehler I'm not quite sure what the question is. Note too that there's a difference between "What does christianity teach about X?" or "What do all christians believe about X?" Questions like the former seem to me to be much more likely to have more or less definite answers than the latter. – shane Feb 18 '16 at 14:42
  • @shane. Interesting, I would have just cited Council of Nicaea, etc. Are there any good references on this particular breakdown? Is it an approach to civil interpretations still formally recognized by the Catholic Church? – Nelson Alexander Feb 18 '16 at 15:10
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    @NelsonAlexander I don't know if that tripartite division of the laws of the OT is officially catholic dogma. (Is it cited authoritatively in the Council of Nicaea?) I know that Calvin endorses the distinction and that it was widely drawn in the middle ages, but I'm not aware of an explicit endorsement of the view. (There's actually a whole lot less that is "official catholic doctrine" in the sense of being explicitly proclaimed as such than people typically realize.) – shane Feb 18 '16 at 15:12
  • @shane Take the interpretation "What does christianity teach about X?" How can we answer such question? I think the only answer must derive from the text of the Gospel. Because other sources like councils or patristics are not obligatory for all Christians. Could you please name some references from the Gospel for your clear classification? Thanks. – Jo Wehler Feb 18 '16 at 21:26

The question is indeed exceedingly broad, largely historical, and liable to be closed, perhaps rightly.

But just quickly and generally, in addition to Shane's interesting answer, I would first say that the attachment of the Old Testament to the Gospel and the doctrines of Paul was not obvious nor a foregone conclusion. Indeed, it was, in my own view, very unfortunate, weighing down with confusion, ritual, and patriarchal bile an otherwise Axial Age message, as Karl Jaspers defined it, alongside those of Buddha, Confucius, and Socrates.

The reason was in part the very high esteem in which the Roman world held all things ancient, including the Jewish scriptures. Antiquity itself was a form of validity and legal sanction. And the absence of a particular historical "authorship" preserved the interwoven texts against skeptical attack. As a "nouveau enthusiasm," on the other hand, Christian cults appeared disorderly, artificial, and garish. Cementing hermeneutical relations with the ancient texts was a crucial evolutionary adaptation.

Of all the texts at last included into the New Testament, Revelations was the most highly debated, and again, in my view, unfortunate. It makes a jarring addendum, following the Jewish wars and the destruction of the Second Temple, to the universalist advances of the Gospels and Pauline epistles, with its crypto-revolutionary, horror-movie denunciations of the Roman system, enemies within, and earthly law.

Then the American period of interpretive democracy. It is essential to a "sacred text" that it remain alive and avoid historical closure by ceaselessly generating interpretations out of contradictions, parables, and complexities.. and that it "regenerate" societies and administrations capable of so preserving the text. For better or worse, the Bible in the New World underwent the textual equivalent of the Cambrian Explosion.

Geography gave rise to rapid speciation. From the moment the Puritans expelled Roger Williams, the spacious land enabled dozens of break-away denominations and sects to flourish, creating their own idiosyncratic interpretations unconstrained by violent authority... or by rational debate. While some were utopian, many American denominations not surprisingly seized upon the wretched old patriarchal narratives and the fear-mongering of Revelations, a legacy still roiling our political system.

Sorry, little more than an opinionated sketch, but given the likelihood the question will be closed anyway, why not? A more specific answer to your question would entail a veritable history of church doctrines.

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